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Food and medicine that kill

In the second week of March 2017, Justice Adedayo Oyebanji of the Lagos High Court gave a judgment that turned out to stir the hornet’s nest. Mr. Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo, of Fijabi Holdings purchased large quantities of Coca cola, Fanta Orange, Sprite, Fanta lemon from the Nigeria Bottling Company (makers of the product) for export.

When the products got to United Kingdom, the Stockport Trading Standard Department of Environment and Economy Directorate found in their sample test that the product was not fi t for human consumption as they became poisonous when mixed with ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), has excessive benzoic acid and sunset additives. Benzoic acid is described physically as a white, crystalline powder with a faint, non-off ensive odour.

Th ough it serves as preservative, if used excessively, medical experts hold that it causes cancer and has been linked to asthma problems and increased levels of hyperactivity in children. Benzoic acid is also used to manufacture a wide variety of products such as perfumes, dyes, topical medications and insect repellents.

Sunset yellow on the other hand is said to be a dye that can be found in foods like orange juice, ice cream, canned fi sh, cheese, jellies, soft drinks and many medicines. It could also be dangerous for human health as it can cause rhinitis, allergies, hyperactivity, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting in some individuals. Fijabi took Nigeria Bottling Company and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control to court in 2008.

Th e company demanded N15.1 million as special damages and N1.6million being the sum NBC admitted receiving from Fijabi. In its defense, the NBC stated that they were not negligent as claimed by Fijabi. Th ey maintained that their company has stringent quality control procedures that ensure products are safe for end users. Th eir argument was that the level of chemical components in their soft drinks are safe for local consumption in Nigeria and that since Fijabi illegally exported the product without informing them, it could not be entitled to damages. NAFDAC did not fi le any defense. Th e court in delivering its judgment held that the knowledge of export was immaterial as the product ought to be fi t for human consumption regardless of creed or colour.

Th e court went ahead to hold interalia as follows: “It is manifest that NAFDAC has been grossly irresponsible in its regulatory duties to the consumers of Fanta and Sprite manufactured by Nigeria Bottling Company.

NAFDAC had failed Nigerians by its certifi cation as satisfactory for human consumption, products which in the United Kingdom failed sample test for human consumption and which become poisonous in the presence of Ascorbic Acid ordinarily known as Vitamin C, which can be freely taken by the unsuspecting public with the company’s Fanta or Sprite.

Th e court, in the light of the damning evidence before it showing that NAFDAC has failed to live up to expectations, cannot close its eyes to the grievous implication of allowing the status quo to continue as it is,” the judge said.” He ruled: “Th at NAFDAC shall forthwith mandate Nigeria Bottling Company to, within 90 days hereof, include on all the bottles of Fanta and Sprite soft drinks manufactured by the company, a written warning that the content of the said bottles of Fanta and Sprite soft drinks cannot be taken with Vitamin C as same becomes poisonous if taken with Vitamin C…In consideration of the fact that this case was fi led in 2008 and that it has been in court for nine years, costs of N2 million is awarded against NAFDAC.” Predictably, the judgment has elicited reactions from the teeming Nigerian population.

People are wondering why the matter was never in the public domain all the while it lasted save at the judgment stage. Th ere are also rife concerns about how diligent or negligent regulatory bodies such as NAFDAC and the Consumer Protection Council have been in Nigeria. If Fanta and Sprite have adverse drugfood interactions, then the consumers may well have been unfairly exposed to danger. Yet, Fanta and Sprite are now on the front burner only because Mr. Fijabi persevered in the snail-pace journey that got him to the fi nish line of justice.

Chances may be that he spent more on this case more than was awarded him as damages; hence, he did it not just for Fijabi but for all of us. How many Fijabis have the staying power to unearth the many matters that kill us even when we insist we don’t want to die? But the situation gets even more ironic when someone dies from medicine.

I mean, how do you go seeking for a cure only to be killed by the cure? Th is was the case for Idol West Africa star, Eric Arubayi, who sadly died on Saturday, February 11, 2017 after taking expired malaria drug which exacerbated his condition. According to a source from the family, Eric, (34) was ill of malaria and typhoid. He was given expired drugs which killed him. Let’s put things in perspective: Eric took his money and paid for drugs which …killed him.

Th ink about the cost of malaria drugs, how much is it? Th ink about his parents, Professor Eric and Diana Arubayi and his three siblings – Erica, Derrick and Daniel; Imagine the sorrow of his wife, Chinonso, his son, Jayden and the friends, colleagues and relatives of this young guy.

How could they have lost such huge treasure to expired drugs of perhaps no more than a thousand naira? Th e anguish of the pain is best imagined. Yet, this is what happens daily in our country. Some fellow wanting to make extra bucks kill people who would readily off er the amount they intend to make or more just for the asking. Where is our humanity?

Th is is the point again where we sadly recall the life and times of Mother-inNigeria, Prof Dora Akunyili. Even in death, we bless her soul for standing up for the people of our dear nation and sending out a resounding NO to fake and expired drugs and unwholesome food. Sadly, since she left that agency, the Nigerian public is yet to feel that extent of care from a regulatory agency that should ensure we don’t pay for our deaths through basic stuff like food and medicine.

Th e Consumer Protection Council which is another primary agency that should raise the bar and ensure people are not put in harm’s way via goods and services seem to be in slumber. Th ey recently have called for an investigation on Fanta and Sprite but that is only because Mr. Fijabi blew the whistle.

To solve the myriads of challenges we have as a country, we cannot aff ord to be laissez faire in our approach. No garden was ever made by saying ‘oh, how beautiful!’ while sipping soda in the shade.

Changing attitudes and systems require that we diligently put one step after the other without slip ups or goofs and then we sustain the eff ort long enough to crystalize it into a way of life. May the soul of the very handsome and talented Eric Arubayi and others who have died in preventable circumstances such as these rest in peace.

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