From one, two, three to more persons, the crowd thickens. A man stays in the circle to explain the therapeutic benefits of herbs to drive home his attention-seeking messages. The surging crowd listens with rapt attention on how commonly known herbs could cure malignant ailments. The crowd looks eager to know how familiar yet-not-regarded herbs seen in their farms and roadsides have potency to cure many stubborn sicknesses that hospitals and clinics still stuggle to find lasting solutions to them.
This sight is a common feature in some parts of Uyo and in some local markets in Akwa Ibom State. Armed with assorted herbs, the herbal vendors talk and draw a large crowd who in turn patronise their herbal products. At the front of Idongesit Nkanga Secretariat, Uyo, another set of herbal vendors spread the message using leaves and roots and later herbal products. Beside Qua Iboe Church along Aka Road, Uyo is another location the herbal vendors are seen plying the wares of their trade.
For instance, the sharp lens of StraightNews captured Vincent Ben, a self-acclaimed ‘herbal doctor’ flaunting different leaves at the former premises of First Bank Plc near Ibom Plaza in Uyo. The vendor was a cynosure to passersby. He spoke eloquently, portraying himself as a man who has full grasp of his trade. He intermittently poured water on the various leaves and displayed them to the delight of the excited audience.
StraightNews gathered that the vendors are spreading the message of living in sound health without spending a dime in the hospital or buying synthetic drugs in pharmacies and such is fast spreading like wild fire to various nooks and crannies of Akwa Ibom state.
Not many would believe that cocoyam stem can be effective in curing chronic pile. Others would strongly doubt the possibility that a simple and right application of pear leaves can address tooth ache or that casava leaves can be effective in curing ear infections.
But the 36-year-old Ben claims that chronic pile, stomach ulcer, fibroid, diabetes, malaria, rheumatism, sexual complications or even spiritual problems and many more sicknesses can be remedied by just applying common and available plants around.
Ben and his team, who are usually stationed around the city centre, would display common herbs such as un-ripe pawpaw fruits and leaves, cocoyam stem, plantain sucker, cassava leaves, king grass, bitter leaf, scent leaves and other regular herbs and teach their amused audience how to administer them to cure sicknesses that one would spend a fortune to treat in conventional health institutions.
Speaking with StraightNews reporter, the herbal vendor, who stated that he has been practising for five years now, said that he studied herbal medicine in Cameron and China.
“I have been in this business for five years now. Some people came from Cameron to Nigeria and picked me in 2009; I served under them and later graduated in 2012 and I have been practising ever since then. Some Chinese companies also trained me.
“They gave me a supplement called Ginseng product and I have been selling it across Nigeria. I did research and I discovered what I could add to the product to make it more effective that is why I have repackaged the product and called it Vinseng product,” he said.
While addressing the crowd that gathered around him, the herbal doctor and his team explained how cocoyam stem can be used to cure pile. They also revealed the usefulness of plantain sucker in fixing sexually related problems.
“You don’t need to spend your hard earned money to buy drugs or go to the hospital. God created these plants for us to use to cure ourselves; you only need to know how to use them. I am here to teach you. You can use this cocoyam stem to cure someone who has pile. This pawpaw leaves is very effective to cure malaria,” Vincent remarked.
Displaying one of the plants, Ben’s retainer, one Sunday Okechukwu declared; “you can use this one to cure spiritual problems. If you are going out to a party, squeeze and rub the juice of this plant on your palms. If your glass or bottle of drink that has been poisoned, it will fall off your hand and shatter. You can as well chew it to protect you spiritually.”
Ben even performed an eye operation on one of his spectators who said that he had eye pains. He applied a substance in his patient’s eyes, made him shut his eyes and sit still for about 15 minutes; then he pulled out the particle he inserted along with some slimy substance which he later claimed was the cause of the pains and blurry vision.
He claimed that his company is registered with the appropriate government agencies which are why he openly does his business with no obstruction.
“I am very skeptical about what these people are doing. I am only here to see if there’s anything they would tell me that will be of any use to me. So far, they have claimed things that sound impossible to me but they have also revealed the ones I know are true,” one Etim, a spectator remarked.
A regular user of the product, one Mary said; “I have learnt a lot today. I will make sure to apply everything they have said when necessary. I do not have to spend money to buy drugs anymore.”
Mrs. Chika Obi, who said that she has been an ardent fan of Ben for more than two years now, disclosed that she has applied the herbs and it has worked for her severally.
She claimed that she has not bought conventional drugs ever since she came in contact with the herbs expert.
“If what he is telling is not working, he would not be there for more than two years now. At least someone would have returned to tell him that all you say here are lies.
“I have used the herb as directed by him and it has worked for me. I usually buy the supplements he sells too and that one too works very well,” she said.
Yet, some herbal vendors mount large speakers near motor parks and T-junctions to blare ear-jarring messages to passersby. Itam market junction, Ikot Oku Ikono junction, Oron Road close to Ibom plaza, Akpan Andem Market and Mechanic village, among others are their strong selling points. Everdon Herbal Clinic along Oron road and Libracin Natural Medicine Ind. Ltd along Ndiya Street, among others are a few staying in rented apartments to sell herbal products and attend to customers.
Other vendors are itinerant – moving from place to place. They hold plastic bottles containing chopped roots while the women hawkers carry the ‘admixture of done herbs in large basins.
However, some trained health personnel have expressed their reservations about the efficacy and attendant consquences of the herbal products. For example, Mr. Ifiok Udoubak, a superintendent pharmacist of HealthWay Pharmacy, who spoke with StraightNews, said eventhough herbs are good, they do not have a standardized dosage, saying that it could do more harm than good to the body.
Udoubak explained that there could be up to 1000 active ingredients in one plant which are each targeted to address different health challenges, adding that it is hazardous to consume all the medicinal components embedded in a plant only to cure one disease.
“It does not have a clear-cut or standard dosage regimen and before you know it, it might harm your liver because most of the chemicals you take gather in the liver; that is where it will damage.
“As a pharmacist, I want to say that these natural remedies are very good. One of the advantages is that it does not have a major drawback compared to the conventional drugs. People say that it does not have side effects,” he said.
The pharmacist, however, wondered how certain the herbal vendor was that the slimy substance he pulled out of his patient’s eyes is harmful, and said that it could even be what the eye needs to function better. He urged members of the public not to offer themselves as “specimens for that kind of experiment”.
Pharmacist Udoubak dismissed insinuations would put medical doctors out of market, saying that such could only happen if there are scientific researches geared towards refining the herbal medicine and defining how they should be used and what they should be used on.
The health sector of Nigeria has over the years been left in shambles. This deficiency in the system has however left the masses no choice but to resort to other ways of seeking wellbeing and has opened business doors for many self-acclaimed health practitioners to include herbalists, traditional healers, spiritual healers, herbs vendors, among others.
If nothing is done immediately, this trend may soon put conventional health institutions up the shutters as they now seem to have strong antagonists to contend with.
Similarly, Dr. Aniekeme Uwah, the state chairman of Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Akwa Ibom Branch, agreed that the herbal products are not altogether bad, but they should be subjected to research to prove their efficacy and usage to avoid abuse by users which could lead to disastrous consequences.
Uwah stated “If you look at the increasing cases of medical problems in Nigeria and in Akwa Ibom, you will know that something is wrong somewhere. Eventhough we do not have research linking up the herbal products, they are part of the problem we have now. I am not saying that some of the products may not have mitigating effects, but the components have to be tested to knowing the amount one has to take.”
He cautioned “The herbal vendors cause a lot of problems to people. I advise people if you have health challenge, go to hospital and see well-trained medical personnel who will proffer solution to your problem. I have heard about people moving around the streets. They cause a lot of complications. I cannot encourage anybody to patronize the products. I think government should control these individuals. I do not know why radio stations use to advertise herbal products. In our profession, we have ethics and we do not advertise it.”
According to him, “Initially, the present administration in the state tried to stop the activities of herbal vendors, but there was a lot of resistance. As such, government had to back down. To me, I think there is need to regulate them to avoid people abusing the products.”
At the moment, herbal products no matter their efficacy are still lying on the roadside in that trained medical personnel are yet to accord recognition to them. Despite the conflicting stands of the herbal vendors and trained medical personnel, herbal products are still beckoning to users. The earlier the government in the country standardises herbal medicines to be at par with Western medicines, the better for Nigerian and Akwa Ibom users.