After the country was embarrassed by the foods and drugs agencies of other countries, the National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) addressed the media some weeks ago that Nigerians should stop embarrassing the country while trying to export farm produce and processed food. This is rather reactive rather than proactive and this has raised a lot of questions among Nigerians.
In a place like Lagos, different radio stations grant interview to organizers of various seminars wherein they claim to teach people on how to export different food items to other countries. Does this mean that any NAFDAC officer has never heard about these programmes for once or the Public Relations unit of the agency do not monitor the media Pan-Nigeria?
I do not doubt the availability of standard and international laboratories of NAFDAC but I doubt the effectiveness of these laboratories. Even locally especially herbal drugs that has passed through this said laboratories cannot be totally sacrosanct. Also, there are a lot of bottled water that have been certified by the organization and it is not fit for human consumption.
In my search for information about how farm produce are certified before bring exported, I found out that there is no standard way of testing. The requirements of the products differ and the specifications of each country differ. I would like to know if NAFDAC has a catalogue of the specification of all the destinations where these products are exported to across the world.
Equally, the NAFDAC approval that is granted to edibles, like Knorr, a food seasoning and products of the Nigerian Bottling Company is not accepted overseas. As such, the international accreditation done locally does not guarantee the external certification by other agencies. People would not take the claims of NAFDAC seriously because of these experiences.
How free is any transaction with a government official in Nigeria? This is a very cogent question that needs to be answered by those working in Government ministries and agencies. The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) reiterates that driving license is N6,500 but I am yet to see people who did it at that rate. The cheapest I have heard from people is N15,000 without receipt. The culture of kickback, kick-forward and kick-in-between while trying to get the produce certified in the civil service way would either kill the entrepreneur or make him loss business.
Before the era of the late Professor Dora Akunyili, NAFDAC was a toothless bull dog in Nigeria. During the days of the Midas’ touch of Professor Akunyili; those who manufactured drugs sat up and Nigeria was better for it. NAFDAC was everywhere from the dailies to the electronic media. They were either confiscating, destroying or sensitizing Nigerians about a particular product that should not be consumed. We have returned to the dark days when Nigerians were guinea pigs used to test fake and unhealthy products.
The Ministry of Agriculture cannot also be exempted from all the issues. Many farm settlements have died either a natural or artificial death because the extension workers are not supportive enough; many improved seedlings have been ceded to the family of the extension workers. In fact, the fertilizer that was shown to be purchased by the state government on television have been given to their associates who have the wherewithal to manage their farms.
Also, there is no education about the use of pesticides. Farmers do not know how to apply pesticides; farmers intuitively apply these chemicals. As such, by the time the crops are harvested, they are unfit for human consumption and exportation.
There are professionals in the area of Agricultural Engineering. These are the corps of people that should help with advanced farm tools and implements that would change the crude ways of preserving farm produces and other commodities that need be exported. If truly, the process used in producing dried fish and meat is not healthy then the onus lies on them to manufacture equipment that will help us to be healthy as Nigerians. Moreover, these are even ways of improving on our traditional ways of life.
The Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) needs to double up in her efforts to ensure that Nigerian remains a country that can export farm produce and other processed foods to other countries. The agency can help in working closely with other multi-lateral institutions to developing homegrown solutions before making it available for export.
The Nigerian project is in progress and there is a lot of synergy that is needed across agencies, ministries and the private sector. We need to develop a structure wherein all loopholes are blocked. There should be laboratories at all the Ministries that has to deal with human lives. Either in Nigeria or other countries, human lives is the fulcrum of development. We cannot continue to trivialize good health for profiteering sake. We all need to work together to make our country great while we are not limited in the volume of export to other nations of the world.