Nigeria joins global action to demand investigation on Tobacco

Ugonma Cokey, Lagos

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN)  joins advocates from Africa to the UK to Latin America to demand government action to hold the British American Tobacco BAT accountable for bribery to undermine tobacco control legislations and lobby to prevent increase in taxes among other offences.

The call came as BAT convened its annual general meeting in London after months of negative media report and the launch of at least one national investigation.

At a press conference in Lagos, ERA/FoEN and its allies called on investigating agencies to beam searchlight on BAT operations in West Africa and particularly in Nigeria where the corporation is involved in so-called anti-smuggling campaign and lobby to thwart increase in taxes.

The Deputy Director of the Organisation, Mr Akinbode Oluwafemi  said that they were joining “ activists from across the globe, from Africa to UK to the United States demanding that BAT be investigated for not only engaging in underhand marketing to conscript our kids into smoking, but also corporate espionage and bribery to undermine tobacco control legislations, especially in Africa.”

Oluwafemi called on government agencies to investigate all tax waivers or grants that were granted to BAT by past governments and all past dealings between BAT and government agencies with a view to prosecute any infraction against the laws.

He advised the Nigerian government, particularly the Ministry of Health to remain unintimidated as it comes up with resolutions for the effective implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act and recommend a speedy drafting of the recommendations.

The Deputy Director at Corporate Accountability International, John Stewart said that “While BAT’s executives toast to deadly profits and generations of addiction, people and governments around the world are organizing to hold them accountable for their abuses.“Fortunately people and governments have the law on their side and the global tobacco treaty provides a proven roadmap to rein in this abusive industry at every turn.” he said.

Oluwafemi while referring to a 2015 BBC report alleged that BAT has been involved in bribery, corporate espionage and undermining tobacco legislations in several countries.

Late last year, Paul Hopkins an employee in BAT’s regional office in Kenya for 13 years revealed the inner workings of BAT’s  systematic bribery and espionage used to obstruct lifesaving laws. The bribes ranged from $3,000 to $20,000 and some were even sanctioned by a regional executive.

In the expose, the whistle blower revealed a shameful bribery scam contrived and carefully implemented to thwart life-saving legislations in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Comoros Islands

In addition to Hopkins’ revelations, whistle-blowers in Uganda and South Africa have shed further light on BAT’s use of bribery in those countries. Tens of thousands of people, dozens of organizations and ten members of U.S Congress have already called for governments to investigate BAT and hold it accountable.

Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission became the first to launch a formal investigation into BAT with potential investigations in the UK and the US.

ERA/FoEN and allies on the platform of the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance are equally demanding that the Nigerian government opens investigations into infractions of BAT in the course of formulating anti-tobacco legislations like it happened in Uganda and Kenya.

According to Oluwafemi, ‘‘BAT infractions and that of Philip Morris International, which is identified to have illicitly imported cigarettes into Nigeria from Senegal be investigated and sanctioned appropriately.’’

In November 2016, over 180 countries will convene in New Delhi to expand support offered by the agreement to protect tobacco control and public health policy from tobacco industry interference.

Additionally, a primary focus of the meetings will be to establish guidance to hold tobacco industry legally liable for its costs to society.

Confidence O.