By Gbenga Salau
• Promoters use fake, vague addresses in Kumasi as contact details
• These products are not Registered — Ghana Regulatory Agency
Nigeria’s total import value in 2021 was put at N20.84 trillion by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The amount was 64.11 per cent higher than the value recorded in 2020. Conversely, the total export value for 2021 stood at N18.91 trillion, and it was an increase of 50.99 per cent over the value recorded in 2020. Overall in 2021, merchandise trade recorded a deficit of N1.94 trillion.
Over the years, claims that Nigeria imports what it has in abundance have continued to gain currency simply because Nigerians prefer to buy imported products even when substitutes abound in the country.
Because of this mindset, marketers are making the most of the opportunity that they have found. In the past, many Nigerians craved items imported from Europe and the United States. But the situation has shifted now that salesmen and sundry product promoters now openly advertise groceries, alcoholic beverages, trinkets and even herbal concoctions that are made in the Benin Republic and Ghana as a unique selling proposition.
After the three-month surveillance, GBENGA SALAU visited Accra and Kumasi in Ghana to establish and identify the actual source and production base of some of the herbal drinks. His discoveries as a result of the engagements with residents, stakeholders and the appropriate agencies are chronicled in this report.
Dr K claims to be a medical doctor with over a decade’s experience in hawking herbal products inside Lagos buses. As if that is not raising enough eyebrows, he also claims to be a specialist in products from Ghana.
As at the time The Guardian ran into him, he was selling Madam F Kayes Bitters Herbal product with Aboabo, Kumasi in Ghana as the product’s origin.
While marketing the product on the Mile 2-Idumota route in Lagos, he talked glowingly about the efficacy of the product, packaged in a pet bottle, boasting that anyone who bought the herbal drug would surely get more bottles after consuming the first bottle.
He also said that those who bought the product for their aged parents would receive special prayers from their parents. Just as it was written on the product’s label, Dr K said the herbal mixture is a blood purifying tonic that cures the illnesses such as hypertension, gonorrhea, stomach problems, sexual dysfunction, poor eye sight, worms, diabetes, menopausal problems, asthma, pile, ulcer, fibroid, waist pain, fever, menstrual pain, barrenness and rheumatism, just to mention a few.
According to him, a number of persons who bought the product in the past from him usually return to buy more bottles after the initial purchase.
He stressed that if the product was not efficacious and safe, there was no way that the first-time buyers would return for further patronage. He also claimed that it was because the product had made great impact in Ghana that it was being promoted and sold in Nigeria.
Some of the products supposedly produced in Ghana that have the potency to cure multiple sicknesses and diseases that The Guardian came across include: Ghana Swaga, Legend Flusher, Awu-wo, Super Power Bitters, Waris STD and Ashanti (Kotoko). But all these brands were purportedly produced in Kumasi, except the last one Ashanti (Kotoko), which was allegedly produced in Kwampim.
A quick perusal of the products’ labels revealed that Madam F. Kayes Bitters has Plot 21, Block 10, Aboabo, No 1, Kumasi as the production site, while Ghana Swaga is allegedly manufactured by Ghana-sewa Herbal Centre with No 3, Trasha Road, Kumasi as the address.
Legend Flusher is purportedly produced and marketed by M.G.H Legend Int Ent with P.O. Box 196, New Town, Kumasi, Accra, Ghana North as the contact address.
Awu-wo, another herbal product, has P.O. Box 2253, Kumasi, Ghana as its contact address, just as Super Power Bitters has 21, Abounten Kumasi as its office site. Waris S.T.D. announces its contact address as P.O. Box 10 New Town Kumasi Accra Ghana North, whereas Ashanti (Kotoko) used a non-existing location as the address. It claimed that the product is manufactured at Donolife Herbal Research Centre, Kwampim, Ghana; a non-existence research centre.
Also, a critical look at some of these herbal drinks’ labels showed that despite the claims of being manufactured in Ghana, they do not have endorsement of the country’s regulatory authority- the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA). They, however, claim to belong to local associations, including Ghana National Association of Traditional Medicine Healers; Ghana National Association of Traditional Herbals, and Ghana National Association of Traditional Healers.
To confer credibility on its product, one of the producers claimed that its product is manufactured by Donolife Herbal Research Centre, Kwampim.
The visit to Kumasi and Accra, however, revealed that these herbal concoctions are not made in Ghana as claimed, just as they are not on sale in the communities that the marketers claim they originated from.
When The Guardian arrived Plot 21, Block 10, Aboabo, No 1, Kumasi, the supposed manufacturing site for Madam F Kayes Bitters herbal product, occupants of the house, a solely residential building, and their neighbours, told The Guardian that no maker of herbal mixture lives or lived in the one-storey building.
Corroborating this, one Mohammed, a blacksmith, whose workshop is directly opposite Plot 21, Block 10, Aboabo, No 1, Kumasi, revealed that he grew up on the street, and that no such activity has ever been carried out in the house.
Earlier, while trying to locate the address, The Guardian ran into a police officer, who is also a resident of Aboabo. He disclosed that the number was not part of the newly introduced GPS numbers by the Ghanaian authorities reason the address cannot be easily tracked using Google map.
A breakthrough, however, came when a revenue officer in Kumasi, Mustapha Mohammed, who is very familiar with addresses within the vicinity, offered to help. This was after one of his brothers reached out to him on phone to assist. Mohammed also said that the address on the product was the old numbering format for Aboabo, which many residents were no longer familiar with.
Providing some explanation about numbering in the community, he revealed that the numbering of buildings in Abaobo No 1 has two formats; Roman and arithmetic numerals. He, therefore, suggested that the same address with the Roman numeral numbering should also be visited (even though the address on the label was arithmetic numeral). This effort also did not yield any positive result, as the visit revealed that the numbering at Block 10, Abaobo No 1, with Roman numeral, ended at Plot 16.
Thereafter, Block 21, Plot 10 was also visited to see if the problem was a misplacement of the numbers on the plot and block in the address, but no such activity was going on in the building too.
Equally, Plot 21 Block 10 of Abaobo No 2 area was also visited, but nothing of such was being manufactured in the vicinity, according to residents.
Another herbal product identified in Lagos by The Guardian, Ghana Swaga, that was allegedly manufactured at No 3, Trasha Road, Kumasi, had no presence at that location. In fact, there was no street going by that name in Kumasi.
A google search further confirmed that the street does not exist. The Kumasi residents that were debriefed all confirmed that there was no road or street called Trasha Road.
Legend Flusher with a postal address has two locations of Kumasi and Accra, two independent towns, in different regions of Ghana, as the origin of the product.
According to its label, Legend Flusher is being produced and marketed by M.G.H Legend Int Ent with P.O Box 196, New Town Kumasi, Accra, Ghana North. Locals insist that it was not possible to have such an address, since Kumasi is a different town and region from Accra. So there cannot be a postal address with both Kumasi and Accra.
Awu-wo, which has P.O. Box 2253, Kumasi, Ghana, is another fraudulent product. A goggle search of the postal address revealed that it belongs to a different organisation, Joy Jeff Academy. In addition, a mail was sent to the Ghana Post Headquarters in Accra, to authenticate the ownership of the post office box, but there was no reply as at press time.
Super Power Bitters has 21 Abounten, Kumasi, as its contact address, but residents said no such street or location exists. What came close to it is Aboantem, a rural community in the outskirts of Kumasi.
For the product, Ashanti (Kotoko), which is allegedly manufactured by Donolife Herbal Research Centre, Kwampim, Ghana, the so-called research centre does not exist, just as Kwampim, the location of the research centre also is non-existent. Stakeholders and residents could not provide any link, and clue to finding the location, as they do not know any research centre of such. A google search also did not reveal that anything of such is in existence.
Enquiries were also made at some shops in Kumasi where branded herbal products are on sale, but the ship-owners were not aware of the brands, the production site or the manufacturers.
Herbal medicine practitioners that were asked about the herbal drugs and their producers also denied knowledge of the products, their promoters or companies.
Additionally, all these herbal products have either Ghanaian or Nigerian mobile phone numbers. Or both as part of their contact details. For instance, Legend Flusher and Awu-wo have just Ghana phone numbers; Super Power Bitters, Madam F Kayes and Ashanti (Kotoko) have Nigerian phone numbers written on the packs or labels, while Ghana Swaga has both Nigerian and Ghanaian phone numbers.
During the visit to Ghana, the phone numbers provided by Legend Flusher and Awu-wo were dialled, but both failed to connect. True Caller, a smart phone application that identifies callers revealed that the numbers were registered in the name of Legend Flusher Ghana and Awu-wo herb respectively.
When the phone number written on Ashanti (Kotoko) herbal product was dialled, the person who picked it claimed to be a Ghanaian, but he could not respond when he was asked a question in Twi, the predominant dialect in Kumasi.
He was also asked to provide a Ghanaian registered phone number, though which a prospective customer could reach the outfit in Ghana, but he responded that there was none.
He, however, advised anyone that is genuinely interested in purchasing the herbal product purportedly produced in Ghana to call the Nigerian phone number on the pack for any transaction.
The Ghanaian phone number on Ghana Swaga has 12 digits instead of 11, so it did not connect when it was dialled. The Nigerian phone number on the product was dialled too, and the person who picked the call, promised to get back because he was marketing the herbal mixture on a bus. He never called back and did not pick his calls afterwards.
The phone number on Super Power Bitters, a Nigerian number was also dialled and the person who picked up the call claimed to be Dr Kofi. He professed to be a Ghanaian, and he actually could speak the Ghanaian Twi language. When he was asked how a customer in Kumasi could get the herbal concoction, he opened up that he made the herbal mixture in Lagos, therefore, the customer cannot buy the product in Ghana unless it was sent there from Lagos.
Confessing further following a series of probing questions, he said: “I started the business in Lagos and decided to put my home town address in Ghana, which is Aboantem, (which is different from the location on the label). Hopefully, when the business develops, I plan to open a branch in Ghana.”
He also revealed that many of the so-called Ghanaian herbal mixtures that are being hawked and advertised in buses in Lagos were being produced in Lagos. According to him, the Ghanaian addresses on the labels are meant to give the products better acceptance among Nigerians. He, therefore, suggested that the products should be sent from Nigeria to the friend who needed it in Kumasi, Ghana. He maintained that it was the only way to get the herbal product across to the customer.
The phone number on Madam F. Kayes was also dialled and when the call receiver was asked how a resident of Kumasi could get the product, he rejected the call and did not pick several subsequent calls.
Another issue that undermines the credibility of all the products is the claim that the producers belong to local associations such as Ghana National Association of Traditional Medicine Healers, Ghana National Association of Traditional Herbals, and Ghana National Association of Traditional Healers. However, Ghana National Association of Traditional Healers is the only recognised body among all the lot according to stakeholders.
Since there is conflicting information about the local associations the producers of the herbal concoctions said they were affiliated to, an attempt was also made to verify the appropriate association for herbal medicine practitioners in Ghana.
Findings revealed that the Ghana Federation of Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association (GHAFTRAM) is the umbrella body for all herbal medicine practitioners and practice groups in the country. On its website, GHAFTRAM said that it is at present made up of 40,000 Traditional Medicine Practitioners (TMP’s), but only 25,000 practitioners have registered with the practice groups under the federation.
It also said that the federation is made up of five mother national associations and about eight affiliated practice groups. It listed the mother associations to include, Ghana National Association of Traditional Healers (GNATH), Ghana Psychic and Traditional Healers Association, Traditional Herbalist Association of Ghana, Traditional Service Organisation (TSO), and Universal Plant Medicine and Traditional Healers Association.
The affiliated members are: Ghana Muslims Traditional Healers Associations, Kpolifa Association of Ghana, and Ghana Association of Medical Herbalists (GAMH), while some of the traditional medicine practice groups under the federation include, herbalists, bone setters, circumcisers, psychic and spiritual healers, traditional birth attendants and medical herbalists.
When The Guardian contacted GHAFTRAM, the federation’s general secretary, Mr Nana Kwadwo Obiri, who picked the call, said that he had no idea of the practitioners listed above and their products.
He disclosed that his affiliation to GHAFTRAM, was because he belongs to the Ghana National Association of Traditional Healers (GNATH) unit.
He afterwards asked that the product names and organisations should be sent to him via text message so that he could verify with his colleagues. This was complied with, and he promised to get back to The Guardian. When he did not get back, The Guardian reached out again and he revealed that he shared the message on the group’s platform but nobody responded, confirmed or identified the producers or the products.
When the Ghana Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) was contacted, a lady picked the call and after explaining to her the reason for the call, she routed the call to the drugs department of the agency, where one, Monica Kubuafor, responded to all the queries.
Kubuafor asked for the products’ registration numbers, but none of the products has registration. The only one that looked like an exception with a set of numbers that the manufacturer tagged herbal number was mentioned to Kubuafor. She categorically said that all the products with no registration numbers were illegal, since they were not registered with, or approved by the FDA. She also said that the product with the so-called herbal number was illegal too.
According to her, if they were registered and approved by the FDA, each of the products would have a unique identity number prefixed with FDA. She further said that it was compulsory for the manufacturers to affix the registration numbers on their products, so there was no justification for the products not to have the approved numbers on their labels.
Similarly, she said that the number, 002462, on Ghana Swaga was not issued by Ghana Food and Drugs Authority because it has no FDA prefix and an alphabet. She added that the said number might be the production batch number since it has no FDA approval identity number.
Kubuafor also said that the FDA does not expect manufacturers of products to write approved by the FDA on their products, stressing “approved by FDA” is only mentioned in advertisements, whether radio, television, newspaper or billboard.
“But if the product is in the market for sale, you need to put the unique number on it, especially if it is a product manufactured in Ghana. Also, if it is a locally produced drug, including herbal medicine that is being taken outside Ghana, you are required to put the number too.
“This is because when the products get to the ports, they will be checked and if the FDA number is not on it, the manufacturer of the drug would be arrested, since it is not a registered product.”
Kubuafor disclosed that every product goes through a process to get registered with the FDA. Providing insights on requirements for registration of locally manufactured herbal medicinal products by the FDA, she said a manufacturer would complete an application form, which can be downloaded from its website.
She said the filled application form would be submitted along with an application letter that is printed on the company’s letterheaded paper to the chief executive officer of the FDA. She added that a copy of the business registration certificate, traditional medicine practitioners certificate issued by the Traditional Medicine Practitioner Council (TMPC), copies of certificate of the product analysis, which should be done at the Centre for Plant and Animal Research, Mampong, and six product samples would be submitted to her agency.
According to her, all the documents would be submitted in two-comb bound in addition to paying a registration fee of 360 Ghana Cedis per product, and an inspection fee of 200 Ghana Cedis.
Kubuafor said that the inspection fee is for the FDA officers to visit the manufacturing site to see, and ensure that standards are maintained during production.
Back in Nigeria, efforts were made to get the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the regulatory agency, to speak on how it ensures and enforces standards when it comes to imported herbal products.
Days after she was contacted on phone, with repeated reminders, one of NAFDAC’s Public Relations Officers, Christy Obiazikwor asked that The Guardian should contact the agency’s media consultant for a response.
The consultant, Mr. Sola, was communicated with, after which he requested that questions be sent to him via WhatsApp. More than a week after the questions were sent to him for a response, he was contacted again, and he promised to get back.
Before press time, he had been contacted at least eight times. Commenting on the proliferation and effects of unlicensed herbal drinks, a medical doctor, Akintayo Adebayo, expressed disappointment that NAFDAC, and other regulatory agencies that are saddled with the responsibilities of maintaining standards are not doing enough to ensure that unlicensed products are barred from circulation in the country.
“Much as ignorance has played a huge role in these circumstances on the part of the citizens, the government should be substantially held responsible for the lack of proper surveillance on these herbal products.
“There are so many health implications of ingestion of unregulated herbal products. These include kidney failure, liver failure, and adverse reactions, which may finally result in death.”