No fewer than six major wholesalers of flavoured cigarettes in Aba, Abia State were arrested, following a raid by a combined team from the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the Department of State Security, the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the Nigeria Police and the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS).
The operatives stormed the Aba wholesale market and raided outlets of notorious dealers in flavoured cigarettes during an operation that lasted about five hours and seized the illicit wares.
According to an eyewitness, it took about 20 men to evacuate large consignments of the prohibited goods. The tobacco contrabands recovered from the cigarette dealers include ORIS and MOND flavoured cigarettes brands.
Among the culprits arrested are Augustine Aganudo, Chief Lawrence Anyanwu, Chief Judge C. Iwawu, High Chief Innocent and IwuIkenna Agbo, all wholesalers in the Cemetery market in Aba.
According to an NDLEA operative, who pleaded anonymity, “Three previous attempts by the operatives to rid the market of tobacco contrabands were rebuffed by criminal elements as they were always tipped off ahead of our raid.
On one occasion, our men had to repel armed resistance by some of the dealers, who exchanged gunfire with them,” adding that “the raid and arrests would serve as a deterrent to dealers in illicit tobacco” as he expressed confidence in the commitment shown by the market association to comply with regulation by selling only standard goods in the market.
He commended the Abia State Commissioner of Police, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) Area command, Aba and the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) for their effective collaboration in the enforcement.
It was learnt that the importer of the products is a famous merchant, who is believed to wield considerable influence in the market and had intervened in the past to avert similar raids being carried out in the market.
However, this time around, all attempts by the dealers to get the importer to mediate for them proved abortive as the operatives were committed to accomplishing their task.
Some of the traders, who witnessed the raid, decried the rising volume of illicit tobacco and other illegal products in the market and urged government to give greater support to security agencies in the fight against illicit trade.
It will be recalled that the SON had earlier in the year conducted raids in some major markets in Lagos where scores of illicit tobacco traders were arrested. Also, SON, in a widely publicized advertorial, last year, sensitized the general public about the distribution and marketing of non-compliant brands of flavoured cigarettes, including variants of the Oris cigarette brand.
Also these flavoured products, which come in flavours such as Strawberry, Apple, Banana and Chocolate, are manufactured with the sole intention of attracting children to start smoking before they reach adulthood.
The products, which evade taxes, are in clear violation of the Tobacco Control Act, and the Nigeria Cigarette Standards of the SON, both of which prohibit the sale of such products in the Nigerian market.