Friday, April 25, 2014

WANTED: A Tobacco Control Bill in Nigeria

A look through government and law-making since 1999 shows a number of battles fought over time to get proper legislation in place on a diverse range of issues such as the EFCC Act, NAFDAC Act, FOI Bill to mention a few.

The most recent law that took quite a while to enact we would like to review is the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. The aim of this law was to empower Nigerians to serve as whistleblowers while also opening up the opaque processes that shrouded issues of national interest in a domain outside of accountability & transparency. In the cause of getting an FOI, there were ups & downs with campaigners experiencing defeat snatched from the jaws of victory as in 2007 after many years, a failure to secure Presidential seal meant the bill passed by the National Assembly did not become law.

A quick research shows that since 1999, the bulk of successfully enacted legislation were bills either sponsored by the Executive arm of government or bills with strong executive interest. Whether this is because an executive interest in a bill gives it needed political capital or it fires up the legislative arm to speed up consideration of this bills is another matter but suffice to say, the job seems to get done more often than not.

It is in light of this, that one might consider developments regarding tobacco control legislation in Nigeria a two-edged sword as last month, March 2014, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved that a draft bill on tobacco control be passed onto the National Assembly for their consideration.

While this follows a trend with strong batting averages when it comes to bills successfully becoming law, it increases the number of bills currently under consideration by the National Assembly on the critical issue of Tobacco Control (TC) legislation as in particular, the House of Representatives has been moving consistently concerning the draft bill sponsored by one of its own, Hon. Yacoob Bush-Alebiosu.

This means that on the single issue of tobacco control, there is a critical need to get all draft bills in the National Assembly harmonized ASAP as with a plethora of committee sittings, public hearings & plenary session needed to take place at both the Senate and House of Representatives, time is the essential factor here that we do not have an endless supply of. This will ensure there is no duplication of effort in passing through all the required steps in our bill-making process. Also, it is critical to ensure that none of the draft bills becomes a stumbling block to the others as failure to get any of them successfully through the loops may mean major challenges to a TC Bill being enacted without hassles.

It might be time & resource saving to consider incorporating strengths of each of the draft bills into ONE harmonized version that will then be considered by both the Senate & House of Representatives going through all the required loops. Taking this route is a more strategic approach to delivering in a TIMELY manner a much needed & wanted law for Nigerians.

In other news
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