The Nigerian government is suing three leading international tobacco companies, seeking 40 billion dollars (29 billion euros) in damages for the cost of treating smoking-related diseases, according to court papers obtained Wednesday.
"It is the first time ever that an African state files a case against a tobacco company. No other state in Africa has ever done it," Babatunde Irukera, the lawyer representing the government said.
The suit filed against British American Tobacco Plc, Philip Morris International and International Tobacco Ltd, a Nigerian company, accuses them of concealing the harmful nature of smoking and of promoting underage smoking.
"The amount is certainly high for Africa, but it is far lower than the amounts that have been claimed in the USA for example," Irukera said, adding that one US state had claimed 286 billion dollars compensation.
Irukera also represents Nigeria in its 6.5-billion-dollar suit against US pharmaceuticals company Pfizer Inc. for an alleged illegal drug trial.
The government is also seeking an injunction compelling the companies to stop the marketing and sale of cigarettes.
"The federal government accuses the tobacco companies of being engaged in a conspiracy to target young people and conceal the harmful nature of smoking for several years," Irukera said.
He said that restrictions in Europe and the United States had encouraged the tobacco companies to push sales and marketing in Nigeria.
A stamp on court papers obtained by AFP indicated that the suit was filed on July 25.
Some of the damages being claimed are intended to offset future healthcare costs that Nigeria expects to incur from treating tobacco-related illnesses.
Public healthcare in Nigeria has been undermined by decades of neglect and corruption and critics say the system now barely functions.
The next hearing is expected to take place in January, the lawyer said.
Four states of the federation -- Lagos, Kano, Oyo and Gombe -- have also filed similar suits against the tobacco companies and three other states intend to do likewise, he said.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 08 Kasım 2007, 10:22