Urgent need for efficient food and drugs administration in Nigeria

Urgent need for efficient food and drugs administration in Nigeria

Recent Lagos High Court pronouncement asking the Nigerian Breweries (NB) Plc and the National Agen­cy for Food and Drug Administra­tion and Control (NAFDAC) to or­der the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) Plc to put a written warning on Fanta and Sprite bottles stating that both soft drinks are poisonous when consumed along with Vitamin C, is a serious cause for concern.
According to the court, presided over by Justice Adedayo Oyebanji, both the bottling company and NAFDAC failed Nigerians by de­claring, as fit for human consump­tion, products which were discov­ered by tests in the United Kingdom as turning poisonous when mixed with ascorbic acid (popularly known as Vitamin C).
The judgment was handed out as the outcome of a suit filed by a Lagos-based businessman, Dr. Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo and his company, Fijabi Adebo Holdings Limited, against NBC Plc and NAF­DAC. In the suit, Adebo had urged the court to declare that NBC was negligent to its consumers by bot­tling Fanta and Sprite with excessive levels of benzoic acid and sunset ad­ditives.
The gravamen of the suit was that sometime in March 2007, Fijabi Adebo Holdings Company bought large quantities of Coca-Cola, Fanta Orange, Sprite, Fanta Lemon, Fan­ta Pineapple and soda water from NBC for export to and subsequent retail in the United Kingdom. Un­fortunately, when the consignment arrived in the United Kingdom, health authorities in that country, precisely the Stockport Metro­politan Borough Council’s Trading Standard, Department of Environ­ment and Economy Directorate, raised fundamental health issues on the contents and composition of Fanta and Sprite. They impounded the imported Nigerian beverages.
Findings by the UK health au­thorities which were corroborated by similar agencies in European Union countries, were to the effect that the products contained exces­sive levels of sunset yellow and ben­zoic acid, which are known to be carcinogenic.
This event calls to question the efficiency of the regulatory agen­cies and also the quality of product manufactured for consumption by several food and drug manufactur­ing industries in the country.
Even as the NB Plc and NAFDAC still battle to extricate themselves from public outcry resulting from the court judgement, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), re­cently announced the discovery and impounding of five billion Naira worth of expired tyres which it said was found in 200 containers. Ac­cording to the Director General of the SON, Mr Anthony Aboloma, the seizure followed a tip-off from a whistle-blower. The two Chinese nationals, Taolung Shen and Xu Jing Yau, were allegedly arrested in connection with the fake tyres, de­scribed as the largest seizure of sub­standard tyres in one fell swoop in the history of Nigeria.
The tyres, according to SON, were being cloned under such brand names as Powertrac, Aptany, Har­mony, Duraturn, Bearway, City Tour, Winda, Glory, Chachland, City Grand, Grandsonte and Sunny (for tricycle), among others. It is in­structive that the discovery of issues with the NB Plc products and the discovery of the substandard tyres were not made at the production factory nor at the sea port upon im­portation, respectively. They were made after the two items had left the production shelves and after the relevant authorities had cleared the products. From available informa­tion, the issues raised on Coke and Fanta was discovered in the UK, while the fake tyres were discovered at the warehouses.
This raises serious questions about the integrity and efficiency of the regulatory agencies both internally and at the ports of entry. There is serious suspicion that the operatives rather than vote for integrity, vote for what is derogatorily regarded as “stomach infrastructure”. However, one might look at it, it raises fun­damental questions on the integ­rity of our regulatory agencies. Now that the country is passing through economic recession with attendant hunger and economic downturn, the urgency for the nation’s regula­tory agencies to up their ante need not be overemphasized.
When one remembers with nos­talgia the era of the late Professor Dora Nkem Akunyili, as the Direc­tor-General of NAFDAC and how she left an indelible footprint as the numbro uno staff of the agency, one begins to wonder if all the staff she trained while in office have all either retired or were all transferred out of the agency. This is because it is baf­fling how an agency like NAFDAC could have certified the soft drinks that were confirmed to be carcino­genic. The consequential health is­sues need not be mentioned here at all.
But The AUTHORITY states without equivocation that NAFDAC and other agencies in the Ministry of Health should be up and doing particularly during this economic meltdown, because any lapses on their part, could lead to catastrophic health issues. We also condemn the speed at which the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole rushed to make public statement on the NB Plc matter. For one, it portrays the minister as having transformed to becoming the spokesman of the NB Plc, thereby raising questions as to whether he has more than profes­sional interest in the matter.
Food and drugs as well as other regulatory agencies in the coun­try should try to be at their best to avoid a situation whereby Nigeria becomes a dumping ground for low quality or outrightly fake products. Nigeria can ill afford to face the twin challenges of poor productivity ra­tio and at the same time, suffer the consequences of health implications arising from dumping of fake and adulterated products. They are twin anomaly too many which must be avoided at all costs. The Authority

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