Nigeria slips in 2023 tobacco industry interference rating

The state of tobacco industry interference in Nigeria has revealed a marked increase in the industry’s meddling in public health policies, in particular tobacco control measures.

The report produced by Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, CAPPA, with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies through the Centre for Good Governance shows Nigeria’s ratings dropped from 53 points in 2021 to 60 in 2023.

The Executive Director of CAPPA, Akinbode Oluwafemi, disclosed this at a media briefing in Lagos yesterday.

Speaking, Oluwafemi said: “According to the report, the main deterioration is manifest in the Nigerian government’s challenges, failure to adhere to transparency mechanisms, and disclosure of exchanges with the industry as mandated by the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 and the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019.

“These breaches, the report noted, are exploited maximally by the tobacco industry to interfere in public health policies and deliberations. 

“The report also flagged other areas of concern, which include: the unnecessary and unhealthy interaction between the tobacco industry and public officials, mostly in the agriculture sector, where top government officials have been documented in several instances participating in the industry’s activities and openly lauding them.

“The tobacco industry’s use and loud celebration of its Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, activities in the media and on social platforms as a way of enhancing its image to attract unsuspecting individuals, thereby creating a perception of the industry and its products as responsible and desirable. 

“These CSR initiatives are further promoted by the endorsement of state authorities, who associate with and collaborate with the industry to execute socio-economic empowerment programs.

“The weak enforcement of preventive measures, including ambiguities in the National Tobacco Control Act, NTCA, 2015, and its Regulations of 2019, inadvertently allow the tobacco industry to operate without accountability in certain instances.

“For instance, while the NTCA mandates the tobacco industry to submit annual reports on tobacco and tobacco products, it also retains that the Minister may choose to either disclose or withhold this information from the public. This optional transparency makes it difficult for public health advocates to verify whether compliance is being enforced or not.

“The industry’s continued participation in policy development in Nigeria, such as its enjoyment of invitations from government interagency bodies and agencies to meetings where classified resolutions on public health are reached,” he noted.

Oluwafemi also added: ‘‘Whilst Nigeria’s National Tobacco Control Act and its Regulations have largely checked the activities of tobacco corporations and entities, the industry has exploited some weaknesses in these laws and gaps in the system to interfere in tobacco control.”

To address these challenges, the report urged the Nigerian government to fully implement the National Tobacco Control Regulations 2019 and also review ambiguities in the law so they do not provide revolving doors that the tobacco industry can exploit to interfere in public health and other government policies.

Policy and Research Officer of CAPPA, 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.”

Additionally, the report also tasked state authorities with building intergovernmental synergy at all levels by establishing clear protocols for the full disclosure of minutes and proceedings from meetings and interactions with the tobacco industry. To begin, it advised relevant Ministries, Departments, Agencies, and MDAs, to constantly update their websites and other information platforms to facilitate the easy dissemination of information and engender transparency. 

Researchers at CAPPA measured and evaluated incidents of tobacco industry interference in Nigeria against 20 questions based on the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’s (WHO FCTC’s) Article 5.3 guidelines. These guidelines urge member states to adopt robust measures to safeguard their tobacco control policies from the influence of the tobacco industry.

Culled from Vanguard