The recent directive by the federal government that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) should return to the seaports, one year after the agency was ordered to vacate the same ports, is a laudable gesture – even though it has once again highlighted how the nation’s development has continued to be impeded by baffling policy summersaults.
For keen observers, who are familiar with the seaports’ imbroglio over the years, this latest directive will not come as a surprise, as there has never been policy consistency from the government on the issue. While there have been several reformative measures to better safeguard and sanitise the ports, none has ever been fully implemented before another is introduced.
Within the past 16 years, the federal government has, at various times, sacked NAFDAC, the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and some other agencies from the nation’s seaports. The reasons for the move are usually the same: The need to ensure efficient cargo clearance, to fight corruption, and to enhance business operation contributions of the ports. Curiously, no sooner had the government taken such drastic step than it would rescind, especially after seeing how much damage had been done to the country through the absence of these key agencies. More bafflingly, the government never seems to learn from past experiences as this inimical cycle of sack-and-recall seems to have become a norm.
The last sack of NAFDAC from the ports was announced on 7 June 2017 by the then Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who is also the chairman of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC). Osinbajo had cited the need to make the seaports more efficient and create a better environment for business operations as the rationale for the decision. However, months after the decision was taken, the nation had begun to face a monstrous drug abuse problem, with many communities flooded with controlled regulated products like tramadol and codeine. Then, following an embarrassing BBC expose on codeine abuse and the national uproar that followed it, the government eventually hearkened to the protest of NAFDAC and once again reversed its decision and recalled the agency back to the ports.
The central question that cannot but boggle the mind here is: Why should a serious government keep going back and forth in handling a critical issue as controlling the influx of sensitive substances, food, drugs and other regulated products into the country?
Incontrovertible evidences have shown that without NAFDAC’s presence at the ports, its ability to effectively control the importation of food, drug and other regulated products posing public health and security threats to the nation is seriously limited. It thus needs to be emphasised that, as much as government desires to enhance ease of doing business at the ports, placing this above the safety of Nigerians is not only injudicious but exceedingly counterproductive.
NAFDAC has a fundamental role to play at the ports. The agency has to ensure that counterfeited, adulterated and substandard food and drugs, as well as other controlled or harmful substances do not enter the country illegally. This task is daunting enough, even with the agency at the ports, as many of the nation’s land borders are appallingly porous, giving unfettered access to charlatans in business to bring in all sorts of products. To combine this with expulsion of NAFDAC from the ports and still expect the agency to deliver on its mandate is highly preposterous.
The Nigerian government must henceforth desist from sacking NAFDAC from the nation’s seaports. Rather, it should ensure, through its ports reforms and other policy initiatives, that the agency is fully supported and repositioned to effectively discharge its duties, not only at the seaports but other points of entry into the nation.
We must also commend the new NAFDAC Director General, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, for steadfastly pushing for the return of NAFDAC to the ports to enable the agency deliver on its mandate. We urge the agency to intensify efforts to ensure food and drug products that pose threat to public health and national security are not in our communities.
NAFDAC must avoid all distractions and keep to its maxim of working to safeguard the health of all Nigerians. It is only by consistently doing this right that the agency can justify its presence at the ports and its existence in the nation.