LAGOS, NOVEMBER 28, 2016 – The acting Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, Mrs. Yetunde Oni, in this interview with Punch’s Niyi Odebode and Adelani Adepegba, talks about the activities of the agency and the challenges.
What innovations have you brought to NAFDAC since you assumed office some months ago?
It is not about me; it is about us. I have told my colleagues, I mean the directors in the agency that we need to reposition the agency in tandem with the change agenda. No one has the monopoly of knowledge. So, I have made it an all-inclusive administration where we all contribute to moving the agency forward.
And because we have been in the system right from the outset, it is a lot easier for us to see it as a baby we are nurturing. I can make reference to a text message I received from a colleague in March (2016), when we came on board, where he said, ‘I was just wondering if being a chief executive officer is this easy. You have adapted seamlessly; I am truly happy for you.’
When I came on board, I made it clear that it’s a herculean task for all of us. And given the nature of the assignment, we have to be courageous, just and disciplined. We have to be transparent in the discharge of our duties. There should be equity and justice, fair play for everybody as stakeholders. We support them maximally, so long as they follow the standard operating procedures expected of them.
So, it has been both interesting and challenging as we are gradually taking the agency to greater heights. I think everybody is happy; the workers and other stakeholders.
You said you have been working according to the ‘change agenda.’ What does this mean?
Change agenda means having the right focus; the right mindset; and doing it right. What have we been doing about the ‘change agenda?’ When you are in an establishment, the place will only thrive if you have the right workforce. Without the workforce, you cannot be in service; and so, what did we do? We started with attitudinal change, talking to one another that the era of impunity was over and we should be seen as doing it right.
I made reference to even the developed countries where it seems that everything is working right. They’ve made it a way of life to be seen as doing it right. We can also cultivate that habit and make it our own way of doing things.
How do we do it right? We immediately did some kind of redeployment. We moved our personnel around. It becomes challenging and you want to prove that you can do well wherever you were moved to; so, productivity would be at its best.
Of course, we knew that some people might not be happy, but job rotation is a motivational tool. Again, we broke into teams and we went to the six geo-political zones to do a reorientation for state coordinators in each zone. We drew up a training plan and it lasted for about three days. We also had a town hall meeting with our workers, telling them what was expected of them in this present regime of doing it right and propelling the agency to a greater height.
How has the economic recession affected NAFDAC regulatory functions?
I think we have been better off for it. Recession or no recession, we are talking due process. We have engaged our stakeholders in dialogue. Let me take it from the food sector. On the prohibition list are fruit juices that are not supposed to be imported into the country. Why? We have local capacity; so, we have engaged the stakeholders, telling them that enough is enough; that we should develop our own. Nigeria has fruits all year round. We have fertile land. Look at Benue State, for instance, which is the food basket of the nation, it has fruits all year round. Why can’t we process these fruits and convert them to juices? We have manufacturing industries locally that can produce the juices. When we do that; we’ll be contributing to our economy; we’ll create employment and have mastery of that particular vocation. What is more, the fruit juices produced in Nigeria are of better quality than the imported ones. During the meeting, we agreed that we should not create artificial scarcity; let us first be sure that we could meet local demand and be able to export. We have therefore given a charge that by December 31, 2016, no more foreign juices in our markets.
The enforcement arm of the agency has been working since June that we had the meeting. If you go to the supermarkets or the regular markets, you will find out that the quantity of imported juices has dropped drastically.
Also, in the pharmaceutical sector, we have ensured that at least four companies are pre-WHO (World Health Organisation) qualified. Any time multinational organisations are coming in here to donate drugs, the first thing we do is to check what they want to bring, and we encourage them to patronise the local industries, to purchase from them and donate to areas of need. So, the recession is making us to think outside the box to promote our own things.
You said no more importation of fruit juices from January, 2017. How will you enforce this?
We are mopping them up. We’ll start from the source. You know we have the addresses of the source, those importing the items. We have been engaging them in discussion in order to be on the same page with us.
Will this not lead to smuggling of foreign fruit juices into the country?
I want to use this medium to thank the Nigeria Customs Service for the collaboration that we are enjoying with them. Yes, we have a lot of border posts; active and porous border posts; but we have intensified our surveillance and monitoring activities at all the seaports, not only on the land borders. We are in Seme, Idiroko, Ilela, Kangba, Maitagaru, and there are some other ones we are looking into for 2017 to begin to man as well, so that goods prohibited by NAFDAC do not come into the country through the borders.
So, what should Nigerians do if they find foreign juices in supermarkets by January?
They should report to the nearest NAFDAC office and give us the name and location of the supermarket. The enforcement arm of NAFDAC will take action, seize the products and prosecute those concerned. We will prosecute any supermarket that sells imported juices. That is the ultimate.