From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
Sellers of “Agbo’ (a herbal mixture) in Asaba and its neighbouring Okpanam in Delta State, have protested against what they described as high handedness by the Delta State Traditional Medicine Board (DTMB).
The protesters were armed with placards of various inscriptions, alleging that officials of the board were tormenting their lives as they went about hawking the liquid herbal product.
Besides, they alleged that the board was attempting to compel them to pay N30,000 for certificate and another N4,000 for identity card which would be renewed every six months.
They said they were fed up with the harassment and high handedness by the board and its officials hence they embarked on public demonstration to draw the attention of the state government and other stakeholders.
Speaking on behalf of the protesters, Mrs Ariyo Suliat said every attempt by the union to dialogue with the board on the way forward had proved abortive before they resorted to protest:
“They said they don’t know the union, that every sales girl must come to register. The officials have continued to arrest us for no just cause, because we are looking for what to eat.
“We want the Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to know that we don’t want to work with the board. We already have an association.
“We belong to the Yoruba Community Traditional Medicine Association under a native doctor (Asiwaju). We are fine there, they should let us to do our work.”
However, the board has dismissed the allegations raised by the protesting Agbo sellers, insisting that the board was out to sanitise the system and ensure that the product is safe for consumption.
Deputy Secretary, DTMB, Mrs. Bridget Omonemu, described the action of the sellers as uncalled for and an act of disrespect for constituted authority: “The board is saddled with the responsibility of regulating the activities of traditional medicine practitioners, including sellers of herbal mixture in the state. No resident has a right to go against government policies or hold a regulatory body to ransom.
“The allegation that our field officers are chasing them about and not allowing them to sell their products until they pay N30,000 to obtain a practicing certificate and another N4,000 to obtain identity card every six months is not really true.
“What we do as a regulatory and revenue generating board, is to oversee everything under the purview of traditional medicine, which the ‘Agbo’ product is part of.
“They fall under native doctors. A doctor – trained physician or native – is a person who administers substance for the wellbeing of somebody. Of course, we have our guidelines for this.
“Now, these girls come to town to sell these products for their employers who do the processing and production. Sometimes they buy, cook and sell.
“We said, let the oga (Agbo business owner) come to register with us and obtain a practicing certificate/licence with a fee of N30,000.
“To keep a monitoring record of the sellers, they should obtain an annual identity card to enable us keep a track on them. This is what the law setting up the board said, that we must maintain a register of traditional medicine practitioners in the state.
“It may interest you to know that we are not against their unions or associations. There are various groups or factions of these ‘Agbo’ sellers under various Asiwajus.
“We don’t have any problem with the Asiwaju of Asaba, Ibusa, Agbor and the rest of them across the state, they are cooperating with us.
“The only one that is the problem is the Asiwaju of Okpanam who is organising these girls against the board and the policies of government on traditional medicine.
“The Asiwaju came to the office the other day and walked out on us while we were still discussing. He doesn’t want to obey the law. He said we should leave the girls, that he would be the one dealing with us while the girls should remain under his supervision under the name of Yoruba Community Traditional Native Doctors Association.
“And we said no. We have had instances where some of these girls were asked to taste the product they are selling and they ran away.
“We have had cases of abnormal reactions after an ‘Agbo’ was taken. In most cases they mix tramadol and other substances of hard drugs into the ‘Agbo’.
“These are some of the things we want to check and possibly give them orientation and trainings on how to handle their products in terms of the water used, environment where the ‘Agbo’ is cooked, the use of disposable cups instead of one general cup serving everybody and many others.”