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Anti-tobacco advocates demand probe into BAT dealings

As BAT celebrates another year of profits, anti-tobacco groups in Nigeria join global day of action to demand an investigation into grey areas

ERA/FoEN Deputy Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi
ERA/FoEN Deputy Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi

On the heels of allegations of questionable dealings in Africa by the British American Tobacco (BAT), the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) on Tuesday joined advocates in Africa, UK and Latin America to demand government action to hold the organisation accountable.

The call comes as BAT convenes its annual general meeting (AGM) in London after months of negative media and the launch of at least one national investigation.

In Lagos, ERA/FoEN organised a press briefing and petitioned the Ministry of Health to demand the Nigerian government to investigate BAT “systematic bribery and blackmail”, which the activists claim is not restricted to East Africa alone, but is widespread even in West Africa and other regions of the continent.

“It shouldn’t take 15 years to pass a law, so in the seven years it took to pass Kenya’s tobacco control act and the eight it took to pass implementing regulations, we have had many reasons to suspect BAT was engaging in illicit activities,” said Samuel Ochieng, Director of Consumer Information Network in Kenya. “Now that we have irrefutable evidence of bribery,” he added, “we will be proud when Kenya is the first country to investigate BAT and hold it accountable.”

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, he alleged, ranged from $3,000 to $20,000 and some were even sanctioned by a regional executive.

“Among the revelations was at least one bribe to a government representative from Burundi to represent BAT’s interests at a World Health Organisation global tobacco treaty meeting. There were multiple bribes to politicians and policymakers to gain access to and obstruct tobacco control policymaking,” ERA/FoEN disclosed in a statement.

In Nigeria BAT is said to be been involved in self-censorship, and not been entirely clear on how anti-tobacco legislations would hamper their business and lead to job and revenue losses.

In addition to Hopkins’ revelations, whistle-blowers in Uganda and South Africa have shed further light on BAT’s actions in those countries. Tens of thousands of people, dozens of organisations, 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 (NTCA) are equally demanding that the Nigerians government opens investigations into infractions of BAT in the course of formulating anti-tobacco legislations like what happened in Uganda and Kenya.

ERA/FoEN Deputy Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said: “In the course of the torturous process of getting the National Tobacco Control Bill (now Tobacco Control Act) into law, tens of hurriedly-formed BAT front groups were deployed to fight taxation recommendations, ban on Tobacco Advertising Promotion and Sponsorships (TAPS) and other life-saving provisions from getting into the final document that was finally signed by the former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan on May 25, 2015.

“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,” said John Stewart, Deputy Director at Corporate Accountability International, “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.”

In November, 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.

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