Consumer Advocacy Group Mulls Class-Action Lawsuit against NBC following Court ruling

Following a judgement on Monday by a Lagos High Court sitting in Igbosere against the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), some consumer advocacy groups in the country are considering bringing a class-action lawsuit against the Nigerian Bottling Company Limited (“NBC”) if it was determined that a violation has been committed against consumers of its beverage products – Fanta and Sprite.

A Class-Action lawsuit is a situation where a group of individuals with same or similar injuries caused by the same product or action bring a lawsuit against the maker of the product as a group.

The High court in Igbosere, on Monday ordered NAFDAC to compel the Nigerian Bottling Company Limited (“NBC”), producers of Fanta and Sprite soft drinks to include health warnings on its label which says that the drinks cannot be taken with Vitamin C.

The ruling follows a case brought before the court by a Lagos businessman, Dr. Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo of Fijabi Adebo Holdings Ltd against NBC and NAFDAC. Mr. Adebo sought N15m compensatory damages for soft drinks which it purchased in large quantities to be exported to the United Kingdom. The UK regulatory authorities found high quantities of ascorbic acid in the Fanta and Sprite brands, which they alleged were poisonous when consumed with Vitamin C. The High Court in Lagos ruled in favour of the claimant, awarding him N2m. The court put the blame on NAFDAC for its negligence in carrying out its regulatory functions.

The President and Founder, Consumer Advocacy Foundation, Ms. Sola Salako disclosed this on Wednesday to the media.

However, she noted that the first line of action would be to reach out to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and establish how it came up with the level of benzoic and ascorbic acids that bottlers of soft drinks can use in making the products in Nigeria, and why the global standard is different from what is being used in Nigeria.

“First, we have to ascertain from NAFDAC how they arrived at a different standard limit of benzoic acid for soft drinks meant for consumption in Nigeria. What is the condition of the laboratories that the tests were carried out to determine this standard? In the last 10 years, how many studies have been carried out to determine the changes in the lifestyle of consumers?

“The standard limit of benzoic acid in the United Kingdom is 150mg per kilogramme, while the standard level for Nigeria is 250mg/kg. That is too high!”

She suggested that it may be possible that the level of consumption of the said soft drinks in the country wasn’t as high as it is today when the standards were first implemented. She concluded that there might be a need to review the standard.

Salako criticized NBC for absolving itself of any responsibility because NAFDAC, the regulatory agency approved the standard.

“They should be concerned about the health of their consumers. I would have expected them to say that in the light of the current concerns, they would consider reducing the level of the acids, because there have been a lot of health concerns with the consumption of soft drinks and sugar these days,” she stated.

Another Consumer Advocacy group, Consumer Awareness Organisation, who’s President, Dr. Felicia Monye, said that although the country has laws empowering groups who have been injured by a product or service sold by a company, the attitude of consumers to bring such suits had not been encouraging to consumer advocacy groups.

“Consumers and citizens generally do not opt for that for reasons best known to them. You will see that if 50 people agree to come together, after one or two meetings, the number will just reduce.

“This lukewarm attitude of consumers is responsible for the problem of consumer protection in Nigeria. They may believe that they have a right, but when it comes to the enforcement of that right, they will not show interest,” she said.

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