Fijabi Adebo, the businessman at the center of the NBC- Fanta, Sprite controversy speaks

Fijabi Adebo and his firm Fijabi Adebo Holdings Limited has become synonymous with the ongoing dispute between the Nigerian Bottling Company (“NBC”), the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (“NAFDAC”), a Lagos High Court and the Federal Ministry of Health. Mr. Adebo recently spoke on his travails and events that led up to the recent court judgement.

The CEO of Fijabi Adebo Holdings, who also resides in the United Kingdom, said it all began in 2007 when he purchased 2 x 40’ containers of NBC’s products to be exported to the UK for sale in his stores in Manchester, England.

However, on a tip-off from the Coca-Cola European Union Group to the UK Customs and Excise that someone had brought in fake Coca-Cola soft drinks from Nigeria into the UK, the authorities there on completing tests on the soft drinks seized the containers and destroyed most of the products. They claimed the drinks were unsafe for human consumption.

Mr. Adebo said that contrary to NBC’s statement that they were unaware the goods were being exported, he said that the containers were loaded directly on NBC’s facilities and in the presence of Nigerian Customs officials who sealed the containers. He added that shipments meant for domestic use typically are not shipped in ocean containers.

He said that after the embarrassment, humiliation and loss of about N22m in the transaction, he had to question the supervisory role of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control in safeguarding public health as an agency of the government.

The CEO said that his initial action was to stop the production of Fanta with sunset yellow by NBC because, according to the UK authorities, it could cause injury to children and others. In a court ruling he filed in 2009, Justice Taiwo ordered NAFDAC to instruct NBC to reduce the level of sunset yellow in Fanta, which NBC dutifully obliged. Before then, it was common to see children with yellow tongues after consuming Fanta. Adebo said that NBC agreed to the 2009 court judgement because they knew the ingredient was injurious to human health.

After his initial success in court, Adebo went back and got another judgement against NAFDAC for negligence and compelling the agency to carry out its regulatory mandates and stop allowing companies ignore the country’s laws.

After the second judgement, he then turned his sights on the Coca-Cola Company to seek compensation for his loss. However, Coca-Cola was not interested in compensating the firm.

Mr. Adebo said that he faults the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole for stating that the level of benzoic acid in Fanta and Sprite are in compliance with both the CODEX and Nigerian Industrial Standards and thus safe for consumption. He added that the minister who is a medical doctor by profession is not knowledgeable enough to make such statements.

He explained that CODEX, a Food Trade-Standards Organization, part of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which was formed in 1945 is merely a voluntary organization where member countries are not mandated to be part of. He said that Nigeria does not have a representative to CODEX because they are not required to.

Adebo said that the UK, European Union and the US, from whom NAFDAC took its ideals are members of CODEX but have changed their food codes over 20 times since 1958 when they first joined the organization.

The CEO of Fijabi Adebo Holdings said that Sunset yellow is banned in Europe and the UK. “It is a dye which if put in a drink and one takes Vitamin C ignorantly with it, can cause a chemical explosion in one’s body,” he added.

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