Tuesday, April 9, 2019 2:49 pm
Professor Moji Adeyeye became the Director General, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) 15 months ago. It is an agency under the Federal Ministry of Health in charge of regulating and controlling the manufacture, importation, exportation, advertisement, distribution, sale and use of food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, chemicals and others. In this interview with Ademola Adegbamigbe, Yomi Osoba, Lanre Babalola (Ayodele Efunla snapped the photographs), Adeyeye appraises her tenure so far, the challenges of her office, the conflict with House of Representatives, her dream for the Agency and other issues.
NAFDAC recently marked its 25th anniversary. How will you rate the agency so far?
Well, there is another international agency that rates us; it is better to approach us that way, How is global agency rated? They are rated on about 287 indicators, and the rating determines the maturity level of the agency, and that maturity level is a great thing to have if you have the maximum.
The rating goes from 1 to 4, 4 being the best, and I will use Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) USA as an example of a regulatory agency that is rated 4. When I came to NAFDAC 15 months ago, NAFDAC was at 1. Within a year, we jumped to 2, now we are working towards 3. About two, three weeks ago, the bio vaccines limited or company which is a PPP company with the ministry of health visited my office and they didn’t know what we are doing or done so far and they mentioned in their presentation that without a country having a 3 or 4, Nigeria cannot produce vaccines.
So that is why what am talking about is extremely important for the country, for drugs security, employment, for reducing substandard and falsified medicine because if you can produce yours in house in the country, there would be less tendency for people to be bringing less or substandard medicine. Right now we are between 2 and 3 and on Monday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is going to come to do the first step which is a self assisted audit and later in June they will come to do the full audit.
For now, I will say we are between 2 and 3 and I will say that is great. We have worked very hard since last year, everybody in the agency, what makes up the global bench mark indicators is based on quality management system. We are doing both quality management system ISO 9001 and this global bench marking is called ISO 9004, both go hand in hand. If you don’t have something you cannot give it. Somebody that wants to give you clothes, you have to look at what that somebody is wearing. That is what quality management and global benchmarking end up to be, because if you want to set standards for the industry, we want to help our own industry to use global best practices, then we have to be able to teach them and if we don’t have it, we cannot. So essentially that is what we are doing.
With quality management system, we are becoming Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) driven. This means you get an application today from a client, how long does it stay on your desk? What are you supposed to do? So now everything is going to be timely, timeline bound. There is no civil service mentality of a thing on top of somebody’s application but it is not just that. We are also going e-registration, meaning you don’t have to come to NAFDAC to register your products unless there is a technical issue you want to ask or whatever. The e-registration will cut out man to man interaction – where bribery and corruption could come in. So, we are doing that but these align very well with our quality management system.
The quality management system is also aligning with the presidential initiative creating an enabling business environment, which Professor Yemi Osibanjo, the vice president, is heading. We want to have a country where it is easy or easier to do business, where if somebody submits SMEs, small or medium size enterprises, an applicant submits an application and they had an idea when it is going to come out, when it is approved or not approved, this has helped us in terms of our timeline bound processing now, SOP driven. For food it is 90 days, for drugs it is about 120 days, meaning that if you are supposed to get your approval or decision at the end of 90 days, it shouldn’t be 120 days, it shouldn’t be more than 100 days maximum, maximum meaning there was a problem in the middle during the process and the client didn’t provide enough documentation on time. To answer your question we are between level 2 and 3 and it is called maturity level and it is WHO listed.
What is your dream for the agency?
My dream for the agency is to be the pride of Africa. My dream for NAFDAC is to be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with any organization in the world. My dream is for the local manufacturing to thrive. Right now, we are importing about 70 per cent of drugs. My dream is to change to 70-30, meaning manufacturing 70 locally and importing 30. This is because no country really does 100 per cent local manufacturing because when that happens, we have drug security, they are assessable, affordable and secondly our children will have hopes and thirdly to reduce the standard of falsified medicines coming into the country. Right now a lot of substandard falsified medicines are imports, they are not drugs that are manufactured locally. My dream for NAFDAC is to have world class laboratories.
When I got to NAFDAC, it was pathetic because the lab was kind of left behind and I said no, this cannot happen, so I started focusing or giving the lab the required attention, this past year we have ordered greater than N500 million of lab supplies from Germany, we now do direct purchasing, instead of going through middle people, middle people which was the situation before I came and things were just chaotic and nothing was in the lab to really make the lab great. My dream of course is to have a strong workforce, all these things that I am talking about cannot happen unless you have a strong workforce. When I took this job about 15 months ago that was no 1 on my list because NAFDAC was always going on strike and the first day that I started I met with the union, I said what is the problem? I empathized with them, I didn’t even know the details, I empathized with the points they were making and I got into action. If a member of staff is not satisfied, you better know, the job is not going to be done. I am talking of the structure, not a staff that is not going to be busy or whatever.
The council was inaugurated in March, and that was the first thing I presented to them. For the first time, NAFDAC staff now have conditions of service- I am talking of completed ones. They had it before but they put it somewhere. They have scheme of service, allowances that are due them, the productivity allowance they now get. If you remember, they had a sympathy strike with Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) last year and for these we lost one billion naira in revenue, it is common economics, which one do you want, do you want to take care of the staff reasonably or you want to be losing money? I am not an economist but it doesn’t take rocket science to do that.
I was in Beijing August last year and I raised the issue, we had products that were labeled for export only, what about that, for exports only, and they are tramadol, codeine, unregulated products, they said, our agency doesn’t cover for export only! I said really, your agency doesn’t cover for export only? So it is not good for your people and it is good for us?
So council supported me on salary structure and we presented our case, now it is in the pipe line in terms of consideration and am hoping now that the minimum wage has been settled they will give us more attention. I happened to see different salary levels and I asked who gets that? They said it is the Director. I asked this is what the Director gets in NAFDAC? And the person lives in Lagos! How can they pay rent? Is that how poorly NAFDAC staff are paid, for an agency that is always in touch with clients that have a lot of money to pay, that have tendency to bribe, that shouldn’t happen and that doesn’t mean you should give them anything they want. At least they should be able to provide for themselves or for their families. That’s how important I take our staff and the staff have cooperated, they have cooperated with the things that have been going on. Of course few may not, largely the staff have cooperated, my dreams for NAFDAC is to have a certified and discipline workforce. I am a mother, I love my children but I discipline my children when they are growing up, I love you but if you made mistake, you are going to pay for it, and that is percolating throughout now. We have staff we may be dismissing because of one thing or the other they might have done, we have staff that we give queries and warn, it is a learning process kind of life. So it is a discipline workforce that you need before you want them to give you what you want them to give and that is going on.
We are not there yet because. There are few things that I am hearing, but we are putting things in place, making it first of all difficult for them to even think to do that and secondly to let them know that you do the crime you do the time. What else am I dreaming for NAFDAC, Oshodi lab for example, is an aged building maybe 45 – 50 years old. My dream is to have a brand new three to four floors on the oshodi campus where we would have a first class food lab because that is where the food lab is, and the same thing with Yaba lab, we may even bring the drug and Yaba lab together. We need a lot of infrastructure development, people don’t understand that in a lab you need to have air conditioning system. We want an ISO lab that can meet accreditation. If you have a 500,000 dollar equipment in this room and this room is as hot as it can be, you better know that that equipment is going to break down. So our lab has to be conducive in order to maintain or increase the life span of our equipment. Right now we don’t have that, we just have to make do, put up the air conditioners there, so that is my dream in terms of infrastructure.
In Abuja before I came, NAFDAC was given a land on the way to the airport, I would like us to build that because if you come to our Wuse office right now and I take you round, you know what am talking about, we are packed like sardines. And that is not good for a regulatory agency, it is part of the indicator for global bench marking, do you have space problem? And I cannot lie, we need space, meanng that they will now be looking at us in the future what have you done about it as a responsive regulatory agency? One of my dreams also is to have a more friendly website, because a regulatory agency must be transparent in everything they do and it is through the website anybody that is looking into it will know, what are the regulations, fees and that is already in the works. If you want to know who is manufacturing what, you will have an app on your cell phone, I have an app on Mass Drug Administration (MDA) on my cell phone, if I want to know how many people are making aspirin, that are regulated by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), I will see all of them even if they are 100.
And the Reps members said, welcome to Nigeria what do you have for us for Yuletide? I said what is Yuletide? Ok I said hampers, yeah I can give you hampers because it is part of our tradition now in Nigeria. They said no, we want welfare. I said welfare? Didn’t you hear everything that I was saying in the past two hours? We need XYZ, NAFDAC is bleeding, we had N3.2 billion naira. I said I don’t give money that I don’t have first of all because we are in debt. One of them said, your body language is looking as if you are not going to give us anything. I said you got it right, am not giving anything.
That is a minor dream but my dream for NAFDAC is for everybody to have computers. And if we are talking of E this, E that and you don’t have enough computers, things may not work. My dream is for us to have a lot of vehicles. We don’t have enough vehicles, bromate in bread which is dangerous to your health, you have to go and inspect bakeries, you have to go on an unannounced visits, you cannot take okada to go and inspect, it is vehicles. We need 50 vehicles but if we get 100, it will be better. In that case we can do inspection without tears. You can see my dreams are so many and money driven.
Despite all your efforts ,you still discover that a lot of substandard products, fake drugs are still coming into the country, even fake drinks. For instance I have been made to understand that probably next week your agency will destroy some…
Actually we did it today, we did it in Shagamu…
So what are you doing to stop the importation of fake drugs, instead of them coming into the country and then seizing them for destruction, what is your agency doing to check the sources, to ensure that these sources where this thing is imported are checked
That is a very good question. I was asked that earlier today on Channels Television. Last week or ten days ago, I was at the Indian High Commission discussing this particular issue, we are working with India through the mission to give us the list of companies that are registered and ones that are not that send products to Nigeria and they would mark it Made In India. Made in India? Where in India? But what we were told is that there is a number that any company no matter what, would put in there, it is that number that they will use to trace those who are sending bad products, drugs to our country and then we will be delisting them. It is not just that we will delist them, we will blackmail them and the Indian government will go after them. For China, I was in Beijing August last year and I raised the issue, we had products that were labeled for export only, what about that, for exports only, and they are tramadol, codeine, unregulated products, they said, our agency doesn’t cover for export only! I said really, your agency doesn’t cover for export only? So it is not good for your people and it is good for us?
No. we are not going to take that. So we are working on that right now, the question is well placed, that we should go after the source, we are working on it but it is still in process.
So what will you describe as most challenging task as you got to the saddle of DG NAFDAC over a year ago
The most challenging task is lack of sensitivity to the position that agency place in the lives of all of us. We drink water, eat food, take medicine, we use spray to kill mosquitoes, farmers get chemicals they use for fertilizer or whatever. We have seven regulated products, chemicals, food, beverages but the government generally doesn’t seem to be able to link that to public health because what NAFDAC does affects people. I start with me, now what NAFDAC does affects me. The outcome of my quality of life, if I drink this water and it is bad I may be running stool, if I take medicine, there was a time I was ill, I took antibiotic, thank God that they have the mass indication number on it, where they said text this number to see whether it is fake or not, thank God it was not fake, that gives me confidence in NAFD AC. With all these things comes funding and right now we don’t get, we have two levels of funding, not from the government, I am talking of income, not funding, Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) which is a sum of administrative bill, registration fees and all, and then we have user fees, these are fees that if company A.B.C.D.E, pays NAFDAC to do XYZ, to do evaluation on your product. The government has separated, thank God, I believe it was when Professor Dora Akunyili was here that was separated, the user fees from the IGR. Because we are supposed to be returning part of our IGR and you cannot withhold something a company gives to do XYZ, so we have those two revenue streamlines.
Our user fee we can spend because we are approving drugs and food on a daily basis or whatever regulated product. The IGR we can return 25 per cent to the government the 75 per cent we can also spend. In the US for example, because of the need the congress realized after some years in ignorance too, if our user fee is N10 billion for example, they will match it, because they know that NAFDAC needs all these things we are talking about. So that is the challenge. The National Assembly that represents the government in terms of our funding is not sensitive to that but am hoping that it will come to a point when they will become more sensitive to that, so that is the challenge.
Another challenge of course is the infrastructure, electricity and so on which is a national challenge but essentially it is inadequate funding, we are not supposed to be in that building we are in Wuse right now, we are supposed to be in a modern building that gives space, because when you are doing a regulatory work, you are not supposed to be piling files upon files, and even piling files upon files is going to change, we are going to have e-documentation because how long are we going to be killing trees? We use trees to make paper, we have to decrease the use of paper with e-documentation, we are going to be doing that very shortly.
Is there any form of synergy among NAFDAC, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and Consumer Protection Council (CPC)?
Before I came, there was a lot of problems because there was assessment gap and it was found out that there is no synergy and I think within my first two months, actually six weeks, I reached out to CPC, because I believe in relationship. Relationship can minimize all sorts of boundaries, myself and the SON DG have very cordial relationship, the same thing with CPC but I also exchange frank talks with them because you have to do hard talk if you want to have a lasting relationship. That is the way I take life, it may not be sweet or good to hear or comfortable to take but it is through that development and transformation come.
To answer your question Yes. The one that has been very transformative is the relationship between NAFDAC and Customs. There were problems maybe the first two months and I reached out, thank God for the Customs boss, Hammed Ibrahim Ali, a gentleman to the core. The collaboration has led to so many things like our confiscation of 28 containers of tramadol and the 23 that are in our shores, we now have 5 that being brought from outshore, the 23 that we intercepted with the help of customs is about N198 billion, to destroy our children, to destroy families and to destroy the future of Nigeria. Without our young ones, we don’t have Nigeria, we will just be deceiving ourselves. I have had a long week, as I speak I am tired. We have to eliminate the menace of drugs, we have it right now between 4 per cent, I don’t know the year, but it was the year NAFDAC was not at the port.
From 4 per cent it is about 14 now, that’s scary. They removed us from port from 2011 till 2018. The Buhari government knew that this is dangerous because it is destroying homes especially in the north and it breaks my heart when you have children that don’t go to school, they get bored and they start going to Boko haram, the terrorists and what do they give them to join them? tramadol!
An ex Boko Haram member said that the first thing they will give them is tramadol because they trade in it and they use it for their terrorism and that is why it is extremely important that we eliminate the menace and by the grace of God we will start decreasing it, actually we have started because of these containers we are seizing.
There is this issue that came up between NAFDAC some members of the House Committee on Healthcare Services, that NAFDAC spent money without appropriation, so we want you to use this opportunity to explain your side of the story.
Actually there is no smoke without fire. It is good you brought it up because it is one of the greatest shocks I received when I came here. My appointment became effective from November 3. And I had to rush to come, and I was taking decision before joining physically, and the National Assembly appropriated some money for drug abuse awareness which is what the country needs, and I got a call from one of my directors, that the some members of the House Health Services Committee National Assembly wanted to take 70 per cent of the money to do drug awareness campaign. I said excuse me. When did the National Assembly become community NGO? I said No. You cannot take a penny out of that. I resumed 30 November, I got a notice that they were coming for oversight and I needed to go to US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because I was already talking to FDA before coming. I said I was travelling, could you come back after FDA? They said No, how can you come when I am absent? They came when I was absent, 11 December. I resumed 30 November.
They came and got a report that they wanted something and they couldn’t, so they came again 20 December when I got back, five days to Christmas. It was an opportunity. I like to give people benefit of the doubt that maybe this person is not what they think. I presented all the clips, equipment that are not updated, broken down vehicles, we need about N1.8billion worth of vehicles – 50 vehicles, computers – directors don’t have laptops or even desktop. I presented these during the oversight in the conference room and they said lets go to your office – I said ok.
If they want to blackmail me but they are making mistake, a big mistake, you don’t blackmail me. You blackmail me you pay the price. First because I try by Gods grace to do what God has called me to do – to serve mankind, so if you say you want to blackmail me, you better be ready. I will put it that way.
And the committee members said, welcome to Nigeria what do you have for us for Yuletide? I said what is Yuletide? Ok I said hampers, yeah I can give you hampers because it is part of our tradition now in Nigeria. They said no, we want welfare. I said welfare? Didn’t you hear everything that I was saying in the past two hours? We need XYZ, NAFDAC is bleeding, we had N3.2 billion naira debt. I said I don’t give money that I don’t have first of all because we are in debt. One of them said, your body language is looking as if you are not going to give us anything. I said you got it right, am not giving anything.
He said somebody like you came from the USA and was doing like this and within one year he was out of the system. People threatening me in my own country! Of course, I told my husband, Distinguished Senator Adeyeye, and he went and warned them, this woman came to do service, brought her experiences that will help her country, even the Distinguished Deputy Senate President Ekweremadu said he wanted to speak with me too and he said don’t flinch, stand your ground, even if he didn’t say that I will still stand my ground.
I didn’t start today, when I was at the UCH as a pharmacist, twenty something years ago, doctors would come in with prescription, you are doctor A and you will come in with 5 prescriptions for doctor A, and I will say No staff will come in and say, I will say No, go and get prescription. One day Mr. Kunle Cole sent a note, give me this medicine, I said go back to Mr. Kunle Cole, tell him to send prescription and I will fill it, that is the head of the hospital UCH. I was twenty something years old and Mr. Kunle Cole, noble, got a prescription, sent it and I filled it, and I now see they weren’t paying my salary – establishment, because they said I was too stingy. People come in as early as 5am and by 3pm from villages nearby we would be filling “out of stock, out of stock,” not that we had enough but we weren’t handling the medicine very well and I couldn’t stand that as a twenty something year old. When they didn’t give me my salary, I went to Mr. Kunle Cole and said Oga they are not giving me my salary because I didn’t give them medicine anyhow. I said my salary is my right, medicine is not their right unless they are ill, I will be the first person to help them fill their prescription.
Mr. Kunle Cole was just knowing me personally, flared up, I think the second day they gave me my money, so this didn’t start today. When this happened it was the saddest time that I have had over the last 15 months, for somebody to be threatening me for saying no. They asked for money NAFDAC refused before I returned from my trip, they kept pressing me and I said no, it is meant for drug abuse awareness and NAFDAC has already started planning national drug abuse awareness, so that led to what is happening now. We submitted our budget in March last year, when you submit your budget they ask you, come and defend, we didn’t see anything from them, no response. We had our user fee to use, I think it was October last year they called us to come and give them update of our expenditure and so on, they said did we approve this? I said we didn’t hear anything from you, lets get this relationship on a better footing, please send us notice, I don’t have anything to hide.
That time, we almost finished paying our over N3 billion debt, we finished paying that debt November, so it was October. I said I don’t have anything to hide, we have almost finished paying our debts, so why wouldn’t I respond to you when you send us message, they didn’t say anything after that and I thought that everything is ok. Then on Tuesday we went for budget defence and I was starting from 1st page and they said did we approve this budget that you are giving us? And I repeated what I said, you didn’t send us anything, in fact I said both of us are culpable, maybe we should, I was even being generous, maybe we should have pressed, but you should have sent us notice and they said come who are you to say that? Instead of apologizing to us, instead of being remorseful. I kept quiet because there are some things you should give answers to or reply to and they said your finance person, I told my finance person to answer when did we send the letter out, did you get acknowledgement? They put him on oath, stand up, stand up, swear, swear and the young man stood up and they said we are charging you with criminal misconduct.
Somebody said the DG should be charged with criminal misconduct. My heart bleeds for the country. People that are breaking the law, pretending they are not breaking the law. It is sad. So that led to this. I wouldn’t have talked, so they went on AIT and am going to watch what is on AIT and sue somebody for libel. I have worked for forty something years and there is no stain on my name, my career and Iam not going to allow anybody to blackmail me, we are not a litigious society but maybe we should be to an extent so that we send some lessons to some brains, that you don’t mess up with people. What have I done? Nothing!. I returned N3.01billion out of N3.2billion debt, the other N200 million were spurious and we have forgotten those, with all the things am doing, they were harassing me throughout the year, they will say come for public accounts, they will say give us accounts from 2013 to 2016, whats my business with that? The person that was there is still living. They said you are now the DG you have to answer, that’s harassment.
Talking about these allegations, I watched the program on AIT, they said they invited you a number of times…
It is a lie, let them document it, because usually when you bring in something – civil service, you document. That is a lie, what would they say except lies, if they want to blackmail me but they are making mistake, a big mistake, you don’t blackmail me. You blackmail me you pay the price. First because I try by Gods grace to do what God has called me to do – to serve mankind, so if you say you want to blackmail me, you better be ready. I will put it that way.
NAFDAC introduced this mobile authentication scheme in 2010, is it still in force?
Yes. For essential medicine, antibiotics, anti malaria.
Will you introduce it to other products?
That is a very good question, very germane but it is very costly for manufacturers, this is almost like a pilot, even with this, few manufacturers don’t want it because it is an added cost. It supposed to be for all products but we are not there yet, we are just looking at essential medicines.
Lets look at the local scene, you have many producers of these local herbs, they give a lot of names, sniper, boko haram, wiper, aphrodisiacs. There was a report that was released sometime ago about a lot of Nigerians suffering from paralysis as a result of taking some of these local alcoholic drinks. On the drinks “NAFDAC approved” is written.
These names are quiet strange. There are sachet water packs, we approve many of them and also there are fake ones because it is easier to fake a plastic pack bottle but all these we don’t approve. Very likely they lace some of the aphrodisiacs with Viagra, they are not herbs. Herbal medicine is very dear to me, first of all because God has surrounded us with herbs that are medicinal, we have not tapped into them as much as we should, again the way I have travelled I was exposed to China’s traditional medicine. As a professor, I took my students to China from the US to learn China’s traditional medicine. In China you have a whole university, Chinese university of traditional medicine, it is not just one, that is the one around Shangai, you have Chinese traditional medicine hospitals where they don’t treat patients with any conventional western medicine except traditional Chinese medicine. The Chinese are light years ahead of us, almost perfected kind of, their traditional medicine. Acupuncture is one of them, they knew that there are nerve centres, about 600 plus nerve centres in our body and it is at that nerve junction that they put the needle and when they put the needle it sends signal to a particular point, not all of them, signals to the brain and start reliving the pain.
I went to study Pharmacy actually because of my grandfather’s herbal notebook that I happened to see with my cousin, Ako eewo is what our ancestors called malignant cancer, Abo eewo is benign cancer that you can easily treat with herbs. I saw all those and that gingered me into reading pharmacy but unfortunately I don’t know the reason behind it. By the time I got to the US, they started removing study of herbal plants from the Pharmacy curriculum. So whatever I wanted to do in terms of research for Masters or PhD, I couldn’t.
Then about 10 years into that they came back to natural products but at that time I was a young professor, I wanted to make sure what I learned because I was building my experience on. I have a niece that is a sickler, actually two of them, one of them died of stroke, the other before I came for sabbatical in 2004, he had already had problem with her hip because that is what happens with sickler. I set up my NGO in Ogbomosho because that is where we left to the US, and my partner who was a pediatrician said there is a product that is good for a sickler and I placed my niece on it and her life changed completely. She is 40 years old now with two children and with no crisis during pregnancy. I started doing research on that 4 – 5 years before I came to NAFDAC. The good thing about it is that when you have a plant, you have a family and then you have specie. That particular set of plant or one of them, there are three plants in it, one you can find it in South America, in India but it doesn’t have anti sickling property, it is the one that is here that can treat it!
There are some things we don’t understand about life, God, nature. I found that out that God has provided us with what we need, either we don’t recognize such or we misuse them, so that is how I have personal habit with herbal. What we have done now, I think it is about two weeks ago, we inaugurated Nigerian Herbal Medicinal Products Committee, I brought a lot of herbalists and a lot of academics and somebody from National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) to create synergy, links, relationship, we are just fostering them, so that, that herbalist that doesn’t have enough knowledge or lab whatever setting can partner with the academics. I made them to realize that you cannot take something from a herbalist and call it your own because you will be sued. We don’t understand patents in Nigeria but I will make sure that there is confidentiality agreement first and then there is disclosure of invention and you will sign. You can be sued, and there are few patent lawyers that can do it, but at least once people are cognizant of the fact they can be sued maybe they will have less temptation to steal somebody else’s idea. We are working, it has just been inaugurated, it is going to turn out well because we want products, herbal products that we will evaluate very well. Now we do toxicology and micro biology test. We want to step it up, so that it is not just those two tests that will be to encourage our own herbal product development and manufacturing.