The House of Representatives and the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) on Wednesday disagreed over the powers of the National Assembly to conduct probes into the activities of private companies operating in the country.
NECA position is that the legislative duty of the National Assembly under sections 88/89 of the 1999 constitution to expose corruption, did not include private firms.
The association also argues that since there is a pending court matter challenging the powers of the National Assembly awaiting determination by the Supreme Court, it was only appropriate to wait for the outcome.
An ad hoc committee of the House is investigating the safety of soft drinks and other carbonated beverages consumed in the country.
The committee, which is chaired by the Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, is specifically investigating alleged high content of Benzoic Acid and Sunset Yellow in the drinks.
Benzoic Acid and Sunset Yellow, when taken in combination with Ascorbic Acid, better known as Vitamin C, are said to have detrimental health implications like causing cancer.
Nigeria has a standard of 250milligrammes per kilogramme of Benzoic Acid and Sunset Yellow in drinks, whereas the United Kingdom and many European countries have a lower standard of 150ml per kg in order to control their harmful effects.
NECA, writing through its lawyer, Tunji Abayomi, told the Gbajabiamila committee that its members would not submit themselves for the investigation on the grounds of the pending litigation.
Fifteen major manufacturers summoned by the committee were listed on the letter Abayomi sent to the lawmakers.
Amongst them were Nigerian Bottling Company, producers of Coca-Cola; Seven-Up Bottling Company; Cadbury Nigeria Plc, Guinness Nigeria Plc; Nigerian Breweries Plc; Nestlé Nigeria Plc; and Sona Breweries Plc.
The list also included Nigerian Distilleries Limited; International Breweries Plc; Glaxosmithkline Consumer Nigeria Limited, and Chi Limited.
NECA also provided advice to its members to stay away from the proceedings in another letter. It said, “We advise members to stay off and not to honour the invitation in view of our on-going court case against the Speaker and the House, which is presently at the Supreme Court.”
But lawmakers dismissed NECA’s position and asked the affected manufacturers to attend the investigative hearing to avoid breaching the provisions of the constitution.
In his counter-argument, Gbajabiamila, a lawyer, stated that sections 88/89 of the constitution applied to all persons operating in Nigeria, including private firms.
He also argued that Section 14(2)(b) of the constitution made provision for security and welfare of the citizens as being the primary purpose of government.
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