On the11th of September 2013, about 10,000 traders at the Bridge-Head Market, Onitsha, Anambra State, took over the Onitsha-Enugu Road to protest the recent announcement by the Federal Government to prohibit sales of drugs in the open market from June 30th, 2014.
The chairman of Onitsha Patent and Proprietary Medicine Dealers Union (OPPMDU), Mr Kenneth Nwosu, while speaking with newsmen during the peaceful demonstration, said that the planned policy of the government would affect over 10,000 drug traders negatively, noting that their livelihood and those of their families and extended family members depended on the market.
While appealing to the government to reconsider implementing the policy, he said there were thousands of youths learning the art of drug trading in Anambra and other states in the country whose future would become bleak, as a result of the policy.
He urged the government to rescind the decision, in the interest of the security and economic well-being of the Southeast and Nigeria, as a whole, saying the closure of the market would lead to more crime.
He equally kicked against the plan to replace the open drug market with the proposed Mega Drug Distribution Centres (MDDCs). In his words: “We have over 5,000 shops in this Bridge-Head Market and over 10,000 traders doing business here. What happens to them and their direct dependants and extended family members? The proposed complex the government wants to use for its MDDCs in Onitsha has only 124 shops. We all know that there is a dearth of pharmacists to effectively cover these shops and administer drugs to our people.”
Mr Ugochukwu Ezeani, chairman, Onitsha South LGA, while addressing the traders, commended them for ensuring the demonstration was peaceful and organised. He urged them to remain calm and promised to convey their grievances to the governor of the state and other Southeast governors, who would look into the matter and find a beneficial solution to all.
First of all, we join in commending the traders for ensuring their protest was peaceful and we acknowledge that the government should always consider the effect of its policies on the people, especially, economic effects of policies on the citizens.
However, it must be emphasised that other reasons than economic ones are equally germane when formulating or/and implementing policies, especially policies that have effect on the health of the people.
It must be stated that the selling of drugs in the open market is indeed illegal. The fact that it had gone unchecked for years was due to poor enforcement of constitutional provisions. According to the first fake drug law promulgated in 1988 (Decree 21 of 1988), the sale of drugs is prohibited in any place that does not have the formal approval and certification of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN).Yet the unregistered markets have been in business for years.
These illegal markets have been repeatedly identified as the major bedrock in the sale and distribution of fake and substandard medicines in the country. It has been argued by experts, and rightly so, that any effort aimed at ridding the country of the menace of fake drugs without first dismantling the plethora of open and illegal drug markets in the country is an exercise in futility.
The challenge, until now, had always been availability of alternative markets, when the illegal ones are closed. This is why the Federal Government must be commended for this initiative of the National Drug Distribution Guidelines policy, which is aimed at ensuring that only safe and effective medicines are distributed in Nigeria and used by Nigerians. The mega drug distribution centres, according to the guidelines, are to be properly regulated by the relevant agencies and manned by trained professionals. This is to ensure that only genuine drugs are distributed through the centres and that the handling of the drugs is done ethically. It is also to ensure there is a standard process of recall and tracing of drugs in circulation in Nigeria.
The drug traders must be enlightened that drugs are not just an article of trade, like salt or biscuits. Drugs are sensitive products and how they are stored, transported and handled, even when they are genuine, have impact not only on their efficacy but also safety, when ingested. Consequently, to continue having unregulated open drug markets, where charlatans freely sell expired, fake, substandard and adulterated medicines to unsuspecting Nigerians, portends a serious situation for the country.
The Bridge-Head Market drug traders must be educated on how to do genuine and legal business. They should find a way to be part of the regulated mega distribution structures initiative of the Federal Government. It is the responsibility of all stakeholders in the health sector and indeed all Nigerians to join hands to ensure that this initiative works.