The House of Representatives have reportedly set in motion the process of amending the Counterfeit and Fake Drugs and unwholesome Processed Foods (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act Cap C 34 laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 2004, to give more legal teeth to it.
The new Bill which has already passed through the second reading according to reports seeks to achieve a prescription of life imprisonment with an option of N10 Million for importers of fake drugs; Seven-year jail term and an option of N500, 000.00 for dealers and their accomplices; forfeiture of drugs seized to government and compensation to relatives of victims.
We totally agree with the Honourable members of the House of Representatives on the need for a review of this law because the existing one seems to lack the needed bite to address the growing dynamics in the activities of counterfeiters in Nigeria.
Weakness of the law is dangerous because it breads lawlessness and most times makes the law vulnerable to manipulation resulting to impunity, oppression, exploitation and violation of human rights.
Despite the worrisome dimension of the activities of counterfeiters of drugs and food in Nigeria only a few cases get punished because of the noticeable weaknesses in the existing one. Perpetrators of the nefarious business are readily exploiting the weaknesses in the law by using illicit wealth they made to hire expensive attorneys who are masters in delay tactics during trial of offenders.
And as former Director General of NAFDAC Dr. Paul Orhii once said, the laws that provided legal basis for the agency’s activities were obsolete, weak, non-deterrent, unwieldy and un-implementable, thereby hindering effective regulation of drugs and food items in the country. Dr Orhii’s position was at various times being buttressed by stakeholders in the health sector.
It is cheery news that something is being done at the legislative level to re-package the section of the constitution to avert deadly consequences that may occur someday.
According to experts, counterfeit medication or a counterfeit drug is a medication or pharmaceutical product which is produced and sold with the intent to deceptively represent its origin, authenticity or effectiveness.
Counterfeit medicine sometimes kills outright. For instance, in November, 2008 about 84 Nigerian children reportedly died after taking a counterfeited medicine called My Pikin Teething Mixture. More frequently, counterfeit drugs also kill by robbing patients of the real drugs they need. And some counterfeits contain a small amount of active ingredients that is not enough to cure an illness, but contains enough to promote resistance that renders even the real medicine powerless according to experts.
The World Health Organisation estimates that at least 100,000 people die every year as a result of fake drugs. Also, medical experts are of the opinion that a quarter-million malaria deaths each year could be prevented if the patients were treated with real drugs instead of fake ones.
Therefore, the idea behind the review along the line of imposition of stiffer sanctions on offenders is laudable because of the grave public health implications that activities of counterfeiters pose to the health of majority of Nigerians. In a sense, counterfeit medical products violate the right to life of innocent citizens of this country.
We are of the view that a lot more could also be achieved in mitigating the activities of counterfeiters if in addition to all the punishments listed on the bill, the Honourable members take a second look at the document by way of broadening the scope of sanctions to accommodate the following:
Protection of whistle-blowers, confiscation of properties owned by convicted offenders, short time frame for deliverance of judgments and short time frame for adjournment of cases of this nature.
We give kudos to Hon. Goodluck Nanah for sponsoring the bill and however urge members of the house not to allow this important document to gather dust on the shelves of the national assembly.
We believe that elimination of counterfeiting in Nigeria is a major step towards safeguarding the health of the nation; more especially it will re-assert the powers of NAFDAC and other law enforcement agents to operate un-encumbered in fighting criminality on fake drugs and food items. The sanctity of the lives of Nigerians is too precious to be compromised.