Induced apathy killing Nigerians softly and slowly, By Akpandem James

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Reading Time: 6 mins read

Something dangerously wrong seems to have happened to our feelings as Nigerians. We seem to have lost our sense of humanity. We are hardly pushed by happenings that do not have direct consequences or immediate threats to our respective existences. Our ability to respond to common threats seems to be tainted by primordial considerations. Even when there is a development that portends mass destruction of the people, it is discussed as routine and dismissed with some level of disdain. Mindless religiosity, intemperate clannishness and blind political partisanship have deadened our sense of appreciation and reduced rationality to relative terms.

Recently, a team from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in the South-East zone reportedly “uncovered” more than 240 factories in a market in Aba, Abia State, where fake drinks of various brands and descriptions are manufactured. Only ten people were said to have been arrested in what they wanted the public to believe was a sting operation. Going by the volume of poisonous beverages brewed in those shacks and the level of revelry among Nigerians, it is better left to imagine the level of havoc wrecked on the health of unsuspecting members of the public by this illegal practice. This is nothing short of mass poisoning because no type of beverage was spared: alcoholic, non-alcoholic, therapeutic or outright medicinal.

Reactions from various quarters to the trending videos of the Aba Market raid are so tepid that it could be assumed that nothing serious happened. From the public and the government, the episode is treated as nothing to really worry about. Arresting criminals producing substances of mass destruction, who ordinarily should be treated as terrorists, are just generally being discussed as one of those things the people are forced to live with.

The perpetrators are treated as just everyday criminals. At the end of it, they might get released unconditionally following interventions from vested interests, they could escape from lawful custody or be given a gentle slap on the wrist by conniving agents within the criminal justice system. In no time, they will return to the business, either in the same location or somewhere else. It happens all the time because there are no deterrent consequences.

NAFDAC has the statutory responsibility of regulating and controlling the importation, exportation, manufacture, advertisement, distribution, sale and use of drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, bottled water and chemicals in Nigeria. Given its clearly stated responsibilities, NAFDAC should have a very active and diligent intelligence and surveillance arm to facilitate the effective discharge of its core functions. It likely has, but it is doubtful if such is active; otherwise, fake food and drug manufacturers who are scattered all over the country would not have the level of free space they are currently enjoying. It doesn’t seem to be the same NAFDAC of the Dora Akunyili era.

NAFDAC shares similar attributes with the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON). They have almost similar responsibilities, only differing in scope and coverage areas. SON is statutorily empowered “to organise tests, investigate the quality of facilities, materials and products, ensure reference standards for calibration and verification of measures and measuring instruments, and register and regulate standard marks and specifications.” It is to administer and enforce the provisions of the Act that established it. With the proliferation of fake and substandard goods all over the place, SON may just be one of the statistical monuments dotting the Federal Government landscape and nothing more fundamentally relevant.

It should be worrisome that a legion of government departments and agencies, with specific mandates for curbing the activities of lawless entities, exist largely to perform routine duties. The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) have displayed commendable flashes of activity, no doubt, but they still need to do more in the face of current realities. The entire Nigerian landscape is littered with other government agencies that can appropriately be charged and found guilty of corporate malfeasance.

It is most unfortunate that the recent Aba Market exercise, which ordinarily should elicit mass revolt against both the perpetrators of the act and the sloppy attitude of those responsible for curbing the situation, is still being discussed as ‘one of those things.’ Within the same period, what attracted more attention and vehemence from the people were the emerging developments in the political crisis in Rivers State, fostered by the sour relationship between the immediate past governor, Barrister Nyesom Wike and his successor, Mr Siminalayi Fubara. The latter is a restricted matter that can be resolved through deft political maneouvering, but the effect of the former is capable of slowly wiping out a generation of people across a larger space.

The way this very disturbing development is being seen and treated speaks to our priorities: politics, religion, region, health and humanity. It glaringly shows that we would rather die playing politics than live to save and serve humanity. The act by the Aba “brewers” and their ilk all over the country is most despicable, but the laxity of those charged with the responsibility of denying them the space to fester has become typical of our corporate and individual attitudes toward responsibilities.

Nigerians would rather complain and bemoan how things have degenerated in the country, but very few seem to take stock of their own sense of responsibility. People are now seized by an uncanny sense of entitlement, even when they are patently undeserving because of their very dispositions. It is disturbing that otherwise very condemnable actions are justified by some people, apparently triggered by hate and buoyed by sentiments.

Morals have gone to the dogs, and there seems to be a meltdown in societal values. What on God’s green earth runs in the minds of people who deliberately bottle poison and massively market it for material benefits? How do they enjoy such money? And they believe that they could prosper from such wicked ways? No wonder the Bible says, in Jeremiah 17:9, that ‘the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?’

The consequences of this indulgence are legion – both to health and to the economy. There is a high traffic of Nigerians in medical facilities across the globe, who are suffering from kidney, liver and cancer afflictions. This might explain why kidney markets are sprouting everywhere and being served by equally mindless people and entities. That is why hospital theatres witness an influx of patients with liver problems. That is why stories of heart failures abound. That is why the rate of cancer afflictions has become so common that malaria is no longer an issue in our clime. Yet, those who contribute to these afflictions are still being treated as petty criminals, and those who have the responsibility of stemming their nefarious activities are carrying on with business as usual.

Various studies have shown that the incidence of chronic kidney disease (CKD) and cirrhosis of the liver has become commonplace in the country. The prevalence of CKD among Nigerians is reported to be in the region of between 1.6 per cent and 12.4 per cent. Because of the level of illiteracy and the shortage of handling facilities, the mortality rate in the country now floats between 40 per cent and 50 per cent. More than one thousand cases of liver cirrhosis are said to be reported in a year. Hepatitis and chronic alcohol abuse are named as frequent causes of liver cirrhosis. Some studies indicate that the liver damage caused by cirrhosis is often irreversible.

There is also an alarming increase in the cases of stomach ulcers, some of which might be accentuated by the consumption of corrosive liquids bottled and sold as beverages by mindless profiteers. This type of ulcer is said to occur when the stomach acid damages the lining of the digestive tract and produces open sores. Cancer cases are also on the rise and so are diseases of other sensitive organs of the body. Some of these ailments are worsened by the consumption of fake beverages, which further pile pressure on sensitive organs.

In a country where healthcare facilities are lacking and very expensive where available, issues capable of further worsening the health conditions of the people should ordinarily be given top priority attention. Any form of sabotage should not only be frowned upon but promptly and decisively dealt with. But it doesn’t seem so! Even when those who are charged with the responsibility of ensuring these are unmindful of their responsibilities and the perpetrators are having a field day, while those likely to unwittingly become victims do not seem to be concerned enough. The display of impunity and apathy on all fronts is very unbecoming in an otherwise rational society.

On the economic front, the manufacturers of consumer goods are folding up or moving out in droves because the counterfeiting of their products has made business bad for them. Unfortunately, these profiteers do not pay taxes, yet they drive tax-paying entities out of business. This is bad for the economy, the people and the country.

While NAFDAC is celebrating the feat of uncovering a commonplace activity that has been going on for decades, some people are dismissing the indulgence by evildoers as a sign of the time. What is happening at the Aba cemetery market is just a fraction of what is going on across the country. Nothing is spared. More disturbing is the infiltration of the entire consumables market, including common foodstuffs and fruits, whose maturity and volume are now chemically aided. These things are going on in the open, yet corporate laxity is flagrantly displayed by agencies responsible for dealing with them. 

Deservedly, darts are being thrown in the direction of these agencies, even if feeble. Commentators are particularly ‘dragging’ NAFDAC, following the viral video of the sordid “discovery.” NAFDAC, SON and related agencies deserve not only ‘dragging’ but also bloodying, but the evildoers deserve to be crucified. Their acts should be treated as crimes against humanity and the state. The cumulative consequence of their actions is nothing but the gradual mass killing of the most painful nature. In Nigeria today, quite unfortunately, where massive outrage is expected, sentiments pour cold water and reduce a fundamental conversation to tantrums.

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