Old Specters, New Dreams
In July 2010 I was having lunch with a pharmacist friend, Olu, at a mom-
and- pop restaurant in Ikeja, a suburb of Lagos. Aft er some great food, talk
of family, and invigorating conversation about Nigerian pharmaceuticals,
Olu decided to call an old college friend of his, Femi, who is the managing
director of one of Nigeria’s biggest drug companies, Zenrex Laboratories
(not the real name)— which before the 1970s had been the subsidiary of a
formidable multinational manufacturer of brand- name drugs. On the spot,
Femi invited us to come visit him at his company’s manufacturing plant.
We hustled through Lagos traffi c, and when we reached the plant we en-
tered the main gate. I immediately noticed the security guards’ friendliness
and their unusual lightheartedness. Th ere seemed to be something far dif-
ferent going on besides the usual drudgery of signing people in and out of
the premises. Aft er one guard put in a call announcing our arrival, we were
escorted upstairs, where we met Femi. Dressed in an impeccable suit and
tie, he was extremely aff able.
About a year before our arrival, the entire factory had been shut down
for eight months in order to be rebuilt from the ground up. Th e company
survived the shutdown by selling imported products. A six- month supply
of drugs sold out in two months, and, according to Femi, the company “re-
ally suff ered” during the next four months without production. But the
sacrifi ce was made because the plant was being transformed in order to be-
come eligible for the World Health Or ga ni za tion’s prequalifi cation status.
Th is means that a manufacturing plant must be in world- class condition
and meet all global standards for quality production and assurance. With
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