The herbal medicine industry in Nigeria has experienced unprecedented growth in the last three decades. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about 80 per cent of African populations, especially those living in rural areas, use herbal medicine to meet their primary healthcare needs because of its availability, accessibility and affordability.
However, before the revolution in the herbal medicine industry in Nigeria began, very few informed people and institutions valued this form of healthcare delivery because of the rudimentary way it was being practised. Things have however taken a drastic turn in recent years. And one of the key players who pioneered this transformation valued of the herbal medicine industry in Nigeria was Dr Akintunde Ishola Ayeni, founder and CEO of Yem-Kem International Limited – the leading producer of standardised herbal medicine products in West-Africa.
Ayeni, popularly known as Yem-Kem, is one of the few trado-medical practitioners who re-invented the trado-medical healthcare system in Nigeria by introducing modern pharmaceutical processing and packaging methods, such as capsulation in the production of herbal products. His innovative approach in herbal medicine production and marketing has attracted much interest and acceptability of herbal remedies both locally and internationally.
For over 38 years, the Yem-Kem boss has been at the forefront of promoting Nigerian traditional-medicine to the world, making monumental exploits in product sales revenue and exports, leading to the expansion of his business to 48 branches in locations within and outside Nigeria. This extraordinary feat earned him much admiration and recognition to the extent that international media organisations, including the BBC and the CNN, ran several interviews and documentaries on his exploits.
Background and education
Dr Ayeni was born in Oye Ekiti, Ekiti State in the early 60s to the late Pa Dada Orimekunluyi Ayeni and Madam Elizabeth Adeoye Ayeni. Findings show that traditional medicine practice has been in the Ayeni family for about 500 years and has been passed on from one generation to the other. His grandfather, Oremekun Ayeni, was a renowned traditional healer and hunter.
His father was also a traditional chief and well-known herbalist, one of the best in the southwest. He lived at the Idi-Ikan area of Ibadan during his lifetime and many medical practitioners used to refer patients to him from the University College Hospital, Ibadan (UCH) and other hospitals across Oyo State. Some of his clients included the late Oba Adesoji Aderemi, late Oba Oyekan of Lagos and other prominent personalities across the country.
Ayeni had his primary education at St. Patrick Primary School, Oke Padre, in Ibadan. He was then admitted into Adelegun Memorial Grammar School, Ibadan, for his secondary education. While growing up, he had allergy to fish and was deeply puzzled about it.
Although he had begun his traditional medicine practice from when he was six, he still could not understand why he vomited whenever he ate fish. This propelled him to study fisheries in the university, just to have a better understanding of the condition. He obtained an HND in Fishery Science in 1984 at the Nigerian Institute of Fishery and Marine Technology in Maiduguri, Bornu state.
After graduation, Ayeni ventured fully into the herbal medicine business. His profound knowledge in herbal remedy and healing skill soon became the talk of the town as he became popularly known as “Alafia Tayo”. Ayeni’s fame soon spread to many states across southwest Nigeria, where many clients from far and near could come to him for medical consultation and treatment.
Rough road to recognition
It is noteworthy however that Ayeni’s fame did not come on a platter. In fact, when he began his traditional-medicine practice, it was not well accepted by many because of the common belief by some religious people that herbal practitioners are fetish and diabolic. His friends even mocked him that he was wasting his time because they thought traditional medicine was not lucrative.
That did not affect Ayeni’s passion and focus, however. His determination to prove his mockers wrong led him to look for innovative ways of making his products acceptable like standard orthodox medications. He realised he had to separate the spiritualism from the herbal remedy practice, which he achieved by being the first Nigerian herbal practitioner to capsulate herbal solutions in durable bottles that can retain their potency for more than two years without any chemical or preventatives added.
Ayeni went on to design blister sachets and packs for his remedies like the western drugs. However, his accrual breakthrough came in 1991 after his first appearance on TV followed by the traditional medicine trade fair in Tejuoso, Yaba, Lagos organised by NTA, where he was the youngest among 27 exhibitors.
Thereafter, he was featured regularly on a TV programme where he educated people on the benefits of traditional medicine. His first two herbal products, Energy 2000 and Bloodcure Formula, became bestsellers in the Nigerian drug market because of their innovative packaging and effectiveness.
In 1998, Ayeni was the first Nigerian herbal practitioner to be interviewed on the BBC by Hilary Anderson and in 1999, he was also interviewed by the CNN to talk on how herbal medicine was being practised in Nigeria. This international recognition gave his business the much needed acceptability and publicity which helped his company to rake in so much money beyond his wildest imagination.
This led to the expansion of his business to over 48 locations across Nigeria and also to the establishment of the gigantic factory in Ogun state for the manufacture of his products and the magnificent Yem-Kem Plaza in Lagos.
Ayeni dominated the herbal medicine industry for many years up until 2013 when a major fire outbreak occurred in his factory, leading to loss of equipment and assets worth hundreds of millions of naira. This made him to scale down his business presence from 48 to seven branches. However, his company still has a huge market share in the herbal medicine industry where his products, such as Osomo Bitters, have a strong presence in the Nigerian drug market.
About a few years back his children established one of the fastest growing startup herbal drug firms called Organic Remedies following his footsteps. Recently, they partnered with their father and the Ooni of Ife in the launch of some new herbal products.
Dr Ayeni is happily married and blessed with children.