On June 21, 2023, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) facilitated a comprehensive one-day training dedicated to enhancing the advocacy capacity and skills of its network of volunteers to effectively utilize digital media platforms or offline spaces to promote Nigeria’s Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSB) Tax. Additionally, the training empowered volunteers with pre-requisite education to sensitize the public about the health risks associated with excessive consumption of SSBs.
In his opening remarks, Akinbode Oluwafemi, the Executive Director of CAPPA, underscored the indispensable role of volunteer advocates in advancing social justice across Africa and fostering public health. He lauded CAPPA’s vibrant network of volunteers spanning the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. Comprising young professionals, students, activists, and other active citizens, this collective engages in a myriad of activities amplifying and strengthening CAPPA’s advocacy on pivotal campaigns such as tobacco control, the elimination of trans fat in Nigeria’s food chain, and promotion of the SSB tax among others. Encouraging the volunteers to maintain their commendable efforts, Akinbode noted that volunteers form the backbone of societal change.
The session proceeded with a goodwill message from Joy Amafah, Nigeria Coordinator for Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) who underscored the importance of SSB Tax advocacy and its potential to yield substantial health benefits. She also praised the volunteers for their contributions to the GHAI-CAPPA collaboration in enhancing public health outcomes through various advocacy campaigns.
Austine Iraoya, a Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of the Economics of Africa, provided an insightful analysis of the economic and health implications of the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSB) Tax. Challenging the SSB industry’s assertions that such a tax could negatively affect economic growth, Iraoya pointed to the successful implementation and positive impacts of the tax in various countries as evidence to the contrary. Additionally, he advocated for non-price responses from the industry, such as product reformulation, as a proactive strategy to foster healthier consumption practices among Nigerians.
Project Officer at CAPPA, Opeyemi Ibitoye, enlightened participants on CAPPA’s SSB Tax campaign. She defined SSBs, provided alarming data about Nigeria’s SSB consumption habits, and laid out CAPPA’s tripartite campaign strategy: Engaging policymakers, monitoring the activities of the manufacturing industry that undermine the SSB tax, and building a nationwide advocate coalition. In November 2022, CAPPA launched the National Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax Coalition (NSSBTC). Since its inception, the coalition has grown remarkably, boasting a diverse membership of forty (40) organizations, which include public health advocates, community-based organizations, policymakers, religious groups, and other advocacy organizations. This broad coalition has continued to raise awareness about the risks of SSBs and conduct periodic meetings and strategic engagements with relevant stakeholders in a bid to further the push for a sustainable SSB tax in Nigeria.
Following Ibitoye’s discourse, Dr. Francis Fagbule, a Public Health Consultant at the University of Ibadan, highlighted the health implications of SSBs. In addition to excessive weight gain, the consumption of SSBs is associated with the development of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Given these health risks, Dr. Fagbule stressed the urgent need for appropriate government agencies to ensure the strict enforcement of the SSB tax, along with imposing restrictions on the marketing of SSBs in public places, particularly in areas such as schools with young persons susceptible to impressionable marketing strategies.
In a presentation titled: Policy Advocacy and Community Building, Aderonke Ige, Associate Director at CAPPA, recognized the importance of volunteer advocacy. Speaking further, she defined advocacy as a strategic process, involving education, information, strategy, and support to influence both public and private sector decisions. While noting that advocacy requires subject knowledge, courage, teamwork, effective communication, and relationship-building, she also underscored the necessity for clear messaging, process-oriented approaches, and stakeholder targeting in advocacy, emphasizing specific skill sets and thorough documentation. Through an interactive exercise, she enhanced volunteers’ communication skills and urged them to persevere despite potential challenges.
Next up, Abayomi Sarumi, CAPPA’s Program Manager, illuminated participants on the pivotal role of digital media in policy advocacy. He underscored the importance of adaptability, effective storytelling, and visualization in the ever-changing landscape of digital platforms, including the inclusion of feedback for successful advocacy outcomes.
The presentations concluded with an engaging breakout session, in which volunteers shared personal experiences that affected their advocacy efforts. They identified the public’s attachment to SSBs and perceptions thereof as significant barriers to the successful promotion of the SSB tax. A lack of branded materials, training, and data support for their individual online and offline campaigns was also noted. Moreover, volunteers recognized the potential of underutilized social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook Stories, and LinkedIn to expand their campaign reach.
The productive training ended on a high note with volunteers expressing gratitude for the knowledge gained. Akinbode Oluwafemi closed the session with a word of thanks to the volunteers and the Global Health Advocacy Incubator for their unwavering support of CAPPA’s initiatives.