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As Nigerians die slowly from ‘regulated’ products

Sometime in August 2021, NAFDAC issued a similar warning against social media products....

The Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Professor Mojisola Adeyeye, recently cautioned Nigerians against the consumption of foods and drugs which are injurious to their health. She gave the warning on Thursday September 9, 2021 during a sensitization campaign in Ilorin. Adeyeye who was represented at the event by Mrs. Bolaji Abayomi, a Director at NAFDAC, said the campaign was intended to address public health challenges that include abuse of codeine and self-medication especially among youths; emphasizing that “the sensitization campaign will contribute significantly to federal government’s efforts to inform, sensitize, educate and alert the public about inherent dangers of intake and use of those spurious regulated products.”

Prof Adeyeye said some market mern and women, in an attempt to make profit, now mix palm oil with Azo dye, a cancer-causing agent, to make it look beautifully reddish and attractive to consumers. She said any vegetable oil that congeals is a potential killer because vegetable oil that has been transported in kerosene tanker is hazardous and kills slowly just as the use of potassium bromide to bake bread does. “Consumption of excessive oil and use of formalin on food has its associated health hazards”, she warned. Adeyeye further said while butchers use sniper on meat and fish to prevent fly from perching, retailers use it on beans to eradicate weevils, adding that “Such products are dangerous when they are consumed.”

Sometime in August 2021, NAFDAC issued a similar warning against social media products. The caution was issued by Prof Adeyeye who was represented by the Director of Registration and Enforcement at NAFDAC, Barrister Kingsley Ejiofor, during substandard products’ destruction exercise in Shagamu, Ogun State. She said the social media is being used to advertise spurious substandard, unsafe and falsified NAFDAC regulated products. She lamented how regulated products such as cosmetics, and products for enlargement of buttocks have flooded the social media.

Prevailing public health concerns in terms of food products and drugs in the country is compelling many Nigerians into nostalgia that quickly brings to mind striking memories of an unswerving Nigerian called Dora Akunyili. The nostalgic mood is further deepened by the uninspiring ‘outing’ of the current leadership at NAFDAC. The frantic lamentation by Prof Adeyeye as the DG of NAFDAC over matters she was appointed to tackle rather sounds ridiculous. In April 2021, for example, four deaths and 284 hospitalisations were recorded in Kano as a result of a strange disease that was later traced to a flavoured drink which contained a chemical called ‘xan tsami’ by locals. A dealer reportedly bought about 29 bags of the chemical and distributed it to retailers in other markets in Kano.

The fact that illicit hawking of uncertified food products has continued unabated on Nigerian streets and markets prompts some compelling questions about the efficiency of NAFDAC’s leadership in checking the circulation of unregistered, uncertified or expired drugs and foodstuffs. One wonders why NAFDAC yet refers to them as “regulated food products” when anything goes into Nigerian markets. Because of the loose ‘nozzle’ at NAFDAC today, the opening of a medicine store has become the easiest ‘business’ for unskilled entrepreneurs and retirees who have collected their gratuities even when they lack the haziest knowledge of drug names or their administration. In many states, obtaining a certificate to operate a medicine shop is easier than registering a child in a school as long as the applicant is ready to part with money. Also, NAFDAC under Adeyeye has not sufficiently explored the media to educate Nigerians on the significance of checking expiry date on food products and drugs before buying or administering them. The enforcement of this policy is below public expectation.

But why is Adeyeye lacking in many things that Akunyili did with passion? Although Akunyili and Adeyeye share some common virtues as trained pharmacists, professors and accomplished academics; their contrasting features make them two discrete individuals. For example, while Akunyili’s career was home-grown, Adeyeye’s is overseas-bred. Under Akunyili, NAFDAC was in the news almost 24/7 particularly about the war she was taking to the door steps of producers of substandard food products and drugs. Readers would have to help us fill the gap in this regard under Adeyeye. In the few instances where Adeyeye was quoted in this piece, she was represented by subordinates; a trait typical of ‘boardroom CEOs’. Akunyili who was sincerely committed to her job was always there in person. Prof Dora Nkem Akuinyili would be remembered for traveling to India to trail and arrest a cartel involved in the importation of counterfeit drugs to Nigeria.

While a Nigerian on the street would describe Akunyili as an action-packed (or ‘gra-gra’ woman in the language of Nigerians), Adeyeye is seen by many as a laissez-faire CEO. These few contrasts arguably prove government wrong in its consistent preference for foreign-bred professionals over home-grown academics. Yes, Akunyili’s ‘gra-gra’ and war against fake and adulterated food products and drugs ‘earned’ her an assassination attempt on December 26, 2003 when gunmen fired shots at her convoy on her way to Anambra state. The bullets narrowly missed her even though one pierced through her headscarf and hit the car windscreen.

It is public knowledge that the palm oil to which marketers have added Azo dye or used kerosene tankers to transport is in wide circulation in many states of the federation and the FCT. To save Nigerians from dying slowly from this unsafe palm oil and other adulterated or expired products, government and the ordinary Nigerians expect Adeyeye to synergize with relevant agencies to mop up the reddish palm oil and all other substandard products from markets. We urge Adeyeye to arrest and prosecute vendors of all harmful foodstuffs and substandard drugs. We pray Prof Adeyeye wakes up to her mandate, amin.

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