by Idris Ibrahim
A coalition of civil society groups on Wednesday staged a rally in Abuja demanding an end to the planned introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms, GMOs, into Nigeria’s foods and farming scheme.
They also petitioned the National Assembly seeking a repeal of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act which was signed into law in April 2015 by former president, Goodluck Jonathan.
The petition dated June 7 and addressed to the Senate President and the House of Representatives Speaker stated that the Act rather than secure the biosafety of Nigerians had become a law for permitting the entry of Genetically Modified Organisms, GMOs, into the country.
Those who signed the petition include Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Home of Mother Earth Foundation; Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, Convener of Nigerians Against GMOs; Jackie Ikotuonye, Country Representative, Bio-integrity and Natural Food Awareness Initiative; and Marian Bassey-Orovwuje, Food Sovereignty Programme, Friends of the Earth Nigeria/Africa.
“We say this because barely a year of the Act coming into existence, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) issued three GMO permits to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Ltd, with two of those permits being obtained jointly by Monsanto and an agency of government that sits on the board of NBMA,” the activists said.
“That agency of government is the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), an agency whose penchant appears to be nothing other than the blatant promotion of agricultural biotechnology.
“We strongly object to NABDA sitting on the Board of NBMA, applying for a GMO permit jointly with a commercial concern and then presiding over the issuance of such a permit. This is a classic case of conflict of interest that cannot be permitted, especially considering the sensitive issue of biosafety and related biosecurity.”
‘March Against Poison’
Last year, the National Biosafety Management Agency issued two permits for the Commercial Release and Placing on Market of genetically modified cotton, and the confined field trial of maize, to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited.
The two permits were: ‘Permit for Commercial Release/Placing on Market of Cotton (MON15985) genetically modified for lepidopteran insect pest resistance’ with Permit No: NBMA/CM/IM/001 and ‘Permit for Confined Field Trial (CFT) of maize (NK603 and MON89034 x NK603) genetically modified for insect resistance and herbicide tolerance’ with Permit No: NBMA/CFT/001
The permits were issued despite objections and concerns about safety raised by activists and environmentalists.
Monsanto had, however, insisted that its GMO crops are safe for consumption.
On Wednesday, the activists led dozens of others as they marched in Abuja bearing placards inscribed with ‘March Against Poison; they arrived at the main entrance of the National Assembly to deliver their petition.
In their petition, the activists argued that such permits issued by the NBMA were possible due to to the “enormous amounts of discretionary powers” given the agency by the NBMA Act 2015.
“In addition, the Act does not have any clarity about how this agency is subject to oversight by the parent ministry, the Federal Ministry of Environment.”
“We demand a nullification of the permits issued to Monsanto and NABDA on Sunday 1st May 2016 and call for an investigation of the process and circumstances leading to the granting of these permits by NBMA to Monsanto and NABDA in disregard to the complaints of millions of Nigerians.
“Nigerians should not be used as pawns or as guinea pigs in a commercial gambit to open the country to toxic technologies in furtherance of blatant commercial interests.
“We demand a close surveillance of our markets and farms to halt illegal entry of GMOs into Nigeria and into our food supply.”
The activists also demanded a ban on all toxic agrochemicals – particularly those identified as probable carcinogens.
“We demand a halt to the assault on our agriculture through genetic modification of our staple crops including cassava, maize and beans, among others.
“We urge that Nigeria should be circumspect about technologies that aim to contaminate our environment, destroy our agriculture, culture and rupture our socio-economic fabric and assert unbridled controls over our agriculture and foods.”
Mr. Bassey said farmers would not surrender their lands to GMO crops because they are already facing big challenges.
“The farmers among us will tell you, many of the crops they plant don’t do well and those that do well, some interest are going around the country uprooting crops before they mature and we see a grand strategy toplunge Nigeria into a food famine situation, to plungethis nation into a situation that will take us to a beggar nation in terms of food and we are saying that our natural agriculture is able to feed our people.
“What our farmers need is good infrastructure so that food can come from the farm to the market. Our farmers need extension services, officials should go to the villages and talk to them and help them in the best techniques to grow crops, we don’t need crops that are modified in foreign laboratories and forced unto Africans.”
Responding to the protesters’ demands, Bukar Ibrahim, a senator and former governor of Yobe State, said the lawmakers are also concerned about the safety of GMOs.
“I am going to virtually read this brief which is just two pages. But every sentence here is important, I am not a technical person on genetically modified organisms,” said Mr. Ibrahim (APC, Yobe East), who was accompanied by another senator, Abu Ibrahim.
“In fact, yesterday I was briefed on all the issues you have raised now and then when the brief was given to me in writing, I said no I was not going to use the writing I will speak, now I have discovered that every sentence in that brief is important and very relevant to what you have said and that everybody is listening here.
“We are here as representatives of the president of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki to address you, to listen to you and to take all the documents you have given to us and take it back to him and then we expect him obviously to act on this issues very fast.
“We are all Nigerians, we are all concerns and we all believe in what is best for Nigeria and this is just the beginning of things which are likely to happen in future”.
“We will all put our heads together, work together changing the law altogether or modifying the law altogether, we will be in contact with you as we move along, we will see what is necessary and whatever is necessary will certainly be done. So please take it easy there is no problem we are all on the same page.”
Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, the convener of Nigerians against GMOs, said the group had outlined the scientific studies that prove consuming GMO’s leads to endocrine destruction as well as affects the growth of cells that eventually lead to cancer.
“The chemicals associated with these foods are linked to the effects listed there, there are several people that have made several studies that show that consuming GMO’s affects the growth of cells that leads to cancer and endocrine destruction as well.”
“The government that pushes these things did not push it for the interest of Nigerians, they pushed it for the interest of a couple of pockets. we should ask the question why does France, six of the G8 countries ban the use of these foods in their country? We are talking about Russia, France, Italy even England the entire European Union have put a stop to it.
“You have to understand that France, Germany are powerhouse technologies that have access to good regulation and powerful science and they are saying no to GMO. What kind of regulatory agencies or science infrastructure do we have in Nigeria that we can say yes?”