IN response to the increasing incidents of suicide among Nigerians, a trend associated with consumption of poisonous substance such as Sniper, an agrochemical formulation, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) prohibited the sale of the product and other agricultural formulations’ brands in open market with effect from September 1.
This was part of the regulatory measures the NAFDAC put in place in July to arrest the abuse and misuse of the crop-protection chemicals by Nigerians who have committed suicide recently.
The news made headlines across the country and was welcomed by many.
NAFDAC with “immediate effect” prohibited the importation and manufacturing of 100ml park size of the agricultural formulations, and banned the sale of the product.
“NAFDAC is giving a two-month (up to 31st August 2019) notice to brand owners/distributors to recall and withdraw their products from open markets and supermarkets that do not have garden corner/shelves to the agro dealer outlets.
“The sales of Sniper insecticide and other Dichlorvos brands in open markets and supermarkets nationwide are prohibited with effect from 1 September 2019,” NAFDAC noted on item 3.
The agency also announced a mop-up exercise from September 1 of 100ml of the sniper products in open markets and supermarkets across Nigeria.
But when The ICIR visited some markets in Abuja between October 4 and 7, a month after the deadline, it observed that sniper products could still be bought in the market with no restriction. And the traders selling the products do not specialise in selling agricultural products.
This reporter visited five markets in different locations in the nation’s capital that include Wuse, Karimo, Dutse, Kuje and Garki, and sale of the poisonous product continues as usual.
Experience in the markets
On a Friday evening, September 4, exactly 34 days after NAFDAC banned the sale of snipers in the open markets, this reporter visited the Karimo market, a popular market in the city that is reputable for the sale of second-hand goods, ranging from shoes to clothes and bags.
The reporter did not even search for long before she saw 100ml Sniper product on display.
The shop owner had some other home-use products on display such as torch-lights, shoe polishes, air fresheners and toiletries.
The trader approached the seller and bought a bottle of snipper at N500.
‘It would work well, well,” the man boasted.
When told that the product has been banned, he seemed lost as he kept repeating the word “ban”.
Then, he quickly added “We dey sell nao” (We still sell).
The reporter approached another stall and bought another bottle of Sniper.
On October 6, the reporter visited the market in Kuje.
Roadside to the market is lined by petty traders who openly display Sniper products. The reporter bought a bottle from a man who did not see any reason to explain how to use the dangerous product.
The situation is the same at Dutse, Garki and Wuse markets
The reporter who visited the markets between October 5 and 7 October purchased a total of six Sniper products of the 100ml in five different markets where the prices ranged between N400 and N500.
Each of the bottles is inscribed with NAFDAC registration number and the same manufacturing date of April 25.
The warning “For professional use” was written clearly on the containers just below the brand name “Sniper”.
“For the control of a wide range of insects in stored agricultural produce. Warehouse de-infestation and field application on a wide range of crops” the containers clearly stated the use for professional fumigation in agricultural settings.
News of Sniper-related deaths traveled around the Nigerian community in 2019 as many who committed suicide chose the product to terminate their lives.
Though there was no official data about the number of people who abused the product, several stories have been published showing Sniper as a preferred poison for those who committed suicide.
Nigerians affected with the use of Sniper products
In May, Nigerians were disturbed with the death of Chukwuemeka Akachi, a budding poet and final year student of English and Literary Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. It was reported that he took his life after taking two bottles of 100ml sniper products.
A month after, another final year student of UNN, Samuel Elias also died after ingesting sniper.
“As I looked around, I saw an empty sniper bottle; at this point, I raised the alarm and my other children rushed to the room and we tried to give him palm oil, but his tightened teeth did not allow the oil to enter his mouth,” Samuel’s mother narrated the account of her last moment with him.
Still, in June, Nigerians received the sad news of the death of a 21–year-old girl Christabel Omoremime Buoro who was a 300-level student of the Department of Medical Laboratory Science, University of Benin (UNIBEN).
Christabel had mixed the sniper insecticide with sprite drink to terminate her life, according to media reports.
A youth corps member serving in House of Assembly, Osun State, Ayomikun Juliana, died after allegedly applying the Sniper insecticide to her hair to kill the lice troubling her in July ahead of her birthday, which was in 10 days’ time.
“So, on Sunday afternoon, she just applied Sniper to her hair to eliminate the lice. Shortly after she did that, Ayomikun lost consciousness and was immediately rushed to a private hospital in Osogbo. But she died before she could get to the hospital, sources could confirm,” a close source had narrated.
In July, two students of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, attacked each other with sniper products. they had poured the contents at each other’s face. Though they had not died but landed at the school health centre having developed poor health.
But OAU recorded the death of a student in August. Opeyemi Grace Dara, a final year student of the Departement of English who committed suicide after consumption of the common lethal substance.
A similar story occurred in September when a 25-year-old man, Kehinde Muse, committed suicide using Sniper as the means. “On Wednesday (September 18), at about 6:30 p.m., Surulere Police Station received information that one Kehinde Muse locked himself in his room and drank poisonous substance known as a sniper. He was rushed to a hospital, but died on arrival,” Police had confirmed.
Also, Adenike Fatai who was an apprentice tailor in Lagos committed suicide in September and the mother found her body saw a bottle of sniper lying by her side. Reports stated she had killed herself barely three months after her boyfriend, Bayo Atanda also committed suicide. What made both suicides a success was the consumption of the agrochemical formulation- sniper.
So, based on the media reports, between May and September, there were multiple reported cases of the abuse of sniper insecticide, resulting in death.
Because of the situation, the government decided to prohibit the sale of the products in the open markets. But the goods are still on the display in various markets, making the NAFDAC pronouncement ineffective.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) report of Suicide in the World noted that Nigeria had the highest suicidal rate among African countries in 2016 with over 17,000 lives lost to suicide.
The report published in September named pesticide self-poisoning, which includes the use of Nigerian Sniper, hanging and shooting the three commonest methods by which people commit suicide.
Sniper damages the body when inhaled or consumed- pharmacist
A clinical pharmacist at the National Hospital Abuja, Joshua Eromosele, confirmed the high toxicity of the contents. He said sniper products contain a chemical called “an organo-phosphate”. The chemical, he said, brings about pesticidal action or the death of a pest.
It noted that if a human being is exposed to the liquid content, either through inhalation or consumption, it damages the body that could also lead to death.
“The damage of this particular chemical will result immediately,” noted Eromosele.
“When people inhale it, it affects the body,” he said criticising its use for residential purposes.
“When we talk about toxicology, we are talking about the route of exposure. Now the route of exposure can determine the extent of damage to anticipate. If ingested orally it is a different approach. If inhaled, it is a different approach. Some poisons are more effective when they are inhaled and they are not as effective when they are ingested.
“Unfortunately for a sniper, it is effective both ways,” he noted.
Some Nigerians use the products to control insects and reptiles residing in their houses though it was meant to be solely for agricultural purpose.
Outlining the side effects of inhaling the sniper, Eromosele said it causes drowsiness, unconsciousness, and could shut down the central nervous system.
An individual exposed to sniper when spray could have an inflammatory process occurring within the lungs where fluid begins to gather. And when fluid begins to gather in the lung area, it impairs oxygen transport, he added.
“And the antidote is not what we get in the first aid box. The person will have to require help in the clinical setting. That’s part of what makes it critical that it should not be used unsupervised,” he said.
If at all it is to be used in a residential house, it should be with extra care by a professional,” he noted.
We have started mopping up “persuasively”- NAFDAC spokesperson, Jimoh Abubakar
Dr Abubakar Jimoh, the Director of the Public Affairs, NAFDAC, claimed that the agency had started implementing all the measures when he spoke with The ICIR on Thursday in his office.
But he said the large population was a constraint for a 100 per cent compliance.
He added that the aspect of consequence or punishment against the sale would not be put in place until April 2020. This is because he said the measures were still in the “moratorium period”. Explaining the “moratorium”, he said NAFDAC will not prosecute individuals acting against the given measures until April 2020.
According to the Cambridge online dictionary, the word “moratorium” is a noun that means a stopping of activity for an agreed period of time.
It should be noted that NAFDAC in the regulatory measures also promised to “mop-up of 100ml agrochemical formulation of Dichlorvos from open markets and supermarkets by importers, manufacturers and distributors and to be monitored by NAFDAC nationwide from 1st September 2019”.
When Abubakar’s attention was drawn to the above, he said the “mop-up” was a conciliatory one. “We are mopping up persuasively, conciliatory,” said Abubakar.
“We are combining this period of (the) moratorium with sensitisation activity. So by the time we start clamping down on people and start enforcing, nobody will claim ignorance,” he said.
Abubakar also supported the long-term enforcement of the measures by giving consideration to the livelihood of the traders involved in the sniper business.
“…it’s a source of livelihood for these persons (petty traders in markets). And the people who are even committing suicide, these people are not selling it for them to go and commit suicide. Don’t you understand!” he noted.
“They are doing their businesses to eat and feed. Much as we are regulatory agencies, we are also a product of the Nigerian society. When NAFDAC brings out regulatory measures, we look at the social consequences or cost.
We have a standard operating procedure. They would not just start impounding people goods. The agricultural purpose is still there.” he added to show how the agency still finds it difficult to enforce the restriction policy in preventing sniper-related deaths.
“Do you know that people jump into Lagoon? Would you rather put sand inside the lagoon so that people will not jump in it again? Even if they do that, … do you know people can use water to kill yourself (themselves).?”. Abubakar had narrated, implying that NAFDAC might not see the necessity in enforcing restrictions on the sale and availability of sniper and other agricultural formulations in the markets.
Later he added that the Agency would still “enforce but there is a period of moratorium”.
“Nigerians are very compliant people by the time they see consequences. As a regulatory agency, we have studied the pattern, And I am very confident that the distributors and the stakeholders are going to comply (by 2020).
“They would have understood why NAFDAC is bringing up those measures. Because by then, they would have understood it is saving lives and protecting the public,” Abubakar concluded.
During the World Suicide Prevention Day in September, the WHO had revealed that pesticide regulation would be a “highly effective strategy” in curbing the suicidal actions. It added that such restricting access to pesticides that are used for self-poisoning would bring down the number of suicides.
“There is now a growing body of international evidence indicating that regulations to prohibit the use of highly hazardous pesticides can lead to reductions in national suicide rates,” WHO stated.
The ICIR poured away all the six bottles of the sniper products bought in the course of doing this story. The 100 ml bottles containing liquids that looked almost like water safe for its offensive odour and toxicity were all emptied in a sink.