Few of the agencies in Nigeria ever enjoy continuity as the phenomenon is akin to a camel passing the eye of a needle. Usually, a new helmsman comes into the
saddle and the only strategy at making impact is to belittle the achievement of predecessors with large scale reversal of policies regardless of whether they are working. The National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has to the good fortune of Nigerians and purposeful leadership of its incumbent Director General, Dr Paul Orhii did not fall to such bad lot. Instead, the agency has become a perfect example of what how public institutions should run in terms of succession plans.
[Image: Dr. Paul Orhii]
Dr Orhii has proven to be the progressive Chief Executive Officer who succeeded a reformist (late) Professor Dora Akunyili in piloting the affairs of the agency. He built on the foundation that Dr Akunyili and the result has been the remarkable pace at which NAFDAC has grown since he took over its affairs. It is definitely no easy task getting NAFDAC to become one of the world’s top 20 drug regulators and keeping it in that position.
No doubt, the agency has not been prolific in making headlines but this does not detract from the sheer volume of activities that go on unreported. For instance it has not been possible for the counterfeit drug cartels that have been sent out of business to find their way back into circulation as the agency daily move one step ahead of them under the able leadership of Dr Orhii. These daily confrontations may not be in the news but the fact that Nigerians can buy and consume food and medications with the least of worries is enough indication that those who would have it otherwise have been properly curtailed.
Public enlightenment has however not suffered under Orhii as NAFDAC boss.
Series of television, radio, print, online and non-legacy media advertising has ensured that the populace continue to get informed and educated on issues around food and drug safety, which is key to sending counterfeiters out of business. Even though this aspect has not suffered, it must be pointed out that it is the one area when the NAFDAC boss must seek more resources to increase what is presently being done as it is important to further reach those that are yet to be reached with the needed messages.
It is noteworthy that the enforcement activities of the organization did not detract from its ability to generate revenue. From internally generated revenue of N2.5billion upon his assumption of duty, Orhii brought about an increase over the course of four years. Three years ago it earned above N6 billion, moved up to about N7 billion last year with a projection of N9 billion for 2015. It becomes even more remarkable when one realizes that the increase in revenue was in part due to the plugging of leakages. Beyond plugging leakages, a comparison with other food and drug regulators worldwide shows that the Orhii led NAFDAC apparently runs one of the leanest budgets on the globe and has thus saved the government money by judiciously managing resources.
The organization has also recorded milestones under Orhii in the aspect of training staff to meet global standards. Available information indicates the agency, under his watch, has trained staff, locally and internationally. The result has been for these staff to be able to hold their own when they are among peers from other nations. This no doubt plays a role in the increase level of self-reliance that the country today enjoys in food and drug administration.
NAFDAC has also transformed in terms of infrastructure as the Orhii led administration marshaled resources to build laboratories and facilities in places where there previously none. The enforcement office in Apapa falls into the category of such projects that have created conducive work environment for staff. The agency’s laboratory that was destroyed by an inferno in 2004 was rebuilt as well as the rehabilitation of structures that have become dilapidated in other locations. The drug laboratory in Yaba was designated as the Centre of Excellence in Africa after it was so refurbished from its dilapidated state. The upgrade to these facilities with staff training has earned the agency several international accreditations that would have been otherwise impossible.
Another of Dr Orhii’s legacy is his taking the bull by the horn and securing land in Abuja for NAFDAC to build its national headquarters.
Completion of the building will further strengthen public confidence in the organization while improving its performance.
There is equally the often ignored achievement of NAFDAC under the able leadership of Dr Orhii. Few people appreciate the fact that the credibility and reliability of made in Nigeria drugs was something that could be exploited for the benefit of industries in Nigeria. These qualities are what the agency has now tapped into that has made in Nigeria drugs to find high acceptance in the international market because they were well promoted by the organisation. The implication of this trend is that the gains of reforms at NAFDAC have delivered benefits even to citizens and Nigerians businesses and is thus a model that could prove useful for adaptation by regulators of other sectors.
The narrative on the positive changes in NAFDAC can go on for several pages even when abridged as has been the case in this article. The crux of the matter is thus to urge Dr Paul Orhii to redouble his efforts with a view to beating his own record in the foreseeable future. He cannot afford to relent on these giant steps he has taken and must do more because Nigerians demand more of him. He must sustain this NAFDAC’s success story.
Agbese is Executive Secretary, Centre for Social Justice, Equity and Transparency.