Drug hawking as killer-trade

From Berger to Nyanya, Lugbe to Gwagwalada, Wuse to Mararaba, AYA to Zuba, Area 1 to Masaka and different parts of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and even in other cosmopolitan cities, itinerant drug hawkers hold passengers to ransom in commercial buses; as they advertise different drugs, which they claim can cure many ailments.
But are the drugs really healthy or life-threatening, and what do health experts say? PAUL OKAH and BENJAMIN SAMSON find out in this report.

Passengers’ nightmare Hardly do you enter a commercial bus conveying commuters on a daily basis from the suburbs of the FCT, like Nyanya, Karu, Jikwoyi, Kugbo, to popular city centres, like Julius Berger junction (simply known to passengers and drivers alike as Berger), Wuse, Area 1, Secretariat and so on, without coming in contact with hawkers of one particular health product or the other.
These hawkers usually pose as passengers when the bus is still loading, and they have no distinguishing features; as many of them have their products in briefcases, rucksacks, handbags or cartons.
However, once the bus is on the move, the hawker in the bus would start advertising his or her product for possible patronage.
In many cases, there may be two hawkers in a particular bus, but they would have to take turns in advertising their wares.
Warning signs This hawking of health products in commercial buses are carried out despite the stern warning of “No smoking, No preaching, No hawking,” clearly written inside the luxurious buses, popularly referred to as ‘ElRufai Buses.’ In fact, these signs are the first things one notices immediately boarding any of the commercial buses, but particularly, this anti-hawking warning is often flouted with reckless abandon in almost all the buses plying different routes.
From Blueprint Weekend’s investigations, it was discovered that the hawkers enter into a special agreement with bus drivers to be permitted to market their products for a reward, either in cash or kind.
Other cities not spared Significantly, this phenomenon of unauthorized people selling prescription drugs in buses is a nationwide problem and not restricted to Abuja commuters, as similar encounters have been reported by commuters in major cities like Onitsha, Lagos, Enugu, Kano, Port Harcourt, Aba, among others.
However, in all the cities mentioned, there is no difference in the way and manner the hawkers hold passengers to ransom, as they adopt the same modus operandi or method of operation.
Modus operandi The method of operation of these hawkers is to capitalise on the ignorance or poverty level of the passengers for quick sales, as the passengers, who form the fulcrum of the hawker’s customers, are expected to be so poor that they cannot afford a private car or a visit to the hospital for proper diagnosis and treatment for their ailments.
In fact, the drugs hawked in these buses are so ridiculously cheap that even the most enlightened of passengers would be tempted to make a purchase, especially as they are said to cure different ailments.
In one of the commercial buses, a particular drug was claimed by the hawker to have the efficacy of curing stomach ulcer, stomach pain, gonorrhea, toilet infection among other ailments.
Some hawkers even claim to have drugs which can cure HIV and AIDS.
This is even as there is no diagnosis to ascertain the particular infection or disease to necessitate a particular treatment.
Mustard seeds as miracle seeds The hawkers equally peddle mustard seeds, which they claim to have originated from one holy land or the other and can cure any type of disease, including diabetes, high blood pressure, hepatitis to typhoid fever.
Even for any other thing, passengers are usually cajoled into buying the mustard seeds for spiritual reasons.
Overtime, the mustard seeds were renamed as miracle seeds.
As tiny as they are, the hawkers always try to convince the passengers to believe that the name alone is capable of making them to perform miracles.
Cheap commodity Blueprint Weekend investigations further revealed that the major reason why the drug hawkers are patronised is because of the cheap prices of the drugs.
Many of the unsuspecting passengercustomers do not care to know whether the drugs are healthy, expired or recommended.
It is good to them; as long as they get a discount from the prices they buy drugs in chemist stores and pharmacies.
Therefore, banking on this encouragement by gullible passengercustomers, the hawkers go as far as forming associations and introducing jobless friends and family members to this form of trade.
Drug hawking as killer-trade From Berger to Nyanya, Lugbe to Gwagwalada, Wuse to Mararaba, AYA to Zuba, Area 1 to Masaka and different parts of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and even in other cosmopolitan cities, itinerant drug hawkers hold passengers to ransom in commercial buses; as they advertise different drugs, which they claim can cure many ailments.
But are the drugs really healthy or life-threatening, and what do health experts say? PAUL OKAH and BENJAMIN SAMSON find out in this report.
Passengers’ nightmare Hardly do you enter a commercial bus conveying commuters on a daily basis from the suburbs of the FCT, like Nyanya, Karu, Jikwoyi, Kugbo, to popular city centres, like Julius Berger junction (simply known to passengers and drivers alike as Berger), Wuse, Area 1, Secretariat and so on, without coming in contact with hawkers of one particular health product or the other.
These hawkers usually pose as passengers when the bus is still loading, and they have no distinguishing features; as many of them have their products in briefcases, rucksacks, handbags or cartons.
However, once the bus is on the move, the hawker in the bus would start advertising his or her product for possible patronage.
In many cases, there may be two hawkers in a particular bus, but they would have to take turns in advertising their wares.
Warning signs This hawking of health products in commercial buses are carried out despite the stern warning of “No smoking, No preaching, No hawking,” clearly written inside the luxurious buses, popularly referred to as ‘ElRufai Buses.’ In fact, these signs are the first things one notices immediately boarding any of the commercial buses, but particularly, this anti-hawking warning is often flouted with reckless abandon in almost all the buses plying different routes.
From Blueprint Weekend’s investigations, it was discovered that the hawkers enter into a special agreement with bus drivers to be permitted to market their products for a reward, either in cash or kind.
Other cities not spared Significantly, this phenomenon of unauthorized people selling prescription Unsubstantiated claims Recently, Yusuf Bello Musa, a commuter, told Blueprint Weekend of his encounter with a drug hawker in a commercial bus that was transporting passengers from Nyanya to Area 1.
According to him, the bus took off from Nyanya, a suburb in the FCT, lunging into the ever busy Keffi-Abuja expressway.
The advertised destination, according to the hollering conductor, was the popular Area 1 bus stop in the city centre.
As the bus approached Kugbo, a lanky man in his mid-thirties, who had been sitting directly behind the driver’s seat, stood up in the highly congested and stuffy bus and called the attention of the sweating commuters.
Yusuf told our correspondent that the hawker introduced himself as a marketer.
He then brought out a pack of seeds he called ‘miracle seeds,’ from the bag he carried.
He reeled out numerous ailments, ranging from diabetes, high blood pressure, hepatitis to typhoid fever, which he claimed the miracle seeds could cure, even without diagnosis.
Patronage Furthermore, according to Yusuf, in a bid to persuade unsuspecting commuters, the marketer announced that the price of the seeds, outside the bus, ranges from N800 to N1,000, but he would sell his own at a discounted price of N300 inside the bus.
“Surprisingly, no fewer than 10 persons bought the so called miracle seed,” Yusuf said.
Encouraged by the sale of his wonder seeds, the hawker went on to sell prescription-only antibiotics, like metronidazole, tinidazole, tetracycline, ciprofloxacin and other powerful drugs.
“He kept introducing one drug after another until the bus reached its final destination,” Yusuf recalled.
Rising abuse Significantly, Yusuf’s encounter is a typical scene in commercial buses, be they El- Rufai and Coaster buses, that ply the various routes within the FCT and other major cities like Lagos, Kano, Onitsha, Aba and Port Harcourt.
Sadly, notwithstanding the various campaigns against self medication, the indiscriminate sale of prescription drugs is on the rise.
In particular, researches by clinical pharmacists have shown that self prescription is one of the commonest forms of drug abuse in Nigeria.
Also, the Human Development Index (HDI) 2015 report attributes about 15 per cent of deaths in Nigeria to wrongly prescribed medications and expired drugs.
Convenience Regardless of the statistics and sensitisation campaigns, those who patronise drug hawkers still continue to do so across the country.
Specifically, the customers span across gender and religious lines.
Even well educated and enlightened people buy medications from these hawkers.
Speaking with Blueprint Weekend in one of the commercial buses, a commuter, who identified himself as Daniel Michael, said like many other passengers, he prefers to buy drugs from the hawkers in commercial buses “because of the convenience.” He said: “We opt to patronise drug hawkers from time to time to treat ‘common’ illnesses like malaria, stomach upset and general body pains, because it saves time, effort and money going in search of doctors and drug stores; as these drug hawkers are common sight and easily available in commercial buses.” Customers’ argument A regular buyer, Mrs.
Nkechi Moses, claimed that condemning those that trade drugs inside public buses is like “calling a dog a bad name.” She said: “If we have to be candid with ourselves, many pharmacy shops in Nigeria do not really have professionals at the stores.
Most of them would open a pharmacy shop and put one of their brothers or sisters there to attend to people, while the owner would take another job with either government or private establishments.
What would you make of this?” Mrs.
Moses further argued that the drugs of such unauthorised-medicine vendors are cheaper than the ones bought across the counters at patent medicine stores or pharmacies.
Concerns Speaking with Blueprint Weekend, a concerned commuter, Mrs.
Owolabi Danladi, said the hawking of drugs in commercial buses should be banned outrightly by the concerned agencies.
“The customers do not understand the medical side effects attached to every drug and the adverse symptoms to those who are not permitted to take the drug,” she said.
Mrs.
Danladi also argued that she would rather buy her medications from a pharmacy, because of the advantages.
She said: “I would prefer to buy my drugs from a registered pharmacy shop, so that if anything goes wrong, I will know whom to hold responsible.
I hope NAFDAC will enforce the law that will stop these people from endangering our lives.” Hawking illegal – PCN Sadly, despite repeated warnings, many unwary Nigerians have fallen and more are still falling into the traps of these unregistered ‘doctors’ and ‘pharmacists’ in commercial buses.
However, the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Law No.
91, 1992, makes it an offence to hawk, sell or display, for the purposes of sale, any drug or poison whatsoever in any market, kiosk, motor park, roadside stall, bus, ferry or any other means of transportation or other place not duly licensed or registered for the purpose of sale and distribution of drugs or poison.
Experts warn Furthermore, medical experts warn of the grave dangers in buying and taking such drugs, without doctor’s prescription and from uncertified pharmaceutical outlets.
A certified pharmacist, Mr.
Jerry Auta, advised that medicines should not just be taken, because people notice some symptoms.
According to him, medications are prescribed after a pharmacist conducts tests and that, ‘’it is the result of the test that the pharmacist works with to determine the medication that will suit the patients system.” Similarly, Dr.
Ismailu Kura warned that: “Taking drugs that were not prescribed or from untrained people could be fatal.
It can lead to death, because one may not know the authenticity of the drug they are taking.
Even the dosage may be wrong.” He, therefore, called for appropriate legislation and enforcement to curb the trend.
Efforts to check the trend The open sale of drugs, both traditional and pharmaceutical via unregistered outlets, is a major concern in Nigeria.
Sadly, the abuse has continued, despite the plethora of regulatory agencies created to check the menace.
Prominent among them is the PCN and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
Significantly, the Registrar of PCN, Mr.
Elijah Mohammed, had, in December 2016, vowed to eradicate open drug hawking by 2017, as part of efforts to regulate drug distribution system in the country.
In an interview with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Mohammed said: “Coordinated wholesale centres are currently being built in four states of the federation (Lagos, Kano, Onitsha and Aba), where open sales of drugs are predominant.
Drug dealers would be relocated to the centres to enable them to carry out their activities in a coordinated manner.” He added that “the centres would go a long way to curtail drug hawking, among others, as there would be strict regulation of drug distribution and sales at the centres.” Agencies helpless However, the Public Relations Officer of NAFDAC, Mr.
Jimoh Abubakar, appears helpless about the sale of drugs by unauthorised people and the consumption of same by some members of the public.
He said: “It’s an old issue.
We have said times without number, since NAFDAC was created, that Nigerians should not patronise them, because of the health hazards.” Abubakar further said “findings from the agency revealed that many deaths and complications have been caused by unregistered and unapproved drugs which were purchased in commercial buses.” Truscan not remedy The NAFDAC spokesman also said “we have developed a modality in spearheading global efforts in the fight against fake drugs via the use of Truscan.” “This is a hand held devise, to detect counterfeit medicines on the spot.
We have also concluded plans to mobilise amonitoring group that will ensure the prohibition of sales of drugs through uncertified mediums,” he said.
However, in spite of this device and several sensitisation efforts, those who sell drugs without permits and customers of these unauthorised dealers and vendors still patronise them at great risks to their health.

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