by GBENGA ODUNSI | November 29, 2017 12:35 pm
For two weeks, Gbenga Odunsi of AljazirahNigeria visited the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC to ascertain whether the corruption story making the rounds on social media is true or false. His findings evinced that corruption is not only the cankerworm rocking NAFDAC as officials also involve in quack inspection; approve fake laboratory test results; issue license for not-up-to standard products.
On a sunny afternoon, I was having a warm chat with some friends some months back when, suddenly, the chat took another form of getting NAFDAC registration for a bottled water product. It happened that one of my friends was about setting up a bottled water factory but was not familiar with how to go about NAFDAC registration. Other friends advised he gets a consultant to facilitate the registration process or be ready to have a long wait of three months, with stringent registration procedures. “Can you pay this amount? I know of a consultant who can help you facilitate your registration within one month” another friend had said.
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for NAFDAC officials to enter the kingdom of God. Nothing better captures the secrecy shrouding business activities in NAFDAC than a parody of renaming the agency as “National Agency for Food and Poison Administration and Corruption
On Tuesday, at around 9.am, I arrived at NAFDAC headquarters in Wuse Zone 7, Abuja. A security — young, light-skinned, and not too tall lady— checked me in, by asking me to fill a long register placed on a slab outside the gate, just by the security house. She acted so friendly; too friendly that I began to wonder if she was ‘crushing’ on me. I hastily informed her of my mission: to make inquiries on ‘bread registration requirements. I was directed to the back of the main NAFDAC building. There are two buildings inside the NAFDAC compound. The first — main building— was for staff and other things I didn’t bother to investigate, while the second building at the back was more like a boys’ quarters. There were so many empty containers neatly dumped in front of the boys’ quarters office.
On entering the office, I was welcomed with an inquisitive how-may-we-help-you look from a young, light-skinned lady. “Good morning sir, how may we help you,” she asked. After running a quick scan of the office settings, “I am here to make enquiry on how to get NAFDAC license for my baker,” I declared. I was asked to fill a visitor’s register before proceeding to an inner room where the boss was seated.
The boss — a dark, plump lady donning in a brown suit and skirt— welcomed me with a stern look. Still gazed fixed on her computer, she asks.
“I was told you are here to make inquiries on how to get NAFDAC license for your bakery.
“Do you have a structure?
“Give me few minutes to round off with what I am doing.”
In the next 30 minutes or thereabout, she would give a blow-by-blow explanation on the guidelines for the establishment of food manufacturing plant in Nigeria.
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The Ideal Requirements
The guidelines she reeled out prescribed the minimum good manufacturing practice requirements for the facilities and controls to be used in the manufacturing, processing, and packaging of products to ensure they meet quality and acceptable standards.
“You must have a structure with at least four rooms, she began. The rooms— changing room; raw materials room; packaging room; production room; and finished product room —must be spacious for its intended purpose.
“There must be in place, a water plant treatment to ensure your products are been processed with clean water.
“There must be an adequate number of qualified staff —with adequate education— to perform their duties.
“You must have a qualified quality control analyst to identify and verify factors in the process of baking and to prevent contamination of food.
“After all these are put in place, you can now apply for registration.
“You would need to apply for inspection after making a payment of N10, 500; CAC certificate for the bakery; trademark registration for the bread from ministry of commerce; Certificate of Chief Baker; Food handlers test certificates for staff; Fumigation certificate,” she concluded and handed over a copy of the guidelines to the journalist-client.
Aware of the nature of corruption in Nigeria, I questioned if there was a way I could bypass all the aforementioned procedures and still get the NAFDAC license in 3weeks.
“How can you bypass? Ha nawa o.
“I am even disappointed in what you are asking; you want to pay bribe to get NAFDAC number, later you people will start criticizing NAFDAC; Someone that can ask this type of question is not a human being,” she yells.
This NAFDAC official is definitely not your average Nigerian. She belongs to a slim clique of NAFDAC officers who refuse to be compromised when offered bribe to get NAFDAC registration number.
Not satisfied with her response, I smiled out of her office. On getting outside, I feigned a somber look, and went straight to meet my ‘security-friend’ at the gate.
“Are you done? she asks. “I am not happy,” I reply.
“I was given a long list of guidelines and procedures before I can be issued a NAFDAC registration for my bakery.
“I know you will be able to help me out, since you are familiar with some of the officials here”. I teased.
Although my security friend feigned ignorance of what I was asking for — apparently trying to be careful of divulging such sensitive ‘runs’ with a stranger — but after some friendly chat, she loosened up.
“E get one of my brother wey do hin own factory sometime ago, he bin get the NAFDAC registration number within few weeks.
“I go help you ask am the officer wey help am do am; shey your phone number is on the register? I will call you this night,” she said in a hushed tone.
As we were concluding on our ‘runs’ a middle-aged, framed-built security officer swaggered past us.
When I requested for her number for timely follow up, she declined saying “No worry, I go call you, she insists. Although this gave me an uncomplacent feeling, I knew I had to step up on my investigation.
I walked to a nearby shop of a woman selling odds and ends, three men were seated on a bench, talking in hushed tones. Although they whispered their discussion, I was able to grab their conversation; it bothered around how one of them would approach a lady quietly sipping her drink at the other side of the shop. When I didn’t find any investigative use of their purposeless talk, I wandered around the environment to see if I could get further details on how to get my ‘imaginary bakery’ registered in three weeks.
Welcome to Corruption
The following day, I received an SMS alert from my security-friend detailing contacts of consultants that can help facilitate my NAFDAC registration without hassle.
“Please call this number, I told him to help my brother,” the SMS read. Not forgetting that she had given out my number to another consultant who called me up the previous day…more on that later
I swung into action. I called the said consultant while stepping up my profile as a business tycoon who wants to establish a bakery; we agreed on a time and location to meet. This consultant seems to have perfected the act of manipulating NAFDAC registration processes in alliance with NAFDAC officials in Lagos and Abuja. According to him, fumigation analysis and geographical result — which should ordinarily be conducted by NAFDAC approved laboratories — can be easily generated with a paltry thirty-five thousand naira.
“Do you have a company name, trademark registration, CAC for bakery, fumigation result/certificate, and geographic result, food handlers test certificates for staff? — the middle-aged, averagely built man asked.
“You must have all these requirements before NAFDAC can come for their ‘initial inspection’.
“I cannot help you with the CAC, company name, and trademark registration; but I can help with the fumigation certificate, and geographic result. It will be done in a way that it will be accepted by the NAFDAC officials coming for the inspection.”
It is surprising that this consultant does not know the state of my bakery; although I had told him I have a structure, with four rooms, and water plant treatment; he did not bulge to know if the structure and water plant treatment is of acceptable standard, yet he is confident that NAFDAC will issue me a license to commence operation.
How does he hope to achieve this alone? Is he going to liaise with NAFDAC officials? I ask myself.
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‘Renting’ of certified workers
Another part — a second part — of the requirements for NAFDAC is the certificate of a Chief Baker, and food handlers test certificate. It is important that the owner of the bakery employs professional and certified chief baker and other staff such as the production manager; quality control manager; and few other staff to qualify for the inspection.
However, rather than recruiting qualified and certified staff for job, this consultant said he has people who would stand in as ‘certified staff’ with certificates to prove it. The ‘rented’ staff would be paid a sum of money to enable them to play their roles perfectly well. However, one thing to note here is the immediate disengagement of the rented staff as soon as NAFDAC officials exit the building. This gives room for the owner of the bakery to employ quack, unqualified personnel afterwards.
“I hire and pay people to stand in as workers,” the Igbo-consultant declares.
“The last one I did for a client who runs a pure water factory in Lagos, we got the registration number in less than one month. Every document was perfected, and we got NAFDAC officials to approve it without verifying the documents.
“I will provide you a man who will stand in as a production and quality control manager.
“If the officials in Abuja are wasting time, I will contact my friends at Lagos NAFDAC office and we will be given NAFDAC number in a matter of weeks, he bragged.
“But you are going to pay me two hundred thousand naira for my services,” he added.
I was shocked at the amount he spewed out. “Haba oga, 200 thousand naira is no small money. I will pay you a hundred and fifty thousand naira, I reply.
The three-minute tutorial that followed explained how he would share the 200-thousand-naira bribe.
“The production manager will collect thirty thousand; fumigation and geographic result will gulp twenty-five thousand; food handlers’ tests of five staff will guzzle ten thousand naira for government hospital to get them certified; part of it will go to some NAFDAC officials, and the rest is for my consultancy fee,” he explained.
To be sure I heard him right — more like I wanted him to repeat himself — I protested that I cannot pay him that amount of money when no NAFDAC officials is in his ‘game-plan’. “How do you hope to achieve all these when you do not know any NAFDAC official to put you through your plans? What if after making the payment, I still do not get the license? I protested.
In the next fifteen minutes, he would explain how NAFDAC officials/inspector get involved in the manipulation and registration of ‘not-up-to-standard products.
“Look, I am a consultant, I have been in this business for years; I have helped many businessmen and women register their products with NAFDAC. Of course, I have insiders in their office here in Abuja, and Lagos, but you don’t expect me to start revealing their names.
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Selling products without NAFDAC number
I called up the other consultant for a meet-up somewhere at Jabi, in Abuja, over few bottles. I gave him the same format: to make enquiries on ‘bread registration requirements, and that I want to get it done in three weeks. This consultant — a young, light complexioned, slim Yoruba man — was quick to acknowledge and boast of his past achievement in getting products registered with NAFDAC within one month. He wears the aura of a man whom, by nature of his manipulation feats, believes NAFDAC requirement and procedures are uncalled for.
“Where is your bakery located? he asks. After giving him other details of the numbers of rooms, and location, he adjusts himself, and takes another sip of his chilled beer.
“My brother, this is Nigeria, and nothing is impossible. If you are ready, I can start working on the registration next week.
“The person that gave you my number knows me well, that was why she recommended me.”
As we were discussing, his phone kept ringing intermittently and kept receiving calls from both prospective and returning clients. I listened carefully to most of his conversations with his clients, especially from the ones he had consulted for. My findings revealed that this consultant, in collaboration with NAFDAC officials had executed loads of manipulations. In one of his conversations, he had advised a client— a producer of juice— to start selling her products without NAFDAC number, noting that he has settled with some officials who ordinarily would have seized her products, and shut down her factory if she was caught producing and selling unregistered products.
On hearing this I became more interested in starting my bakery without license. “Oga, so it is possible to start operations without getting license from NAFDAC? I ask.
Again, he was quick to roll out his accomplishments – “In this Abuja ehn, there are many products wey no get NAFDAC number. Do you think it is everybody that has the time and patience to wait for three to five months before getting approval from NAFDAC? Even those that have the time, do not have the money to process all the requirements. In all these, there is a way I go about it and NAFDAC will not harass you, except they change or transfer the officials I work for. Some of the officials are there to make money, only few of them care about the good health of Nigerians. Once you settle them, they won’t disturb you,” he reveals.
Asked if he could help settle some officials for me to commence my bakery without registering for NAFDAC number, he nodded in affirmative. He told me to ensure my products are well packaged in a transparent nylon, with a unique name to go with it. Some NAFDAC officials whom he works for, will be settle with a sum of — wait-for- it — paltry fifty thousand naira.
According to him, a business owner who wishes to evade the stringent procedures of acquiring NAFDAC license must first submit the required documents at NAFDAC office but does not need to follow up or wait for approval before commencing business as some insiders will be bribed to dump the documents where a superior officer would not see it. Hence, submission of documents is more important than NAFDAC license itself.
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NAFDAC project is failing
This is where the corrupt NAFDAC officials come in. A consultant does not just pull strings and gets NAFDAC registration and documentations done and dusted without one or two NAFDAC officials — an insider.
It is the job of this insider to facilitate and lobby other officials to speedily grant the consultant a license, whether or not, the bakery conforms with the required standard.
The insider is also expected to liaise with government hospitals to certify food handlers whether or not they are qualified; It is the duty of the insider to provide a valid fumigation certificate for the consultant whether or not the proposed site was fumigated.
Each NAFDAC officials have one or more consultants whom they work with. According to the consultant, if Abuja NAFDAC officials foot drag, he would contact the ones in Lagos…he seems to be a famous manipulator in the agency.
The consultants receive payments from clients; obtain fumigation certificate, geographic analysis, medical fitness of personnels up to the level of initial inspection, to the issuing of licensing of the substandard products.
Furthermore, with the approval of corrupt NAFDAC officials, prospective clients can successfully produce and sell fake and unregistered products without been harassed or arrested.
Is the Agency living up to its responsibilities?
The organization was created to act as a specific check and control over possible counterfeit goods in accordance with Nigerian laws and regulations. The main and the most serious threat is illicit medicines. A very high number of Nigerians have died from using fake pharmaceuticals. As a result of this, some African countries refuse to import any medicines and drugs from Nigeria.
NAFDAC is also saddled with the responsibility of controlling the export and import of various medications, chemicals, cosmetics, including their sale and usage; Testing of the aforementioned products and checking their compliance with Nigerian standards of quality; Investigation and control of the raw materials used for the production of medications and cosmetics; Working out regulations and guidelines for the production, sales, and moving of these goods within and beyond the borders of the country; The process of registration of medical substances, chemicals, among others are the major functions of NAFDAC.
From this investigation, it is vital for the new NAFDAC DG, Moji Adeyeye to clamp down on companies and factories producing and churning out unregistered products; clean up the agency of corrupt officials; arrest consultants who are the channels through which the agency approves fake products; rebrand the agency which is fast losing its relevance and confidence of average Nigerians
Late Professor (Mrs.) Dora Nkem Akunyili, who assumed office on 12 April 2001, as the Director General of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) established as a top priority the eradication of counterfeit drugs and unsafe food. Before her assumption of office in NAFDAC, fake and substandard foods and drugs were sold in Nigeria without any form of regulation. She sought to protect the lives of Nigerians as DG of NAFDAC and never compromised as regards those who trafficked in fake drugs.
Her predecessor, Dr. Paul Orhii, however, was entangled in a web of corruption. He was alleged to have been involved in various fraudulent activities like unlawful use of consultants for collection of money, extortion of producers of sachet and bottled waters and spending of N4 billion for “fictitious” publicity in a space of three years.
Mrs. Yetunde Oni, the recently retired NAFDAC DG, did her best by arraigning drug suspects, intercepting trailer load of fake drugs.
Efforts to get Jimoh Abubakar, NAFDAC spokesperson’s reaction proved abortive as he neither picked his calls nor responded to text message sent to his line as at the time of filing this report.
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