By Job Osazuwa
On a hot Tuesday afternoon, a visibly old mass transit bus carrying about 60 passengers was en route Oshodi from the Sango Toll Gate. Though the bus was already overloaded, the female and male conductors hollered for more passengers.
The traffic was heavy that fateful day due to the ongoing construction of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor on the route. As soon as the bus got to Iyana-Ipaja Bus Stop, a lady in her late 30s cleared her throat repeatedly – purposely to draw everyone’s attention.
As soon as she got an appreciable number of passengers gazing at her, she asked them to close their eyes for prayers. Without waiting for anyone, she concluded the seemingly prepared prayer in less than one minute and it was replied with a resounding “Amen” from the passengers. She went further to tell her audience that no journey was too small to be committed into God’s hands.
And then, like a seasoned evangelist, she launched into a sermon, giving Bible verses to encourage the people to give their lives to Christ.
Having done with the “spiritual exercise”, she opened her well-stocked black bag, which already had its colour gravely altered by dust. She brought out a packet of a pain-relieving medication. Raising the packet of drug above her head, she proudly announced that this was her eighth year of plying her trade on the route and healing the sick.
She wooed her prospective customers with the promise that the drug was capable of curing headache, acute joint and muscular pains and general weakness of the body. She boasted that a lot of testimonies had been pouring from different people about the products.
Encouraging her audience to buy the product and insisting that it was effective, she said: “Though the price is N50 per sachet, there is no pain that it cannot cure. You can have my telephone number because you will call after using it to thank me later.”
A few persons bought the drug before she moved to the next item in her bag. And so she continued from one product to another. And many were those that bought the various drugs.
This scenario is daily fare in many commercial buses in Lagos.
Despite that fact that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) and other agencies have moved against the sale of drugs in the open market, hawkers of drugs along roads and inside commercial buses still hold sway in every part of Nigeria.
Many are worried that, while the relevant agencies seem indolent in tackling the activities of unregistered drug peddlers, Nigerians face the risk of buying fake, expired and substandard drugs in commercial buses while those in the trade smile to the banks.
It is believed that many of the drug sellers who claim to be experts are not what they claim they are. Unfortunately, many Nigerians, especially Lagos residents, believe in shortcuts in getting medicines, even if they end up harming themselves the more.
Different researches have linked health complications and drug abuse in Nigeria to self-prescription.
The phenomenon of unauthorised people selling prescription drugs in buses and along the streets is not just about breaking the law, it also poses health challenges to consumers who patronise them.
In Lagos, it is common to find these hawkers on different routes, including Iyana-lpaja-Oshodi, Ikorodu-Oshodi, Oshodi-Mile 2, Badagry-Mile 2 Expressway and many other long and short distance routes. Much of the hawking usually takes place in Molue buses, LT buses, former BRT red buses, Tata buses and Federal Assisted Mass Transit buses.
In order to sell their variety of drugs, ranging from worm expellers, creams, sexual enhancers to dental powder/drop, balm and ear and eye drops, the merchants crack jokes, give health tips and offer spiritual guidance before going into the business proper. Many unwary Lagos residents have fallen victim, even as more are still falling prey.
Medical experts have repeatedly warned of the dangers in buying and taking such drugs without doctor’s prescription, especially as they are not procured from certified pharmaceutical outlets. The experts have also raised the alarm that patronising medicine hawkers was akin to buying poison, which they said could lead to more harm or death. Apart from the fact that the efficacy of the drugs is questionable, in most cases, the sellers have to rely on guesswork in prescribing dosage.
According to pharmacists, drugs are supposed to be stored properly in a cool, dry place within a specified temperature. But the peddlers daily flout this rule, as drugs and other consumables are sold in the open.
Exposing drugs to intense temperature could make them expire early, among other risks. The practice of unregulated sale of drugs also gives room for counterfeiters to push their products into the market, to the detriment of the unsuspecting public.
Daily Sun learnt that one of the reasons the hawkers still make huge sales is because of the affordability of most of the products they sell. Curiously, some of the drugs are boldly embossed with “NAFDAC registration number,” but many fear that the numbers might have been faked.
It was gathered that most of the drugs sold in commercial buses are usually far cheaper than when they are sold at approved and registered places. It was also observed that most of the drugs are either imported or locally-made but often without expiry date.
Narrating her encounter with a drug seller on wrong dosage, Mrs. Abieyuwa Ogbes said: “I cannot forget the day I bought a particular drug from one of those sellers in a long bus in Lagos. The man selling the anti-infection drugs told us in the bus that adults are to take it in the morning and evening. But right there in the bus, a lady opened it and saw in the leaflet that it should be taken once in a day.
“The hawker went ahead to smartly defend himself that taking one in a day would not be effective, especially as Africans. I knew he was just trying to be smart or cover up his gaffe. Perhaps he didn’t read the leaflet before he started selling the drug or he just wanted people to finish it on time and buy more. From that day, I vowed not to take the risk of buying drugs in the bus anymore.”
Those who patronise drug hawkers in commercial vehicles and other illegal places for common ailments believe that it saves time, effort and money to do so.
“How can I go to the general hospital to queue for five hours because I want to see a doctor for ordinary stomach upset? Anyway, I don’t buy from hawkers in commercial buses or in other open places because their products are often too cheap to be accepted. I go to chemists to buy drugs for myself and my children,” a teacher in a private secondary school in Lagos, Mr. Ademola Alade, said.
But another Lagos resident, Iyabo, told the correspondent that some of the drugs sold in the bus were very effective. She said she had purchased all the worm expellers she and her two children had been using in buses.
“If we are condemning them, we should not condemn all of them. There are the ones I can’t believe. I remember a particular advertiser that said his special seeds could stop stammering. I didn’t need any soothsayer to tell that the man and his seeds were fake,” she said.
Another thing that is as well worrisome to many is the one-cures-all drug the hawkers advertise in Lagos commercial buses.
Sometime in mid-2018, the reporter encountered a man in a mass transit bus doing his usual business – persuading passengers that he had the solution to all manner of diseases. The man, who appeared to be in his early 40s, was brisk, confident, convincing and his eyes darted here and there like a wide optical scanner in the fully loaded bus.
Hear him: “I am a doctor by profession. I’m known throughout Lagos as ‘Baba Ghana wonder seed.’ This seed is from Ghana and it can cure any infection in the body. It enhances sexual performance for men. It helps women to overcome irregular menstrual pain. It boosts fertility and cleanses the system.”
According to sources, the hawkers enter into an informal agreement with the drivers and conductors of commercial buses, especially the mass transit buses, by giving them money or free drugs to allow them sell in their vehicles. Such hawkers, as observed, don’t pay the regular fare for as many trips they embark on with the vehicle.
For those who can hit the road as early as 5am, they could make up to N5,000 profit a day, depending on their marketing skills and salesmanship. But the peddlers are also sometimes faced with resistance from regulatory authorities who carry out routine raids.
Meanwhile, a drug seller, Chika Uche, said that he and his colleagues in the business have made health care more accessible to the poor by taking the products to the people’s doorsteps. He said, however, that, it has not been easy for them to attract the attention of customers, as most people don’t believe in the health products.