Prof. Adeshola Olatunde Adepoju, the Director-General, Forestry Institute of Nigeria (FRIN), Ibadan, Oyo State, debunked insinuations that research institutions in the country are inactive. He told Head, South West Bureau, MUYIWA ADEYEMI, that the institutes COVID-19 mixture, which has been tested and proved capable of treating all COVID-19 symptoms, as well as all other products from the institute prove that the country can immensely benefit from herbal medicine if serious attention is paid the sector.
Many Nigerians don’t have confidence in herbal mixtures or products. So, what do you think can be done to make them accept and recognise the medicinal value of herbs?
I think nature has solved that problem now with COVID-19 and everybody being restricted to their domain and country. Many people have been feeding on herbs and herbal mixture either recommended or self-prescribed and they are seeing how effective that they are. If you go to shelves in Europe and America, you will still find African chewing sticks (what we abandoned for brushes and toothpastes). Now, the people who sent us brushes and toothpastes are now using what we abandoned. They sold their own product to us and took away what we were born to know. If you go to America, you will find capsulated Moringa, which they take as supplements and as antibiotic. This is natural. Most of us are aware that if we take herbs in proper proportion, we have nothing to regret about it.
Growing up, whenever we had malaria fever, we only boiled herbs, and we had our steam bath with it and that was all, we didn’t even need to swallow much. Now, tell me, how many rural dwellers have been thinking of COVID-19? It is we the city dwellers that are testing positive and being sent to isolation centres. The rural people, as I speak, are still in their farms working because as they weed their farms, they will pluck leaves of different plants that are curing different ailments and chew and go about their businesses.
Do you think Nigeria is combating COVID-19 the right way?
First, I will advise Nigerians to be patient and adhere strictly to all the guidelines issued by the NCDC and the Presidential Task Force Committee on COVID-19 because if they don’t adhere to these precautionary measures, they may be endangering their lives and that of others.
Is there any reason why COVID-19 death rates are higher in the West when compared to Nigeria and other African countries?
I think we need to look at the average resistance transmitter of each society and what has been the case with past ailments. The symptoms of COVID-19 are not far from symptoms of malaria. Now, what is the average African’s resistance to malaria? That tells you our average resistance to some ailments. Now, we are believed to be more resistant to most of these issues, except when the victim has other underlining medical issues. I have seen Africans who have very high temperatures and still go out in search of their daily bread. But with these other countries that we are talking about, can they handle malaria fever with the simplicity, with which we handle it here? No. To them, it’s a serious issue. But here, we have malaria fever and still attend meetings after taking drugs, yet this is what can lead someone to the ICU over there. So, many things are working in our favour; our environment is working for us; our resistant nature is working for us, and our anti-bodies as Africans are also working for us. And I want to believe, above all, God loves Africa.
Since the outbreak of Coronavirus, it appears nothing substantial has been done by research institutes in the country to find a solution to the pandemic.
Does this not confirm the fear of many that most research institutes only exist by name?
I want to disagree with that view, and also quickly point out that the only area that research institutes are struggling with is public awareness, or enlightenment on what we do. Most research institutes in the country operate on a tripodal basis. One, they conduct researches in their various mandate areas. Two, they disseminate information regarding the findings that they are able to make in the process of their activities. Third, they carry out training, which has two components. One is to train middle level manpower, while the second leg of the training is to train the people who are working with the mandate, updating them on the breakthroughs, modifications or even the implication of that breakthroughs made.
So, I find it difficult to understand why most people still don’t know what our research institutes are doing. However, even when a lot of work is being done in all these research institutes, how to pass the information to the Nigerian populace particularly, has always been a challenge, but our various principals – ministers have been tasking us to make public what we are doing.
So, what are the major achievements of this institute that the society can relate to?
This institute was created in 1954, and it metamorphosed from the School of Forestry, which commenced activities in 1940. But since I assumed office here in 2015, we have achieved a lot. One, this institute had no legal document in terms of an Act when I came on board. We were able to secure that on August 17, 2018, and that Act being what it is, has been able to propel us to do a lot of things.
For instance, we have been able to develop 10 different products in this place. The latest of all of them is the ongoing COVID-19 mixture. It has been tested and has proved capable of treating all symptoms that have to do with COVID-19. And as I speak with you, we are relating with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), and are waiting for the agency to complete its analysis and certification so that we know the next step to take. But before then, we came up with a herbal-based hand sanitiser sometime in March, this year, which we are yet to give a name until NAFDAC certifies everything that it needs to. So, when NAFDAC is through with its analysis, we would officially state our position and say this is what it is.
Where were the herbs you used for the COVID-19 mixture sourced from?
Apart from Congo Basin, I don’t think there is any country in the world that has a similar bio capacity index like Nigeria. We are rich in almost everything we are looking for. We have the biggest herbarium in Africa. This institute is housing over 150, 000 various plant species, all collected in this country. Some of them have gone into extinction now, but the ones that we can salvage, we have created what we call arborators for them. That’s planting about one hectare of it in same location so that generations unborn will have the idea of what these plants are all about. Unfortunately, there are some we only find in the laboratory because some of this specimen collection started as far back as 80 years ago.
Now, to answer your question, if I begin to mention the plant compositions of this herbal mixture, then I am already helping people to abuse drugs because some will hear me and run into bush and start collecting the herbs, and if you ask them, they would say one man who is in position of authority said that once I take this, I will be okay. So, we keep telling people that even if they check the details of what we have, we will only tell them the extraction, we won’t tell them the particular plants because our people are quick to combine all sorts of mixture and swallow same, and most of the organs in the human body are sensitive to most of these things.
As a research institute, are you supposed to go into manufacturing after your research work, or you are supposed to sell or make the patent available to manufacturers?
We have a center called Patent and Incubation Centre. When all we need to do is perfected, then we move to patency. We have a lot of MoUs that we go into with manufacturing companies and organisations that will be the off-takers of this, otherwise we have our own consultancy outfit that continues with the production once NAFDAC certifies our products.
This research institute was established since 1954. How many of its innovations, discoveries and research works have come to reality?
Without sounding immodest, I don’t want to talk about the past because I believe everyone had their challenges. I think I am just privileged to have conceived and brought to fruition, all what we have been able to achieve since I came on board. I don’t want to believe that I am doing anything magical or exceptional. However, before I came, there were no known products of FRIN on any table, and as I speak with you now, I think we have not less than 20 products.
We produce our sachet water and that has scaled through NAFDAC certification and the intention was not really for water, but we felt let’s start with water because a time is coming when people will be drinking herbs like water. While you drink this water, you are also nurturing your organs with herbal products. That is our ultimate. We are still working to see how we can stabilise these various herbs and spices in this water.
We have been able to produce soaps with natural base. We have come up with herbal treatment for ulcer, for asthma and they are all on NAFDAC’s table. We have come up with condiments laced with black seed. We have black seed oil; we have coconut oil, and we also have what could save family crisis in the area of libido, we call it accelerator. We also have other products in that area.
We also have put in place enterprise centres that could help those who are either in public or private sector. We have a unit that deals with fish management; we have grasscutter enterprise, we have snail farm, and a mushroom enterprise for those who are retiring, and can do this simple business in their houses.
We have about 15 research outstations spread across the country and seven colleges where trainings are being done. All we are just doing is to make sure that we are able to meet up with the mandate that the government created us to carry out.
What are the major challenges confronting research institutions in the country?
I will begin by thanking the government for the support that we have been enjoying. I will also thank the governing board of the institute for the support and believe in our ability to deliver on whatever we have been called to do. But we can do better if given all the necessary support that we need because the Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria, its colleges and outstations, its activities are seasonal and time-bound. So, if we don’t get what we want in the right proportion and at the right time, we will still not achieve our aim.