NAFDAC Desperately Needs Another Dora Akunyili

Dora Akunyili NAFDAC

The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is in the news for busting a fake wine factory in Abia state. Social media is awash with video clips of NAFDAC officials and police personnel ransacking the makeshift factory destroying adulterated bottles of popular soft drinks and different alcoholic brands. It wasn’t a small bust. I should say that the criminals running the factory used an entire market for their operations, according to a NAFDAC official who spoke to newsmen. 

On the heels of the report, similar videos of other people bottling adulterated drinks in unkempt environments have gone viral. Until writing this, I decided not to watch any of those videos because I knew I’d be filled with ire and I’d be disturbed emotionally for a few days. But for writing purposes, I eventually had to come around to watching them. I’ve seen videos of fake bottled water brands, fake beverage products, and fake powdered milk brands. I saw just enough videos I could handle. It seems everything in Nigeria has an adulterated replica.

It’s a given that Nigeria is lax with regulations despite having lots of regulatory agencies. We are a country of many weak and corrupt institutions. These institutions are as good as not existing in the first place. But despite that, NAFDAC once held itself as a worthy example when it was chaired by Dora Akunyili from 2001 to 2009. Dora left an unmatched legacy no elected official or public servant since 1960 has been able to match, in my opinion. She took the fight to the people behind fake drugs and food products. I recall as a primary school student in the mid-2000s, NAFDAC was all over the news. You couldn’t miss the tales of their exploits. Neither could radio jingles and TV commercials warning against fake drugs and food products escape your consciousness. 

Dora was a celebrated star, and deservedly so. She championed the eradication of Potassium Bromate in bread. She fought against the proliferation of non-iodized salt in the market. She went to the depths of hell to hound the concoctionists of fake drugs and food items. I recall as a child, knowing the the full meaning of NAFDAC and the name of the then chair, Dora Akunyili, was necessary knowledge for the current affairs section of the Common Entrance exam into secondary schools. 

Dora Akunyili
Dora Akunyili | BrandCrunch Nigeria

It is no wonder since the news broke on Monday, Nigerians have begun to reminisce on the good old days of NAFDAC when it was chaired by her. NAFDAC post-Dora has become a vegetable. I’m not sure I know the names of those who came after her. And that’s telling of how the mighty NAFDAC has fallen. The fall of NAFDAC is a cautionary tale of how impossible is it to perpetuate institutional legacy in Nigeria. 

For instance, it took just one administration after Peter Obi for Anambra state to relapse into debt. This is despite Obi leaving so much wealth for his successor. Obasanjo left a debt-free economy for Yar’Adua. And between him and Jonathan, Nigeria had already relapsed into debt. Buhari, of course, made it worse. You could have a Dora Akunyili fix Nigeria today. But all her legacy would be wiped off if a Jonathan or Buhari succeeds her. Already, people like Dora are extremely rare in a country like this. And that should be the more reason their legacy should be protected at all cost. But the Nigerian system is such that legacies are subsumed by the corruption industrial complex. It’s pointless at the end of the day.

NAFDAC has become so useless today that a certain talking-head content creator, Verydarkblackman has done more at exposing fake brands than NAFDAC has done in its post-Dora Akunyili history. Verydarkblackman rose to fame a few months ago by exposing several popular skincare products without NAFDAC registration numbers. Some customers complained to him about how some of the products had damaged them. These are brands that often pay so-called social media influencers for promotion. NAFDAC cannot possibly feign ignorance about these brands. Yet, nothing was done until a vigilante-esque talking-head content creator showed up. 

But maybe it’s unfair to accuse NAFDAC of being derelict in its duty to hound the makers and marketers of fake brands. I believe every government agency mirrors the will (or lack of) of the government. An agency can’t possibly out-will the government even if it has the right people. I was told by a professor a few weeks ago in class that Dora Akunyili was able to achieve the results she did because President Obasanjo himself was invested in fighting adulterated brands in the market. He gave her all the support she needed and she delivered excellently. One cannot honestly say Jonathan, Yar’Adua and Buhari shared the same passion Obasanjo had hence, NAFDAC becoming a shadow of itself post-Dora. 

According to the NAFDAC official who spoke to newsmen, there is an uptick in renal diseases in the country. And who knows how much of that is due to these adulterated products. Something needs to be said about the capacity of Nigerians to be uniquely wicked. Yes, Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world. And it is a sociological fact that poverty breeds a lot of vices. But poverty for far too long has been the default blame for unconscionable wickedness in this part of the world. If this were just a mere function of poverty, then the criminals managing the fake factory in Abia state would have quit a long time ago once they made a few bucks from their heinous craft. But instead, they continued expanding even to the extent of buying an entire market and converting it into their factory. How is that a function of poverty?

It is the same mindset that drives people into cybercrime and money ritual killings. I wrote an article earlier this year during the cash scarcity crisis. I argued that Nigerians are not good people seeing how many PoS operators and banks seized that moment to enrich themselves at the expense of others. We are not a good people and we also have a unique capacity for wickedness. 

How many such fake factories exist in the country? How many people are in the hospital or are dead because of these criminals? Yesterday’s bust should motivate the government to crack down heavily on the makers and marketers of adulterated products. Apart from the serious health implications of this, it also has far-reaching economic implications. It takes profit away from affected brands. This is particularly dangerous seeing how a lot of brands are exiting Nigeria already. 

It’s also worse when you think about how health workers are fleeing the country on a quotidian basis. There have been reports of teaching hospitals closing down wards because the number of nurses and doctors they have has shrunk due to the japa zeitgeist. The implication is those who contract renal diseases from taking these adulterated brands may lack adequate medical care as hospitals continue to lose health workers. This is really annoying to even think about.

For the life of me, I cannot comprehend how we are an extremely religious people but also an extremely wicked and corrupt people. These people probably go to church. They probably hold a post in church. They probably are huge donors in their church. The sheer paradox Nigeria straddles makes it one hell of a hell. Yesterday’s bust is a call to action, not a moment of celebration. And I hope the Tinubu government understands that.

By Olayemi Olaniyi

Olayemi is the publisher of The Disaffected Magazine. He also hosts the Disaffected Nigerian Podcast. He enjoys everything from Evolutionary Psychology to the syncopations of Apala music to Fela's discography. He fancies himself as an Amala enthusiast. His dream is to be a travel writer someday. He can be reached on X @LukeOlaniyi.  

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