Always Dead on Arrival

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Chukwu

Nigerian governments have the knack to make good laws but find it very difficult to enforce them

|  By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Jun. 2, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

TO many Nigerians, certain laws made by the government can be likened to the boasts of a village coward.  This is because the government, after spending so much time and money to propose and make certain laws,  baulks  like the village coward, who  takes to his heels when it is time to fight. In other words, government falters when it comes to implementation.

As of today, there are hundreds of laws that held so much promise when they were proposed and approved by the National Assembly. Like the ones before them, implementation appears to be the only problem. There is, for instance, an existing rent law which stipulates that land lords cannot charge more than a year’s rent from their tenants. But across various parts of the country, many landlords still insist that tenants pay at least two years’ rent before packing into their property.

This consistent failure to implement existing laws is, perhaps, one of the reasons why many Nigerians doubt the sincerity of the government every time a new law is proposed. About a year ago, the federal government proposed an anti-smoking law. At that time, Onyebuchi Chukwu, minister of health, said the proposal was aimed at banning smoking in public places. To show the federal government was serious to ensure that the proposal became law, Chukwu said those who did not like the idea should consider relocating from the country.

“One of the best ways of tackling health issues, especially as they relate to health, is prevention, and one of the steps is by curtailing smoking. There is a strong law on smoking that is coming. If you do not like it, leave Nigeria”, he said. In 2014, the government renewed its commitment to ensure that the proposal saw the light of the day. On Wednesday, May 14, 2014, the federal executive council approved a draft Tobacco Control Bill 2014, which prescribes a fine and a jail term for smokers in non-designated public places.

Smokers
Smokers

Generally, the draft bill, which is expected to be sent to the National Assembly for passage into law, is aimed at regulating the consumption of tobacco in designated public places. In the proposed law, offenders, either individuals or corporate bodies, who violate its provisions, would be liable, on conviction, to fines or prison sentences or both. For instance, individuals who run foul of the law by smoking in places not designated as non-smoking areas would be liable to a fine of N50,000 or six months in prison upon conviction, or both. Companies who fail to enforce the provisions of the Act , will be liable to a fine of  N5 million or imprisonment of its chief executive for a period ranging from one to two years, if found guilty.

Revealing more details on the Bill after the federal executive council meeting, Chukwu said the proposed law was to protect Nigerians from any form of environmental pollution arising from smoking. According to him, “the bill also proposes to ban every form of sponsorship by any tobacco company of any public event. When government is doing anything, they cannot sponsor, whether in sports or seminars. We will not accept gifts from them. If a tobacco company wants to build school, we will reject. But we will accept it when they have stopped producing and selling cigarettes.

“We want to produce 100 per cent tobacco-free environment for people who do not want to have anything to do with tobacco use. The responsibility, say for instance a hotel, rests on the owners of the hotel to clearly indicate the areas that are non-smoking so that if you ever decide to go to a place that has been clearly designated non-smoking area, you will be liable and then the law will take its course.”

Another feature of the bill is total ban of advertisement of cigarette in any media in the country, whether in the print, electronic or outdoor. Chukwu expressed concern that  adult tobacco survey conducted in 2012 showed that 10 per cent of the men smoke, meaning that one out of every 10 Nigerian adult male smokes.

The minister added that the global youth tobacco survey carried out in the country in 2008 clearly showed that 15 per cent of the children between 13 years and 15 years were smokers and 55 per cent of the children were passive smokers. Noble as the government’s efforts appear, the worry of many Nigerians is whether the law will be effectively implemented. Nigerians are worried that like previous laws, the likelihood of bringing offenders to book may be just on paper.

Richard Nweke, a civil servant in Abuja, said: “It is not about making laws, it is about implementation. If all the laws in Nigeria were properly implemented, Nigeria would certainly be one of the best countries to live in the world today.” This is not the first attempt by Nigeria to control the use of tobacco in the country. In 1990, a decree was enacted to place some control on the sale and use of tobacco products. In 2001, the decree was repealed and re-enacted to become the National Tobacco Control Act of 2001.

In 2004, Nigeria along with other nations, signed the 2004 World Health Organisation framework convention on tobacco control. The need to bring Nigeria’s laws in conformity with the WHO framework led to the enactment of another amendment of the existing Act. But to ensure that this does not just become another law, Chukwu explained that: “There would be a fund, to be known as the tobacco control fund, which would be established under the provision of the Bill to provide adequate financial buffer for effective enforcement of the Bill when passed into law. The proposed fund will be funded from contributions by federal and state governments and individuals.”

Moreover, he said, in order to ensure that this latest effort is effective, the government would set up a national committee that would be monitoring developments and ensuring that the fund is well managed. Despite the fact that it is still a proposal, the anti-smoking draft law is already generating mixed reactions. Some business operators are of the view that jailing smokers to enforce the law would certainly “kill” their business.

James Ndotinyen, a bar manager in Abuja, said his business would shut down if smokers are not allowed. “They are our customers; we cannot send them away because we need them. If the government wants to ban smoking, then it should provide smoking zones like we have in developed countries.”

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