What major milestones have been achieved in 2015?
The most important milestone we recorded at NAFDAC in 2015 was the reduction of counterfeit anti-malaria drugs from a prevalence of about 20 to 30.6%. We also expanded into a brand new building in June 2015, which was another achievement with respect to developing the infrastructure of the agency. We received accreditation of a drug control laboratory in Yaba that was also designated as a Centre of Excellence.
A total of nearly $4 billion is lost every year from Nigerian non-oil exports being rejected by international markets. What are you doing to get Nigerian products approved?
This has been a big challenge. The EU rejected Nigerian food items and agricultural products from its countries because of low quality. The Japanese rejected Nigeria's sesame seed because of a high prevalence of aflatoxins and mycotoxins. The UK has rejected Nigerian agricultural products in the past because of the high content of pesticide residue. It rejected beans because the pesticide residue was higher than the approved global level. What we are trying to do now is to clean up that sector of the economy in order to ensure that our products are wholesome, for both local consumers and the export market. These agricultural products that are rejected by international markets are actually what we consume here locally. What we need to do to be able to identify the source of contamination is to go to each farm and test. We need to have a laboratory that moves around the state and tests the beans at each farm as well as in the marketplace where consumers are buying the products so that we can identify the source of the problem. With something like this in place, we can do select training with the farmers and identify the problems, as some of them are using banned pesticides that are obsolete and no longer approved by the international committee. If we do this, we should be able to again get our products accepted by the international market.
What do you think increased enforcement and improved testing can bring to the development of the agricultural sector?
Every year, Nigeria imports more than NGN4 billion in rice, more than NGN2 billion in sugar, and more than NGN600 billion in wheat, all of which requires money that we do not have right now because of dwindling state revenues. These are products that we could produce here in Nigeria and even export our excess production to increase our foreign exchange reserves. This intervention would significantly help turn around the agricultural sector and subsequently the whole economy. The agricultural sector by itself has the capacity to absorb the massive cohort of the country's unemployed youth through well-paid jobs if we can properly train them to work with new technology on farms.
What do you hope to achieve with the recent enforcement and increased scrutiny on firms across the economic spectrum?
We scrutinized the pharmaceutical industry and helped it to improve its manufacturing practices. Four companies have been approved by the World Health Organization as meeting stringent global quality standards. There is no one standard for Nigeria, so everything we do should at least be to the same standard as global best practices. If firms want to be able to export their products to other countries, then they must meet the global standards.