By Agbonkhese Oboh
The Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, CAPPA, has urged the Nigerian government to ensure public officials do not engage in unnecessary interactions with the tobacco industry.
CAPPA’s call was in reaction to reports that alleged that British American Tobacco Plc, BAT, ran a mass surveillance operation and informant network in South Africa and made questionable payments to the tune of $600,000 to dozens of individuals in 10 African countries.
The reports, released September 13, are based on analyses of whistleblower documents and court records by the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath and published by STOP, a global tobacco industry watchdog.
The investigation allegedly connects BAT to hand-delivered cash, cars, per diems and campaign donations to dozens of politicians, civil servants, journalists as well as people working at competitor companies.
The payments, the reports add, may have helped secure influence on health policies in key African countries.
However, Vanguard reports that BAT denied any wrongdoing, when contacted.
In fact, BAT rejected the “mischaracterisation of our conduct by some media outlets”, directing the reporter to its site where it responded to the allegations.
The multinational said: “BAT fully cooperated with a UK SFO investigation, and in January 2021 the SFO announced that, ‘following extensive investigation and a comprehensive review of the available evidence’, it had closed its investigation into BAT, its subsidiaries and associated persons, without charge.” Read the report HERE.
Reacting in statement by Philip Jakpor, its Director of Programmes, CAPPA said the findings are not at all surprising, because they confirm the organisations’ long-standing position that the tobacco industry will do everything to compromise systems and thwart tobacco control in Africa.
According to the statement, Executive Director of CAPPA, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said: “The weighty allegation against BAT sends a very disturbing signal and should compel the Nigerian government to investigate the company’s public facing engagements and activities in Nigeria, which prominently features government officials.”
Oluwafemi explained that with the alleged findings, it is now time to beam the searchlight on other parts of Africa, particularly Nigeria where the tobacco giant controls the largest share of the tobacco products market.
The CAPPA boss pointed out that partnerships, Memorandum of Understandings, MoUs, and agreements that BAT has entered into with various ministries and agencies in Nigeria come to mind.
He added that the company enjoyed tax waivers, grants, and other benefits between 2004 and 2014 when it was included in the Export Expansion Grant (EEG) – a scheme conceived as an incentive to assist Nigerian firms expand the volume and value of their exports.
“For long the tobacco control community in Nigeria questioned the rationale behind the government allowing the company to enjoy such a privileged incentive until it was removed from the beneficiary list.
“But beyond that, we have equally found the cozy relationship that the company has been enjoying among the different agencies of government very disturbing and unacceptable.”
He said that aside the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, the tobacco firm has very robust relationship and partnerships with most state governments in Nigeria and the Ministry of Agriculture, which jointly implements schemes with the company.
“Public officials must now adhere strictly to Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) which explicitly requires Parties to protect their public health policies in relation to tobacco control from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.
“There’s no better time than now to instill this practice,” Oluwafemi insisted