Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Dr. Paul Orhii, reassured Nigerians at a recent press conference in Abuja that the Agency is winning the battle against counterfeit drugs in the country. He explained that even though the nefarious activities of counterfeiters may not have become underwhelming in spite of the deployment of cutting-edge technologies, the Agency has not and will not be overwhelmed in the battle to stamp out the menace.
My understanding of Orhii’s positions at the confab was that the Agency, which has built formidable structures on the foundations laid by his predecessor, Professor Dora Akunyili, is not going to rest on its oars.
In the corollary, the Agency, according to him, is at the threshold of unveiling newer strategies and technologies to reinforce the existing ones such as the Truscan, Mobile Authentication Services (SMS) and the Black Eye, among others. NAFDAC, according to reports, has continued to make seizures of counterfeit drugs and unwholesome regulated products in continuation of its crackdown on the counterfeiters, and even though the counterfeiters are said to have changed their tactics, NAFDAC is said to have devised new methods of staying ahead of them.
According to Orhii, “They have shifted from shipment of container loads of counterfeit drugs through the seaports to clandestine importation of small and portable packages of counterfeit drugs at airports that can easily evade the eagle eyes of law enforcement agencies. Some of them have resorted to trading on other commodities as a decoy for wholesale importation, distribution and sale of counterfeit medicines.”
He reiterated that there would be no sacred cows in the fight against counterfeit medicines. Read him: “Any counterfeiter arrested will be prosecuted speedily in accordance to the extant laws. I re-affirm that landlords of warehouses stocked with counterfeit products and other substandard regulated products will henceforth be arrested and prosecuted as accomplices.
“To achieve the Zero Tolerance target for counterfeit drugs and other unwholesome regulated products, NAFDAC requires the collective support of all Nigerians, particularly the Mass Media and Healthcare Providers. Our innovative, multilayered and well coordinated anti-counterfeiting strategies have yielded tremendous successes and we shall continue to build on the current momentum.”
This was a refreshing dimension to Orhii’s engagement with members of the press at the conference: the clarion call on all Nigerians to support the Agency in the war against fake drugs. This is aside the existing inter-agency collaborations and/or partnerships that are, of course, bolstering the war.
He particularly encouraged Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Foundations that are committed to the war against fake medicines to collaborate with the Agency, which is the sole medicine and food regulatory body in the country. With this, coordination becomes very easy and seamless.
One of the journalists had asked if the collaboration being canvassed was akin to the one by his predecessor, to wit: Dora Akunyili Foundation for Safe Medicines, which is already partnering the Bayelsa State Government to eliminate fake drugs in the Niger Delta.
Perhaps, the impression in media circles was that the Foundation was trying to supplant NAFDAC by setting out to collaborate with state governments in the Niger Delta to combat a menace for which there is a constitutionally recognized Agency to deal with.
But despite strenuous effort by Orhii to defend the Akunyili Foundation as not working contrary to the Agency’s mandate, the impression I went with, and I believe some other journalists did, was that there is a deliberate gap between the leadership of the Agency and Akunyili. Orhii wanted the audience to believe that there was no gap.
The question then is: if there was no gap, why did the Foundation sidestep NAFDAC, more so when its promoter was once in the saddle as the Agency’s Director General for about eight years? The argument is that she could not have claimed that she did not understand the terrain and how to go about it, as well as perhaps, appreciate the motive that was and is still propelling her.
Indeed, it is quite easy to read malice and mischief in her innovation no matter how altruistic it may appear superficially. Professor Akunyili should not have mismanaged her immense goodwill and “sense of humanity” on the altar of trivial-mindedness by trying to, as charged in some quarters, undermine an Agency that made her and vice versa.
But this was not the big picture that Orhii tried to create at the confab during the question and answer session. It should be pointed out that the issue was not part of the text of the press conference. He, in fact, told the audience that Akunyili’s Foundation should serve as impetus to Nigerians to set up more foundations and NGOs to collaborate with NAFDAC in the battle against fake drugs.
He, however, could not meander through the issue without raising more concerns. Read his response to the question about the Akunyili Foundation: “I heard about it and I want to say that it is not acting contrary to our mandate. In fact, the common enemy we have is fake drug. It is a big plus coming up with a Foundation.
“This is what I expect from other Nigerians. We need more Foundations and NGOs to come forward to help fight the menace of fake drugs. We are encouraged that we have somebody like her and Bayelsa State Government partnering the Foundation….”
The NAFDAC boss should not just have heard about the initiative through the media if that was what he meant by “I heard about it”; the leadership of the Agency should have been carried along; and, it should be a thing of utmost concern if Akunyili could not synergize with the Orhii leadership to drive her Foundation. To drive the Foundation without reference to an existing legal body regulating the terrain and, doing it in spite of the Agency, gives ample room for suspicions and speculations.
But then, a good idea cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hands because it seeks to undermine the status quo. That perhaps explains the reason Orhii commended the decision by Bayelsa State Government to build the first National Drugs Distribution Centre (Drug Mart) in Yenagoa. To him, “this cannot be against what NAFDAC isdoing…. If every state can do that and it is effective, it will be great. Similar NGOs should be set up to up the ante of the war against fake drugs.”
The disposition of Orhii and his team at NAFDAC must be commended. Their concern would appear to be how to bring every well-meaning Nigerian on board to wage a brutal war against local and international conspiracies that manifest in the garb of counterfeit or adulterated drugs. It is expected that NGOs with bias for raising advocacy against fake drugs and ancillary matters should hearken to Orhii’s call for partnership and jump on the bandwagon of the war against fake drugs that have dealt deadly blows on our loved ones.
Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, contributed this piece via [email protected]