Sonnie Ekwowusi writes that the tariffs will further increase hardship in the land

From all corners we are buffeted, maimed and killed. If some of the Fulani herdsmen are not chasing us to kill us, the kidnappers and bandits lurking at the dark corners are laying siege on expressways to capture us and kill us or use us for ransom. Oh God! we beseech thee. We pray thee. Have mercy on your children. We are dying day by day. Our political leaders are insensitive. They do not care about the welfare of the people. Nigeria is uncertainty writ large. We live in an unpredictable environment. Policies are in constant flux and somersault in Nigeria.

One could wake up one day to hear that the roof over one’s head has been compulsorily acquired by the federal government. Just imagine, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) imposing prohibitive tariffs on fees paid by manufacturers and importers of medicines in Nigeria. The high tariffs affect clinical trials, facility and G.M.P inspections, forms and certificates, laboratory analysis, permits to import and clear drugs, registration, investigation charges and ancillary fees. Registration fees for prescription-only-medicines have sky-rocketed to 300% effective June 2019. Even some of the new tariffs are payable in dollar currency, a clear violation of the Central Bank of Nigeria bye-laws.

The painful aspect is that the views of the veritable stakeholders were not sought prior to the imposition of the new tariffs. The new tariffs no doubt will lead to a drastic increase in the prices of virtually everything in Nigeria especially the prices of drugs and foodstuffs. Consumers might be forced to pay more for a sachet of “pure water”, loaf of bread, tin of sardine, a bottle of beer, groundnut and other consumables. Many sick Nigerians will continue to die because they cannot afford to buy the exorbitant drugs sold in many pharmaceutical shops in Nigeria.

Therefore I am respectfully vehemently opposed to the new tariffs imposed by NAFDAC on drug importation in Nigeria. The ordinary sick Nigerian has once again been singled out for destruction. The rich and their children will always find their way to America or Europe to get the best medical treatment. But the poor Nigerians are always with us waiting to die. The few times I have accompanied the Friends of the Sick International (an NGO that caters for the sick) to visit some hospitals in Lagos I have seen many patients waiting to die. At one hospital we met a poor patient who was content with begging us for only N1,000 to purchase his essential drugs.

Tears rolled down my cheeks. Therefore I repeat: I am opposed to NAFDAC tariffs on drug importation. I don’t know what has become of NAFDAC lately. Under the watch of the queen of the Niger, Professor Dora Akunyili (of the blessed memory), NAFDAC was people-friendly. The agency was constantly in the news for confiscating counterfeit pharmaceutical products, baby foods, drugs and others from fake drug peddlers. Today NAFDAC is anti-people: it is slamming high tariffs on essential drugs imported into Nigeria.

In the past there were about 100 drug manufacturing companies in Nigeria. But 25% of them had shut down operations owing to harsh economic conditions. The rest are producing below capacity. They have to mix production with importation in order to stay in business. In fact all the drug manufacturing companies in Nigeria produce less than 20% of our drug needs. Which means that about 80% of unmet medicaments in Nigeria are imported from abroad. So, why should NAFDAC impose prohibitive tariffs on medicaments? Mind you, the Federal Ministry of Finance, under the watch of former Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun, had imposed a 20% duty on drug importation in Nigeria. Despite several protests the duty hasn’t been removed.

Now NAFDAC is imposing its own tariffs on drug importation. The impression many people are getting is that the Buhari government is irresponsible. For instance, in 2013 Nigeria agreed with other ECOWAS countries that drug importation into the sub-region should attract a zero duty. Nigeria and other countries in the African sub-region kept to the agreement. But when the Buhari government came to power in 2015 it slammed a 20% duty on drug importation in Nigeria.

The question is: if all the ECOWAS countries are operating a zero tax regime plus lower port charges on drug importation, why should Nigeria impose tariffs on drug importation? I don’t know the last time you bought malaria tablets. Malaria tablets, in case you don’t know, sell for about N3,500 these days. Many Nigerians who cannot afford to buy the exorbitant essential drugs in the Nigerian markets have resorted to patronizing babalawos, dibias, juju men, pastors, fortune-tellers and herbalists for succour.

It is a big shame that at a time when many countries including small ECOWAS countries are removing all tariffs on drug importation in order to provide their citizens access to medicine at affordable prices, Nigeria is still imposing tariffs on drug importation. Small wonder the country is now ranked as one of the six countries in the world with the worst health system alongside war-torn countries such as Republic of the Union of Myanmar, Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo. Small wonder Nigeria is now ranked as the second country in the world with the highest maternal mortality rate. Nigeria is the second country in the world with the highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Nigeria is now ranked first in the world among the countries with the highest number of malnourished children. Nigeria is also ranked first in the world among the countries with the highest number of people lacking access to basic primary health care. Cancer epidemic has broken out in Nigeria. Life expectancy in Nigeria is low. Already sudden death is now rampart. You will see a man looking hale and hearty today but tomorrow he is dead. For the first time in the history of our country many university students are committing suicide.

The Buhari government should understand that human development is the epicentre of all developments. It should understand that the basic objective of all developments is to get the people to enjoy healthy and creative lives. Health is wealth. Needless sermonizing on fighting corruption when the people lack access to essential medicines. Interestingly President Buhari and other rich Nigerians spend millions, if not billions, of our money on medical tourism every year. If the quality of medicine in Nigeria has comparatively improved, the huge amount of money squandered on medical tourism every year would have been saved.

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