The one-all cure drug hawking in Abuja buses
He was sweating profusely as he marketed his ‘wonder’ drug that relieves headache, eases rheumatism pains, deals with bowel movements and enhances sexual performance. He was brisk, convincing and his eyes darting like a wide optical scanner in the crowded bus.
Let’s just call him Greg, though his accent suggests he is from the eastern part of the country. Greg is just one of a horde of drug sellers on Abuja’s mass transit buses that mainly run from the satellite towns and adjoining settlements to the city center of Abuja daily.
The crowded buses, largely of low income earners, artisans, sells boys and girls, petty traders and their likes are just the type of people Greg needs to hoodwink to buy his ‘wonder’ one-all cure drug.
It is no longer news that the business of drug hawking has become a norm on the streets of Abuja, with drug vendors loitering the streets selling orthodox medicines in the most unusual places. But the question remains, what drives people to risk their lives buying these unregistered drug peddlers and why is government unable to checkmate the dangerous trend.
Drug hawking is a city phenomenon with populated cities like Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Onitsha, Kaduna and a few others the main culprits. In Abuja, from Gwagwalada to Kubwa, down to Nyanya, the presence of drug vendors are now regular sights for passengers on such routes.
Though the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, bans the sale of drugs outside registered pharmacies, drug vendors in Abuja seem to have defied the order, as they are found hawking drugs all around the city with little or no regards for officers and men of the agency.
Some have argued that the high level of unemployment in the country creates a fertile ground for the bus drug hawking business as it allows hawkers to start the business with little or no capital, since most drug distributors provide vendors with drugs at whole sale prices, with the capital only paid after sales. The drugs are relatively cheaper than the ones in the regular pharmacies, and the vendors also don’t have to pay for shops as they meet their customers directly on the buses.
Investigation by METRO revealed that hawkers enter into informal agreement with the drivers and conductors of commercial buses, especially the El-Rufai or Sure-P buses, as the luxury buses are called in Abuja, by giving them money or free drugs to allow them sell on their buses. This arrangement has allowed for the expansion of drug hawking in Abuja despite several campaign against it and the risk patients are exposed to in ingesting fake or expired drugs on the streets.
According to Ogbodo Ugwu, a bus drug vendor who has been in the business since 2008, the business is lucrative enough to pay his way through school and also meet other needs. He said he was introduced to the trade by his father who was earlier introduced to the business by an uncle in Lagos who initially bought drugs for him from Lagos. He said they are facing some challenges now because of those who sell substandard drugs.
For Ugwu, a typical day starts as early as 5:30 am, when he lives his home at Kwali to catch up with the first El-Rufai bus to go into town. He said the early mornings are the best time to sell drugs as the buses are usually filled with laborers on their way to construction sites. He said this class of people often makes use of unprescribed drugs to ease their body pains.
“Men who do heavy duties such as laborers, patronize us the most, so one has to time their movement in the morning and evening when they are most exhausted and need drugs to ease them of the pain. We also get patronage from other customers who may just simply buy drugs because of our marketing skills and ability to convince them that such drugs are what they need for whatever health issues they may be having.”
He also lamented the attention the business is now receiving from officers of NAFDAC. “It’s unfortunate that a once healthy business is now very risky, because if the NAFDAC task force gets you or environmental task force, you are in a big trouble.
“So what we do now is to have few busses we have understanding with to sell. Before now, I used to sell up to N10, 000, on a good day, but now because of the several restrictions, the highest I have made in recent times is N7, 000 and it was mostly from those who are our customers and the people they recommend to us. We sell less now in buses because at times these tasks force guy would lay ambush for us.
“Our business has been under attack in recent times, everyone now sees us as an enemy of the state, meanwhile, all we do is to make basic drugs readily available. Some people even make bogus allegations against us that we sell fake and expired drugs. I understand that there are some bad eggs among us, but for those of us who are educated, we know the dangers of fake and expired drugs and always stay away from them.”
Meanwhile, another drug seller, Mr. Joshua Ishaku, said that their activities have helped improve the health condition of the people and made health care more accessible to the poor, especially on emergency health situation on the road. He however said that, it has not been easy for them to attract the attention of their customers, as most of them don’t believe in the health products they sell.
A bus passenger, Patience Gyang, who narrated an experience, said her cousin, Fred, was hospitalized for three months after ingesting fake drug he bought in a bus.
"My cousin who came to stay with my uncle in Gwarimpa, said he bought a fake blood capsules in a bus because the marketer said it would make him eat very well. Though he was not sick before taking the drug, he slumped two days after taking it and was rushed to the hospital, where they discovered that the substance he consumed was fake with contents that can cause paralysis if sustained. God saved him for us but we would not know what has happened to others who bought the same drug with him. "
Information gathered during the interview reveals that all the drugs actually do have NAFDAC number, but many fear that the drugs, even though genuine, may have expired. Our Correspondents also found out that most of the drugs sold by the hawkers are Analgesic such as Diclofenac, Ibuprofen and Paracetamol. Others are worm expellers such as Albendazole, Mebendazole. Blood capsules such as multivitamin.
Another trader, Mr. Ejiofor Nnana, who sells along the Nyanya Mararaba route, described the business as a tough one. According to him “I have to say everything about the drugs before the customers will be convince to buy them”.
He also said that, sometimes what helps them in the business most, is the testimony given by their customers who have used their drugs before.
In his words, “we give our phone number to customers who patronize us to call us and tell us how they feel after using our drugs the responses are always positive which inspired other customers to buy our drugs”.
For now, while NAFDAC and other 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.