August 5, 2013

NAFDAC, Paul Orhii and the tragedy of social media

THE advent of social media has no doubt provided additional platform for people to share information and knowledge about things happening in their immediate communities and around the world. But social media has equally exposed the beast in humans, at a level never experienced since creation.

In Nigeria, people now use the social media to peddle all forms of lies and outrageous allegations against anybody they wish to attack without fear of what such baseless and unsubstantiated stories would have on their victims.

The tragedy is that there is no law that controls the proliferation of the social media which is fast eroding the journalism profession.

The situation is so bad that anybody can own a blog and publish whatever they want without care in the world. Most of the stories peddled by some bloggers have no by-line and there are no addresses of their promoters.

The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, was an obscure government department some years ago until Prof. Dora Akunyili was appointed to head the place. Her exploits exposed the Agency to the world and Nigerians saw NAFDAC as a reference point for quality service. But Dora was severally attacked in the media with spurious allegations.

When she left NAFDAC, Nigerians were afraid that achievements recorded by the Agency may be reversed if the right successor was not found. But NAFDAC under Dr. Paul Orhii’s leadership has recorded even greater successes than was the case. And this was achieved through the use of modern technologies and other innovations introduced by Dr. Orhii.

The result of these innovations has been awesome. There has been unprecedented reduction in the number of unwholesome drugs and food materials coming into the country. Local manufacturers of inferior drugs are facing the worst battle of their lives in the present dispensation under Dr. Orhii.

In retaliation, the thieves are now unleashing several lies against the Agency and its leadership, especially Dr. Orhii. And the social media has yielded itself as a willing tool.

A faceless blogger recently dropped a report that accused the NAFDAC boss of having affair with his former aide. The report also claimed that Dr. Orhii has hand in a corruption scandal involving the former aide. But the report failed to say how the alleged money was linked to Dr. Orhii.

The worst part of the allegations is the suggestion that Dr. Orhii is facilitating the importation of fake drugs into Nigeria. This falsehood is simply despicable in view of the commitment with which Dr. Orhii has waged the war against fake drugs.

Although the NAFDAC boss himself has addressed a press conference in which he told reporters about the online report. There is a need for Nigerians to rise up and condemn this act of reckless impunity by social media practitioners against otherwise very patriotic citizens working tirelessly to address the social malaise in Nigeria.

According to Dr. Orhii, the report was the handiwork of mischievous drug counterfeiters and disgruntled elements to paint him black, having failed in their assassination attempt against him.

It would be recalled that attempts were made in 2010 to assassinate Dr. Orhii when some hoodlums said to have been hired by a drug baron shot at him. Before the shock of the assassination attempt would fade, some people went to town in his home state of Benue circulating papers that alleged he was having affairs with his former aide.

To show how desperate they were, copies of the paper were sent to the Minister of Health and some other top government functionaries. The aim was to get Dr. Orhii out of office by all means because they knew that by his enviable track- record of achievements in NAFDAC, his re-appointment was as sure as night and day. This was exactly the tactics they deployed while trying to tarnish the image of Prof. Akunyili while she was in office. They had equally shot at her but did not succeed.

NAFDAC under Dr. Orhii is currently spearheading the global efforts in the use of cutting- edge equipment and instruments by regulatory agencies across the world. One of such novel ideas is the use of TRUSCAN, a hand-held device using Roman Spectroscopy to detect counterfeit products.

The use of this new and modern device has led to tremendous successes at borders and within the country in detecting counterfeit drugs on the spot. Others are the Black Eye, the deployment of a mobile system that works with the use of text messages by consumers to ascertain genuineness of drugs before purchase called Mobile Authentication Service and the use of Radio Frequency Identification, among many others.

To ensure that enforcement and monitoring personnel of the Agency catch up with prevailing circumstances and challenges, taking cognisance of the readiness of drug dealers to circumvent every existing strategy, NAFDAC has embarked on aggressive up- grading of facilities at their various laboratories across the country.

There is presently more and closer collaboration between NAFDAC and foreign countries and international agencies in the campaigns against substandard drugs.

The only medical doctor in the world who is also a lawyer and biomedical scientist, Dr. Orhii has been working fervently with the National Assembly, the Nigeria Bar Association and other relevant agencies to ensure that the Acts establishing NAFDAC is reviewed to provide stiffer penalties up to life imprisonment and confiscation of property of the merchants of death who feed fat on the blood of their compatriots. This is the most biting aspect of his war and for which these allegations are being cooked up to demoralise and slow him down.

It is, however, re-assuring to hear Dr. Orhii say that the fight against these evil drug dealers will not be compromised, no matter the level of attacks on him.

*Mr. BONAVENTURE MELAH, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Abuja.