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Tobacco and Nigeria's N17Billion poison house in Ibadan

Recently, in the historic city of Ibadan (in Oyo State, southwest Nigeria), the state Governor, Alhaji Lam Adesina, decided that the best "gift" and governorship "achievement" he could possibly offer those who elected him into office are baskets of cigarette. Cigarettes have long been proven to be unhealthy and addictive , and it should be clear to him that he is giving his own people a dangerous, unwholesome package.   He is doing this in connivance with the ' righteous‚' retired Gen. Oluegun Obasanjo-led Federal government of Nigeria who having failed to attract any serious investments now welcome tobacco billionaires as signs of foreign "investors." A few months ago, Obasanjo's government granted permission to British American Tobacco (BAT), ' a leading cigarette manufacturing company‚' to invest a ' whopping $150 million (about 17 billion naira), in the construction of a tobacco factory on a 26-hectares green field site in Ibadan, close to the Eagle Floor Mill in (Ibadan) the Oyo State Capital.' I have no doubt that the verdict of most Nigerians is that Governor Lam Adesina should ask his tobacco friends to leave Nigeria immediately or be forced out by a mass action!  They are ruiners and killers.  We can do without their so-called employment opportunities for 1000 Nigerians, many of whom would sooner become sick and sickly, and even die because of their constant inhalation of poisonous tobacco fumes.  These people are no lovers of Nigeria and Nigerians.  They are here to cart away bags of money at the expense of our lives. They are unwelcome.  They are enemies.

By Ugochukwu D. Ejinkeonye

Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston, The Black Business Journal  

Without a doubt, among the numerous advertisements of products and services which jostle for spaces on our television screens, radio broadcasts, newspaper pages, billboards, and all other forms of mass information outlet, those of cigarettes seem, in my view, to have attained the scary distinction of being among the most alluring.  The pleasant pictures of vivacious achievers smiling home with glittering laurels just because they are hooked to a particular brand of cigarette which are beamed into our homes by the various television channels every other minute are very hard to resist.  The evidence of their pernicious impact could readily be seen in the alarming haste and awful rapidity at which many youths adopt with unparalleled glee these cigarette adverts stars as their most cherished heroes and models.

I was a victim too.  As a youth, the elegant, gallant, athletic rodeo man whose image marketed the 555 brand of cigarette was my best idea of a handsome, hard-working winner.  My friends and I admired him, carried his photographs about, and yearned to smoke 555 in order to grow up and become energetic and vivacious like him.  

One wonders how many youths that have been terminally impaired because they went beyond mere fantasies or obsession with their cigarette heroes and became chain-smokers and irredeemable addicts.  Managers of tobacco adverts are so adept in this grand art of monumental deception that their victims never suspect any harm until they have willingly placed their heads on the slaughter slab.
Plying the way of truth then will demand that we are all told the ultimate, gory destination of all smokers.  A very beautiful cigarette advert which at best could be regarded as a perfect equivalent of a very neat and attractively-turned out beckoning HIV-positive lady labours so hard to ensure that the intending victim never gets to suspect that he or she is being lured on to sit on a keg of gun powder or embrace a live cobra until he or she crosses the borderline.  

Indeed, only very few are able to look beyond the meretricious pictures and the pernicious pomp of cigarette promotional stunt and see the blood-curdling pictures of piecemeally ruined lungs and other sensitive organs, murky, chimney-like breath tracts and heart region, the looming merciless and spine-chilling fangs of an all devouring cancer, tuberculosis, sundry lung and heart diseases, and their associate unyielding killers.

Thank God for His mercies.  Nigeria's Ministry of Health has demonstrated reasonable sensitivity to the tobacco onslaught.  Accompanying each of the usually flamboyant cigarette adverts is a sobering warning: The Federal Ministry Of Health Warns That Cigarette Smokers Are Liable To Die Young.  Simply put, this statement implies a clear truth: if one offers you a cigarette, such a one is only informing you of his wish that your life be cut short.  He is just telling you: May You Die Young! 

The proposed factory in Ibadan, by its sheer size, composition and capacity should be ' the biggest and most modern‚' of its kind in Africa.  Since this deal pulled through, the tobacco merchants have been in a merry mood.  On his own part, Lam Adesina would certainly be thumping his chest right now that he has been able to catch a prominent investor without much sweat.  I won‚' t be surprised if he goes on air in the next few days to tell his people of the new ' democracy dividend‚' he has just delivered.

To underscore their merry mood, an enthusiastic, swaggering Mike Cowking, the project manager of the Tobacco outfit, recently, took reporters round the site of the factory in order to show them the land where they will mount the plant that will sooner begin to produce and mass-distribute neatly wrapped poison whose singular objective would be to despatch thousands of Nigerians to their early graves.  The new tobacco plant, he said gaily, is "expected to be ready to accept the installation of the first tobacco processing machinery in October 2002."

Now the question to ask is this: is this the democracy dividend that Lam Adesina at his age, and given his vociferous people-loving claims, would wish to unleash on hapless Nigerians at this time.  Millions of naira is spent by both Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo, the president, and the state governors, including Lam Adesina, to jog around the globe ' pursuing‚' investors purportedly for the betterment of Nigerians.  Is a tobacco company, which possesses the ominous potential of initiating a gradual decimation of the Nigerian population, and robbing smiles off the faces of the citizenry what this country needs now?  Who are the people behind this funny name of British American Tobacco (BAT), and why did they think that Nigeria is the most appropriate place to site their lethal project?

The company promises to provide employment for about 1, 000 Nigerians; and so what?  How many will they kill in the process?  How many of the same Nigerians will they with their poisonous smoke confine to hospital beds?  How many orphans, widows, and widowers will they produce in a very short time?  Because, as far as I am concerned, based on the assertion of the Federal Ministry of Health, every cigarette company has a sole objective: to produce a commodity that makes people die young? 

Ibadan is not new to tobacco projects and scandals.  There was a company called Nigeria Tobacco Company (NTC) in Ibadan.  It became so prominent that it got some emblems to its name: today we still have NTC Road (about the most popular street in Ibadan), NTC Play Ground, etc.  But like all things evil and insidious, the choking power of the ill wish of men of decent will killed the company and its evil business.  In shame, they crept away from Ibadan.  I do not know whether the company‚' s vestiges in Kaduna could still be found or has that also   met with a much-deserved death?  Its premises in Ibadan were auctioned off and the Oyo State government bought everything off.  Its Play-Ground has equally been bought off by Churches and instead of the place again being a ground for the manufacture of the agents of death, the gospel of life now issues forth from there.

Now with this grand entry of British American Tobacco, is Gov. Lam Adesina giving a hint that he may soon revitalize the NTC plant and re-commence production of cigarettes?  Oyo State people have a right to stand up to their Governor and demand to know why he has admitted these unrepentant merchants of death into Ibadan.  The potential victim of their unhealthy menu might be   your son, your daughter, your father, your uncle or your nephew or niece.  Once the poison of this tobacco house is allowed to be unleashed, there could be no limits as to its cancerous impact.  Imagine your loved one pinning away on his or her sick bed just because, with his or her money, he or she had patronized a tobacco outfit. 

The other time, there were reports in some foreign media about how tobacco companies, being confronted with a growing hostile environment at home because of the high costs in human life they have continued to incur for their countries have chosen to seek a fresh haven in Africa.  Nigeria was specifically singled out as a prized target.  They would invade here with tantalizing promotional blitz and entrap everyone that strays onto their blood-stained path.  Of course the validity of the report was sufficiently vindicated when cigarette companies began to exhibit the dubious generosity of sponsoring sporting events, like the English Premier League, on television.  

Then Benson and Hedges began their Golden Tones, targeted at ' discovering young musicians‚' from Nigeria.  As if there are no young musicians to be discovered in Britain and America?  When a ban was clamped on tobacco companies engaging in such ruinous ventures, uninformed commentators began to complain that the only people that were kind enough to dissipate their energies and resources ' discovering‚' and ' promoting‚' our budding artists were being prevented from doing so, thereby stagnating the growth of the industry.  Well, any industry whose growth depends on the conversion of most Nigerians to cigarette-addicts should better die quickly, and never resurrect.  We are better off without it.  These naive cheer-leaders of the insidious trade conveniently forget that at such shows, cigarettes are freely distributed and many unwary youths and even adults are lured on and initiated into the cult of smokers.  Many have died from the aftermath of such encounters.  Should we swallow a bait and have a lethal hook thrust in our throats just because the bait looked so appealingly delicious?
I urge Nigerians to institute a series of lawsuits against Governor Adesina and the tobacco men.  The company they are setting up constitutes a flagrant breach of our right to an unendangered life and existence.  We should take a cue from what is happening in Western countries where families whose loved ones were killed by tobacco-caused illnesses have taken the devilish companies to court.  Many of them have been made to pay millions of dollars as out of court compensations to the petitioners.  And the courts are also awarding sentences against these companies. It is also true that many of the directors of these companies have had to admit in the open, or while in court or at other fora of public inquiry that they are sufficiently aware that their products are very harmful and could shorten people‚' s lives. Note that it is a fact that many tobacco company workers abhor their products: yes, they do not smoke.
The view that people are merely exercising their free will when they choose to smoke does not hold water. Many people do not know what is good for them and so, sometimes, manifest the predilection to give free rein to the Id which suppresses the higher moderating influences of the Ego in them, according to the psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud.  That is why the organized society as the Super Ego comes in to beat such derailing people back into line and save them from themselves.  If this were not so, then, suicide should have been allowed as a perfect expression of one's free will.  If someone kept his bayonet in your custody and then comes to take it back after he has been medically confirmed to be insane, would you respect his free will to use what belongs to him and surrender the bayonet to him?  What are we really saying?  What is the point of convergence or departure between the unhindered exercise of one‚' s freedom and society‚' s redeeming and/or moderating influence in the event of undiscerned danger looming over the individual?
It is clear that tobacco is becoming more and more unpopular by the day.  Whatever taxes and duties they pay to the government is akin to a man paying you to rape your daughter.  We can do without those monies.  Let them just go. Ditto for all other tobacco companies. They are unwanted, loathsome and unwelcome. What they manufacture has no single benefit, no redeeming feature.  All it does is to kill and ruin.

Gov. Adesina should know that if he continues to insist on their stay in Ibadan to carry out their evil trade, he is only telling us that the interest of the people is no longer his priority.  And the people should give him only one reply: vote him out in 2003 election.  I even think that 2003 is still too far.  All non-smokers in Oyo State House of Assembly should team up and initiate an impeachment bill immediately and vote him out.  He can then go and become the Executive Governor of British America Tobacco, wherever they will relocate when the new Governor chases them out.  
Ejinkeonye is a Lagos-based writer, and he will wrote on social and public issues for We welcome responses to this commentary to For more information on the dangers and destruction caused by tobacco log on to TOBACCOFREE

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