The booming ’Agbo’ market in Abuja
Despite the ban on street hawking and unauthorised erection of stalls in the federal capital territory, Abuja is witnessing an unprecedented influx of hawkers of herbal mixture popularly known as Agbo.
These hawkers are now regular sights around residential and office premises where they boldly hawk their wares which they claim cure several ailments. The scenario is worst in the suburbs where the rather established agbo sellers erect batchers to sell their wares.
Though most sellers of such mixture claim to only sell herbal mixtures to fight ailments, investigations by METRO, shows that some of these hawkers actually deal in alcoholic spirits and illegal substances. Some of these agbo joints have therefore become rendezvous for social miscreants who meet at such spots to take shots of gins and other alcoholic spirits while perfecting their next plan.
The trend according to a researcher, Dr. Ferdinand Abua, is becoming increasingly popular among jobless young men who use the mixture containing illicit gin to intoxicate themselves.
He said this mixture have become cheaper means to the consumers who may not be able to afford the more expensive alcohol beverages.
However an agbo consumer, Mr. Bashir Aminu, insists the mixture is a free gift from God, thus should not be interfered with in the name of regulation. “As far as I am concerned it is God's gift to human race and has been bequeathed to us by our grandparents who existed and survived when there was no foreign drugs and medical services.”
Also speaking on the issue, Moses Ede said agbo remains the only drug Nigerians like himself can afford since government doesn’t provide medical insurance for the unemployed. The applicant said while growing up with his parents he used to be treated annually of malaria and typhoid but now that he is struggling to survive on his own, he is forced to save cost by taking herbal mixtures.
In his words, “In fact if we were living in a sane country the potential of these herbal mixtures would have been properly harnessed to reduce the risk of adapting to the orthodox medicine that experts have said is not very safe to rely on them.
“For example, dogoyoro (Neem) leaves are easily accessible especially in the north if you take it on your own and soak it with water or dry gin, depending on which one soothes the individual best you can take one short every day and you will have no problem with malaria and typhoid. And the same quantity and quality can be bought for as low N50 while one will need at least N500 to get the cheapest anti-malaria drug. For me, government should standardise the herbal remedies for better acceptability.”
For those in the business, agbo hawking is not just a means to an end, but family tradition that must be carried on. For instance, an agbo seller, Basiratu Balogun, said she learnt the trade from her mother and has been surviving with the proceeds in Abuja.
She said she has been in the business here in Abuja for about 18 years, and now knows even more herbs and roots that can cure several sicknesses. She said she currently has apprentices in her care learning how to make the composition, and intends to train her daughter in the same business.
Balogun said she make an average of N3000 interest daily from the sale of the mixture from her apprentices who take the mixture around town. She however admitted to selling other alcoholic products, pepper fish and cow skin popularly known as kpomo (cow hide) to argument her profit.
She said she is contented with what she makes majorly due to the satisfaction she sees on the faces of her customers whenever she is able to treat them of their ailment.
In spite of these testimonies, experts insist on the control of this business saying that the unregulated intake of herbal mixtures can be detrimental to one’s health. They regulation, they argue, will allow for dosage right composition, dosage, and even hygienic preparation of mixture.
The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – article 34 (Specific legal obligations) of the General Comment No. 14 (2000) on The right to the highest attainable standard of health – states that "obligations to respect include a State's obligation to refrain from prohibiting or impeding traditional preventive care, healing practices and medicines, from marketing unsafe drugs and from applying coercive medical treatments, unless on an exceptional basis for the treatment of mental illness or the prevention and control of communicable diseases."
Also the National Agency for Food Drug And Control through one of its prosecuting counsels noted that, “The sell of herbal mixtures contravenes the provision of sections 2 (1) (a) of the Counterfeit and Unwholesome Processed Foods (Miscellaneous Offence) Act, Cap C 34, Laws of the Federation, 2004.
The Dean, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Lagos, Prof. Olukemi Odukoya, said: "First traditional Medicine Bill should be passed into law. The county should come up with an essential herb list like the essential drug list. And also recognize traditional medicine, as a parallel system as done in India so that people will be free to access it as primary health care and thereby give the populace, a dividend of democracy by using the medicine made by the people to achieve health for the people, in other words, democratization of the healthcare delivery system."
Although alternative medicine in Nigeria is yet to get the desired global attention, a lot of research has gone into packaging and rebranding to allow them compete favorable with those from China, India, etc.
A renowned Nigerian herbal researcher, Dr. Benjamin Amodu, has taken the production of herbal medicine a step further making controversial claims to alternative solutions to otherwise incurable viruses.
"I work in specific area of viruses, I have herbal extracts that can cure Zika, Lassa, and Ebola viruses. You can challenge government, that a probable cure for Zika virus would come from Nigeria”
While the debate against the danger of unregulated drugs persists, some have argued that the trend can be harnessed to generate revenue for government, as countries like China and Indonesia are making fortunes from alternative medicine.