By Edu Abade
The Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSB) Tax coalition has urged the Federal Government to sign the new Finance Act already passed by the National Assembly with a view to strengthening legislation that would ensure an increase in SSB tax in the country.
Members of the coalition stated this during its coordination meeting, held virtually in Lagos recently during which they highlighted the urgent need to sign the Act and increase the SSB tax with a view to safeguarding the health of Nigerians, who are either dying daily or from the dire consequences of excessive sugar intake in their food chains.
Speaking at the virtual meeting, Executive Director of the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa 9CAPPA), Akinbode Oluwafemi, who stated that intelligence gathering on the signing of the Finance Act was still ongoing, informed members of the coalition that President Muhammadu Buhari was yet to sign the Finance Act due to several observed discrepancies.
He however, explained that CAPPA, on behalf of the coalition, has begun conversations with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Finance, the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) for interagency collaboration to further strategise and collaborate with the ministries and industries stakeholders for future and further engagements.
Discussions on an overview of CAPPA’s strategies for advocacy and all opportunities to advance the campaign focused on the use of non-nutritive sweeteners to replace sugar in drinks by the industry.
A participant, Royal Ibeh commended CAPPA for its efforts so far, pointing out that due to industry fight backs, manufacturers of SSBs have started replacing their sugar contents with sweeteners, while public health practitioners, Dr. Francis Fagbule and Pharm. Barnabas Yahaya argued that sweeteners could not be the best alternatives, as they also affect our health when consumed in excess.
Insisting that the sweeteners now being used are labeled non-nutritive sweeteners, which have their downside, another member of the coalition, Dr. Adeniyi Ogini, acknowledged that reviewing the SSB tax from N10 to N20 per litre might be an uphill task but stressed that the focus should rather be on how the tax will be earmarked and used for the best interest of public health.
Ogini, who also pointed out industry tactics around SSBs as complimentary drinks in almost all fast foods and the need to advocate against the SSBs served as complimentary meals in restaurants, while charging for water, concluded by stating the importance of advocating sustainable free and safe alternatives like water in schools and public places.
On his part, Chibuike Nwokorie encouraged coalition members, especially Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and public health advocacy groups, not to be deterred from continuous advocacy and sensitisation, as the government of the day might not immediately view things from their perspectives.
“But consistency in advocacy through the provision of statistics and data will enable the governments to understand the need to sustain and even increase the tax to the recommended standard,” he stated.
Akinbode pointed out that the coalition plans engage advocacy to the point of national convergence, involving all coalition members from across the country, adding that efforts will be made toward inclusion of more government agencies in the coalition to ensure that advocacy is conducted in all sectors of the country’s economy.
While noting that advocacy to earmark SSB tax to health issues and even distribution in states with high rates of NCDs challenges, another member of the coalition, Mr. Austin, stating that the issue of how the tax is used might not be the major current area of focus.
He canvassed the need to bring major stakeholders on board, which according to him, will lead to a debate on fiscal policy, reformulation regarding the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) standards, the need for proper understanding of the tax, as well as the need to see it in the light of global dimension.
The coalition also revealed plans to embark on advocacy visits to the Ooni of Ife and the Ministry of Finance of which its members will be informed about the date for the visit and that it will encourage other members in Abuja to join.
“Participation in live events or interviews on digital space, where coalition members and volunteers will be guests to advocate, sensitise and enlighten people on the benefits of the SSB tax will also be explored, while information including dates will be communicated.
“The coalition will also engage in training programmes for journalists on reporting, framing and engaging conversations around SSB tax. To that extent, members at the state level should identify and communicate the key stakeholders to engage and share their SSB tax activities updates for more media engagement and advocacy activities,” it stated.