The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has asked the Federal Government to begin immediate prosecution of Philip Morris International Nigeria Limited (PMINTL) for illegal importation of cigarette into Nigeria.
In a statement released in Lagos, the group said PMINTL has provided enough evidence for prosecution for flouting the National Tobacco Control Act 2015 in a letter it purportedly sent to the Budget Office of the Federation in which it is asking for approval to import another 550 million tons of cigarette after the first illegal import.
ERA/FoEN had alerted in December 2015 that PMINTL breached the nation’s laws by bypassing the Ministry of Health as required by the NTC Act and instead, getting authorization from the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and other agencies of government to import 122 million tons of cigarettes from Senegal.
Section 29(1) of the NTC Act signed into law last May by former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan says: No person shall manufacture, import or distribute tobacco or tobacco products except the person has obtained license or is authorised in writing by the minister. The law also stipulates a fine of “not less than N10 million and a term of imprisonment of not more than 10 years or both” among others for defaulters.
The products were to be imported into Nigeria under the cover of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) between September 18, 2015 and March 31, 2016.
Media reports indicate that in a letter to the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udo Udoma, PMINTL acknowledged that it had imported and distributed the 122 million tons of cigarette in Nigeria and that it cleared the products in the country in line with its sales projections.
The new application for 550 million cigarette units was made in January 2016 and is for Marlboro, Marlboro Gold, Bond Street, Bond Street Blue, Chesterfield Mint Burst and Chesterfield Blue cigarettes.
ERA/FoEN said: “The acknowledgement by PMINTL after months of silence and secrecy around the importation of the deadly products is not only shocking, but also smacks of respect for Nigeria’s laws as espoused in the NTC Act 2015”
ERA/FoEN Deputy Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi said: “ERA/FoEN is finally vindicated. After months of evasive body language, PMINTL has finally come out of the woods to own up to importing illegally into Nigeria. The illegal imports show that PMINTL is determined to compromise the health of Nigerians through its so-called long term commitment and investment plans that will only lead to a harvest of deaths in a very short time.
“We expect the government to demonstrate that the era of impunity is over. PMINTL should face prosecution and appropriate sanctions imposed. It is very worrisome that the same company that compromised our systems to import lethal products is still asking for government nod to legally import the same death in wraps. This government must turn down this godless request.”
Oluwafemi added that, “This opportunity is one we are using to renew our petition for criminal prosecution of PMINTL Nigeria Limited for the illegal importation of cigarette into Nigeria. A full probe of the entire transaction must be carried out with a view to bringing to justice any government official that compromised his office in the process of this illegal importation.
“Like we had demanded in our petition to the president last year, the products already imported must be withdrawn from the market, and the entire consignment destroyed. Governments across the region must also remove tobacco from trade liberalization policies. Here in Nigeria we propose high taxes on cigarette products to reduce consumption and the full implementation of the NTC Act through strong and effective regulations. This is what Nigerians demand and this is what the government should do,” Oluwafemi stated.