Sachet alcohol ban: In whose interest?

The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) recently banned alcoholic beverages in sachets and small-volume pet and glass bottles below 200ml. However, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and other Nigerians have kicked against the ban, PAUL OKAH reports.

On February 1, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) commenced implementation ban on alcoholic beverages in 100ml, 20ml, 30ml

sachets, small-volume PET and glass bottles below 200ml, amidst other stringent regulatory measures.

This followed the recommendation of the committee of the Federal Ministry of Health, NAFDAC and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) in December 2018, to reduce the availability and curb abuse of alcohol in the country.

However, controversy has trailed the ban, with many Nigerians expressing fears that it will exacerbate the unemployment situation and insecurity pervading the nation, while others have thumped up the federal government for taking the initiative.

Protests

Employees of Distillers and Blenders Association of Nigeria (DIBAN), Tuesday, staged a protest against ban on sachet alcoholic drinks at the office of NAFDAC in the Isolo Area of Lagos state.

The protest was the latest in the string of demonstrations since February 1, when NAFDAC started the enforcement of the ban on sachet alcoholic beverages and glass bottles of 200ml and below.

The members of the association, chanting ‘Adeyeye save our jobs’, were also seen with placards with many inscriptions such as ‘Let poor Nigerians breathe’, ‘Let beverage workers breathe’, amongst others.

On February 13, members of the Food, Beverage and Tobacco Senior Staff Association of Nigeria gave NAFDAC 14-day ultimatum to reverse its ban on sachet alcohol.

The association, an affiliate of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), issued the ultimatum during a protest at the NAFDAC headquarters in Abuja, with members of the association threatening to increase protests across the Agency’s offices nationwide if nothing was done to reverse the ban.

NAFDAC boss clarifies

In a statement on February 5, the Director-General of NAFDAC, Mojisola Adeyeye, said the ban was a collective recommendation of a committee and listed representatives in the committee as the Federal Ministry of Health, NAFDAC, and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

“It is also important to clarify that the implementation of the ban on alcohol in sachets and small-volume pet and glass bottles was not hasty. It is in line with the five-year phase-out plan of the affected presentations of alcoholic beverages, which started in January 2019 and ended on January 31, 2024.

“The five-year period granted to the industry stakeholders was a practical, reasonable, and sufficient time for full compliance with the phase-out of the production of alcoholic beverages in sachets and small-volume pet and glass bottles below 200ml,” she said.

MAN counters NAFDAC

The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, on February 9, countered claims by NAFDAC that the recent implementation of the ban on sachet alcoholic drinks was a collective decision.

Speaking at a press conference in Lagos, the Director-General of MAN, Segun Ajayi-Kadir, insisted that members of the Distillers and Blenders Association of Nigeria, a sub-sector under MAN, had repeatedly expressed reservations over the planned implementation of the ban.

According to the MAN DG, notwithstanding its earlier objections (to the immediacy of the ban), Distillers and Blenders Association of Nigeria participated in the preparation of a Memorandum of Understanding, which was then signed (with evident reservations) on December 18, 2018, between the Federal Ministry of Health, NAFDAC, Consumer Protection Commission (now Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission) and Association of Food, Beverages, and Tobacco Employers and DIBAN to address the concerns raised at the time.

The goal, he said, was to enlighten citizens on responsible consumption, by supporting the Federal Ministry of Health and NAFDAC to undertake the advocacy, messaging, training and education of the public, saying appropriate consideration was not given to the impact the ban would have on the manufacturers, the workers, the citizenry and the economy.

He claimed the ban, which sought to discourage irresponsible consumption of alcohol, would be counterproductive in the long run because bigger sizes encourage consumption of bigger portions, while small sizes encourage portion control.

He added that, rather than ban products within the stipulated category, NAFDAC should intensify its activities and support in the form of access control and tighter regulations.

He said, “This is what the ban is going to wreck for no justifiable reason. It must be explicitly stated that moderation and responsible drinking promote good health. Small is good, if you buy small, you will consume a small.

“If you buy big, you will consume big; this is not healthy. Bigger sizes encourage the consumption of bigger portions, while small sizes encourage portion control. If you take away small sizes, you are encouraging excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages.

“To go ahead with the policy based on perceived danger, without empirical information and not minding the consequences, unfair to the industry operators and the thousands of workers that will lose their jobs and inimical to the Nigerian economy.”

‘Ban will save Nigerians’

Speaking with Blueprint Weekend, a Driving Instructor at Dokun Driving School, Kubwa, Mr. Emmanuel Iyogha, said that the ban is good as drunk-driving is the cause of avoidable accidents.

He said: “I support the ban on alcohol in sachets. It has been a major disaster to road users. It is common to go to motor parks and see those selling concoction like agbo, monkey tail and other herbal mixtures containing high volume of alcohol. Of course, it’s the alcohol that many drivers take before leaving the park for whatever destination.

“In fact, many of them would claim they can’t see well on the road until they have taken one alcohol drink or the other, especially the sachet alcohol.

“Needless to say, the drunk drivers put the lives of other road users in danger. Having formed the habit of getting drunk while their vehicles are being loaded, they driving recklessly on the road often lead to avoidable road accidents.

“That’s why we always reach out students defensive driving. They have to stay at alert and monitor other road users because not everyone with car on the road is sane. Some are sent by the devil to deprive families of bread users and make women untimely widows because of sachet drinks they bought and drank irresponsibly.”

Speaking with our reporter, a businessman, Musa Yahaya, said that the ban on alcoholic drinks in sachets and pet bottles should not be the priority of the federal government as Nigerian are already going through economic hardships.

He said: “When I heard the news of ban on alcoholic drinks in pet bottles and sachet drinks, what came to my mind is that government over the years take delight in focusing on the wrong things. I mean, of what use is the ban on alcoholic drinks when people are dying of hunger?

“NAFDAC is presently raiding manufacturing companies nationwide, following the 31 January 2024 deadline given by the agency in 2018 to producers of alcoholic beverages to desist from producing alcohol in 100ml, 20ml, 30 ml and in sachets. We hope the situation doesn’t escalate beyond the protests by manufacturers and consumers.

“Government is expected to focus on whatever that will improve the economy and not what will deny the citizens joy. The level of poverty in the country would not allow people to afford drinks in big bottles. As a result, they buy sachet drinks of N100 and pet bottles of N200, instead of big bottles of N1,000 and above.”

‘Bans usually ineffective’

On his part, a civil servant, Mrs. Regina Nnaemeka, said the ban will not be effective as many people will still find a way to buy them because of monitoring issues.

She said: “It’s a good thing that the government placed a ban on the production and sale of alcoholic drinks in sachets and pet bottles.

“This will help to restore sanity in the society because almost everyone has taken to drinking irresponsibly, especially youths and even underage children.

“My worry is that the ban will not be effective because banned items always find their way into the market. There is virtually nothing that has been banned by the federal government that cannot be bought in the market today. Just go and see.

“When government banned Sniper pesticide because many people were using it to commit suicide, it didn’t stop its sale. You will see it on display of you walk into any market in Abuja.

“When government banned codeine and other cough syrups because people were using it to encourage drug abuse, it didn’t stop the use because you will still see it in many chemist stores and pharmacies if you try.

“My point is that government should step up its game with regards to implementation of policies and directives. If government really means business, with regards to banning items that are dangerous to health, they should follow the enforcement to the end. No room should be given for banned items to still be in circulation, otherwise people will no longer take the government seriously.”

Insecurity, unemployment issues

Also, speaking with our reporter, an Activist, Mr. Joseph Inyama, said that the ban will encourage insecurity occasioned by growing unemployment in Nigeria.

He said: “Banning alcoholic production in sachets and pet bottles should be the least of worries of the government. What should bother government is to curb the root causes of poverty and unemployment.

“In fact, factories producing the alcoholic drinks in sachets and pet bottles are employing thousands of Nigerians. So, what will you expect them to do when they’re relieved of their jobs? Isn’t it to add to the growing number of unemployed people? Isn’t unemployment the major cause of insecurity in Nigeria?

“I advise government not to leave substance to chase shadows. The ban may be considered needful in some quarters for one reason or the other, but the social factor and ripple effect should be the focus of government at this period of economic hardship.”

“Ban to save Nigerians from destruction’

On Tuesday, NAFDAC officials visited some of the factories where the alcoholic beverages were being produced in sachets, pets and glass bottles of 100ml and below in Osogbo, Ilesa and Ile-Ife.

Speaking during the enforcement operation, the Assistant Director of NAFDAC Investigation and Enforcement Directorate, Lagos, Dare Moses, said that the licences for the production of sachet alcoholic drinks of 100ml and below had expired since 31 January, saying the ban had become necessary due to the abuse of alcoholic drinks by Nigerians, especially the youth.

He said, due to its low quantity and affordability, many young Nigerians were in the habit of abusing it, which was affecting their mental health.

While urging Nigerians to desist from the excessive consumption of alcohol due to its adverse effect on the brain and human behavior, he said NAFDAC would not rest on its oars to mop up the sachet of alcoholic drinks of 100ml and below from the Nigerian market.

“This enforcement is a nationwide thing and that is why we are here in Osun to sensitise the companies producing this sachet alcoholic bitter. The deadline had been given for producers of alcoholic beverages to phase out 100ml and those in sachets and the rest so that we reduce the menace of abuse of alcohol by the youth and the general public.

“NAFDAC has stopped the registration for the manufacturing of alcoholic bitter drink that is below 200ml. This is due to the abuse of the drink by Nigerians. Due to its small size and affordability, even primary school pupils buy it to drink, and this is affecting their mental wellbeing.

 “Also, most drivers at motor parks buy this sachet alcoholic drink and consume it before embarking on their journey, thus putting the lives of passengers at risk. That is why we are here to tell the manufacturers to stop producing it.

“Once we are able to stop production from the source, people will not have access to it again,” he said.