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Akobundu’s day out in the Ikwuano sun

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By Tunde Olusunle

Isiala Oboro, the, typically sleepy headquarters of Ikwuano local government area (LGA) of Abia State, came alive on the last day of the immediate out-gone year, Friday December 31, 2021. True, ecstatic youths had procured firecrackers in generous quantities to be released at midnight, both in thanksgiving to God, for helping them through a spectacularly difficult year, and to embrace a new one with a measure of optimism. Before that night-time, end-year ritual, however, Ikwuano local government in its entirety, rolled out an assortment of musical instruments, drums, the traditional xylophone, hand percussion devices, metal gongs, udu, ekwe, and the flute, to celebrate one of their own, a son of the soil who had serially made them very proud.

The event was the Grand Civic Reception for Augustine Okwudiri Akobundu, a retired army colonel, who has served in various political and public offices within the last decade, and brought tremendous goodwill to his people. Akobundu started out as National Vice Chairman, South East Zone of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), with his office in Enugu. Indeed, in a practical demonstration of his desire to oversee the affairs of the PDP in the five south east states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, from a location of geographical proximity to the various states, Akobundu formally relocated his residence to Enugu. Immediate past governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime, reportedly saluted Akobundu’s pragmatism, as against extant practice. Akobundu’s term in office, coincided with the further entrenchment of the PDP in the south east. While the governorship of Anambra State, remained the preserve of the All Peoples’ Grand Alliance, (APGA), the PDP maintained its foothold at the levels of many federal constituencies and senatorial zones.

In 2015, Akobundu was appointed minister of state for defence, by immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan. He spent barely three months in office, but enjoyed the confidence of his senior military colleague who was the substantive defence minister at the time, Mohammed Aliyu Gusau, a retired lieutenant general. Gusau entrusted the airforce component of the defence ministry, to him and he in turn, brought his own perspectives into the operations of the ministry. In the particular case of the war against insurgency in Nigeria’s north east, he advanced a “diagnostic and holistic approach” to the debacle, which became full blown back in 2009. He assured that the Nigerian military was more than capable of triumphing in the onslaught.

At the national convention of the PDP, December 2017, Akobundu emerged National Organising Secretary, (NOS), of the party. Akobundu, like his colleagues, served in a milieu of truly trying times for the party. The PDP lost power at the centre to the opposition All Progressives Congress, (APC) in 2015, a development which also diminished the geopolitical standing of the party, in terms of the states under its control, as well as the number of parliamentarians the PDP had in the national assembly. It was a rather strange and unusual situation to be in, for a political party which was in power for 16 years, beginning from 1999.

Akobundu recalls: “The party went through lots of trauma and dislocations flowing from the loss of the 2015 elections. When we took over (in 2017), we were not given a chance. People did not believe that we had the capacity to resuscitate a party that was more or less on life support…” Recognising that his directorate, organisation and mobilisation were central to the operations of the party, Akobundu realised the need for the leopard to shed its skin, literally. According to him, “We needed to restore confidence in the processes of the party, by reversing all the vices of the past, including the issue of corruption. Hitherto, the directorate used to be the hub of corruption, where anything was possible. People could win on the field and the loser will come to Wadata House (headquarters of the PDP in Abuja) and change the results… I summoned the necessary political will against these vices, which reversed the trend and restored confidence to our processes.”

The erstwhile military officer feels immensely gratified, that the NWC of the PDP which he served in, initiated reforms, reawkened value reorientation and enforced the application of established guidelines of the party, in the conduct of its processes. These he noted, substantially restored transparency, credibility and confidence in its operations. He alluded to the support and cooperation of governors elected on the platform of the PDP, who are ever willing, to work for the party, irrespective of the inconveniences and personal risks involved. As he presented his valedictory speech last December, at the handing over ceremony to the new national executive committee of the PDP, Akobundu’s speech was severally punctuated, by ovation from leaders of the party present at the event. This, for him, is a most heartening recognition of the endeavours of the executive of the party, which he most recently served for four unbroken years, as NOS.

The resplendent December 31, 2021 reception for Akobundu was attended by several dignitaries and distinguished Nigerians. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu, governor of Abia State, and his immediate predecessor, Theodore Ahamaefule Orji, were in attendance. Pioneer chairman of the Nigeria Delta Development Commission, (NDDC), Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, who chaired the event, was accompanied by his wife, Dr (Mrs) Joyce Ugochukwu, were present. Speaker of the Abia State House of Assembly, Chinedum Orji and Secretary to the State Government, (SSG), Chris Ezem, an attorney, were also in attendance. A former caretaker chairman of the PDP in Abia, Ndidi Okereke and erstwhile commissioner for lands and housing in the state, Eboh Ihekwereme Okorie and his wife, Mrs. Lizzy Okorie, were present at the event.

Akobundu was recognised by the Ikwuano Traditional Council, as Dike Akolamba, the strongman who is eternally at the service of his people. Chairman of the council, Eze Eugene Ndimele who conferred the title on Akobundu, was assisted by the four traditional rulers who represented the four traditional clans, which make up Ikwuano. Ndimele noted that Akobundu was so honoured, because of his contributions to the social, political and economic development of Ikwuano and his untiring commitment to the elevation of his people. Chief host of the event and Chairman of Ikwuano LGA, Stephen Mpamugo, confirmed that Akobundu had distinguished himself all through his sterling career and duly earned the respect of his people.

An ecstatic Akobundu said he was thoroughly overjoyed and overwhelmed by the love and affection, showered on him by his people. He pointed out that he least imagined his people were studiously following his endeavours, such that a day will come, when he would be so recognised. This he noted, should needle people in the public eye, to remember they will someday, be accountable to those they represent. He promised to make himself fully available, to mentor a younger generation from his community, who desired to venture into politics for development.

Augustine Okwudiri Akobundu who comes from Oloko in Ikwuano LGA, was born March 10, 1956. After his early education in Enugu and Umuahia, he proceeded to the Nigerian Defence Academy, (NDA), Kaduna, as an officer cadet of the Course 22 Regular Combatant Course. An officer in the Signals Corps of the Nigerian Army, he attended many professional and military courses at Army School of Signals. He equally obtained a diploma in telecommunications and electronic engineering from the Obafemi Awolowo University, (OAU), Ile-Ife, and another diploma in French, from Alliance Francais, Lagos. As a young military officer, he served as aide-de-camp to the erstwhile military governor of Bauchi State, Chris Abutu Garuba, from August 1985 to December 1987.

Since his retirement from military service, Akobundu has demonstrated unparalleled resourcefulness, as a multitasking businessman and entrepreneur. His interests traverse real estate, hospitality, logistics services, among others, under the umbrella of Nostro Group of Industries, of which he is Chairman. Wherever and whenever in his many abodes across the country, from Oloko, through Abuja and elsewhere, Akobundu is your quintessential host, who will go to any length, to ensure the comfort and convenience of his guest. Years ago, I visited him in Enugu when he was zonal chairman of the PDP. As we wound down for the night, since I was a guest in his accommodation, I reminded him I would be on my way to Abuja, very early the next morning, perhaps before he got out of bed, since I had a car and a driver. By the time I stepped out at dawn, breakfast had been packed for my driver and I, including tea flasks, and delivered to my car. One of his vehicles and a driver, was on standby to lead us to our exit point from Enugu! That is the man we love to call Ochi’Agha, one of his many chieftaincy titles. Ugochukwu salutes him fondly as Nnukwu Colonel.

A pan-Nigerian in thought and worldview, Akobundu is married to Mrs Deola Akobundu, who hails from Ekiti State. The union is blessed with children and grandchildren. Akobundu is never far from his in-house gymnasium or any exercising facility in his neighbourhood, because he loves to get on the treadmill ever so often. He loves reading, writing and listening to music. He remains his witty self and is very up to date with social and musical trends. A mutual friend of ours limped into his Abuja residence the other day, steadying himself with a walking stick. While sympathising with him about his dislocation, Akobundu said to him: “I have credible intelligence that you are competing with your children to dance to the music of Burna Boy. You better leave the youths with their gbese dance!” We all cracked up in laughter.

*Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, scholar journalist and author, is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE).

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Opinion

Abia repeal of life pensions for ex-govs, deputies: Matters arising (1)

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By Ehichioya Ezomon

Abia State Governor Alex Otti’s the rave of the moment among his peer governors, and most Nigerians, for “infrastructural development,” and particularly for signing into law a Bill passed by the Abia State House of Assembly (ABHA) to repeal life pensions for former governors and deputy governors of the state.
Under the repealed law, former governors and deputies were paid lifetime salaries, and got houses in Abia and Abuja, prompting ex-Head of State and former President Olusegun Obasanjo – on a visit to Dr Otti to commend his novel move – to describe the life pension laws by state governors as “rascality” and “acts of daylight robbery,” and urged other governors to emulate the Otti example.
But did retired Gen. Obasanjo, Ph.D, also send similar entreaty to President Bola Tinubu and the National Assembly (NASS), to repeal pensions and entitlements for former presidents, vice presidents and heads of state? Or only former governors and deputies should curb their appetite for free money and materials after “retirement” from government?
Obasanjo’s advocacy should touch all former elected or appointed executive officeholders, as we shouldn’t have a “special breed” of Nigerians: former military heads of state, presidents, vice presidents, governors and deputy governors, who enjoy government’s freebies, and live in luxuries at the expense of toiling Nigerians in need of the bare essentials of life.
It’s as well to recall that in a valedictory session of the Federal Executive Council at the State House, Abuja, on May 24, 2023, then Vice President Yemi Osinbajo called for an upward review of pensions for former presidents and vice presidents.
Osinbajo, referencing President Muhammadu Buhari’s “personal integrity,” said: “Part of the problem with that is that sometimes, you and I end up getting the very short end of the stick. If you look at the laws today, our retirement benefits, yours (Buhari) will be N350,000 a month by law and mine will be N250,000 per month.
“Those, of course, as you can imagine, are very tiny amounts of money. And I think that one of the things that we must do is to, perhaps, see how we can amend that law so that I will not come to you in Daura (Buhari’s hometown in Katsina State) and ask for some of your bulls to sell in order to survive.”
As Sunday PUNCH findings, first reported on May 28, 2023, indicate, “severance packages for Buhari and Osinbajo, state governors and other political appointees leaving office in 2023 might cost the country about N63.45bn,” adding that, as stipulated by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation Commission (RMAFC), “President Buhari will get a severance pay of N10.54m, which is 300 per cent of his annual basic salary, while Vice-President Osinbajo will receive N9.09m.”
In a manner of, “What a man can do, a woman can do it, and even better,” then First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari, also solicited increased out-of-office benefits for ex-presidents and vice presidents, and for the incorporation of former first ladies “among the beneficiaries.” She spoke on May 25, 2023, in Abuja, at the launch of a book, ‘The Journey of a Military Wife,’ written by Mrs Vickie Irabor, wife of then Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Lucky Irabor (retd).
Mrs Buhari’s plea: “The Federal Government should consider us as people that need help not as magic makers. And on the privileges given to the former presidents of Nigeria, they should do more. It is still not enough considering what people go through in that house (Presidential Villa). And at the same time, I want them to incorporate women, the former first ladies, among the beneficiaries.”
Many Nigerians have lent voices to the Otti gesture, especially coming at an time of economic strangulation of the average and below-average citizens since the advent of the Tinubu administration, following the withdrawal of subsidy on petrol, and floating the Naira, which’s crashed against major foreign currencies, and sent inflation and the cost of living sky-high.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked President Tinubu to swiftly obey a court judgment, which orders the Federal Government to recover pensions collected by former governors, and to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting those involved to collect such “outrageous pensions.”
Following a SERAP suit no: FHC/L/CS/1497/2017, Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo in a 20-page judgment on November 26, 2019, granted “AN ORDER of mandamus compelling and directing the Attorney General, AG, to urgently identify former governors and their deputies collecting pensions from their states and to seek full recovery of public funds from those involved.”
“Justice Oguntoyinbo also granted ‘AN ORDER of mandamus compelling and directing the AG to urgently institute appropriate legal actions to challenge the legality of states’ laws permitting former governors, serving as senators and ministers to enjoy governors’ emoluments while drawing normal salaries and allowances in their new political offices.'”
Then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), had argued that “the States’ laws duly passed cannot be challenged.” But Justice Oguntoyinbo differed, saying, “I do not agree with this line of argument by the Attorney General that he cannot challenge the States’ pension laws for former governors.”
“In my humble view, the AG should be interested in the legality or validity of any law in Nigeria and how such laws affect or will affect Nigerians, being the Chief Law Officer of the Federation,” the judge said, adding, “I have considered SERAP’s arguments that it is concerned about the attendant consequences that are manifesting on the public workers and pensioners of the states who have been refused salaries and pensions running into several months on the excuse of non-availability of state resources to pay them.”
Justice Oguntoyinbo didn’t expressly pronounce on the legality of awarding life pensions to former governors and deputy governors. Perhaps, the plaintiff, SERAP, didn’t include that in its averments and prayers. Which somehow left the judge to push the responsibility to the Attorney General – “being the Chief Law Officer of the Federation” – of finding out the “legality or validity of any law in Nigeria and how such laws affect or will affect Nigerians.”
But the National Industrial Court – as posted on the African Law eJournal on March 25, 2020 – had ruled that pensions for former governors and deputy governors are legal, as nothing in the amended 1999 Constitution of Nigeria precludes or prevents state houses of assembly from enacting laws to give such benefits to former state chief executives.
Michael Dugeri of University of Ottawa, Canada, posted the court’s ruling in the case of Incorporated Trustees of Human Development Initiatives & 39 Others v. Governor of Abia State & 73 Others, which borders on “legal validity of state pensions laws for political office holders in Nigeria.”
“The National Industrial Court, in this case, was invited to determine the question of whether any law, especially by the State Houses of Assembly, that stipulates pension of such public officials already covered by the constitutional mandate of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation & Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), is ultra vires, null and void. The Court answered in the negative,” the report said.
Yet, as first reported by Vanguard on March 24, SERAP, while noting inaction by the Buhari administration on the Justice Oguntoyinbo judgment, urges President Tinubu, in a March 23 letter by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, “to emulate the good example of Governor Otti by urgently obeying the judgment.”
“Unless the judgment is immediately obeyed, former governors and their deputies, including those now serving as ministers in your administration and members of the National Assembly who receive pensions, would continue to evade justice for their actions,” SERAP says.
“Immediately obeying the judgment would show the sovereignty of the rule of law in Nigeria and go a long way in protecting the integrity of the country’s legal system. Obeying the judgment would also show you (Tinubu) as a defender of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended), the rule of law, and public interest within government,” SERAP adds.
SERAP lists former governors, “who continue to collect double emoluments and large severance benefits” from 22 states, including Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Delta, Ekiti, Kano, Gombe, Yobe, Borno, Bauchi, Abia, Imo, Bayelsa, Oyo, Osun, Kwara, Ondo, Ebonyi, Rivers, Niger, Kogi, and Katsina.
As reported by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on March 20, the Abia pensions repeal law isn’t the first, as a few states had moved to abolish the law, but “many states showed nonchalant attitude toward doing so.” Still, the “Abia State Governors and Deputy Governors’ (Repeal) Law 2024,” which took effect immediately on Thursday, March 21, 2024, after Governor Otti signed it, forecloses former governors and deputy governors earning pensions.
But did the Abia repealed pensions law include other perquisites of office, which make the pensions per se to look like pocket money for a boarding-house student, who doesn’t really need extra money, as their parents or guardians have settled accommodation, feeding and provisions for them?
This and more will be explored in part 2 of the series, amid denial by two former governors of Abia State, Sen. Theodore Orji and Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, of receiving pensions since they left office, even as Governor Otti continues to enjoy the limelight of abolishing pensions for former governors and deputy governors of Abia State!

Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria

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Dickson Tarkighir at 55: A study in doggdness

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Dickson Tarkighir
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By Tunde Olusunle

Many of his kinsmen and friends had a good laugh the day he was inaugurated into the eighth assembly of the House of Representatives, June 2015. Most probably unsure how to pronounce his surname, the Clerk of the “green chambers” as the lower deck of the national parliament is described, opted for a spontaneous improvisation.
Rather than set his tongue against his teeth, the Clerk after correctly pronouncing his first names settled for a simpler *Takiri!* By some coincidence, Tivlumun Nyitse my brother from our university days and cousin to *Takiri* and I watched the live telecast of that ceremony together. We had a very sumptuous laugh and called to congratulate him later that day. We reaffirmed he would have to don his new “baptismal necklace” for times to come and could hear his guffaw in the background. He took it in good spirits and has never made a fuss about it.

Dickson Dominic Tarkighir on that occasion was inaugurated as Member Representing Makurdi/Guma federal constituency of Benue State. I have been privileged over time to have met and developed relationships with sections of the Benue State middle class and political elite. I had encountered the amiable George Akume, (incumbent Secretary to the Government of the Federation), and the departed Ogirri Ajene his deputy, when they both governed the state between 1999 and 2007. Governors, (and their deputies when assigned), regularly had engagements in the State House where I functioned from under the Olusegun Obasanjo/Atiku Abubakar government. As “groundsmen” in Aso Villa, there was always the possibility of meeting dignitaries at that level. They were equally delighted to have you as a “strategic ally.” I’m also a friend of the affable Gabriel Torwua Suswam who succeeded Akume as governor in 2007 and Samuel Ioraer Ortom who took over from Suswam in 2015.

Four friends have also impacted my integration into Benue State where I’ve developed a broad network of friendships and acquaintances. Nyitse, my classmate since my first day in the University of Ilorin who is presently an associate professor of journalism has been most catalytic in this regard. He served as Permanent Secretary in the Benue State civil service for about 10 years and commands quite some respect in the Benue system. Through Tony Olofu, a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, (AIG) with whom I went through the National Youth Service Corps, (NYSC) in Imo State between 1985 and 1986, I’ve also made friends from that sociocultural space. Shiaondo Aarga, alumnus of the University of Ilorin like Nyitse and I who also retired Permanent Secretary in Benue State, has also aided my acculturation. Shima Ayati was my colleague in the Obasanjo/Atiku government and we remain best of friends today.

I met Dickson Tarkighir through Tivlumun Nyitse when Nyitse was Permanent Secretary, Government House Administration, (PS-GHA) in the Suswam administration, almost two decades ago. Tarkighir was Managing Director of *Triggar and Gibbons Ltd,* an advertising and logistics support service company which was foraging for business opportunities in Benue State. I was a regular face in Benue State those years because I had a consultancy liaison with the government. Tarkighir’s outfit may rightly be described as the precursor of electronic billboards in Benue State. Tarkighir had successfully experimented with the concept in Kaduna and found new grounds in his home state. Nyitse’s office was the engine room of the Suswam administration which processed the governor’s instructions and conveyances to the various ministries, departments and agencies, (MDAs). The personable, outgoing Tarkighir was a regular caller in Government House, Makurdi ensuring alignment between the vision of government and the electronic copies that were displayed for public consumption.

A multitasking entrepreneur, Tarkighir had previously setup *Dasnett Mobile Services Ltd,* with the coming to be of GSM services to Nigeria over 20 years ago. He impacted the entertainment space of Makurdi the Benue State capital by establishing a classy, integrated nightclub and services outfit. Located at the very heart of Makurdi, he christened it *District 4 Lounge.* Its ancillaries included a functional restaurant and a bakery. He developed it into perhaps the most sought-after hangout in the city, a preferred destination for high octane visitors to the state, previously pampered ostensibly, by mouthwatering options in bigger cities. Tarkighir is a notably hands-on executive whose presence and subtle guidance of his staff on reminds of the doting style of Ken Calebs-Olumhense, the iconic proprietor of *Niteshift* those good old days in Lagos.

Governor Gabriel Suswam took special note of Tarkighir’s exertions and innovative strides and engaged him as Senior Special Assistant, (SSA) on Industries, in 2009. He was reappointed in 2011 following Suswam’s reelection. Tarkighir resigned his appointment in 2014 to contest for a seat in the federal parliament. He dared unfamiliar grounds in his quest for the House of Representatives office when he defected from the better established Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), to the fledgling All Progressives Congress, (APC). He triumphed at the polls as part of the countrywide *tsunami* which displaced the PDP from the centre of national politics at the 2015 general elections. It seemed well advised therefore that he took the gamble of defection to and running on the platform of the APC.

Despite being a first timer in the congress, Tarkighir was proactive. First, he was keen on learning the ropes. He was listed to serve in nearly a dozen committees of the parliament which was good for requisite exposure. He was in the appropriation; defence; petroleum (downstream); population; navy; health services; Niger Delta affairs; inter-parliamentary; integration in Africa and the ECOWAS parliament committees in the House. With the hindsight of creeping unemployment in the country, he advised that the 25,000 ghost workers discovered by the federal government at the time, be replaced with genuine job seekers. He imposed upon himself the responsibility of unearthing vacancies in MDAs and assisting his primary constituents wherever he could. He soon donned the alias of “Mr Employment” amongst his constituents as attestation to his efforts.

Tarkighir sponsored several bills and motions. Agonised by the ravaging Fulani incursions into his state for example, he sought the creation of a cattle ranching department in the federal ministry of agriculture. He also sponsored bills on healthcare; internet security; need for special attention for hydroelectric power producing areas, among others. His motions encompassed those requesting support for his flood-devastated constituency; the need for the rehabilitation of the Makurdi-Gboko federal highway and the imperative for the declaration of a state of emergency on deadly attacks by herdsmen across the country. Tarkighir prosecuted a plethora of projects in his constituency for the betterment of the lives of his people.

Solar-powered street lights; electric transformers; boreholes; sewing machines; cassava processing equipment; submersible pumps; bicycles; tricycles and laptops were some of the life-improving accessories he availed his constituents. Medical outreaches were organised for mass enlightenment, even as skills acquisition programmes were also prosecuted. Tarkighir equally facilitated the completion of the *Akaakuma* dam, and the construction of residential quarters for the divisional police officer in *Gbajimba* within his constituency, and a primary school in *Ngban* in *Guma* local government area. Tarkighir didn’t win reelection in 2019. He refocused on his core entrepreneurship concerns always never forgetting the adage about charity beginning at home. He rehabilitated and expanded his *District 4* model through which he rescued a few more youths from the hungry streets. “I’ve been there, Oga Tunde,” he tells me about his experiences growing up, his mien suddenly sobering. “It’s not easy out there.” Dickson Tarkighir won the Makurdi/Guma federal constituency seat at the 2023 polls and has since returned to the 10th Assembly of the House of Representatives.

He was born April 12, 1969 in Makurdi and attended St. Thomas Primary School, *Ibume* between 1976 and 1981. He proceeded to *Nongov* Community Secondary School in *Tse-Kyo,* in *Guma* LGA. He obtained a bachelors degree in business administration from the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State in 2003. He thereafter consolidated his thirst for knowledge in this specialty by earning a masters also in business administration from the Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU), Zaria, in 2008. An indomitable quester for new vistas, he previously cut his career dentition with Mojo Electronics, Umuahia, Abia State, between 1988 and 1991. He also worked in the Kaduna station of the now defunct *Okada* airlines from 1992 to 1995. These were cross-country toughening experiences which have profited his worldview.

Tarkighir chairs the House of Representatives Committee on “Constituency Outreach,” created early in the life of the Fourth Republic in 2003. Among other responsibilities the committee exercises supervisory oversight on the implementation of Zonal Intervention Projects, (ZIP) by members, and addresses the interests of congressmen. In the ranking of House committees in the order of importance, Tarkighir’s brief is adjudged a “Grade A” outfit. He is reportedly the first parliamentarian from the north central geopolitical zone to chair his present brief. Tarkighir speaks impeccable Hausa which privileges him in our still largely parochial ethno-politics. He is happily married and blessed with children.

Tunde Olusunle, PhD, is a Fellow of the Association of Nigerian Authors, (FANA)

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Opinion

Why FG Must Enforce Graphic Health Warnings on all Tobacco Products

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By Paul Ashibel

Tobacco consumption remains a significant global health challenge, with dire consequences for both individual users and society at large.
In combating this epidemic, one policy tool has emerged as a potent force for change: graphic health warnings.
These stark visual reminders of the dangers of tobacco use serve not only to inform but also to deter, making their implementation on tobacco products a critical step in public health initiatives.
Also, graphic health warnings have been shown to have a profound impact on consumer behaviour.
Research indicates that prominently displayed warnings on tobacco packaging not only increase knowledge about the health risks but also motivate smokers to contemplate quitting or reducing their tobacco intake.
By confronting users with the stark reality of the harm they inflict upon themselves, these warnings serve as a powerful catalyst for behaviour change, nudging individuals towards healthier choices and ultimately saving lives.
Tobacco products such as shisha, cigars and smokeless tobacco have often evaded the graphic health warnings requirements.
This enforcement gap not only undermines the effectiveness of public health efforts but also allows tobacco companies to continue marketing their products with impunity, targeting vulnerable populations, including youth and marginalized communities.
Section 20 of the National Tobacco Control Act stipulates that “every tobacco or tobacco products package shall contain in writing and graphics, every health warning signs prescribed in this Act or any other law which shall cover not less than 50% of the total surface area of the package.”
In June 2023, the rotational graphic health warning of a contrast image of healthy lungs (non-smoker’s lungs) and diseased lungs (smoker’s lungs) with the text warning “smoking causes lung cancer was phased out after two years, and at the same time, the Federal Ministry of Health approved an image of mouth cancer caused by tobacco use with the text warning reading “smoking causes mouth cancer”.
The tobacco industry is expected to comply with this provision on all tobacco products, including shisha, cigars and like products, not only on cigarettes where skeletal compliance has been recorded.

The fact is the tobacco industry knows that these health warnings work, and in many cases thwart the effectiveness of the policy by delaying compliance, using poor resolution images that do not meet approved standards, and avoiding its application on all tobacco products.

The warnings are effective because they speak a universal language, transcending barriers of literacy and language.

Through compelling imagery and minimal text, these warnings communicate the grave health risks associated with tobacco use in a manner that is easily understood by individuals across diverse cultures and educational backgrounds.

Whether it’s a photograph depicting diseased lungs or a graphic illustration of the impact on oral health, these visuals leave a lasting impression, fostering greater awareness and understanding of the hazards of tobacco consumption.

There is no justifiable reason to why there are still tobacco products in the Nigerian market not complying with the approved set of pictorial and text warnings.

Between June 2023 and November 2023, the tobacco industry as provided by the Act had 150 days to sell tobacco products with the old warnings alongside those with the new warnings, after which every tobacco product sold without the new warnings and messages would be in violation.

The Act stipulates that non-compliant products are to be seized, and other penalties meted on the sellers.

A survey conducted by the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance at the end of the 150-day moratorium period showed that while there was some compliance on cigarette packs, other tobacco products had almost zero compliance to the policy.
Accordingly, all tobacco products currently being sold without the approved health warnings are sold under direct violation of the provisions of the National Tobacco Control Act, and the relevant agencies of government; Standards Organization of Nigeria, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, the Nigeria Police Force, National Security and Civil Defence Corps, etc., must step up to their responsibility of enforcing the graphic health warnings policy on all tobacco products as required by law.
Paul Ashibel works with the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance and writes from Abuja.

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