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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tobacco control bill lost in transit

THE National Tobacco Control Bill (NTCB) may have gone missing between the National Assembly and the Presidency a year after it was passed by the last National Assembly.
Following the harmonisation and adoption of the Senate’s version of the Tobacco Control Bill by the National Assembly on May 31, 2011, it was expected that the bill should be sent to the desk of the President for assent into law.
Findings, however, revealed that while President Goodluck Jonathan is interested in the public health benefits of the bill, key officials at the Presidency could not track the document for presidential assent into law.
Most worrisome, according to stakeholders, who eagerly await the passage of the tobacco control bill, is that the Ministry of Health and other key public officials that should be more interested in the passage are keeping mum.
The NTCB 2008 was designed to help in effective implementation of the provision of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Frame-work Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) that Nigeria endorsed on June 28, 2004.
The bill is to provide for the regulation of production, manufacture, sale, advertisement, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco or tobacco products in Nigeria. The frame-work policy on tobacco control bill is to promote public health and good environment that is free of tobacco-related hazards in the country.
A former lawmaker, who also sponsored the NTCB bill, Olorunnimbe Mamora, said that it was ‘funny’ that the bill was missing after “26 months of mounting a series of road-blocks before it was passed by the National Assembly.”
Mamora, who spoke at a round-table meeting of stakeholders, organised by the Environmental Rights Activists/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) yesterday in Lagos, said that all Nigerians must demand the status of the bill.
He lamented that the issue bothered on transparency in public places and Nigerians could not tell what was on the President’s mind in respect of the bill.
“We still cannot determine whether he got the bill or not, so it will be difficult to begin to apply the 30 days rule as provided by the constitution on the passage of a bill or alleged pocket vetoing.
“This is why we continue to hammer on transparency in governance. We have a right to know, it is not a favour that is done to the people. The bill that was passed by the National Assembly cannot just disappear. We, therefore, need to know what has happened to it,” he said.
Activist and former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikorodu Branch, Nurudeen Ogbara, added that since the bill was in defence of the right of Nigerians to good health, the stakeholders must ask questions from the Ministry of Health, House Committee on Health, the lawmakers and the President.
“The tobacco control bill should have been their priority, yet they are doing nothing on it. The minister of health must tell us his stand on the bill, whether he supports it or not, because he is supposed to be the chief implementing officer,” he said.
Director, Corporate Accountability and Administration ERA/FoEN, Mr. Oluwafemi Akinbode, advised President Jonathan to summon the key government officials to determine the actual status of the bill.
He noted that it behoved Nigeria to domesticate the FCTC, being a global treaty that she signed and ratified, “and that is what the NTCB hopes to domesticate.”