Worries Over Merchants of Death

Roadside drug sellers

Despite the multiple approaches to regulate sales of drugs in Nigeria, hawkers of fake drugs still operate in commercial buses, motor parks and garages

By Chinwe Okafor  |  Sep. 16, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

ON a bus ride from Ikorodu to Oshodi, Lagos, a man suddenly stood up, cleared his throat and greeted everyone ‘good morning’. He followed it up with a short prayer and then covered everyone including the bus driver with the blood of Jesus, a guarantee for a safe journey.

The man identified himself as Femi Fatogun before introducing the range of different drugs from agbo (herbal medicine) to conventional drugs. In his stock, were drugs for hypertension, diabetes, ulcer, staphylococcus, cancer, weak erection, premature ejaculation, typhoid fever, malaria and other life threatening ailments. With amazing eloquence, he boasted of the cure-all drugs in a bid to make sales. “This pack is the last I have with me. Passengers have been patronising me since I came out in the morning. In pharmaceutical shops, it is sold for N200, but here in this bus, I am giving it to you for N100. If you do not have N100, you can still buy half for N50,” he said.


Fatogun does his daily business in the state as a mobile drug seller in long moving vehicles simply known as molue. He is not alone in the business. Kemi Adekoya does her own business on the Obalende-Oshodi axis of the state. She renders selfless medical education and self-diagnoses to her patients, though often riddled with poor pronunciation. Hear this: “Diabetes is caused by weak uslin (insulin), which is the glucose regulatory mechanism in the body system. If you want to know whether you have diabetes, urinate in a bowl, taste the urine. If it tastes bitter, you are diabetes-free. But if it tastes sweet or sugary, you have diabetes. Staphylococcus, a sexually transmitted disease, often causes weak erection in men, bareness and abortion in women.  Its symptoms include wormlike movement in the body, stomach noise, general body weakness, among others. Buy this drug, it is good for diabetes, weak erection, metabolism, body weakness, insomania, bad eye sight, staphylococcus,” she said.

Asides the common conventional drugs that are hawked in buses and on streets, there are also hawkers of herbal medicines and sex enhancing drugs. Realnews findings show that this category of hawkers are mainly patronised by the youth. Mohammed Usman, a drug peddler, said he has been in the business for the past five years and that his drugs could do wonders. “My herbs are effective and affordable, I don’t sell fake drugs.  My customers always come back to buy from me because they trust my products. Sex-enhancing drugs, which come in pornographic packs, cost between N150 and N350 and I get my supplies from Kano,” he said.

Fatogun, Adekoya and Usman are among hundreds of itinerant drug sellers, especially in moving vehicles. Their routes include Obalende via Oshodi roads, Ikorodu via  Ketu to Oshodi roads, Oshodi to Mile 2 road and other heavy traffic routes. Their accessibility has endeared them to their large army of patients (passengers), who do not have to pass through the stress of orthodox  hospitals to take a hospital card for appointments. Experts warn that self-medication and consumption of concoctions could worsen or trigger kidney and heart diseases, among others.

Biodun Adeola, a community pharmacist at Okokomaiko, said that when drugs are exposed to the sun and other elements, they lose their vital chemical compositions. He said that this was why drugs bought from hawkers in the open always proved deleterious. He also said it was wrong for anybody to proceed to the  market to buy drugs when he feels sick without consulting pharmacists, saying that was why every pharmacy ought to employ the services of a practicing community pharmacist to ensure that the right drugs were used by buyers.


Olumide Akintayo, a medical doctor and the national president of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria, PCN, said hawking was an offense under the law. He said that drug hawking was an illegal act based on the Fake Drug Act. In Section 2(1) of the Fake Drug Act, drug sale is prohibited in certain places such as ferries, markets and kiosks. Drug hawking is illegal. Drug hawking is a dangerous act because these hawkers have no knowledge of drugs or what they are doing.

He blamed drug hawking in the country on the wrong attitude of Nigerians whom, he said, were carefree with their health by buying drugs from individuals with little or no knowledge about the drug they hawked. “It is unfortunate that Nigerians chose to be deviant by buying drugs and herbal products from people who have no knowledge about the drugs. We have got reports of victims, especially in the northern part of Nigeria, who used drugs bought on the streets, and which later affected their health. We will not rest on our oars; we will continue to do our best for the good of the public health,” Akintayo said.

The discounted prices of drugs, marketing gimmicks and passengers’ preference for convenient healthcare at cheap price are still fuelling the trend. Kemi Odunayo, a housewife and mother of three, based her preference for roadside drugs on cheap price and affordability. She said that going to pharmacists or big stores was time-wasting and costly, whereas majority of the drug hawkers, including sellers of unorthodox medicines, could easily prescribe drugs for common ailments, like malaria and typhoid fever.

“I always buy drugs from hawkers who sell inside buses in Lagos. You could tell the authentic ones from fake ones through the explanations they give. I have never had any reason to complain about the drugs, because I often check for details before purchasing them, she said. Similarly, Maria Ogbulafor, another woman, said people patronise drug hawkers because the economic situation in the country is getting worse as the day goes by. “Due to the poor state of the nation’s economy, it is important to cut one’s coat according to one’s cloth. Going to hospitals to see doctors or pharmacists who, oftentimes are unavailable, because of headache or malaria, is not sensible. I’d rather go to Oshodi or Lagos Island to buy drugs. I need no doctor or pharmacist to tell me what to use to cure headache,” she said. Ogbulafor further explained that she always reads the instructions that came with the drugs before using them.


Although there have been several reports in the media of vulnerable Nigerians who innocently purchased drugs from hawkers and found themselves in hospital the next day, yet people still patronise them. Agnes Fawole, a secondary school teacher, was not lucky as Odunayo and Ogbulafor as she lost a three-month-old pregnancy last October. She said that on her way back from school one evening, she met a man who hawked drugs and bought analgesics which she would use to relieve the pains she felt. “He spoke glowingly about the drug, which he said, was a new product from India, and asked me to try it. I had no doubt in me, because I had used a similar drug before. Moreso, I believed that drugs from India are always of good standard. It was God that saved me because I was rushed to the hospital three days after I commenced the use of the drug. I lost my pregnancy in the process,” she said.

Vincent Mamah, national president of the Nigerian Association of Patent and Proprietary Medicine Dealers, NAPPMED, said his association was worried about the spate of drug hawking in the country. “It is an ugly development, which does nobody any good. The hawkers pose great danger to public health in Nigeria because they are untrained and unregistered. It is a problem that can be tackled, if government is serious.” He alleged that some pharmacists were behind the importation of fake drugs into the country because some of them were licensed to manufacture and import drugs.

Jide Idris, Lagos State commissioner for health, has asked public transport motorists in the state to ensure that their vehicles are not used as channels of fake drug distribution to unsuspecting members of the public by drug peddlers. He said that commuters should also put a halt to the illegal activities of drug hawkers by shunning drug peddlers patronising only registered pharmaceutical outlets. He stressed the need for enlightenment campaigns at motor parks because of the dangers posed by the nefarious activities of illegal drug peddlers to human lives. He said that motor parks and garages have been identified as the haven of fake drug hawking. “Government cannot fold its arms and watch its citizens ingest substances that are prescribed and administered by quacks who peddle substandard and fake drugs. Government has therefore declared zero tolerance for drug peddling and hawking especially in motor parks,” he said.

A bus 'doctor' in the act
A bus ‘doctor’ in the act

Abubakar Jimoh, acting director, special duties, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, said that drug hawking by some people in the country was attitudinal. He said that the agency had used multiple approaches to regulate, enlighten and arrest offenders. “Everything in Nigeria is being hawked. We are doing public a enlightenment campaign to discourage the hawking of drugs in the open, because drugs are not like other articles of trade. We have been sensitising people to the dangers of purchasing drugs from questionable sources because if there is no patronage, these hawkers will fizzle out.

“We make arrests from time to time even though these street hawkers run away each time they see law enforcement agents coming for them. Since this problem is partly attitudinal, it is important for Nigerians to patronise right people and avoid these hawkers. Buying drugs from hawkers is like using your money to buy poison. It is very dangerous. People should be concerned about the quality of drugs they buy. It’s very important. Drug hawkers are merchants of death. Nobody should patronise them or have any dealing with them because there is no guarantee on the drugs they sell,” he said.

John Ibu, chairman of NAFDAC’s Governing Council, said that President Jonathan and Onyebuchi Chukwu, minister of health, have given the agency the mandate to eradicate drug counterfeiting across the land. “NAFDAC aims to eradicate fake drugs, adulterated food and adulterated table water to make the nation healthy because a healthy nation will have a healthy economy.”

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