Inspired by the landmark achievements of their father in the herbal medicine industry in Nigeria, Akinyemi Ayeni and Rita Ayeni are carving out a niche for themselves in the same industry and perhaps beyond. As principal officers of Organic Remedies, a joint venture between their Father, Dr Akintunde Ayeni and the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Akinyemi and Rita are jointly passionate about enhancing the health of Nigerians through natural medicine. While Akinyemi, a graduate of University of Leicester and Hult Business School, UK, serves as the managing director; Rita, a product of Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland, serves as the director in charge of marketing.
In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, the duo bare their minds on issues relating to herbal medicine practice in Nigeria and the recent launch of Verozil, an immune booster that the company says can ward off the symptoms of COVID-19. Excerpts:
Can we have a brief background on the operations of Organic Remedies?
Organic Remedies is the brainchild of Yemkem International and the Ooni of Ife. The company was birthed last year. Just before the COVID-19 lockdown, we had our plans of creating a product that would tackle the virus. At that same time, the Kabiyesi called the chairman of Yemkem and asked him about his plans for COVID-19. There was subsequently a meeting with the Ooni.
Interestingly, everything the traditional ruler had in mind was in line with our plans. That was how we produced Verozil, an immune booster that also controls COVID-19 symptoms. The launch was to have happened earlier than it did but because of the stringent process at NAFDAC, we had to wait to ensure best practice.
Would you say categorically that Verozil has the capacity to help manage COVID-19 symptoms?
Yes, and aside from the fact that it controls COVID-19 symptoms, it is an immune booster that has the capacity to tackle viral, bacterial and fungal infections. It effectively handles COVID-19 symptoms, especially cold and cough. I can categorically tell you that when I had a dry cough, I took Veroxyl and after two days the cough subsided. We know that very soon the noise of COVID-19 will come down and, then, people can start using the product as an immune booster which was the original purpose of its creation.
If a Nigerian company can come up with a drug as important as this, don’t you think you are not doing enough media-wise?
I agree with you. In fact, it was one of the things we discussed at the launch. The feedback we are getting from Nigerians is very encouraging. We need government to do more to endorse indigenous products like Verozil.
What do you think government needs to do to encourage herbal medicine practitioners to maximise their potentials in the country?
Everything is an ecosystem. For us to fully harness the power of herbal medicine in Nigeria, the whole ecosystem – starting from the study of herbal medicine down to the final production stage – every single thing must be put in place to make it accessible to everybody. Majority of the people who are professionals in herbal medicine are not degree-qualified. Even if they have degrees, they are mostly on the theoretical aspect.
What is helping the Chinese today is that they have universities of herbal medicine. They also have hospitals of herbal medicine. There, a doctor does not just go to school to study medicine, he also has to go to a hospital to practice. The same is applicable to herbal medicine. There are so many things that go into the ecosystem of herbal medicine. There are so many things government needs to do to make the business environment conducive.
For example, there are so many things hindering our production. Some of them are the challenges we face in trying to source for raw materials. The quality of bottles and blister packs we get here is not good enough and all this boils down to the way our system works here.
Government also needs to regulate the market. You hardly find any herbal medicine being imported into the Chinese market. It is either you go to China and set up a factory there or nothing more. Unfortunately, Nigeria is a dumping ground for all sorts of herbal medicines from different climes because we are always looking for cheap things, not minding the toxicological effects of some of these cheap herbal drugs that we consume. Some of them don’t even have NAFDAC numbers. If our market is regulated, things wouldn’t be as bad as they are.
Are you affiliated to the US-based Organic Remedies?
Not at all. Even before the registration of the company, we didn’t even know that there was any other Organic Remedies elsewhere. Ours is a fully indigenous company.
What is your motivation for venturing into herbal medicine, knowing that your father, Dr Akintunde Ayeni, has carved a niche for himself in this regard?
This is one thing that I think has been passed from generation to generation; and one thing that is lacking in most Nigerian businesses is continuity. Many of the big companies we have had in this country always die with their owners. Aside from me, my sister is also involved in the business. Being the children of a man who has changed the entire herbal medicine landscape in Nigeria, it would be wrong if he cannot raise children who can manage his business and perhaps redefine standards in the industry.
What more do we expect from Organic Remedies in terms of the delivery of quality products?
Organic Remedies is not all about herbal medicine alone. We are working to roll out other lifestyle and daily need products like toothpaste, soap and other toiletries and we hope to maintain the highest standards in quality.
Rita Ayeni: I really see a bright future for Verozil because the drug is not just for COVID-19; it prevents you from contracting so many diseases because of its immune building capacity. We are already working with a couple of pharmacists to ensure widespread distribution of the product.
What is your advice to business owners in terms of building brands that would outlive them?
They should strive to raise children or managers who can run the affairs of the business successfully and gainfully when they are no longer there. That is one thing our father has done for us. He carries us along in all the production processes. There is no member of our family that is not directly involved in herbal medicine, from the first to the last.