Habeeb Lawal, doubles as a lawyer and an alternative medicine practitioner, certified and licensed by the Lagos state traditional medicine board. But instead of settling for law practice, Habeeb, CEO of Fikr Health, decided to venture into other money spinning but less crowded business, herbal medicine.
How did you venture into your current business?
I schooled at Maryland Convent Private school, Ikeja, I also went to Lagos State University for my Law degree. But along the line, I travelled abroad, I went to Newham College in East London, I also went to other colleges like East London College, I did something like an internship, in Computer Engineering Basics, I am the kind of person that likes to find out about new things, I am an inquisitive person. So, despite the fact that I studied Law, I also venture into so many things.
One of the things you actually ventured into is traditional medicine. Why?
My company’s name is Fikr, it is an Arabic word, which means ‘to think’, to make in-depth thoughts about something. So in Fikr, we are making in-depth thoughts about the health of people, in other words, how we improve our health and the health of others.
When did you start Fikr?
I started on a note, I was in UK in 1992, and I read a book on ‘black seed’, that is ligella sativa, and I heard that it cures all diseases, except death. And I wanted to prove it, I got some of the seeds and started using it, and I got more sick. As I stated earlier, I am a kind of person that likes to find out new things. I started a research project on black seed itself since then till now, and what I found out is that it is one of the most unknown and most potent drugs in the world. It is in the Bible and the prophet said, it takes care of every disease except death, and it was also used by the pharaohs, there was a pharaoh, ‘Tucanem’, and when he was exhumed, there was black seed in his tomb, that shows that it predates the Prophet Issa, known as Jesus Christ, and it also predates Prophet Muhammad. This is a really good ancient medicine that people have been using for thousands of years. Aside making experiments on it, knowingly and unknowingly, I started going into traditional medicine. And let me say this, when people mention ‘traditional’ their minds go to black magic, spiritual things and so on. But it is not so, this is a ‘Nollywood’ phenomena. And I want to appeal to the media, that we have to start changing these ideas. That is why we don’t have a lot of people going back to their roots. You see, if you don’t operate from where you exist, you will always be lacking, you won’t have original thoughts or ideas. You see, God has designed this world in a way that the plants that will take care of each disease, is available.
What this means in effect is that, the plants that will take care of the common diseases, in, let’s say, Lagos state, can be at your back yard. But because of lack of knowledge, we might go so far away. These are the things that we have to educate people on. You see, when you go back to the past to rectify the future, there is so much. Okay, let me give you a basic thing, I was making a research on ‘ogi’ (pap). Pap is a medicine on its own, it has millet, it has a lot of spices in it. It takes care of your body. If you check traditional Yoruba settings, even the Hausa and the Igbo, take the pap, especially when they are sick. And there is a special pap prepared for sick people, it is known as ‘ogi baba’. One of the medium of using our powdered drugs, and our leaves is to take them with pap. And, the sense behind that is that, when you are using a drug, use it with warm water because, it penetrates into the system faster. There is so much that we have to start teaching our youths. It’s not just about getting a certificate and walking around looking for a job, it’s about the value you can create within your environment. Besides, most of us are not educated but we are orientated, we go to school to get orientation. And there is a difference, education is using some knowledge that you can apply within your environment to be self sufficient, while orientation is when you acquire the values of a foreign ideology, that is alien to your own environment, that means you can only operate what you know in another person’s environment. And what that does for us, is that it kills our GDP, if you have an original thought, you can make a product, if you make a product, you can send it abroad. But if you do not make a product because you are not aware of what is in your surroundings, then you have to go out of the country to be buying things for yourself.
When you wanted to start these researches, were you discouraged by anyone?
Discouragement is a normal thing, and I think we should let our youths know this also. If you want to go into anything, you are going to be discouraged by some people, but that should not be an impediment to your goal.
Who discouraged you?
Families and friends, discouraged me. They often asked me questions like ‘you are a lawyer, and what are you doing with these?’ I was looking at the people that formed DHL, actually they were three lawyers, when they were in school, they were dealing in transportation, delivering goods etc, and upon graduation, they decided to form a company, which they named DHL, and today the company employs thousands. The point is, we cannot remain where we are, because today, Nigeria’s dependently on oil is dicey. Let’s remember what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the bomb was dropped, they had nothing, no natural resources to fall back upon. Do you know what they resorted to, they came back to the best natural resource which is the human intellect and that is what they are using till today.
And here in Nigeria we are blessed with so much natural resources but we have not gotten anywhere. I once employed someone who studied Botany, and she knew nothing. That means she spent her time going to school and she doesn’t even know how to identify common leaves. There is a big problem, I think schools should learn to organize forums frequently for their students.
You must learn to appreciate your environment. Let me give an example, today we buy so much of Chinese medicine, about 75% of those drugs we buy are actually at our backyard. I was at the airport the other day, and I saw foreigners coming into the country with different name tags, while our fellow Nigerians were flying out of the country. Foreigners don’t just come into the country to play, they know there is something here. It is high time we start discovering ourselves. Thank God for the Lagos State House of Assembly, there is a bill now that says that Yoruba language should be offered as a course in schools. Because if you cannot speak your language, you cannot have original thoughts, and if you don’t have original thoughts you cannot have original products. These are some of the things I will like to talk to the youths about because it is very important.
Where do you see your company in the next five years?
Well, I see it going globally to talk about African indigenous medicine and also to talk about health generally. My company presses more on awareness. Our crux is to let people know that you can be in charge of your health and not someone else. We make people aware and when you make people aware, they will ask for a product and we deliver such products. I see us going into foreign countries and enlightening them, and even causing them to prefer our traditional medicines to theirs.
What is the greatest lesson you have learnt in the course of your job?
I learnt that people are not really educated, despite having gone to school. And that is why we have our youths today, having spent years in the university coming out with nothing to show for it, and going from one office to the other. It is not all about getting a job but it is all about what you can create. What I have found out regardless is that we have to come back to who we were. We have great identity crises in Nigeria and Africa at large. It is time we start thinking because if we do not, our generation is in trouble.
Have you ever been humiliated when trying to sell your drugs?
Yes of course. On one occasion, I went to a certain place here in Lagos state to deliver drugs to someone, I gave him the drugs and he was complaining, he was not sure if he should take it and I had to tell him that we are registered by the Lagos State Traditional Medicine Board and I started explaining more so that he can understand that he is not taking a risk. When I started giving scientific facts, he relaxed and was sure he was on the right path. People want to know the angle you are coming from; some people also need scientific proof. People who have used our drugs and have seen how effective they are, tell others about it. That’s what we want, for people to be ambassadors of our products.