Some members of the Nigerian delegation attending the seventh session of the Conference of the Parties (COP7) to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) have accused their colleagues of promoting tobacco industry interests through misleading interpretation of the treaty guidelines, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
The conference is holding in Delhi, India between November 7 and 12.
The Nigerian delegation includes Christiana Ukoli, the leader and a professor from the Federal Ministry of Health; Ihuoma Ofili of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria; Akinbode Oluwafemi, a civil society activist; Malau Toma of the Ministry of Justice; Ededet Eton, an Assistant Comptroller of Customs, and one Mrs. Abimbola from the Ministry of Justice.
This newspaper learnt that within the Nigerian delegation, while Messrs. Ukoli and Oluwafemi were pro-health, Messrs. Ofili and Abimbola were pro-industry.
Mr. Toma, the Tobacco Desk Officer at the Federal Ministry of Health, was unable to attend the conference due to the inability of the ministry to fund her trip, a Nigerian activist attending the conference who preferred not to be named told PREMIUM TIMES.
On Wednesday, representatives of non-governmental organisations criticised Mrs. Ofili, a Tobacco Control Desk officer at SON, for attempting to sow doubt about the addictiveness of tobacco products—a familiar tobacco industry tactic—despite decades-long consensus on the issue.
“The delegate also recommended watering down protections against industry interference in tobacco control policymaking. The Nigerian Ministry of Health is underrepresented in this year’s Nigerian delegation, heightening suspicions of broader industry interference,” the groups said in a statement.
Another Nigerian activist at the conference said the country’s delegation was singing discordant tunes at the meeting.
“The FCTC recommendations are clear, especially in implementation. Misinterpreting them is the strategy the (tobacco) industry uses to derail implementation,” he added.
The CSOs said some members of the Nigerian delegation advanced arguments criticizing the treaty’s Article 5.3 guidelines limiting parties’ interaction with the tobacco industry, as well as Articles 9 and 10 which recommend measures to reduce the addictiveness of tobacco products.
“It is very disturbing and shocking to civil society and other governments that members of the Nigerian delegation advanced invalid arguments promoted by the tobacco industry, which has a sole aim: raking in profits at the expense of people’s health,” said Philip Jakpor, Nigeria spokesperson of Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT).
Mrs. Ofili could not be reached for comments.
For decades, the tobacco industry has lobbied extensively against tobacco control policies at the national and international levels.
In November 2015, a whistleblower revealed British American Tobacco’s bribery of a Burundi delegate in an attempt to water down, weaken, and block progress on tobacco control at the FCTC. Given Big Tobacco’s well-documented history of influencing FCTC delegates to promote its agenda, participants at these negotiations raised questions about whether Nigeria’s comments were influenced by the industry.
Hellen Neima, a tobacco control advocate from Uganda attending the Conference of the Parties said: “The Nigerian position was the lowest moment of the discussion yesterday. It came in stark contrast to the applause received by other African governments who stood in firm support for protection against tobacco industry intimidation and bullying.”
Members of civil society warned that Nigeria’s comments may threaten advances to public health, including guidelines around the toxicity of tobacco products. Article 9 proposes guidelines for testing and measuring of the contents and emissions of tobacco products, and regulation of the contents and emissions, while Article 10 requires manufacturers and importers of tobacco products to disclose to governmental authorities information about the contents and emissions of tobacco products. They also urged countries to stay united in their prioritization of public health over the industry’s interests.
“The global tobacco treaty makes it explicitly clear that tobacco industry interference poses the single greatest threat to tobacco control. The confusing proposition by Nigeria has the potential of rolling back the united position of the African bloc on the underlying issues,” said John Stewart, deputy campaigns director with Corporate Accountability International.
Despite the Nigerian delegation’s objections, a majority of parties to the global tobacco treaty support a suite of public health provisions, including ones that protect public health policymaking from the tobacco industry’s influence. According to a WHO report released this week, parties to the treaty recognise the industry as the biggest threat to progress.
The global tobacco treaty negotiations are taking place in Greater Noida, India, from November 7-12. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is estimated to save more than 200 million lives when fully implemented.
The global tobacco treaty, known formally as the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) entered into force in 2005.
To date, 179 countries and the European Union have become parties to the treaty. It contains the world’s most effective tobacco control and corporate accountability measures—estimated to save more than 200 million lives by 2050 if fully implemented.
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