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Sunday, September 24, 2023

GMOs: Why Nigeria ventured into genetic engineering

Ayuba David, a public servant based in Abuja, in this piece, makes a case for the prevalence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Nigeria, in the light of dissenting voices over government’s efforts at regulating the technology. According to him, other countries across the globe are already using the technology to their own benefit and that Nigeria cannot be an exception

Critics fear genetically modified foods can cause environmental harm and damage human health. Photo credit: dailymail.co.uk

This week, sponsored protesters were at the outskirts of the National Assembly complex in Abuja, demonstrating against the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), saying that the law establishing the Agency is weak and that the Agency should be scrapped, among other things.

Out of curiosity, I asked one of the protesters, an aged woman, why she was protesting and she said she was only mobilised to come and join the protest.

Various attempts have been made by these paid agents to turn the country into a place where modern biotechnology would not be regulated with the intent to flood Nigeria with illegal Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

These international agents who do not mean well for Nigeria have been in the vanguard asking for the repeal of the NBMA Act for reasons that defile common sense and using all opportunities that come their way to misinform Nigerians with messages prepared for them by their international sponsors.

Most importantly, those leading the campaign today were part of the stakeholders review meetings that drafted what became the bill that was passed by the National Assembly.

The same people who drafted the bill are today leading the onslaught on the Agency for personal gains at the expense of our dear fatherland. They are operating under the guise of protecting the environment, protecting farmers’ interests, and avoiding the contamination of our natural habitat by products of modern biotechnology, but the question to ask is: Are they really protecting Nigeria and Nigerians or working for their daily bread?

The NGOs are always insisting that the law which mandated the NBMA to carry out its functions is defective, lacks bite, has no place for strict liabilities, is not inclusive, lacks stakeholder-input and, above all, was hurriedly passed.

Unknown to most Nigerians, the process that cumulated into the establishment of NBMA started in 1992. There were a series of meetings and public hearings in all the geopolitical zones of Nigeria before a bill was prepared, forwarded to and passed by the 6th and 7th National Assemblies and then signed into law in 2015. The activities of these activists call to question the integrity of our legislators and the nation’s legal system.

Could a law making process that spanned over 25 years be said to be in a rush? Suffice to note that most of those leading the agitation against the NBMA Act today were serious participants at the various meetings that produced the draft bill that was transmitted to the national assembly.

Government, in its wisdom, established the National Biotechnology Development Agency in 2000 to create awareness and promote modern biotechnology as one of the tools needed to ensure food security, tackle climate change and make farming profitable.

Government also established the NBMA 15 years later to ensure that the practice of modern biotechnology was properly regulated, monitored and controlled so that the country does not end up becoming a dumping ground for unwanted products of biotechnology.

But government’s efforts at regulating the technology have come under attack by the same NGOs who see such attacks as an opportunity to draw money from their international sponsors and collaborators that are bent on turning the country into a disaster zone for unregulated biotechnology practices (GMOs).

These groups are seriously focusing on Nigeria as their new launch pad, recruiting people to misinform Nigerians on genetically modified products and thereby paving way for the sale of their chemicals, which over the years have been responsible for polluting the environment and all the rivers and streams across the country.

Today, most Nigerians are forced to feed on fish produced in ponds because the polluted rivers and streams (from too much applied chemicals on farmlands) can no longer support fishes and their reproductive process.

Farmers are the worst hit, as most of them have to spray their farms with various chemicals up to 10 times per farming season and this endangers their lives as a result of their exposure to these harmful chemicals.

The country’s decision to venture into genetic engineering can not be revised or jettisoned by a mere campaign of calumny sponsored by haters and wailers who never see anything good in the Nigerian project.

Other countries across the globe are already using this technology to their own benefit and Nigeria, recognised as one of the countries with the highest rate of travellers, cannot fold its hands and watch, considering our porous borders.

Ghana, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Sudan, South Africa, and Kenya are African countries already benefiting from this technology with the United States of America, Canada and other South American countries improving their people and economies from production of genetically modified crops and by-products.

The NBMA since its existence has remained consistent with the message that it is prepared, both in terms of human capacity and facilities, to regulate products of modern biotechnology in the country without compromise.

“We are prepared to discharge our duties to the best interest of Nigeria. We shall not, in the course of our duties, do or support anything that will threaten the health of Nigerians or the environment. Those calling for the repeal or scrapping of the Agency do not love Nigeria, they want to open Nigeria up for disaster,” Rufus Ebegba, Director General and Chief Executive Officer of NBMA, noted recently.

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