25 October 2017

Nigeria: Soft Drink Probe - Reps Vow to Continue

The Leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila has reiterated that the National Assembly is constitutionally empowered to conduct an investigation on a matter involving privately run companies.

This is even as he warned that any attempt to scuttle investigation of any committee of the National Assembly will be met with full wrath of the law.

Gbajabiamila stated this yesterday while reacting to a communication from the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA)'s lawyer, Tunji Abayomi advising its members to shun the ongoing hearing of the ad hoc committee investigating the Production and Distribution of Drinks Manufactured by the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) PLC and other drinks marketed in Nigeria, insisting that the appearance before the committee will be subjudice since since the case is in court.

He noted that it is equally erroneous to assume that the National Assembly will halt a probe because a party involved had taken the matter to court and called on invited stakeholders to make submissions as recommendations from the committee will be used in making laws to regulate the sector.

"Some of these companies we sumoned are even quoted on the floor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, yet, they turn around to say the National Assembly does not have jurisdiction over them. Are you a law unto yourselves simply because you are private?

"They've argued that the case is in court, that NECA has filled a case in court against the National Assembly summoning private individuals and companies. To their estimation and that of their lawyer, once a case in in court, it puts paid to any action of the National Assembly, he said.

He continued :"They have quoted the House rules that once a matter is in court it will be prejudice to discuss but that'snot what the rule says, it says, "if a matter is in court, and in the of the House or the speaker, investigation will jeopardize the course of justice then, it can be discontinued but this is not the case.

"Any attempt to scuttle this investigation will be met with the full wrath of the law. Let me sound a note of warning that this committee will go ahead with its work and come up a resolution which will be binding on both public and private companies. So, the lawyer will be doing you a disservice if you don't come to present your own side of the story", Gbajabiamila warned.

The chairman urged the organisations to recognise the fact that the welfare and security of Nigerians also form part of the responsibilities of the National Assembly.

"I went into this long explanation because there has to be mutual respect for constituted authority. And if we are trying to conduct an investigation, that touches the lives of the people we represent, any attempt to scuttle it will be met with the full weight of the law", he said.

Abayomi in the letter, stated: "on the request to appear before the committee, we advis members to stay off and not honor the invitation in view of our ongoing court case against the speaker and the house, which is presently at the Supreme Court. The House is very well aware of this.

"Furthermore, we have instructed our lawyer handling the aforementioned case against the house to write the legislators to explain why the invitation will not be honored.

"Any further pressure or initiate by the legislators to compel appearance should be referred to the NECA secretariat".

Regardless of the letter, four of NECA members honored the committee's invitation by submitting memoranda and appeared before the committee. They are: Chi Limited, Nigeria Bottling Company, Seven Up Bottling Company and Lacasera.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology, (NIFST) blamed the failure of an exporter to comply with regulations, as set by United Kingdom (U.K) government, on the quantity of ingredients used in carbonate drinks for the rejection of some locally produced products.

NIFST representative, Jude Mordi, said "would somebody buy products and then bring them to Nigeria without taking into cognisance the need to comply with our regulations? Doing such doesn't make you business wise and you would be going against the law.

"So, why would a Nigerian buy goods from here and send them to the U.K without taking note of what the law says there. Well, he doesn't understand the laws that regulate exportation of food products and he doesn't care to know... because there is no law that regulates the practice of food science and technology in the country".

Mordi, therefore appealed to the committee to impress on the National Assembly, the need to support the passage of a bill to regulate food science and technology practice in the country.

It would be recalled that a Lagos High Court in the ordered NAFDAC to order the NBC Plc to include a written warning on its products stating that the consumption of its soft drinks along with Vitamin C is poisonous.

The judgment was the outcome of a suit filed by a Lagos-based businessman, Dr. Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo, and his company, Fijabi Adebo Holdings Limited, against NBC Plc and NAFDAC.

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