BusinessDay

Dangers of illicit products, counterfeiting on consumers’ health dominate discourse

…As AfrIPI, EU hold conference in Lagos

The dangers of counterfeiting and trafficking of illicit products on health of consumers were major issues discussed at a two-day conference held in Lagos.Inline image

The event tagged, ‘Consultative Round table on Counterfeiting in Nigeria’ gave opportunity for experts at the conference to brainstorm on how such practices can be checkmated.

The experts warned that the health of consumers has been exposed to serious dangers because counterfeit pharmaceuticals have submerged the markets and that it would take special care for a buyer to distinguish between the fake and original.

According to them, counterfeiting and trafficking of illicit products have not only pose dangers on the health of consumers in Nigeria, but also consumers all over the world as well as animals.

Speaking at the forum which was organised by AfrIPI, a Pan-African Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation project in partnership with the European Union (EU), Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Niyi Adebayo stressed the need for synergy among relevant government agencies in the combat against IPR theft, trafficking of counterfeit and illicit products in the country.

Adebayo, who was represented at the event by the Chief Registrar Trademarks, Patent and Designs, Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Stella Ezenduka described counterfeiting as an international menace which poses danger to businesses in Nigeria and other parts of the world and to global trade, hence needs the collaborations of all relevant agencies to tackle the menace.

He pointed out that the government alone cannot handle the problem of counterfeiting and illicit products as it’s a cartel with a global connection.

“The Nigerian government, through its regulatory institutions like NAFDAC, the Standards of Nigeria – SON, Customs and other institutions and NGOs, is working to combat counterfeiting in Nigeria.

Maintaining that it is a fight that requires collaborative efforts, he said it cannot be eliminated or tackled through the efforts of one group or region involved in this situation without the agreement and indeed collaboration of others.

To combat counterfeiting and IPR theft, he said: “we must collectively figure out how to deploy anti-counterfeiting solutions that are tough to copy, but easy to recognise and verify for the supply chain, merchants and consumers while being cost-effective.”

The minister believes that strong legislation will go a long way in reducing the menace.

“Intellectual property legislation encompassing trademarks, patents, industrial designs or copyright is a primary tool for preventing counterfeiting in Nigeria when such rights are violated.

“Experience has shown that those who violate Intellectual Property Rights are frequently involved in various related offences and violations in order to advance their illicit activities.

“As a result, the involvement of numerous government and regulatory bodies and authorities in countering counterfeiting becomes important,” he added.

Also speaking at the conference, Vice President for Africa, Interpol Executive Committee and Head, National Central Bureau (NCB) Abuja, AIG Garba Baba Umar expressed fears over the rate at which manufacturing of counterfeits and trade in illicit products flooded the market space and added that it presents a major challenge for the international law enforcement community and a huge risk to global public health and economy.

Garba Umar, who was represented by Abass Sule, said: “As evidence shows, the manufacturing of counterfeit and trafficking of illicit products is a global security concern because of the dangers this portends for humans and animals as such Interpol is uniquely placed to connect stakeholders across the world with the ultimate aim of protecting consumers.

“Organise transnational operations and support law enforcement agencies in making interceptions across the illicit global supply chain.

“Such interceptions and operations will aim to increase success rates in dismantling distribution facilities, seizures of illicit goods, suspension of illicit websites. Based on the operational results, cases involving several countries will be identified to organise Regional Investigative Analytical Case Meetings (RIACM)’’.

Read also: Substance abuse: A rising public health menace in Africa

Umar further explained that Interpol has always been on its toes working round the clock to bust the cartel which he claimed has global connections and advised on the need to create the right awareness of the risks associated with counterfeiting, IPR theft and illicit products among the public.

In addition he said: “Raise awareness among the general public and governments on the dangers to public health in this area, notably the risks associated with buying illicit products online, in an effort to reduce the demand for such goods and to protect public health.

“It is my intention and aspiration as the Interpol vice president representing Africa in the executive committee to do all that is within my purview to bring about a positive change in this area during my tenure.”

Amala Umeike, a legal practitioner in his presentation titled: “procedures and strategies for fighting counterfeiting and piracy of Intellectual Property Rights in Nigeria,” observed that Nigeria has relevant agencies to battle and reduce counterfeiting in the country but added that there is much lack of will, corruption, weak laws and very poor fine for offenders.

According to him, the fight against counterfeiting in the country needs wholesome collaboration of all the relevant security agencies, regulatory bodies, and stakeholders, supported by strong laws and effective punishment to win this battle which he said has become harder now with marketing of products online where all sort of unverified products are offered for sales.

On his part, national secretary of Directors’ Guild of Nigeria, Uche Agbo, who spoke on ‘Nollywood perspective on dealing with counterfeiting and piracy of Intellectual Property Rights in Nigeria,’ said: “To us counterfeiting and piracy of Intellectual Property (IP) rights simply means where someone or a group of people exploiting our hard work for a product and services for gain against our wish. This practice no doubt is economic sabotage to take us out of business and also ensure that filmmakers suffer abject poverty. For many years we’ve had many campaigns against piracy but it has not achieved the desired target.”

For Ifeanyi Okonkwo, a senior Associate & IP Portfolio manager, who spoke on, ‘IP enforcement as a tool to protect sustainability and development’, said: “About N200 billion is lost yearly in the healthcare space and papers have revealed in a report that 40,000 US dollars of medicines in Nigeria were illicit importations and then the World Health Organisation revealed to us that 64 percent of anti-malaria drugs were fake.”