Atuegwu: Poor infrastructure in South East challenges industrialisation, reliance of home made goods
Fellow of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Sir Chris Atuegwu, is the Managing Director of Mitchell Laboratories Limited, makers of CIKA range of drugs. In this Interview with LAWRENCE NJOKU, he bares his mind on the challenges of local manufacturing and the drive to promote made in Nigeria products.
• Evil Of Imported Fake Drugs Worse Than Combined Effect Of Malaria, HIV/AIDS, Armed Robbery
• Govt Should Not Only Tackle Corruption, But Policies That Promote Corruption
What are the major challenges militating local drug manufacturing?
The major challenges faced by Nigerian drug manufacturers are as a result of government policies. For instance, drug manufacturers are prepared and positioned to provide all the drugs that this country requires if given the chance, but government policies don’t allow that to happen. I give you an example. In 2005, 17 essential drugs, through the instrumentality of the late Dora Akunyili, then DG of NAFDAC, were put under import proscription. Because of that, most of the local drugs manufacturing companies started developing and buying machines to meet up the market demand. Then, from about 80 pharmaceutical industries, the number shut up to about 180, but suddenly last year, some of these drugs were removed under the prohibition list. And this policy somersault was after manufacturers had invested a lot of money procuring the needed machinery to scale up production. So I ask, are we going forward or backward?
This singular act of government has given way for all types of drugs to come into the country, with most of them being either fake or substandard, even as their country of origin cannot be traced. This further makes it difficult for the Nigerian manufacturer because, as you know, our people like imported materials, whether they are good or bad. I can bet you that most of the drugs produced in this country are better than the imported ones. The Nigerian manufacturers is also in a position to produce all the drugs required in this country excerpt orphan drugs.
There is no reason why this country should be importing drugs because it is dangerous, when you cannot control its inflow. Drugs come into the country through land borders, sea, and what have you. This is the main problem of the local drugs manufacturers in the country. Once this is stopped, Nigerian drug manufacturers can employ five times their strength. For example, I have 1, 000 workers all over Nigeria. If importation of drugs is stopped, I see no reason why I cannot employ 5, 000 people in this company. But with what is going on, it is not possible, and so we are asking the government to help us stop importation, particularly of first line drugs.
In your opinion, what do you think is responsible for the policy somersault?
It is simply as a result of corruption. They know it is not correct to allow such things into the country, but because most people are bent on reaping where they did not sow, the trend must continue. Like I said earlier, we had 80 drug manufacturers and the number increased to over 180, and suddenly, you are opening your door to all manners of importation. There is a policy of government that says if you are given license to import drug for five years, it is only renewable for another five years and after that, the drug should either be manufactured locally, or you forget about it. But that is not happening any longer because of corruption. I want to say that the government should not just be looking at people that have enriched themselves by stealing public funds; they should also look at certain policies that have promoted corruption and make it difficult for the country to work effectively.
What is the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) doing about this?
We have been speaking against it; we have written letters to government, and have also done advocacy severally. We only hope the government will listen.
People are moving into the country with all manner of products in the name of drugs and the effect is being suffered by local drug manufacturers because these products are cheap. We have devoted our time to install machines and acquired the techniques, as well as, the manpower to ensure we produce at the right quality and quantity. In this factory, I have Nigerians and Indians working and the formulation is here. So, why would I not produce enough for the market?
There is no way the Nigerian government will tell us that we cannot meet with the quantity required, it is not possible. We were doing well under Akunyili, and she gave us a lease of life. We were producing and buying machines.
This factory started from a room in 1990 and employed only 10 persons then, but today, it is employing 1, 000 persons. I am producing capsules, tablets, syrups and I can tell you, that we in Enugu with four drug manufacturing companies can produce up to 30 million capsules a day, and if you add other industries that are not in Enugu, we can make up to one 100 million capsules daily nationwide, and the country’s requirement is not more than 50 million capsules daily. So, why are we importing capsules?
But local manufacturers are hampered by issues like power and general infrastructure challenge. So, how can they meet up with local demands?
Power supply is not my constraint here; I have three power generating sets, so I am working. I have water. I did not say it is not a problem; the fact is that it is not disturbing me. It will not stop me from producing.
Raw materials are not my problem because we buy from the same market. Despite high foreign exchange, we still meet up if the drugs they bring into this country are not selling at the same price we are selling. Most of these drugs come in here without payment of Customs duty, as they are concealed in several other goods. Even when the duties are to be paid, they are undervalued, so, it is all deceit. Let the government help us to help this country.
Are you calling for declaration of state of emergency in drug manufacturing?
Let us hope that NAFDAC will wake up to its responsibility, especially now that it has a new director general. If you can’t control drug importation, then controlling drug distribution is a bigger challenge.
We have no record of people bringing in drugs into the country. It is easier to monitor and supervise local drug manufacturers than these people, who are bringing in all kinds of thing in the name of drugs into the country. The addresses of these companies are some times fake; same applies to phone numbers, including company names. This is dangerous to the health of our people.
So what are the implications of this fake drugs on the society?
It is worse for the healthcare system than HIV/AIDS because people, who take substandard drugs are many. The evil of fake drugs is worse than the combined effect of Malaria, HIV/AIDS and armed robbery put together. This is because malaria can be prevented, HIV/AIDS can be avoided, but counterfeit drugs can kill in droves. The social problem posed by cocaine cannot be compared with the damage done by fake drugs because these illicit drugs are taken out of choice, and by those, who can afford them, but fake drugs can be taken by all, and anybody can be a victim. Even when we have substandard drug, we can control them but you cannot say so of drugs coming from outside the country. We have what it takes to produce optimally and formulate in this country.
How has local manufacturing fared in the southeast zone, especially with Federal Government promoting made in Nigeria products?
It is the same sad tale if not worse because generally the average manufacturer, no matter the kind of product he is into in the South East is faced with challenges that could easily drive him out of production. Yes, government is promoting made in Nigeria goods, but what has it done to really entrench these goods into the fabric of the society?
If you set up a small factory today anywhere in the South East, the first thing you will see is people trooping in to demand for payment of one tax or the other. You will be made to provide your own power, provide water and access road among several others. Many industrialists get disillusioned by this type of exploitation and even when the goods are produced, there is little or no market for it, because there are products coming from outside the country that they are competing with.
This is why you don’t have many industries in this zone; people will prefer to invest in areas where there is market, access roads for movement of goods and personnel and other infrastructure. Every other local manufacturer is faced with similar situation with those of us in the drug business.
Imagine a situation where people who import drugs decide to form an association of drug importers and they are making more money than local drug producers. Now, some manufacturers are pulling out and joining them since there is no laid down rules in the system to improve local manufacturing.
So what I am trying to say is that poor infrastructure in the South East is seriously challenging industrialisation and call for reliance of home made goods. We have abundant skills here, but the problem is getting the right atmosphere that will help them showcase these skills. We have many graduates from technical colleges and universities, who are ready to put to practice what they have learnt, but when they realise that the system offers no hope, they back out.
If we are serious with reliance on locally made goods, we should provide platforms that could enable the idea to thrive. The recession in the country is an eye-opener that what we really need to survive as a country is diversification, but we prefer to theorise it than put it into practice.
How often do small and medium scale enterprises have access to loan facilities? And what is the percentage of interest allowed for them?
I can tell you that many of them here are suffering. Go to the agricultural sector, you will discover that they even lack basic farming tools. These are the challenges and as much as they live with us, local manufacturing and consumption will remain a mirage.
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