Friday, June 28, 2013

The Journey Towards a Smoke-Free Nigeria

In June 2004, 168 member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) appended their signatures to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) treaty. The FCTC stands out uniquely amidst volumes of treaties facilitated by the United Nations being the first multilateral agreement regarding a chronic, non-communicable disease and the most quickly ratified treaties in the history of the United Nations.

Since its ratification, countries such as Seychelles, Ukraine, Japan, Australia and regions such as European Union and Caribbean states have successfully domesticated the FCTC within their territories and are today beneficiaries of improved public health.

Unfortunately, Nigeria is yet to join the league of nations who through local laws have demonstrated determination to give priority to the right to protect public health despite becoming a party to the framework on October 20, 2005. In the seven years and six months that have rolled by since then, several organisations, groups and persons have laboured assiduously towards the realization of a legally binding Tobacco Control Bill in Nigeria.

A draft bill sponsored by Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, the Senate Minority Leader was presented before the sixth session of the Nigerian Senate in 2009 and a public hearing was conducted by the Senate Committee on Health under the chairmanship of Senator Iyabo Obasanjo. Present at this event were representatives of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, British American Tobacco, Association of Tobacco Farmers and about 45 local and international NGOs.

Despite a two week deadline issued by the Senate president, Senator David Mark to the Committee on Health to submit its report on the public hearing, further legislative process on the bill was stalled due to absence of the Committee's Chairperson.

Two years after this, the Senate in a unanimous vote passed the National Tobacco Control bill specifically on March 14, 2011 and on May 31, 2011 the House of Representatives followed suit by giving concurrent passage.

Afterwards, the approved bill was forwarded to the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan for his assent but sadly, days, weeks, months and a year went by without any positive feedback from his office. Anyone familiar with Nigeria's political process will know that at the close of a legislative session, all bills that were passed but not assented to by the President are more than often annulled by the new legislative session. In view of this, concerned stakeholders engaged the seventh session of the National Assembly sworn-in in 2012 so as to clarify the status of bills passed during the sixth session.

To allay these fears, the Deputy Speaker, Emeka Ihedioha on August 22, 2012 gave assurances that the National Assembly will do all within its powers to clear any misunderstanding with the executive and that the bills sent to the Presidency from the sixth National Assembly will not be annulled. In spite of this, the National Tobacco Control bill remains stuck at the Presidency.

At present, new silver linings have emerged as a member of the House of Representative, Honourable Dayo Alebiosu and a member of the upper house, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa have presented new Tobacco Control bills before both the upper and lower chambers of the National Assembly. Also, the Federal Ministry of Health is leading efforts to submit an Executive sponsored bill to the legislature.

It has been a rough, narrow and hardy route towards domesticating the WHO FCTC in Nigeria and reaping its accrued benefits in improved public health. We hope the new bill sponsors in the Senate, House of Representatives and Executive will collaborate and stand as an imminently victorious formidable force that will facilitate successful passing and signing of the National Tobacco Control bill into law.

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