It was Dora Akunyili who made the realisation of quality standards an issue to behold in this clime. While calling the shots at the National Food and Drug Administration Control (Nafdac), she raised the bar on the regulation of foods and drugs, especially on pharmaceutical products, to the extent that Nigerians came to terms with the fact that a lot that were not eaten by them have been swallowed in large quantities. Each time I have the need to meditate over the spate of serious health crisis in the country today, my mind’s eye goes to Nafdac, of which without, all of us would be victims of various terminal health problems. I strongly believe that a good number of those who are suffering from cancer and renal problems were victims of the poisoned or unhealthy foods and drugs that flooded this country before Akunyili’s cleansing started. Since foods constitute a handsome reason for these afflictions, we cannot rule out the fact that the poor regulation of food imports, came with it the hazards that we see in various hospitals for which Nigeria has been ranked as having the highest prevalence rate within the Sub-Saharan Africa. This is why the issue of regulation in any field is more important than the management of such developments, because a whole nation can be ruined by any omission. This is the real need for reforms, especially as we are trying to have them put in place.
The Nafdac scenario is one model that, when fully introduced, can sanitise the development processes and offer producers the chance of coming out with the best products. Right now, one area that needs thorough regulation and quality assurance drive, is the Goods and other Commodities market or what we can call the Consumer (non perishable) goods and products. This is why Nigerians are worried with the pace at which the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (Son) is moving. In other words, they may borrow a midas from Akunyili so as to build a Son that can boast of the kind of relevance Nafdac has got.
The issue of standards becomes relevant here based on the increasing reports of the availability of poor products in our markets, especially from imported materials such as electrical parts. I have listened to the director-general of Son deliver his treatise on the ways and mean of eliminating the prevalence of fake products, but have continued to see the converse. Barely two years now since Odumodu took over the Son job, not much has been seen to have been achieved in the real sense of sanitising the situation that confronts the economy. It is obvious that the challenge is great based on the fact that many Nigerians have been feeding fat on fake products, but it is also due to the enormity of this challenge that Odumodu was selected among a good number of scientists that were sponsored for the job by top political god-fathers . The real issue here is that Nigerians hear more of how these criminals will be apprehended and the practice exterminated without anything happening long after, creating the impression that the strategy to achieve results has not been comprehensively streamlined, and the way it stands now, is that Odumodu is greatly losing this battle, unless he goes to Akunyili and find out from her , how to combine noise-making with action to achieve results.
This piece is energised by compact discussions among some Nigerians, both in a market-place and public offices. They are young Nigerians who have embarked on some structural developments projects, but were confronted with a large presence of sub-standard good in the market. One of them has a building project where he has made a lot of purchases ranging from electrical parts to plumbing materials, iron rods, glasses, steel, polished wood, tiles and other accessories. He went to the popular Alaba market for his electrical appliances, Coker market for all his plumbing materials, Festac Town for the tiles and he picked his door and bathroom accessories across the many markets in Lagos. Three weeks after the entire installations and two weeks into the actual usage of the house, the room bulbs stopped working while the tiles started peeling as the steel materials went rust and turned brownish in colour
The second discussant at our sudden Village meeting narrated that he does not own a car any more, because his mechanic used China wares to fix his troubled Isuzu engine and the car stopped rolling. Another one who just wedded explained that 90 per cent of the gifts he recieved cannot be put into use because non of them has been functioning well including a very expensive washing machine, which was given to him by the bank he works with. The lady among us came in the lighter-mood to tell us that women are suffering it more because you can not get a good quality bra or pants in the market, unless you can summon courage to go for the second-hand materials. For me as a journalist, I have to tell them that my head-ache is about my major working tools- the computers, laptops, phones and their accessories. I told them that my office is like a computer technician’s office, as the whole place is littered with laptops , most of them are of the best brands in the market, which died few months after. Then , the next question from all the discussants was ; What is that Odumodu doing ? But the question is not all about Odumodu, it is also about the legal system and our trade policy as they have to do with investment guidelines, industrial regulations and import duty guidelines.
For me, I think that the reason for appointing Odumodu to that position is to guide government in fashioning out the modest ways and means of getting the country out of this rubbish, so that Nigerians will have value for all their purchases, whether made in Nigeria or imported products. It is therefore, left for Odumodu to decide the best way to go about his goals based on the kind of priorities he has drawn. I do not want to say that the young man may have been largely overwhelmed by what he saw on ground or infer that he has been compromised, but I still believe that he has not summoned the courage he needs to call for the destruction of imported flourecent tubes worth some N200 million or the burning of cables worth some N2 billion as a way of disarming the restive importers or manufacturers. If his answer is any of the above, I really share his fears but must quickly add that he should not have taken the job, or better put, he should not have lobbied for it. It could be obvious that the initial travails of Dora Akunyili at Onitsha bridge-head, her home town or at the political arena may have been haunting the director-genera, but such jobs have their warrants, and that is why they are regarded as sacrifice.
I do not know how many of my readers like Akunyili or hate her, but it is my feeling that the lady really left a road-map to solving problems like this and her approach to it is simple and clear. Today, even though her legacies in Nafdac may have been watered down to some extent by the current state of the perception at the agency, the pharmaceutical market still has a good dose of goodwill to take away from her contributions. While running a lucrative pharmaceutical business few years ago, Odumodu benefitted from Akunyili’s legacies and should be working with the full picture of those legacies in his mind’s eye. More Nigerians would have died of food related terminal health problems if not her intervention. Can Odumodu help us reduce the level of poor quality products in the country? This will not only help us save some wastes, but will also point the way forward to new initiatives that will finally arrest the scourge even when he has left the place.
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