ABUJA – Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) has urged the Nigerian government to ensure public officials do not engage in unnecessary interactions with the tobacco industry, following new reports on how British American Tobacco (BAT) PLC ran a mass surveillance operation and informant network in South Africa and made questionable payments to the tune of $600,000 to dozens of individuals in 10 African countries.
Philip Jakpor, the Director of Programmes, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, in a statement, noted that the reports, released on 13 September 2021, are based on analyses of whistleblower documents and court records by the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath and published by STOP, a global tobacco industry watchdog.
The investigation allegedly connected BAT to hand-delivered cash, cars, per diems and campaign donations to dozens of politicians, civil servants, journalists as well as people working at competitor companies. The payments may have helped secure influence on health policies in key African countries. Documents also provide evidence that suggests, in South Africa, BAT hired private contractors, under the pretense of anti-smuggling efforts, to carry out military-style surveillance and operations to disrupt its competitors.
In reaction to the report, CAPPA said “the findings are not at all surprising” because they confirm the organizations’ long-standing position that the tobacco industry will do everything to compromise systems and thwart tobacco control in Africa.
Executive Director of CAPPA, Akinbode Oluwafemi said: “The weighty allegation against BAT sends a very disturbing signal and should compel the Nigerian government to investigate the company’s public facing engagements and activities in Nigeria which prominently features government officials”
Oluwafemi explained that, with the alleged findings, it is now time to beam the searchlight on other parts of Africa, particularly Nigeria where the tobacco giant controls the largest share of the tobacco products market.
The CAPPA boss pointed out that partnerships, Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) and agreements that BAT has entered into with various ministries and agencies in Nigeria come to mind, even as he added that the company enjoyed tax waivers, grants, and other benefits between 2004 and 2014 when it was included in the Export Expansion Grant (EEG) – a scheme conceived as an incentive to assist Nigerian firms expand the volume and value of their exports.
“For long time the tobacco control community in Nigeria questioned the rationale behind the government allowing the company to enjoy such a privileged incentive until it was removed from the beneficiary list. But beyond that, we have equally found the cozy relationship that the company has been enjoying among the different agencies of government very disturbing and unacceptable”