Xraying NAFDAC under Orhii – By Philip Agbese

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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.

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 be 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 budget 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 marshalled 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.

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