The decision of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to ban the manufacturing of alcoholic beverages in sachets and bottles less that 200ml has sent the shivers down the spines of operators in that sub-sector, writes Dike Onwuamaeze
The cloud has been on the horizon since 2018 before it busted on February 5, 2024. On that day, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), announced during a press conference that it has taken the bold step of “banning the importation, manufacture, distribution, sale and use of alcoholic beverages in sachets, PET and Glass bottles of 200ml and below” ostensibly “to save our children and to protect the health of the larger society.”
The implication of the ban, according to the Director General of NAFDAC, Professor Mojisola Adeyeye, is that “as at January 31, 2024, there is no alcoholic beverage in these categories that are registered by NAFDAC.”
Adeyeye added: “I also want to inform you that the agency has started enforcement actions to enforce the implementation of this policy (ban). The window period given to manufacturers by NAFDAC to sell off all alcoholic drinks in this category elapsed on the January 31, 2024.
“To this end on the first day, after the elapse of the window period, the agency commenced nationwide enforcement actions on February 1, 2024, to enforce the implementation of the new policy. The manufacturers and printers of labels and packaging materials were the initial targets.”
She, however, observed that some manufacturers were still in production of these banned products and still had stacks of both finished products and packaging materials of the products in their possession.
“This situation is of course not acceptable and the agency views this as flagrant disobedience to the laws of Nigeria. NAFDAC views this matter seriously and will engage all statutory means, which may include prosecution, to deal with the matter.”
NAFDAC Maintain Stance
She, therefore, asked “all holders of alcohol in sachets, PET and glass bottles, empty sachets, PET bottles, empty glass bottles, and other packaging materials of these banned products to immediately report to the Investigation and Enforcement Directorate of NAFDAC for hand-over of same to NAFDAC for destruction, to prevent sterner measures including prosecution.
“NAFDAC is resolutely committed to the strict implementation of the regulations and regulatory measures towards safeguarding the health of Nigerians, particularly the vulnerable youth, against the dangers of reckless consumption of alcohol.”
The NAFDAC also gave a brief background of some of the activities that preceded the ban. In January 2022 NAFDAC stopped the registration of alcoholic beverages in sachet and small volume PET and glass bottles below 200ml.
The ban, according to NAFDAC, was based on the recommendation of a high powered committee of the Federal Ministry of Health and NAFDAC on one hand, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), and the industry represented by the Association of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Employers (AFBTE), Distillers and Blenders Association of Nigeria (DIBAN), in December 2018.
NAFDAC explained that as commitment to the decision reached at the end of this committee meeting, producers of alcohol in sachets and small volume agreed to reduce the production by 5.0 per cent with effect from January 31, 2022 while ensuring the product is completely phased out in the country by January 31, 2024.
On its part, NAFDAC committed to ensure that the validity of renewal of already registered alcoholic products in the affected category does not exceed the year 2024.
NAFDAC further claimed that the people who are mostly at risk of the negative effect of consumption of the banned pack sizes of alcoholic beverages are the under-aged and commercial vehicle drivers and riders.
Manufacturers Decry Ban
However, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), has expressed concern about the recent ban imposed on spirit drinks in sachets and PET bottles less than 200ml by the NAFDAC. As far as MAN is concerned, the ban no justifiable reason and would wreck billions of Naira investments in the sub-sector and throw more than 500,000 workers out.
Commenting on the ban, the Director General of MAN, Mr. Segun Ajayi-Kadir, stated that the assertion that the segmentation or packaging of alcoholic beverages in sachets and PET bottles is responsible for the reported increase of alcohol use among the underage is unfounded.
He argued that attributing the alleged increase in the use of hard drugs to the production and sales of alcoholic drinks in sachets and small PET bottles is incorrect and lacked any scientific proof.
He averred that this ban would certainly lead to increase in black market activities, bootlegging, influx and proliferation of fake and adulterated products.
It would also damage local manufacturing and negatively affect the economy, as well as the social wellbeing of the people of Nigeria.
The MAN said that notwithstanding its earlier objections to the ban, the Distillers and Blenders Association of Nigeria (DIBAN) participated in the preparation of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which was then signed (with evident reservations) on December 18, 2018 between the Federal Ministry of Health, NAFDAC, FCCPC and Association of Food, Beverages, and Tobacco Employers (AFBTE) and DIBAN to address the concerns raised at the time.
Moreover, DIBAN has spent over N1 billion as at December 2023 on various enlightenment campaigns The goal was to enlighten citizen on responsible consumption by supporting the Federal Ministry of Health and NAFDAC to undertake the advocacy, messaging, training and education of the public.
Proving NAFDAC Wrong
MAN further argued that Research Data Solution Limited that was engaged by NAFDAC submitted a report on August 20, 2021, which showed that only 3.9 per cent of underage were engaged in binge drinking. It recommended access control by the regulator rather than outright ban. “This, therefore, confirms the fact that involvement of underage in alcoholic consumption is low and could, with additional efforts, be eradicated,” MAN said.
In 2021, a ministerial committee set up a technical sub-committee made up of experts from the Ministry of Health and other relevant government agencies identified gaps in the MOU. Some of the key issues identified by the sub-committee included among others that bans are generally ineffective regulation. It advocated for stronger collaboration between government agencies for better regulations.
The above, including a request to generate evidence were presented in a strategic plan to the immediate past Honourable Minister of Health, who then suspended the proposed ban pending the final report of the study by Cochrane Nigeria.
Yet, NAFDAC was fixated on banning the products in sachet and PET bottle 200ml packaging.
Ajayi-Kadir noted that the “key challenges we have had in implementing strategies to eliminate underage drinking in the country is the apparent preoccupation of NAFDAC to ban the production of drinks in sachets and PET bottles by 2024.
“This is at variance with the right of private entrepreneurs to invest and engage in legitimate business. Besides, the proposed policy would amount to a deliberate destruction of the business of local and indigenous investors who through thick and thin have kept faith with the Nigerian economy.”
MAN hinged its argument for continuation of producing spirit drink in sachet 200ml PET bottle on the logic that smaller packaging is the surest way to ensure responsible and healthy consumption. It said: “Small is good, if you buy small you will consume small. If you buy big you will consume big, this is not healthy. Bigger sizes encourage consumption of bigger portions, while small sizes encourage portion control.”
It urged the federal government to reverse the ban immediately and replace it with regulations and access control.
NECA Joins Crusade
Joining the clamour to lift the ban, the Director General of Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Mr. Adewale-Smatt Oyerinde said, “the unintended consequences of the ban on the production of alcoholic drinks in sachets and small-sized bottles by the NAFDAC) is equal to economic sabotage and an attempt to further drag businesses in the sector into economic abyss.”
Oyerinde reiterated NECA’s position that while it is important to control the abuse of alcoholic drinks in the country, it is of greater importance to ensure business sustainability, employment creation and poverty reduction among households.
Oyerinde, therefore, called for a review of the ban, pointing out that the era of sachet economy for commodities such as detergents, cocoa beverages, powdered milk, sachet drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) etc., came to be as a result of the declining purchasing power of the citizen in meeting basic needs.
“Therefore, alcoholic beverages in sachets, pet and glass bottles of 200ml are not targeted at underage children and commercial bus drivers, but a product of failing purchasing power of Nigerians,” he said.
Last Friday, the members of DIBAN added a new dimension to the entire episode durin a press conference that was convened by MAN.
Multinational brewers’ Influence
During the conference, members of DIBAN alleged that multinational brewers of beer products in Nigeria are pressuring NAFDAC to clear out their products, which are currently dominating sales in the alcoholic market segment.
The Executive Secretary of DIBAN, Mr. John Ichue, stated that there are two players in the Nigerian alcoholic market, which are the beer group and the spirit and wine group.
Ichue alleged that the beer group has not been doing well in terms of market share and is even recording losses in their financials in the past five years.
He said: “The undertone here is that they are directly responsible for what is going on (this ban). The idea is to get us out of business (so that they will) take over our businesses. That is the agenda of the beer group. I want the press to realise that this is the direction they are going (sic).”
He claimed that the multinationals had tried this strategy in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania but failed in all these countries.
“What is happening is that there is a group out there that is putting pressure on the director general of NAFDAC just to sustain their business. And that is what is playing out.
“We should know that most players in our sub-sector are indigenous players. The multinationals want to take our business. And that is the strategy. But by the grace of God that will not happen,” Ichue said.
He pointed out that it is wrong for the NAFDAC to rely on mere MOU the sub-sector allegedly signed under duress in 2018 to justify its ban on their products because an MOU is not a policy.
“The government is currently working on National Alcohol Policy (NAP). The sub-committee of this policy will start their work (this week). And we have asked the NAFDAC to please stay action until the NAP is put in place.
“The ministerial committee that is made up of 24 MDAs has also asked NAFDAC to stay action on the ban. Only NAFDAC out of the 24 members of the committee is pushing for a ban. That tells that there is more to it than meets the eye,” Ichue said.
Speaking in the same vein, the Chief Executive Officer of Stellar Beverages Limited, Mr. Ghandi Anandan, warned that any restriction NAFDAC would place on the consumption of a product, which at the same time took away the means of consuming that product in moderation, would be unproductive.
Anandan said: “NAFDAC is pursuing moderation through availability of bigger sizes that will ensure consumption of larger quantities. This logic, in practicality, does not work.
“Alcohol, like any other food and beverage, has to be taken in moderation. Small is good. Smaller sizes ensure responsible drinking. On the other side big sizes actually encourage excessive consumption.”
He claimed that 600ml of beer has 30 ml of pure alcohol against 12ml of pure alcohol contained in 30ml of sachet spirit beverage.
“So, if you want to ban sachets, why do you not ban beer also? We are all NAFDAC registered products that have been on sale for years. Why do you want to stop us now? Does it have anything to do with the beer industry losing sales? We all need to be allowed to operate freely and fairly with the sole objective of ensuring the health of our consumers,” Anandan said.
The Chairman of DIBAN, Mr. Patrick Anegbe, told journalists that the association is on the same page with the NAFDAC on the issue of checkmating underage access to alcohol is concerned.
Anegbe, who is also the chief executive officer Intercontinental Distillers, said: “The only difference between us and NAFDAC is the strategy that NAFDAC is trying to employ. It believes in outright ban, which we have said no to.”
The Chief Executive Officer of Grand Oak Industries, Mr. Wale Majaolagbe, said that the introduction of sachet alcohol beverage by reputable companies has eliminated the occurrence sudden deaths during parties due to the consumption of illicit beverages, adding that NAFDAC is not working in line with Tinubu’s Renewed Hope agenda.