Lest We Forget

a commentary on socio-political developments and institutional policies

The Resident Evils

Quite often one has encountered warning about food combinations that could possibly trigger serious health issues or, even, death. I have heard such warning as not to eat mango after a meal of soaked garri.  While this may sound hillarious, there are times when danger comes in quietly due to a wrong combination of food and drugs. Innocently, we have used beverages to take tablets and capsules. As far as we are concerned, it is just to get some liquid to flush the medicine down our throat. In the absence of water we have used drinks. How deadly wrong can we be! 

Sometime in 2007, a Nigerian company, Fijabi Adebo Holding, bought large quantities of Coca-Cola, Fanta Orange, Sprite, Fanta Lemon, Fanta Pineapple and Soda Water from the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) for export to, and subsequent retail in the United Kingdom. The UK food safety authorities, however, found that the Fanta and Sprite contained some levels of unhealthy chemicals which could cause cancer. In such a situation, the drinks would be confiscated and destroyed. What a loss to Mr. Fijabi!

The chemicals were sunset yellow and benzoic acid. The evidence was further corroborated by European Union food examination board. Unfortunately, not only could these chemicals cause cancer in the consumers, anyone who made a mistake of using the drink to swallow Vitamin C, a common prescription to build immunity for cold would instantly be poisoned. Lest we forget,  NBC which produced these drinks is resident in Nigeria.

This development of the use of unhealthy and dangerous chemicals is within the purview of NAFDAC to redress.Irresponsible as NAFDAC was, it chose to do nothing! Not immediately, not later, not ever! What happened to peer review? What happened to global best practices? When your peers find fault in what you are doing should you not take a second look at it? If there are overwhelming evidences that you are wrong is it not reasonable and sensible that you take corrective or remedial steps? Whose interest is NAFDAC serving, if we may ask?  Multinational corporations or Nigerians? 

Only God knows the number of Nigerians in whom carcinogenic seeds have been sown through the consumption of NAFDAC-approved Fanta and Sprite drinks over the years. Only God knows those who have become poisoned, and eventually died, by using Sprite to swallow Vitamin B tablets. Sprite is a clear mineral and could be tempting to use as substitute for water to use drugs. Many have so done, to their peril!

To make matters worse, NAFDAC refused to make a plea in court. The management treated the case, and by extension the court, with disdain. By the way NAFDAC is a parastatal under a particular Ministry. The Director General of NAFDAC should explain why for nine years they have failed to remedy the situation, causing Nigerians untold health harms. The liability of the judgement payment should be shared by both the current DG and other DGs (retired) between 2008,  when the suit was filed, and now. The pensions of the retired DGs should be suspended forthwith while the current DG should be retired, immediately. There should be no sacred cows! Goverment functionaries should do what they are paid to do, and do it admirably well.

They have taken the Nigerian populace for granted, for too long. NAFDAC as currently operational is a resident evil that must reform or be disbanded. According to the trial judge, Justice Adedayo Oyebanji,  NAFDAC has failed the nation. In fact, if it should take a judge to warn us on our health, NAFDAC has, indeed, failed the nation. In other climes, by this unflattering verdict, heads would roll in the dysfunctional agency. Have questions not been raised about the fitness for consumption of other products such as Ajinomoto and its cousin, Onga? Has NAFDAC done anything? May the soul of Prof. Dora Akunliyi rest in perfect peace. NAFDAC died after she left!

Now to the Nigeria Bottling Company,  the manufacturer of the poisonous products. Their only singular defence in court was that the products were for “local consumption”, and that Mr. Fijabi did not tell them he wanted to export them. Can you believe that! NBC did not even plead that the products were safe for consumption by anyone to the best of their knowledge. In other words, to NBC, Nigerians are subhumans who could be fed with anything, anything, so long as they are making profit.

Even if reducing the amount of dangerous chemicals in the drinks would adjust the revenue of NBC, which I so much doubt anyway, should NBC not have considered the safety of Nigerians above pure profit motives? What Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can be greater than protecting the lives of your customers? Does it make sense to subject those who love you and patronise your products to untimely death?  Is the submission of NBC to the court not equal to racial discrimination against Nigerians in ensuring that the right things are done?

By the way, is NBC working in cahoot with some foreign pharmaceutical companies, to surreptitiously create an army of sick Nigerians who would, in years to come, have to patronise their pharmaceutical products?  NBC in Nigeria is a resident evil that must amend its ways or be shown the way out. Should there not be a class action against NBC? Nigerian Bar Association, where are you? Where are the Nigerian Consumer Protection agencies and activists? Sequel to this judgement, especially in light of the role played by both NBC and NAFDAC, I expect the appropriate National Assembly committee to summon them for scathing upbraid.

The social media is fast becoming the fourth estate of the realm, marching furiously where the main media fear to tread. It is a disparate power that needs to be harmonised and focused. It might be better and more beneficial to train the focus of the social media community on erring and complacent service delivery institutions in the country until such institutions seat up, or the government is forced to shake it up in response to the pressure. This is far better than pilorrying and mocking every Nigerian President while resident evils are allowed to thrive and flourish untouched. 

While the South African xenophobic attack is condemnable, the resident evils in Nigeria, such as NAFDAC, must not be spared. While inhuman treatment of Nigerians in foreign land should be shouted out, the inhuman treatment by resident evils such as NBC must not be overlooked.

In this struggle to birth a new sense of institutional responsibility,  Dr. Fijabi should not be left alone. The resident evils in our midsts should be fought to a stand still by all socio-legal means. The social media should call the Nigerian Bottling Company to account. The 90-day deadline for issuing warning on the bottles must be monitored. It would expire by June 12, 2017 or thereabout. We must let nauseating capitalism and multinational corporations know that they cannot make their money on our blood. We must, collectively, resist the commodification of our lives. We can even call for a total boycott of NBC products. After all, how are we sure the other products, too, are not meant to kill us, silently?

While I salute the courage of the trial judge in pronuncing NAFDAC a failure (that is a damaging  and deserving verdict) however, the award of N2 million Naira against NAFDAC is a slap on the wrist. Anyway, I believe Mr Fijabi would appeal the judgement for a more punitive pronouncement against the two resident evils, at least in fulfilment of the essence of his name. Of course, nothing good comes easy!

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