Feb 7, 2014


A new tobacco control bill sponsored by Hon Dayo Alebiosu a member of the House of Representatives, representing Kosofe Federal Constituency has scaled through second reading. In this interview with Michael Azorie, he talks about what motivated him to sponsor the bill and his life as a former smoker.

The National Tobacco Control Bill that you sponsored scaled through the second reading and was committed to the committees on health and Justice, why two committees?
Well, you know if the one sponsored by Senator Mamora had gone through with the Presidential assent this would have been an amendment, so since it’s not law yet, you can’t amend what is not law. The Bill sought to amend the 2004 tobacco act with some additions to it, and we want to make sure that since it enjoyed the support of the entire house because not a member opposed it, we want to be sure that some of the objectives it sought to achieve does not offend any laws here in this country. That was why it needed to be looked at holistically from the health and justice angle. That is why you have the bill committed to both committees.
The motivation, what is the motivation for this tobacco bill
To be honest with you, I will say that although I have had some health issues and experiences in the past that I was ignorant of a few things and on finding out it prompted my actions. I used to be a smoker, but thank God, I didn’t get to a point where they say if I don’t quit I will die. With the support and help of God I was able to kick the habit. I used to drink as well; I used to drink energy drinks and alcohol. I had some experience with energy drinks and I will not want anybody to experience what I went through. Before that I had found myself in the middle of health campaign, I listen to news a lot and with the  illiteracy rate in Nigeria at 70 percent , who will look out for them. We need to understand that as a developing nation we have ties and treaties with other nations which is mutually benefiting and as the chairman of the Treaties and Agreement committee, I have been able to examine some of these treaties and say to myself that we need to do something about it. Nigeria is a signatory to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
Also the fact that I see most kids who smoke do so because their parents smoke and they began at an early age. That is one of the things this bill will do, parents can’t smoke around their children. We are also looking at those who send their children to purchase cigarettes; it is going to become a crime. We know the most addictive drug in the world is nicotine, that is what makes them smoke. When you send kids to purchase nicotine, you are saying it is okay to smoke; these are the things we seek to put out.
Apart from that if you go driving out, you can actually buy cigarettes in traffic. Should this be? Should the most addictive drug in the world be sold indiscriminately without licensing which is another thing the bill will do. It will license those who sell cigarettes. There has to be checks and balances. The law is meant to punish those who go against it. This is the only way we can protect our children, as a matter of fact am not just worried about the future of tomorrow am also worried about today, the present. We all have to die, but I don’t want to go right now, so how do we protect the passive smoker, those who never smoke but ended up with a tobacco related disease.  They have a right to life but they are being killed. Do we classify that as an act of God or murder? I will continue to repeat the use of the most addictive drug in the world, nicotine, should we continue to have it being sold on the streets without licensing. Tell me where in the world that is practiced.
You mentioned that Nigeria has an obligation to domesticate the FCTC, can this bill serve as the domesticating instrument, and does it fulfill the protocols in the FCTC.
Absolutely.  It agrees with practically all the provisions of the FCTC. Also when you append your signature to a protocol without registering your reservations, it means you are in agreement with all the protocol. Nigeria is in agreement with the FCTC. We are also going beyond that to look at the peculiarity of our country, our culture and society. When they came up with FCTC am sure they did not consider that cigarettes are being sold on the streets of Nigeria. There are quite a few things I see around and I ask how did we get here. I am grateful to my colleagues for their support on this bill, when the bill was called for hearing, not a member opposed it.
Not even members representing the tobacco growing areas….
Not one nay. And I am very grateful to the members for that as much as I will still need their support throughout this process.
Is there any difference between this bill and the one sponsored by Senator Mamora
There are quite a few. For instance we are introducing licensing, we are restricting smoking in certain places, you can’t sell tobacco on the highways, it also addresses smokeless tobacco, there is workplace protection for speaking up against smoking.
Senator Mamora’s bill was passed by the National Assembly but not signed into law by the President, now that this process is on again what will you do differently to ensure a better result this time.
Amazingly we didn’t hear from the Executive to say this is what they were opposed to in the bill but I hear that the Executive was working on a bill, or so I hear, you know you hear rumours here and there. But the legislature is such that a lot depends on the support of the members, eventually it comes down to the ayes and the nayes. Interestingly, we have all the ayes on our side, am hoping that the bill will continue to get the support. There are also constitutional provisions that allow you follow certain steps. Unfortunately, the sponsor of the bill didn’t return to continue to push for the Executive assent to the bill. I guess God has a reason for that because this bill is several riders to the earlier one.
 The constitution has provisions for what to do if the President does not sign a bill that is he has to transmit in writing to the National Assembly reasons he did not sign. Also, the National Assembly can choose to veto the President on any bill. If need be, will you go for this option
Well, I do not want to be preemptive, because in the eventuality of that happening, it won’t be my decision, it will be the House. You will have to lobby your colleagues to see reasons with you. But it is usually always the last resort, I believe the Executive might have their reasons for what happened, now we have a stronger bill, I wouldn’t even want to consider that at all, I believe the Executive and the Legislature are pulling in the same directions for the good of public health.
Won’t some people see this bill as the opposition bill since Senator Mamora is also a member of your party?
Take a look at the tobacco statistic, an annual 6.4 million people being affected. I am sure if they die they will not all be A C N members, there will be PDP members too. We want to protect the under 18 children, they are not all opposition children.  Am a father, I used to smoke; I wouldn’t want my children to experience it likewise all the other members of that House. Every member supported the bill, it cuts across party lines.
There is a compelling argument from the tobacco industry about paying taxes and providing jobs. Doesn’t this bill look like you are discouraging Foreign Direct Investment
Yes I appreciate the fact that the tobacco industry is providing less than 1,000 jobs. We thank them very much. But we have indigenous companies like Dangote that have employed more than that. Besides, this bill is regulatory not prohibitory. There is no other place in the world even in the homes of the parent tobacco companies that don’t have regulations, and they don’t have cigarettes sold in kiosks but under licensing. There are other foreign investors in Nigeria; we need to understand that if Nigeria isn’t seen as a huge market they wouldn’t be here. In as much that they have a dangerous product and they want the business of Nigerians they must be regulated. Without that we can be sure that they can use tobacco to control our population.
Have you been contacted by the tobacco industry
No I haven’t
 When they do how will you deal with it
  This is not the first bill I will be sponsoring, you asked me what motivated me into doing this and I gave reasons, so I wonder what will now kill that motivation. Amazingly, Senator Mamora is also my constituent. It wasn’t planned it just happened, so if he could make it through I will as well.
  There is a tobacco bill in the Senate……
 Which is seeking to do exactly what your bill wants to do? Will you harmonize with the Senate or step down your bill
There are provisions in the National Assembly, we can sit down and look at all the bills, the strength and weaknesses, we take the strong points and the ultimate goal is to have a strong legislation for Nigeria. I am sure the Senate would also see the strength of this bill.