Head of Nigeria's food and drug regulating body says the country's laws are lax about treating drug counterfeiting as a crime and punishing it appropriately.
Dr Paul Orhii, director-general of National Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, called it a "curious paradox that while distant countries are giving severe punishment to people engaged in counterfeiting, we who are at the receiving end are curiously the most lenient when it comes to punishing offenders."
His comments came shortly after officials from NAFDAC and their Chinese counterparts from China's State Food and Drug Administration, SFDA, agreed to a memorandum that will see China clamp down on unregistered drugs leaving its territory.
China stipulates death penalty for counterfeiting. In India, offenders face life sentence upon conviction along with possible confiscation of their assets.
Six Chinese nationals involved in a recent shipment of fake antimalarials were sentenced to death in 2009, said Orhii, but their Nigerian partners, fearing sentences in China and India, returned to Nigeria because of lenient laws.
"They came back into our waiting hands," said Orhii. "The very next day, they were out on bail."
Since then, he added, the suspects have filed what he called "spurious motions" to frustrate the agency, forcing it to call for a review of anti-counterfeiting laws.
Existing laws stipulate a 15-year jail term, but NAFDAC has never secured maximum sentence "despite millions and millions of naira in prosecution," said the agency's head.
He admits the agency has managed to secure sentences of fines ranging up to N500,000 in some cases.
Orhii observed that campaign to get death penalty for counterfeiting--as in China--met with opposition from "civil rights activists [who] believe death penalty is no longer fashionable globally."
As in India, NAFDAC now wants a life sentence and asset confiscation for counterfeiting, which will be considered "non-bailable" offence.
Orhii argued that people mostly involved in counterfeiting were wealthy and allowing them access to bail meant they would "keep on frustrating the judicial process."
"If we can prove that the fake products proximately caused death or severe bodily injury of the victims, then in such situations we are asking that some of the assets that will be confiscated from the offenders should be used to compensate the victims," he explained.
"We are also asking for a whistleblower clause in the new law that will enable us to legally reward people who come forward with info that leads to the interception of these fake products."
by Judd-Leonard Okafor, 8 November 2011
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