How Sachet, Pet Bottle Ban Will Impact Nigeria’s Economy

Phillips George

On February 1, 2024, Nigerians were thrown into another round of confusion and fear when the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) dropped the statement that it had banned the manufacturing, sales and consumption of alcoholic beverage drinks in Sachets and Pet Bottles.

The fact that the news was attributed to the Director General of the Agency notwithstanding, not a few Nigerians had dismissed the pronouncement with a wave of hand. The reason for people’s indifference is clear-the timing and the economic reality. To those of us who are following the current market trend and its dynamics, NAFDAC’s position looks unachievable, given the economic implication of the proposed ban. 

Some believe that the ban may be connected to the pollution caused by plastics, sachets and pet bottles in the environment.

However, as the debate over the ban continues, I have asked myself questions and questions and questions. Did NAFDAC take into consideration over 500,000 direct and over 5 million indirect jobs that are put on the line should the ban stand? Did NAFDAC consider over ₦800 billion worth of investment in the sector should the ban take effect? Have stakeholders in Nigeria considered the security risk the ban would fuel should it be implemented? Have we all paused and considered the colossal loss the investors in the value chain would be facing? What of the banks who gave loans to the investors?

I can’t fathom an answer to any of these questions but perhaps NAFDAC can. 

It’s rather sad and disappointing that a reputable government agency like NAFDAC would take such decisions that are capable of deindustrializing the country’s industrial sector. By now, I expected that the federal government would have advised the agency to have a re-think, as this is a dangerous signal to the foreign investors, as it means that any time, any day, the government would wake up and pronounce a policy that is capable of jeopardizing their investments.

While I agree with NAFDAC that substance abuse is a critical issue in Nigeria, I disagree that alcohol is the chief contributor.  To me, it’s nothing but a cheap blackmail or script acting in the interest of some powerful forces in the economy. I make this conclusion because I know that NAFDAC has more to contend with in the area of regulating drugs to save Nigerians rather than taking an action that’s capable of plunging Nigeria into a more grievous economic quagmire.

As I write this, many Nigerians are dying as a result of fake drugs, with several surveys indicating that more than half of the drugs being used to treat Nigerians are fake and substandard. At various fora, debates over fake drugs have  remained steadily on the front burner. As Director General of NAFDAC, the late Prof. Dora Akunyili saw the need to rid the country of the abnormal situation and faced it forthrightly. That singular act didn’t only earn her a special place in Nigeria, it became a watershed in the country’s health sector.

Unfortunately, after the exit of the former university don, none of her successors has shown interest in beaming his or her searchlight in this direction. This explains why stakeholders in the health sector celebrated the appointment of the current DG when she came on board. As the Chair of Biopharmaceutical Sciences at the same University in Illinois, who had served as Professor of Pharmaceutics and Manufacturing for over two decades at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA, USA before assuming the driver’s seat at NAFDAC, expectation was  high that she would be another change agent in the sector.

Contrary to expectation, the issue of fake drugs has grown unabated. 

Till this moment, no conscious effort has been made about this but NAFDAC has had to deal with manufacturers of alcoholic beverages that use plastic, pet bottles and sachets, thereby putting the jobs of over 500,000 people on the line, as well as frustrating collective direct investment of over five hundred billion naira (N500,000,000,000) in the Nigerian economy. Also to go with this proposed ban is indirect investments by other companies in the industry, which is well over Eight Hundred Billion naira (N800,000,000,000).

At a time Nigerians were expecting NAFDAC to send a strong message to China, India and other countries from where, allegedly, fake products are coming into the country, that it will no longer tolerate being a dumping ground for killer medicines, the regulatory agency is up in arms with manufacturers who are doing legitimate business, licensed by the same agency. What an irony?

Though substance abuse is a critical issue in Nigeria, it’s mischievous to link it with alcoholic beverages in Sachets and Pet bottles. As things stand, I want to advise the federal government with all sense of patriotism to tread softly now as the firms producing alcohol in sachets employ people, pay taxes, and contribute to the economy. Is it not better to reconsider the decision to save the businesses of the manufacturers and protect several thousands of jobs that will be lost due to this ban? From the information in the public, the decision will affect at least 24 corporate organizations, majority of whom are indigenous companies with few multinationals currently operating in the industry and are manufacturing wines and spirits with over 70% local inputs.

While purportedly aimed at curbing alcohol abuse, this regulatory move is emblematic of a broader discourse that vilifies sachets, labeling them as dispensable and undesirable packaging formats. However, against the backdrop of Nigeria’s economic challenges, sachets have emerged as an indispensable lifeline for both consumers and businesses, challenging the rationale behind the ban.

In Nigeria, a country characterized by economic volatility and widespread economic hardship, sachets serve as a critical conduit for ensuring access to essential products for millions of people. The affordability and convenience offered by sachets make them a preferred choice among consumers, particularly those with limited purchasing power. Whether it’s food items, personal care products, or household essentials, sachets allow individuals to buy in small, manageable quantities, stretching their limited budgets and meeting immediate needs without undue financial strain.

In conclusion, the NAFDAC ban on alcoholic beverages in sachets and pet bottles underscores a disconnect between regulatory intentions and economic realities. While concerns about alcohol abuse are valid, scapegoating sachets overlooks their instrumental role in Nigeria’s economy and society. Rather than condemning sachets outright, policymakers should recognize their economic utility and explore measures to address any associated social issues.

As Nigeria grapples with its economic challenges, sachets remain a symbol of resilience and resourcefulness, embodying the spirit of entrepreneurship and adaptation in the face of adversity. Embracing sachets as an integral part of the Nigerian economy is not about condoning harmful practices but acknowledging their undeniable contribution to livelihoods and well-being. Ultimately, a nuanced approach that balances regulatory objectives with economic imperatives is essential for charting a sustainable path forward.

George, a Marketing Executive, writes from Port Harcourt, Rivers State

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