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Nigeria invites disease (1)

Not too long ago, health professionals and the Nigerian Customs Service cautioned Nigerians ‎regarding the importation of used clothes from Europe and America.

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Despite the admonition, the smuggling of these clothes into Nigeria has been on the increase. Three illegalities take place in the business: unauthorised importation of the clothes, lack of payment of the necessary duties and importation of apparel that ought to be first quarantined and examined for pathogens before being released to the public.

Two parties actively carry out the illegalities: agencies of government and the importer/businessman. Three parties suffer the most from the illegal trade: the consumer who probably will pick up all sorts of diseases from the use of the clothes, the local seamstress or tailor whose business will not be patronised and therefore will not grow at the appropriate pace, and the Nigerian economy which will lose billions of naira annually. Unfortunately the ring of blame is also thick.

The average Nigerian parent will tell you that smuggled in shoes, canvasses and school bags are better than new ones for their children. The average Nigerian woman will also tell you that intimate apparel like brassiere and panties from bales of used clothes are better than the new ones. Many shoes and suits worn in the corporate environment are also from the imported bales. The idea of tracing the histories of the apparel hardly come to mind. We have slowly accepted that Nigeria should be the willing dumping ground that it has become.

To clarify, in some places like the United Kingdom, UK and United States of America (USA), there is a culture of changing clothes every season. Some used clothes and clothes that have factory errors in sewing or design find their way to the flea market for locals and foreigners to buy. It used to be a seasonal activity but now the demand for these items by third world businessmen have pushed the market into heavy daily trading.

For example, some items donated to charitable organisations like the Salvation Army, Red Cross society and others, who send their donations to non-governmental charity organisations supposedly to orphans, widows, and prisoners, for missionary activity and for the underprivileged, later find their way into markets. Some of the bales that find their way into Nigeria are very old, housing several pathogens and parasites. But the trader, who knows nothing about pathology or virology, when confronted with questions regarding the health implications of wearing the apparel they sell easily, recommend that buyers wash what they buy in warm or hot water to kill any suspected germs. But can the same advice suffice for the used bicycles and tricycles, electronics and furniture, and children’s toys they import? 

Internationally there are standard codes and procedures regarding importation of food, medicaments, wild life, pets and other necessities of life. Smuggling is highly frowned at because of its danger to health and the economy. For pilgrimage to Mecca or Jerusalem and for visitations to relatives abroad, foods‎ to be taken on the visits are properly scrutinised by the governments of those countries. Several items are rejected on account of improper packaging or other improper international standards. 

For example, the government of Saudi Arabia does not allow pilgrims to enter their country with bitter kola or kolanuts simply because they are classified as intoxicants. But on the streets, in commuter buses and in markets, Nigerians are faced with a barrage of advertisements of fake and expired drugs by illiterate people who recommend cocktails of several pain killers for headaches, menstrual and joint pains. 

Often, these unschooled mobile ‘doctors’ recommend combinations of antibiotics and anti-malarial to buyers. Because the drugs are cheaper than what you find in standard pharmacies, and because seeking proper medical guidance in hospitals is costlier and laborious, the average citizen procures these solutions without knowing that his or her immunity will be further lowered along with an invitation to complications like kidney failure.

About the author

Augustine Aminu

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