Nigeria’s endangered herbal heritage


There is a trending disparity between local traditional medicine and Western medicine, resulting in persistent misconceptions against the traditional health system in Nigeria. People adapted to Western healing methods and medicines they forgot how ancient methods saved their ancestors at little or no cost and how herbs and animal remedies helped them live to a hundred years or more.

A typical Nigerian can buy $16 organic Indian products online to improve his immune system, but too lazy to cut the most commonly free Dongoyaro leaves (Neem leaves) for his medical needs, not knowing that the organic product is made from 80% Neem leaves. Many have overlooked traditional healing methods, calling them taboo, but they are not the primary cause of our dying medical heritage.

Many traditional recipes are threatened with extinction because those who know them continue to accumulate secrets. Rather than fusing their knowledge with Western scientific procedures, they limit it to the family. The effect is that when these healers die, the knowledge dies with them.

What happens to these healers is similar to how elites and political leaders keep resources that should benefit the general public. We need to change our focus and appreciate and value the God given African ways of healing. India and China are at the forefront of medical treatment because they have embraced their traditional heritage. The West, which has called our traditional medicine barbaric and a fetish, only says this to maintain its dominance.

According to Professor Ezebunwa Nwokocha of the University of Ibadan, the factors affecting traditional health care delivery systems are negative perception of traditional medicine, lack of awareness, high level of gullibility among Nigerians, declining from the involvement of young Nigerians in traditional medicine, the fierce competition from introduced medicine and government policy.

It is time for the government to seek out competent herbalists, compensate them reasonably for their knowledge, and find ways to modify traditional healing knowledge into what the wider population can benefit from. The government should also advance traditional medicine by making it a curriculum for all medical courses.

The traditional health system can be a good source of national income if it is well exploited. The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of the world’s population depends directly or indirectly on local herbal and animal remedies. No one is saying Nigeria can’t be the next step in traditional healing.

Oyelakin Saheed Oyekola,



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