‘Our own government is killing us’
Chairman, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMG-MAN), Dr Fidelis Ayebae, in this interview by Sade Oguntola speaks on the plight of pharmaceutical industries and what the industry expects from President Buhari in his second tenure in office. Excerpt:
How best do we describe the situation in the pharmaceutical industry?
The manufacturing industry is the most challenging sector of our economy; not necessarily the pharmaceutical companies alone. It is very much challenged by the not-too-conducive environment to operate our business.
People putting in treasury bills and bonds are flying to bank, meanwhile those with billions of naira of pharmaceutical plants carry the brunt of an economy that is shallow and not productive for anybody. I shudder to think what is going to happen in the next four years if we do not do something fast to arrest this situation.
Nigerian stock exchange has been constantly in the bearish position; investors have lost over a naira trillion in their investment since the beginning of the year at the stock exchange. It is an economy that is not rewarding investment except the rent takers.
If Nigeria fails, then the black man has no hope. That is why we continue to invest in this economy. We want Nigeria to prosper for our own good and sake of our children and I pray that the government will do something about the situation.
Do you share the view that there is an alarming production of fake drugs in circulation in Nigeria?
The news that fake drugs out there are up to 70 per cent is not true. There are no statistics to justify this. Fake drugs out there are between two and three per cent. These are mainly imported drugs. There is not a single locally made Nigeria product that is faked. That is why the only panacea for fighting fake drugs is developing local pharmaceutical manufacturers.
For instance, the production of codeine products is banned in Nigeria, but it opens the flood gate for smuggling. Countries like Ghana, Togo, India and China are producing codeine products and dumping them in Nigeria. So, who is killing who? Our own government is killing us.
What is your recommendation for correcting this depressed economy as far as the pharma industry is concerned?
Nation building should not be left to government alone; it should involve everybody. The per capita income of Nigeria is one of the poorest in the world. The elite and politicians have failed us; I have invested over 20 billion naira of my money and I cannot say that I have not tried for Nigeria.
As chairman of PMG-MAN and on behalf of my members, I warmly congratulate President Mohammud Buhari on his second coming. But this time, he should fulfil his promises. We Nigerians believe his slogan “next level” and voted for it.
The promise of “next level” which is a buoyant and rewarding economy, better infrastructure, good road and rail network and security must be tackled. In fact, security is the one that should be tackled first. There is a common saying in China, create a new road and development will follow. Commercial activities will follow.
A country is defined by the quality of life of the common man. For PMG-MAN, the next level is job creation, access to good medicines at affordable costs and improved quality of life denominated by reasonably cheap locally produced food, not imported foods.
So, we expect a government that supports local manufacturers in every sector to remain productive through access to reasonable loans at single digit interest rates. This will make companies able to operate at full capacity, which then means more employment for Nigerians. You will be surprised by how the environment will change. No Nigerian wants to be doing yahoo-yahoo, drinking codeine, tramadol etc. These practices are fallout of idle hands.
So, government should just concentrate on two things—production and infrastructure. Every other thing will fall in place. Even education will become cheaper because many more people will build schools, and when there are lots of schools, competition will bring down the price. That, for me, is what we want them to do to boost the economy.
On importation of fake drugs, what does PMG-MAN expect should be done?
It is simple, protect made-in-Nigeria drugs; buy made-in-Nigeria drugs and pay for made-in-Nigeria drugs. We can protect existing local manufacturers by banning the importation of products that can be made locally. What are the products that are being imported? They are simple products many Nigerians use that can be manufactured locally.
Everywhere else in the world, these are products being banned from importation.
Even President Trump says America first, why should President Buhari not say Nigeria first, every other person go to hell. What is wrong with that? Why can we not protect our people? To stop the influx of fake and substandard drugs, all essential drugs or medicines should be banned from importation.
Nigeria is not a haven for dumping and once you do that and local manufacturers begin to manufacture in their millions, fake drugs will come down. I guarantee you.
Ghana has 48 of such medicines on its importation ban list. It is the same with many other countries like Egypt and Tunisia. As soon as two to three manufacturing companies begin to manufacture a product, importation of such product is banned.
Today, Bangladesh provides 90 per cent of the products that its citizens consume locally. It did this by protecting local industries. The only way India was able to become the hub for export for finished products and machinery in the pharmaceutical industry was because it protected its local industries. Today, the cheapest drugs in the world are coming from India.
Nigerian government can only build such an economy that is home-grown by focusing on what Nigerians can do and patronising what Nigerians do. We should stop deceiving ourselves that foreigners will make things for us and help us build our nation.
No, every foreigner that comes will take advantage of you because they will do things that will make you patronise their country because they are investing in it. They will bring the raw materials from there and they will never develop your capabilities to do raw materials here.
The national drug guidelines implementation deadline keeps being shifted. What should be done?
It is not the fault of pharmacists that the national drug distribution guideline is yet to be implemented. Although the process has started, there are two sides to its implementation. The state purchasing arm of the scheme that requires revolving funds in various hospitals started a long time ago. The seed pharmacies are already being built. These require a minimum of N50 billion for construction and these monies are coming from private resources.
Government cannot create a law to enable something and not provide the funding or some kind of support to make this faster. But I assure you that in the next year, this will all be over.
Some years back, some PMG-MAN members upgraded their factories to get World Health Organisation certification. What has changed since then? What has accrued to those companies?
Nothing; they did not benefit anything from upgrading their factories to get WHO certification because the government did not patronise them. Two of them have folded up. Evans and Chi pharmaceuticals are closed. And Swipha was purchased by somebody else. The only existing one now is May & Baker. That is what Nigeria does to itself by not bringing up policies that will sustain its industries.