By Henry Ojelu
The House of Representatives has directed an investigation into the legality of the operations of private equity firm, Alta Semper Capital UK (a.k.a Idi Holdings), as a part-owner of the popular retail pharmacy chain, HealthPlus, in Nigeria.
This came following a petition made by Oladimeji Ekengba and presented by Rep Benjamin Kalu, which challenged the waiver granted by the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) to Alta Semper Capital purportedly permitting the private equity firm to co-own and operate the retail pharmacy, HealthPlus in Nigeria.
The petition argued that according to Section 2(2) of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Act, P.17, 2004 (PCN Act), a retail pharmacy can only be wholly owned by a registered pharmacist or in partnership with other registered pharmacists; and therefore, that the letter of ‘No Objection’ issued to Alta Semper as a waiver by the Registrar of PCN was an illegality.
Speaking to reporters after the plenary session, Rep Kalu, who is also the spokesperson of the House, said: “As you are aware, the PCN Act established the PCN, a body charged with responsibility for regulating the practice of the pharmacy profession in Nigeria, and also charged with the responsibility for maintaining a register of qualified pharmacists and pharmaceutical businesses.
“The combined provisions of the PCN Act and the PCN Regulations stipulate that a retail pharmacy can only be owned by a registered pharmacist or in partnership with other registered pharmacists.
“So it was shocking to learn that by a letter dated October 30, 2017, the PCN Registrar granted a waiver to an equity investment relationship between Health Plus Limited and Alta Semper Capital UK (a.k.a. Idi Holdings) in March 2018, in defiance of the clear stipulation of our laws, which does not permit unqualified persons to own or operate a retail pharmacy business in Nigeria.
“A mere letter cannot and must not be allowed to abrogate an Act of the National Assembly. Therefore, any structure put on that weak foundation should not be allowed to stand because it was not birthed by legality.
“The only remedy for the Alta Semper-HealthPlus anomaly is for parties to be returned to status quo. While we are open to foreign direct investment, private equity companies must come through the front door and not the back door.
“We are a rule of law compliant nation. Investors must understand this and comply with our laws.
“The Covid-19 scourge has critically impacted medicine security in Nigeria. So, as we navigate the challenges of the pandemic, now more than ever, there is a grave responsibility on the government to ensure best practices and a healthy regulatory space for local pharmaceutical businesses to thrive.
“Pharmaceutical practice standards and the integrity of the supply chain should not be distorted or compromised. We cannot allow unlicensed practitioners in Nigeria’s pharmaceutical space because it could create a window for fake or substandard drugs to be introduced into the system.
“The Committee on Public Petitions has been mandated by the House to investigate this issue. The management of Health Plus, Alta Semper Capital, Pharmacists Council of Nigeria and every other person, who has played a role in the issue, will soon be invited to the House.
“I am confident that in reviewing the petition, the House will do justice to the concerns raised by the petitioner and ensure that the health and safety of Nigerian citizens are safeguarded against predatory or charlatan practitioners in the pharmaceutical sector.”
Speaking to reporters, a pharmacist based in Abuja who preferred to remain anonymous, said: “What happened with HealthPlus and the foreign investors sets a wrong precedence in the pharmaceutical industry if allowed to stand.
“It is an affront to the integrity of the profession that an unqualified person will be allowed to run a pharmacy in Nigeria simply because he is a foreign investor.
“This cannot happen in the legal profession or the medical profession, so why should it happen to pharmacists?
“We are happy that the House has risen up to this and we hope it will return sanity to the profession by returning all parties, both Health Plus and Alta Semper to their initial positions before the letter of no objection.”
The pharmacist proceeded to call the actions of the PCN Registrar into question, saying “The Registrar was wrong and acted illegally by issuing a letter of no objection to flagrant abuse of the PCN Act.
“In my own mind, let the investors be refunded and HealthPlus made to wait for them to come through the proper channels.
“I also think that the disciplinary committee of the PCN should invite the Registrar for questioning.”