By Haruna Salami
The House of Representatives is set to commence an investigation into allegations of unlawful waiver, obtained by a private equity firm, Alta Semper Capital, to co-own a popular retail pharmacy, Health Plus, in Nigeria.
The Spokesperson of the House, Reps, Benjamin Kalu made this known while addressing newsmen on Wednesday.
He said the decision by the House to investigate the matter, followed a petition by one Oladimeji Ekengba, challenging the alleged waiver granted by the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) to Alter Semper Capital, also known as Idi Holdings.
According to him, the petitioner argued that according to Section 2(2) of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Act, P.17, 2004 (PCN Act), a retail pharmacy can only be wholly owned by a registered pharmacist or in partnership with other registered pharmacists.
Kalu stressed that the petitioner further stated that the letter of ‘No Objection’ allegedly issued to Alter Semper as a waiver by PCN was illegal.
“The Committee on Public Petitions has been mandated by the House to investigate this issue.
“The management of Health Plus, Alter Semper Capital, Pharmacists Council of Nigeria and every other person who has played a role in the issue will soon be invited to the House.
He noted that “as you are aware, the PCN Act established the PCN, a body charged with responsibility for regulating the practice of the pharmacy profession in Nigeria, and also charged with the responsibility for maintaining a register of qualified pharmacists and pharmaceutical businesses.
“The combined provisions of the PCN Act and the PCN Regulations stipulate that a retail pharmacy can only be owned by a registered pharmacist or in partnership with other registered pharmacists.
“So it was shocking to learn that by a letter dated 30th October 2017, the PCN Registrar granted a waiver to an equity investment relationship between Health Plus Limited and Alta Semper Capital (a.k.a. Idi Holdings) in March 2018.
“This is in defiance of the clear stipulation of our laws, which does not permit unqualified persons to own or operate a retail pharmacy business in Nigeria.
“A mere letter cannot and must not be allowed to abrogate an Act of the National Assembly.
“Therefore, any structure put on that weak foundation should not be allowed to stand because it was not birthed by legality.
“The only remedy for the Alter Semper-Health Plus anomaly is for parties to be returned to status quo. While we are open to foreign direct investment, private equity companies must come through the front door and not the back door.
“We are a rule of law compliant nation. Investors must understand this and comply with our laws.”
The spokesperson further pointed out that “the Covid-19 scourge has critically impacted medicine security in Nigeria.
“So, as we navigate the challenges of the pandemic, now more than ever, there is a grave responsibility on the government to ensure best practices and a healthy regulatory space for local pharmaceutical businesses to thrive.
“Pharmaceutical practice standards and the integrity of the supply chain should not be distorted or compromised.
“We cannot allow unlicensed practitioners in Nigeria’s pharmaceutical space because it could create a window for fake or substandard drugs to be introduced into the system,” he said.
Kalu expressed confidence that the House would do justice to the concerns raised by the petitioner to ensure the health and safety of Nigerian citizens were safeguarded against predatory or charlatan practitioners in the pharmaceutical sector.
Reacting, some pharmacists in Nigeria expressed displeasure with the development.
They argued that the relationship between Alter Semper Capital and Health Plus was based on illegality which they said was harmful to the pharmaceutical sector.
A pharmacist based in Abuja who preferred to remain anonymous said, “what happened with Health Plus and the foreign investors sets a wrong precedent in the pharmaceutical industry if allowed to stand.
“It is an affront to the integrity of the profession that an unqualified person will be allowed to run a pharmacy in Nigeria simply because he is a foreign investor.
“This cannot happen in the legal profession or the medical profession, so why should it happen to pharmacists?
The pharmacist stressed that “the Registrar was wrong and acted illegally by issuing a letter of no objection to flagrant abuse of the PCN Act.
“In my mind, let the investors be refunded and health plus made to wait for them to come through the proper channels.”
He said if the allegations were found to be true, the disciplinary committee of the PCN should invite the Registrar for questioning.
He commended the House for rising to the occasion, saying, “we hope it will return sanity to the profession by returning all parties, both Health Plus and Alter Semper to their initial positions before the letter of no objection.