By Chioma Obinna
Last week in Lagos, it was the end of the road for a suspected representative of a cartel of drug counterfeiters based in China when operatives of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, succeeded in arresting one Olisaemeka Osefor, alleged to be one of their kingpins in Nigeria. The drug cartel specializes in the production and shipment of various fake and counterfeit products into the Nigerian market.
Just like the popular saying, “everyday is for the thief and one day for the owners of the house”, Olisaemeka was caught in the act after the cartel had successfully produced and shipped into the country, various fake drug products worth over N106, 210 million.
But fate played a fast one on them following a tip –off which led operatives of the Enforcement and Investigation Directorate of the Agency to raid a warehouse located at Progressive Traders market known for the sale of jewelries and cosmetic products within the Trade Fair Complex along Badagry Expressway, Lagos.
The fake products were said to have been deliberately packed in plain cartons and rapped in sacks to conceal their identities and deceive the public. Curiously and of particular note was that of Neurogesic Ointment which was labelled as manufactured in Nigeria even when it was imported.
Some of the counterfeit medicine discovered and impounded included; Skineal Cream (158cartons x 10 x 24 x 15g), Funbact-A cream (43cartons x 30 x 12 x 30g), Mycoten Cream (719cartons x 40 x 10 x 20g), Neurogesic Ointment (131cartons x 40 x 10 x 35g), Rough Rider Condom (56cartons), Iman Luxury powder (20cartons) and Heal balm (205cartons) amongst others.
Sadly, hospital reports have shown that hundreds of Nigerians lose their lives on daily basis to activities of these drug counterfeiters. The sad story of a one- time beneficiary of Kanu Heart Foundation may still be fresh in the minds of many Nigerians who read the report of how the beneficiary died after a fake drug was unknowingly administered unto him shortly after a life- threatening heart surgery.
The report disclosed that every year, fake drugs worth billions of naira are seized by NAFDAC. Unfortunately, despite the activities of the agency to earnestly rid Nigeria of fake drugs, some Nigerians have continued their nefarious activities unabated. Just recently, the agency destroyed fake drugs and others valued at N145, 969, 606 in Makurdi. Other raids and visits to about 12 suspected locations in Lagos alone for fake drugs led to the arrest of 14 persons in the last one month.
In the last few months, NAFDAC has stepped up its surveillance and enforcement activities to rid the nation of fake drugs and other unwholesome products regulated by it. Sources at the agency said that the regulatory body has, in the past four years of the current Director General’s administration, involved many strategies against counterfeiting of drugs.
Parading Olisaemeka before the media and the public, the Director-General of NAFDAC, Dr. Paul Orhii described his arrest as among one of the ‘ground -breaking efforts’ the Agency has made in recent times. In view of the magnitude of the offence, the Agency, according to the Director-General, has sampled the drugs against the suspect preparatory for his prosecution when investigations were concluded.
While condemning drug counterfeiting which he described as worst than armed robbery and other crimes, Orhii said that “latest findings had proved that drug counterfeiters now operate from markets that deal on other commodities to shield their dubious activities from law enforcement agencies”.
His strong message to those he described as ‘the merchants of death ‘ is that NAFDAC is more than prepared to rid the nation of fake and unwholesome drugs. He maintained that there will be no sacred cow in the fight against drug counterfeiting and warned that any counterfeiter arrested will be prosecuted according to the extant laws of the land.
Acknowledging that the Agency cannot win the war alone, Orhii solicited the support and cooperation of all Nigerians to join hands with NAFDAC to combat the menace. To this end, the Agency has pledged to reward in monetary terms, any member of the public, landlord and market union, whose report would lead to uncovering of any suspicious activity relating to NAFDAC regulated products around their communities while promising that such informa-tion will be treated with absolute confidentiality.
Reiterating that China remains a problem to the fight against fake drugs in Nigeria, Orhii threatened that NAFDAC will begin prosecution of owners of warehouses used in stocking fake drugs. “It is imperative to also mention that landlords of warehouses stocked with fake drugs and other sub-standard products will henceforth be arrested and prosecuted as acomplices” he warned.
Corroborating his views, the Director of Enforcement, NAFDAC, Mr. Garba Macdonald said that his officers will continue intensive surveillance to consolidate on the achievements so far recorded adding that it had led to the series of arrests of the syndicate importing fake regulated products into Nigeria. He revealed that his directorate was investigating many petitions on the unwholesome activities of some importers and promised that no efforts would be spared to flush them out of the distribution chain.
However, Olisaemeka has confessed to be in business with a cartel based in China where the fake products were sourced and stored in their warehouse before being shipped to Nigeria. He has also admitted that they have some other collaborators in Tin Can Island port where they illegally cleared the consignments on arrival.