By ‘Dotun Akintomide
An interview published by The New Diplomat last January has been referenced by New York Times in its latest report on tobacco: “In Poor Countries, Antismoking Activists Face Threats And Violence.”
The story highlighted the various life-threatening situations that activists pressing for tobacco control in some third world countries have had to endure, risking their lives to ensure Big Tobacco manufacturers do not have a free day penetrating markets with products they themselves have admitted cause damage to human health.
According to the report, Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, Deputy Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of The Earth Nigeria and Dr. Tara Singh Bam, Deputy Regional Director of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (a Nepalese) were mentioned among tobacco control advocates around the world who have witnessed near-death violence in the course of their advocacy works.
Mr. Oluwafemi, in an earlier interview he granted The New Diplomat, had explained the sundry wiles deployed by Big Tobacco to sustain cigarette’s production and sales, including the luring of minors into tobacco farming and smoking in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa.
The interview came on the heels of an investigation carried out by The New Diplomat last November, exposing how British American Tobacco unabatedly perpetuates child labour practices across Nigerian tobacco fields, despite decades of denials.
Speaking with New York Times, Oluwafemi recalled an incident that happened at his Lagos home some six years ago when armed men wielding AK-47s struck; killing a house guard and his brother-in-law before going away with his mini-van and some cash. On that ill-fated day, he was lucky not to have lost his life.
He said: “I do not know why I was not killed that day.”
According to him, no arrest was made in connection with the attack. Though, he could not ascertain where the attack came from, or whether it was linked to the tobacco industry, howbeit, he noted he had received several warnings from pro-tobacco front groups threatening him to backtrack on his tobacco control advocacy in Nigeria before and after the havoc was wreaked on his home.
After his near-death experience, he got request for soldiers to be posted to his home, but turned it down. He also turned down offers that would have moved him and family out of the country, to settle in the U.S. as requested by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as Bloomberg Philanthropies.
He said he never buckled, for he felt if he had left, he would have granted them their wish – to allow the unhindered expansion of tobacco products across the Nigerian market space.
“I felt it would mean they have won,” he said.