Over 240 in-person participants and 40 virtual attendees, including public health advocates, policymakers, legislators, civil society organizations, community representatives, and media personnel, gathered at the national conference on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) tax in Abuja, Nigeria, on October 25, 2023.
The hybrid event, co-organized by Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) and the Federal Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, fostered a dynamic exchange of ideas aimed at crafting a robust legislative framework for pro-health taxes. The focus was primarily on the SSB tax and its pivotal role in enhancing public health outcomes.
The conference kicked off with a welcome speech by Dr. Deborah Bako Odoh, the National Coordinator for Non-Communicable Diseases at the Federal Ministry of Health. Dr. Odoh, represented by Dr. Amadi Dorothy, emphasized the Federal Government’s dedication to improving public health. She highlighted the implementation of the SSB tax as a key strategy to fight Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and reduce health risks like tooth decay, obesity, and diabetes, which are often linked to excessive consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. Notably, she flagged Nigeria’s position as the fourth-largest global consumer of SSBs.
In his opening remarks, Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of CAPPA underscored the public health challenge of NCDs in Nigeria, contributing to over 30% of deaths in the country. He described the introduction of the N10/litre Excise Duty on SSBs as an effective measure to regulate overconsumption but pushed for an increase in the tax rate and expansion of its coverage. Presently, the tax applies to all non-alcoholic and sugar-sweetened carbonated drinks. Akinbode urged stakeholders, particularly public health activists, to remain vigilant against resistance from the industry.
Goodwill messages shared by Dr. Adeolu Adebiyi from the Global Health Advocacy Incubator and Shirley Ewang from GATEFIELD highlighted their organization’s commitment to supporting policies that promote public health.
The Honourable Amos Magaji, Chairman of the House Committee on Health Institutions, also conveyed his support, aligning with the legislative agenda for enhancing public health.
Dr. Muhammad Ali Pate, Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, officially opened the conference, represented by Dr. Chukwuma Anyaike, Director of Public Health. Dr. Pate emphasized the importance of the SSB tax in combatting NCDs, aligning with global health interventions and recommendations endorsed by the World Health Organization.
Delivering the keynote address, public health financing expert Dr. Gafar Alawode emphasized the critical need for a comprehensive legal framework for SSB taxation. This framework, as outlined, should involve central budget agencies in the formulation of sustainable pro-health tax policies. The address also highlighted the significance of a dedicated legal structure in advancing healthcare financing and underscored the importance of a robust monitoring, evaluation, and accountability framework for health taxes.
The plenary sessions offered a series of insightful discussions. Dr. Francis Fagbule, a public health consultant, explored NCDs as a public health emergency. Dr. Adeolu Adebiyi’s presentation shed light on sustainable SSB Tax regimes, underscoring the criticality of earmarking funds for health improvement.
Economic research expert Austine Iraoya discussed the economic implications and benefits of the SSB tax. His presentation anchored on a recent simulation study conducted by CAPPA which showcased the potential economic impacts of varying tax levels passed to consumers. The analysis concluded that the SSB tax would foster healthier consumption patterns, stimulate industry innovation per healthier alternatives, and generate significant revenue for health promotion. engender
Subsequent sessions featured a panel discussion, moderated by Dr. Fadhilat M. Yusuf, a Researcher and Alumna from the Nile University of Nigeria’s Economics Department, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. The panel also included Dr. Adeniyi Oginni from the Osun State Health Insurance Agency, and Superintendent C Ilesanmi Olukemi, representing JP Ajoku from the Nigerian Customs Service. Each panelist provided their unique perspective on effective tax management and administration.
The engaging conference concluded with reactions from participants to key presentations, and a communique session, where major points from all discussions were collated for advocacy purposes. Dr. Emmanuel Davids, acting National Coordinator for NCDs, delivered the vote of thanks, bringing the event to a meaningful close.