Inadequate Patronage by Govt, Biggest Problem of Pharma Maunfacturers – Miraflash MD

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Inadequate Patronage by Government, Biggest Problem of Pharma Maunfacturers - Miraflash MD
Pharm. Moses Olurotimi Oluwalade

Pharm. Moses Olurotimi Oluwalade is the managing director/chief executive officer, Miraflash Nig. Ltd., an indigenous pharmaceutical company that specialises in manufacturing of antibiotics, specifically in beta-lactam category. With nearly two decades of operation, the company has brand presence in the six geopolitical zones of the country. In this exclusive interview, Oluwalade, a graduate of University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, with master’s and doctorate degrees in Business Administration, speaks with Ranmilowo Ojalumo on his journey to the pharma space. He also highlights the challenges in the pharma sector and the solutions to them. Excerpts:

What motivated you to start Miraflash?

First and foremost, my love for Mathematics and Chemistry gave me confidence that I would do well in Pharmacy and that was how I ended up studying Pharmacy. Today, I am proud to be a pharmacist.

After my internship and NYSC, I worked for one year as a community pharmacist in Lagos, but I was not fulfilled. I also worked with the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), for about one year but I was still not fulfilled.

In 1995, I joined Taylek Drugs Company, a pharmaceutical distributor and importer, as a medical sales representative. After about 16 years at Taylek, when I was leaving, my plan was to start importing pharmaceuticals. I was looking for a foreign company that Miraflash could represent in Nigeria. I made several efforts but encountered many obstacles, one of which was finance.

One day, I met a senior colleague, who had worked as production manager with Pfizer and later became a consultant on local manufacturing. I told him I had never worked in a manufacturing company, but he promised to help me. He gave an analysis of how I could acquire the required machines. He also opened my eyes to some lines of products and how I could set up a laboratory. That was how I started manufacturing.

And how has it been since you started?

Although I planned to be importing drugs but ended up in manufacturing, I thank God I ventured into manufacturing. I must confess that it has been an interesting journey. It has been filled with a feeling of fulfillment, though with some challenges which we have also surmounted. I am doing what I love. I really thank God that He changed my plan and led me into manufacturing. It has really been a good experience.

Since you started Miraflash, what would you consider as your major challenge?

There are many challenges, especially as a pharmaceutical manufacturer. Manufacturing in Nigeria is equivalent to hitting your head against the rock. There are many challenges you face to get your product to the market but the manufacturers of the imported competing products are not facing such challenges.

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In Nigeria today, there are power and other infrastructural problems, but in those countries, there is no power problem, there are good roads, there is an enabling environment to do business. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, our product will still be competing with the products imported from those countries where there is power, and an enabling environment. This is a big challenge.

As the CEO of a pharma manufacturing company, what is your coping strategy in the midst of the economic downturn in Nigeria?

The coping strategies are focus, resilience, and an unwavering faith in God. If you look at the state of the Nigerian economy, coping has gone beyond strategy. Or how do you strategise when you buy a dollar at N1, 500 on Monday morning and by Friday, it is N1, 900?

Sometimes, when we look at the state of things, it is unbelievable how we are surviving and this is because the parameters are scary. As of May 28, 2023, a litre of petrol was N145; today, it is above N600. Miraflash has over 40 reps on the field that are using petrol. As of May 28, 2023, a litre of diesel was N300 or N400; today, it is about N1,000 or above. Yet, we depend on diesel for the factory to be in operation.

Unfortunately, there is a limit to the extent you can increase the price of your product. Even if you increase the price of your product, does the consumer have the purchasing power to buy it? Consumers’ purchasing capacity has dropped because their income has remained static, despite the increase in price of everything. This is why many people go to church now to pray for divine healing, because they don’t have the money to buy the required drugs. Many of them also go to herbalists; but we can only pray that this tough time will pass anytime soon.

What do you think needs to be done to move the pharma industry forward?

To move not just the pharma industry forward but manufacturing generally, we need to look inward. Unfortunately, governments at all levels have been saying they want to encourage local manufacturing but they are not acting on it. Government should act and lead by example. There is no way the government can say it is encouraging local manufacturing without using locally manufactured products, such as drugs, cars, textile materials and many others.

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The Federal Government must make locally manufactured drugs and other products mandatory for all government officials. Why should our lawmakers be buying imported SUVs when there are SUV manufacturers in Nigeria? Why should the government be importing drugs that are being manufactured in Nigeria? From this point of view, the government is making life difficult for the local manufacturers to survive.

Government is the biggest buyer in Nigeria. If the government begins to patronise locally manufactured products, 50 per cent of manufacturing problems in Nigeria would be solved; and this is because, one of the biggest problems of local manufacturing in Nigeria is inadequate patronage. Many people think it is finance. Yes, finance is a challenge; but I can tell you that inadequate patronage is the biggest challenge.

Many companies in Nigeria today are performing far below installed capacity. At Miraflash for instance, we are performing on about 30% to 40% installed capacity. The patronage is low. If the patronage is high, every company can increase their output. When they fully utilise their installed capacity, they can increase their capacity. If local manufacturers get enough patronage, they will compete favourably with their foreign counterparts. There is no way local manufacturing can grow when you don’t give the manufacturers the opportunity. You think the local manufactured products are not the best, but if you patronise them, they will keep improving. Those countries where we are importing products did not start overnight, it took time. The incubation period to grow must be there. But if you don’t patronise them, they can’t grow.

When there is adequate patronage, you can begin to talk about finance. When you have adequate patronage, you can plow back whatever you make into the business for expansion, and from there, you keep improving your quality.

Any additional message for the government?

The government needs to create an enabling environment for pharma manufacturing. The government needs to erase multiple regulations where more than one agency is doing the same thing. NAFDAC, Pharmacy Council of Nigeria (PCN), Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA), among others will visit Pharma Companies, asking the same questions, and we all know, in Nigeria, these visits cost a lot of money. It is a distraction and it even causes fear sometimes. All the agencies should be streamlined. NAFDAC and PCN are enough for pharma companies because they are doing great jobs because they are made up of professionals. The federal government only needs to empower them more so that they can do more.

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As a CEO, what has been your most exciting moment?

I have had many exciting moments but one which I can’t easily forget was the when I received NAFDAC numbers for my first set ofproducts. When I started, it was not easy, but I kept pressing. There were four products and I submitted them together. When I eventually got the NAFDAC numbers for the four products, I was really excited and it is a moment that I can never forget.

You clocked 60 in June; what is your new priority now?

Ideally, if I were to be working for the government, I should be retiring at 60. But I am in the private sector and as the chief servant of Miraflash, I am not retiring now. But it is normal that I begin to slow down because no one can cheat nature. There are some things one can do at 40 or 50 but may not be able to do at 60.

My priority now is to put structure in place that will help the process of running the business.

You are the CEO of Miraflash, and also a pastor and husband. How do you cope?

It has been God because sometimes, when I look at myself, I find it difficult to know how I have been coping to ensure that everything is going fine. As a zonal pastor in RCCG, there are several meetings. As a pastor, your Sunday does not belong to you. You leave home at 6 a.m., but you don’t know and can’t predict when you will return home. Yet you have to be at the office by 8 a.m. on Monday. It has really been God.

I give all the glory to God. It is also an act of dedication and the zeal to make sacrifices. I see it as my own way of giving back to society. Pastoring in RCCG is a sacrificial service. As a pastor, I am excited that I have the opportunity to give back to the society, to serve the people and, ultimately, God.

What is your advice to aspiring CEOs?

Aspiring CEOs should be patient and be men and women of integrity. If you must be a successful CEO, your integrity must not be questionable. If there is anything that has sustained Miraflash, it is integrity. Let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no. Let people know what you stand for. Your character is important, especially in the pharma industry, you can’t afford to toy with your character and integrity.

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