|Prof dayo Oyekole|
Professor Dayo Oyekole is the Secretary General of the National
Association of Nigerian Traditional Practitioners (NANTMP). He discusses
with VICTOR OGUNYINKA constraint facing the traditional medicine
practice and how government could make herbal medicine a force to reckon
Practically, there is no ailment that would defy herbal cure because
from the time of our forefathers, it is believed and practised that for
every ailment, there is a natural solution, it has been like that and it
is working as such.
Are you saying herbal medicine is 100 per cent effective?
No system of medicine have ever recorded 100 per cent success story.
It depends on how you do it. Hippocrates, as far back as 400BC stated
succinctly that healing is a matter of time and sometimes a matter of
opportunity. If you are confronted with a situation,
depends on how
early you intervene and how much knowledge you have about it. There are
instances when the client brought to the herbalist has been subjected to
a lot of experimentation, surgeries and manipulations, when they could
no longer do anything successful, they say let’s try that herbal man,
which means the person presented is a dying person. Such may not really
respond to treatment early enough as a fleshly diagnosed person, so,
those are the few failures that may occur.
You’ve mentioned the word ‘herbalist’ a couple of times and people see herbalists as fetish people, is this myth or fact?
It is a pity that misconception is very rampant in our society
especially among the religious leaders. I have listened to several
sermons where they scolded the congregation against patronising
herbalists. This statement is borne out of ignorance. An herbalist is a
person who is knowledgeable in the act of using herbs for the cure and
prevention of diseases.
And herbs are plant materials whether roots, bark, leaf or other
parts. But they now misconstrued an herbalist for a ritualist, they are
Compared to an orthodox setting, an herbalist centre looks unkempt; don’t you think that is a dent on the practitioners?
One thing is if you don’t teach them, you cannot blame them. The
average conventional medicine practitioner has passed through series of
trainings and practical orientations, but an herbalist inherited the
knowledge maybe from his father in the village on a homestead. We are
now advocating that the government should provide the opportunity for
them to standardise, refine and repackage their practice. The difference
is packaging not in the efficacy of the material. You can get to an
herbal home and see them keeping a lot of waste products, the
environment may not be too conducive, and it is because they don’t have
personal training in personal hygiene and environmental sanitation.
How do we trust an herbal man that acquired his skills from
his ancestors over a graduate that went through series of practicals and
experiments with our health?
The World Health Organisation has played it safe as far back as 1978;
traditional medicine is defined as a system of healing that relies on
information or knowledge passed on from generation to generation either
verbally or in written form. So, it recognises even oral recitation to
make this work. It is not a deficiency in knowledge that the people are
having, it is the orientation that is missing. The reason herbal
medicine is not developed is because we are depending too much on
foreign ideas, funding and control. The medical profession in Nigeria is
heavily sponsored by foreign collaborators. The pharmaceutical industry
now sponsors research, training fellowship and many other educational
facilities in medical practice. When they now come to address the
public, they say it is those pharmaceutical products that are best. It
is because they have been sponsored. I will want to see a situation
whereby our traditional professionals are so empowered to the extent of
being able to establish their own research grant and teaching hospitals.
Then, they will be able to show that they are up to the task.
If orthodox practitioners look up to the foreigners for sponsorship, who are the herbal practitioners going to look up to?
We have to look inwards and plough back the proceeds of the natural
substances we get from our own country. Oil resources are a natural
substance coming from decayed plant and animal that are fossilised and
created the oil resources. We will now get the oil money and plough it
back to plant development and animal sustenance because that was the
original source of the oil. So, if we devote some billions into research
and development on plant medicine, I assure you that we will end up
making a lot out of it.
Why is your association not a member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN)?
This is because Nigerian Traditional Medicine Practitioners (NANTMP)
was setup in 2006 to exist as the umbrella body on its own under the
Ministry of Health for development of traditional medicine in its
wildest sense. It can only collaborate but it does not subsist under
them, but it is still supposed to work under the supervision of the
Ministry of Health.
Don’t you think incorporating your association into the PSN would be easier to make your voice heard?
It is difficult to achieve that because the pharmacists see
herbalists as competitors. They know that where they stop is where the
herbalist starts. So, because of that, the arrogance is always there
because they have formal education and why would you bring a farmer from
the village to work with them on the same table? What we believe is
that we should have our own department in the Ministry of Health; we
should also have faculties of herbal medicine in the universities and if
possible have university of herbal medicine.
Do we have enough teachers for all these?
There is bound to be a beginning for everything we are doing. When
Aristotle started impacting knowledge on the Greek philosophers that
became men today, they were just sitting under the tree jotting down
points. From there, the genius out of them was just coming out and they
were really replicating the ideas of the great master. I wouldn’t mind
teaching throughout the day if they can provide a conducive atmosphere
for that. Most of these courses have been well structured, I have drawn
the curriculum but funding is the limitation. I believe we have enough
people to teach those courses presently in this country. We can even
establish a university and have enough manpower to handle them. What is
more? Many Nigerian universities depend on foreign experts in the past
to assist them especially in the northern part until the time they could
be self-sustaining. So, we can invite some people from China, India and
from Western Europe to join us; we have done that for them, I have
travelled to the United Kingdom and South Africa to assist them, so, why
can’t they come here to complement our efforts if the government
provide the opportunity for that.
What are the plans of your association for the coming year?
From inception, the NANTMP has not been given the necessary support
that are expected of it from development agencies just because the
association was at formative stage, but having tried to run it for
almost eight years now, we know our weaknesses, opportunities,
challenges and prospect. The last election took place just last week and
a new crop of people are coming out. Our main focus is to create the
necessary awareness among the development agencies as to the dire needs
for standardisation, funding and training programmes.
Secondly, there has been no bill or law controlling the practice of
traditional medicine in Nigeria till now and that is why it is difficult
to really apprehend anybody perpetrating quackery. Other professional
bodies are established under law; they have their various guidelines and
the condition for registration of practitioners, herbal medicine has
none. They only said it verbally that state government should setup
boards of traditional medicine, yes, they did, but they are not
operating under the national statue. So we want to appeal to the
National Assembly to please pass the bill controlling traditional
medicine in Nigeria. During the time of President Olusegun Obasanjo, the
bill passed through the first and second readings, but was not passed
the third time and that was the end of the bill. The institutional
support and the funding are the two main targets of focus of our