A communiqué issued last week at the end of the National Chemical Security Training Conference in Abuja, recommended a return of officials of the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to the ports and borders of the country.
NAFDAC, Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and a number of other government agencies have been absent from the nation’s ports and borders since 2011. The Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, had on June 7, 2017, renewed the order by banning some regulatory/security agencies including NAFDAC and SON from operating at the country’s seaports.
The operations of these agencies were considered no longer relevant which made their eviction from the ports imperative to ensure a smooth operation of business at the ports.
The NPA boss could be said to have merely read out the then acting President’s (Prof Yemi Osinbajo) script, which was contained in his executive orders on May 18, 2017, in which issues bordering on entry and exit operations and other issues relating to the conduct of public administration in the country were addressed. The eviction exercise was aimed at promoting transparency and efficiency in the business environment.
The executive order which prescribed the eviction of these agencies was also believed to have the potential to bring about positive changes in the port processes and enhance the ease of doing business since the former system witnessed a clash of interest that climaxed in touting, bribery and corruption.
But, how unbiased is this eventual resolution? Given the auspicious roles of these two agencies, should they be the first to be ousted? In a business environment such as the land borders, sea and airports, where goods and consumables come in from outside the country, whose duty is it to establish the potency as well as the reliability of the goods? These and many more questions have trailed the banning of agencies like SON and NAFDAC from the ports.
However, like the proverbial toad that runs not in the day for no reason, Nigerians are aware that President Muhammadu Buhari, before his medical trip abroad last year, set up a Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) to introduce reforms and change some of the ways government business and operations were conducted in the country.
The committee took time to do its work as it beamed its searchlight predominantly on the operations of Ministries, Agencies and Departments (MADs), entry experiences of visitors and travelers as well as ports operations. What we may not know is what the findings of the committee were.
All the same, behind the reasons for the eviction of these two all-important agencies, operators blame the delay in cargo clearance on the multiplicity of government agencies at the ports. This explains why they were joyful when on the strength of the executive order, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) announced that only seven agencies are allowed to operate at the ports.
“We are trying to reduce the time and process in what we are doing and it is only when we abide by this that we can do that” the NPA boss said.
While the reason behind the action may well be justified, I am concerned about the yardsticks used for the selection of the agencies to be dropped, even in the face of the fact that “the law that set up NAFDAC empowers it to statutorily operate at the ports. The clearance of regulated products outside the current legal framework poses immediate and life-threatening risks to the public as unregistered, spurious and falsified products exit the ports without recourse to the agency’s approval for such products to be in the market.
Only God knows how many sensitive chemical substances, food, drug and other regulated products have gained entrance into the country unchecked all these while in the absence of NAFDAC.
However, the recent recall of NAFDAC to the ports by the Federal Government, underscores its role as a key player in the national security architecture. Undisputedly, government’s efforts in securing lives and property of its citizens cannot be hundred percent fruitful without the contribution of NAFDAC which is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that only quality, safe, efficacious and wholesome regulated products are consumed.
It is hoped that the return of NAFDAC officials to ports and borders will stimulate effective control of the importation of narcotic drugs and chemical substances identified to be grossly abused and posing threat to public health and national security.
While the reason for the initial ousting of the NAFDAC is yet to be ascertained, it is expected that members and staff of this agency should base their operations on integrity to avoid attracting undue attention. No doubt, the indispensability of their role cannot be overemphasised.