On federal government’s N100 billion loans and Nigeria’s pharmaceutical independence…

The drug is so critical because it is at the root of the health of the citizenry. If the global drug supply channel is affected in the same way food supply is affected now because of the ongoing war in Ukraine, there will be a crisis in Nigeria and the rest of Africa.

Although pharmaceutical products are currently manufactured in countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Morocco and Egypt, as a whole, Africa imports more than 80 per cent of its pharmaceutical and medical consumables.

This is an unsustainable situation if Africa and, especially Nigeria, must truly be regarded as independent. Hence, the federal government has disbursed a total of N100 billion to indigenous pharmaceutical manufacturers and healthcare investors as loans to expand their business and boost local production of medicines and medical consumables.

President Muhammadu Buhari announced this in Abuja while welcoming to the Presidential Villa the new executive members of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).

The loan, the President said, was extended to the businesses through the Central Bank of Nigeria’s support to the private pharmaceutical sector.
He said that the Health Sector Reform Committee, chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, is exploring models for revitalising the nation’s healthcare system to improve the quality of care and the benefits package to care providers.
However, it should be noted that while it is good to commend the Buhari-led administration for the decision to make the pharmaceutical sector independent, it should also be observed that as far back as 2007, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (now the African Union Development Agency, AUDA-NEPAD) made similar move to address Africa’s overreliance on imports of pharmaceutical products.

Then, the AUDA-NEPAD, mandated in the Assembly of AU heads of state decision of 2005, developed what it termed the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa (PMPA).

In 2012, the Assembly of Heads of State endorsed a PMPA business plan which consists of a package of technical solutions to some of the critical challenges confronting the continent’s pharmaceutical industry.

Undoubtedly, some of the recommendations contained in the PMPA for the independence of the pharmaceutical sector, if considered by the Osinbajo-led committee, can go a long way in solving the problems associated with drug overreliance in Nigeria.
Some of the recommendations include strengthening the regulatory systems and establishing a one-stop-shop for information, data and business intelligence for industry players – governments, the private sector, regional economic communities and so on.

To boost local pharmaceutical production and in turn improve public health outcomes, the PMPA business plan strongly encourages the procurement of medical products from Africa-based companies.

In addition to strengthening the procurement and supply chain management systems, the plan recommends the use of pooled procurement as a mechanism to incentivise local manufacturers to address maternal, newborn and child health.
Improved access, quality, availability and affordability of pharmaceutical products, as well as increased economic benefits through sustainability, competitiveness, and self-reliance of the industry, are some of the objectives of the business plan.
The PMPA business plan underscores the urgency of addressing the challenges facing the industry. One such challenge is a lack of affordable financing and modern technology, which hampers business expansion.

Other challenges are Africa’s small fragmented markets and weak regulatory frameworks. Of course, inadequate human resource capacity also impedes the growth of Nigeria’s pharmaceutical sector as do poor procurement and supply chain systems and policy incoherencies in the country’s trade, industry, health and finance sectors.

Sadly, mainly due to a lack of financial capacity, companies in Nigeria make little or no investments in research and development and in protecting intellectual property.

Therefore, as the Osinbajo-led committee continues with its work and while the Buhari-led government gives loans to businesses, it should be remembered that no single company, government department or organisation can, by itself, address these challenges. Thus, it is recommendable for the government to go beyond giving loans to businesses and adopt multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder collaboration in the bid to make the pharmaceutical sector truly thriving and independent.

In the end, as the President urged, the pharmaceutical association and other stakeholders in the health sector need to support initiatives being championed by the federal government and work with the committees set up to develop the kind of health system that best meets the needs of Nigerians in the 21st Century.

The good news is that some opportunities are there to be explored. For example, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), if successfully implemented, will address the challenge of small fragmented markets that have for a long time disincentivised pharmaceutical manufacturing investors.

African manufacturers, currently operating in small fragmented markets, cannot compete with their Asian counterparts that operate in vastly larger markets and, therefore, enjoy economies of scale. Economies of scale help businesses save money due to higher production volumes.
However, when all African countries ratify the AfCFTA, it will integrate a market of 1.3 bn people and potentially 2.2 bn people by 2050 and, then, African, and Nigerian manufacturers, in particular, because of the country’s size and resources, can enjoy significant economies of scale and scope.

Garlands for Buhari’s aides honoured by Niger Republic
President Muhammadu Buhari, this week, congratulated two of his aides, Senior Special Assistant on Household and Domestic Matters, Sarki Abba; and the State Chief of Protocol, Ambassador Lawal Kazaure, for being conferred with the highest civilian national honours of the Niger Republic.

Others conferred with Niger’s national honours at the Independence Day ceremony and congratulated by the President include Governor Badaru Abubakar of Jigawa state, Governor Mohammed Matawalle of Zamfara state, businessmen and President of Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote; and the President of BUA Group, Abdulsamad Rabi’u.

The President, when he received Abba and Kazaure when they brought to him the certificates and medals of honour given to them, said that he considers the honour done to them as emblematic of the longstanding mutual friendship between the two countries of Nigeria and Niger and their peoples.

And the relationship Nigeria has with Niger and all African countries is deep and historical and forms the cornerstone of Nigeria’s foreign policy. The concept, ‘Africa as the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy,’ originated in the First Republic with the then Tafawa Balewa government giving Africa a pride of place in Nigeria’s foreign policy formulation.

In line with the policy, Nigeria had overwhelmingly given both solicited and unsolicited support to African countries, intervened positively in their internal crises, provided humanitarian services, doled out billions of naira as charity and sent out Nigerian professionals as technical corps. Nigeria also provided invaluable military support to African states in need.

In fact, since 2015, the Niger Republic, a neighbouring West African country, has received good attention from the Nigerian government and enjoyed a more special, closer relationship with Nigeria than other African countries.

Currently, the Nigerian government is constructing a $2 billion railway that will run from Kano state to Maradi in the Niger Republic. Maradi, the second-largest city in the Niger Republic, is regarded as the centre of the country’s developing oil industry. The President performed the ground-breaking ceremony of the new rail line on February 9, 2021.

A Portuguese construction company, Mota-Engil, was awarded the contract to build the 284 kilometres standard-gauge line with 12 stations from Kano in northern Nigeria to Maradi in the landlocked Niger Republic.

Since independence in 1960, the two countries pursued close relations. Each side has based diplomatic relations upon non-interference in the internal affairs of the other. During the Nigerian Civil War, the President of the Niger Republic, Hamani Diori, was an active mediator in the conflict.

Each side has also strongly appealed to its former colonial powers for defence support and, unlike the relationship between Nigerian and Cameroonian and Nigerien and the Benin Republic, there have been no serious border conflicts between Nigeria and Niger. Hausa language and cultural ties are strong, but there is little interest in a pan-Hausa state.
The cities of southern Niger and Northern Nigeria have been linked in the Trans-Saharan trade going back to the medieval period. Cities such as Kano and Katsina have long been the southern terminus of trade networks which sustain much of Niger’s economy. Nigeria benefits from the trade and agricultural sales (especially Nigerien cattle taken to Nigerian markets), while Niger’s most direct routes to overseas trade are through Nigeria and the Benin Republic.

Thus, the President expressed optimism that the longstanding friendship and fruitful cooperation between the two states will continue to grow in strength.
An area where the relationship between the countries needs to improve, of course, is security. Both states face cross-border attacks by terrorists.

The security threats along the international boundary between the Niger Republic and Nigeria necessitated the establishment of a joint military border patrol in September 2018.

The main objective of the joint security venture is to checkmate the menace of cross-border armed banditry and other criminalities across the nations’ common porous borders.

The President thanked President Mohammed Bazoun and Nigeriens for the recognition.

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