The Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) has frowned at what it called “the insidious interference of the tobacco industry in Nigeria’s pro-public health efforts.”
Speaking at the presentation of the ‘Nigeria Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2023’, on Tuesday, November 21, 2023, in Lagos, the non-governmental organization accused government officials of undermining the National Tobacco Control Act (2015) and the National Tobacco Control Regulations (2019) by openly associating with the industry leaders and their programmes.
Speaking at the event in Lagos, Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of CAPPA said, “The tobacco industry has intensified efforts to derail public health policies, undermining the actions of governments to safeguard the well-being of citizens.”
He said Nigeria’s efforts are being undermined by the industry through the activities of some government officials. He observed that “Our report highlights how tobacco companies use a slew of tactics to overwhelm national protective health measures, preying on governmental regulations and cohesion gaps. This report for Nigeria is the third in the series and shows a marked deterioration in Nigeria’s rating from 53 points in 2021 to 60 in the period under review.”
Mr Oluwafemi regretted that the tobacco industry has maintained a significant presence and participation in critical interagency/multi-sectoral committee meetings of government. He specifically mentioned such as the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), where supposed classified resolutions on standards are discussed and agreed upon.
He, therefore called on the government to wake up to its responsibilities to the populace and deplored the growing attempts by the tobacco industry to lobby to market new products, including non-combustible alternatives like snus, chew, and dip, among others.
The CAPPA director decried the undue influence of the tobacco industry as reflected in and entrenched through their so-called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, by sponsoring social and economic initiatives that are not only celebrated in the media but also endorsed by the government at different levels.
He wondered why the government could allow the British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF), a so-called partnership with the National Youth Service Corps, a federal government scheme, to empower young agricultural farmers financially. According to him, the government should have realized that this was a decoy to lure youths (the majority of them in the NYSC scheme) into smoking.
CAPPA in the report called for a full implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act and its regulations, enhanced transparency in government dealings with the tobacco industry, synergy between federal and state governments, and regular conflict-of-interest disclosures by public officials.
It also called for the cut of unnecessary and unhealthy interaction between the tobacco industry and public officials, the tobacco industry’s use and loud celebration of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities in the media and on social media platforms, as well as the strengthening of weak enforcement of preventive measures, including ambiguities in the NTCA 2015 and its Regulations of 2019, which has allowed the tobacco industry to operate without accountability in certain instances. It frowns at the company’s participation in the formulation of government policies.
Also, speaking at the event, CAPPA’s Policy and Research Officer, Zikora Ibeh, said, “The Nigerian government must work to ensure that public officials in relevant ministries, departments and agencies sign conflict-of-interest forms periodically to remind them of commitments or obligations that may compromise their office and operations.’’
This she said is important to remind them of their responsibility to the populace.