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High court to hear suit against biosafety agency over rights abridgement

The Registered Trustees of Health of Mother Earth Foundation and 16 other organisations have resumed a lawsuit against the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) and Monsanto Agricultura Nigeria Limited in a matter of fundamental rights (enforcement procedure).

Maize plant
The plaintiffs seek a declaration that GM cotton and maize approved by the NBMA and Monsanto for commercial release and trial contravene the rights to life

The matter with suit number: FHC/ABJ/CS/ll00/2018 is scheduled for hearing at the Federal High Court of Nigeria on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 after some changes on hearing dates.

According to the amended originating motion served by Ifeanyi Nwankwere, Esq., the plaintiffs seek a declaration that the genetically modified organisms, Bt cotton (MON 15985) and maize (1) NK603 & (2) MON89Q34 x NK603 approved by the 1st respondent to the 2nd respondent for commercial release and confined field trial respectively in Nigeria, contravene the fundamental rights to life and human dignity of Nigerians as guaranteed under Section 33 and 34 of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) 2011 and Article 4, 5, 16 and 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification And Enforcement) Act.

Also, the suit seeks a declaration that the continuous refusal of the 1st and 2nd respondents to provide scientific evidence to allay the fears of the applicants as contained in Exhibits A and B (The Objections) infringes on the fundamental rights of the applicants as guaranteed under section 35 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) 2011 and Articles 7 and 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.

The plaintiff want an order enforcing the fundamental rights of the applicants as well as the general public as enshrined under sections 33, 34, 36· & 39 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as well as Articles 4, 5, 7 & 9 of The African Charter Of Human And Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement} Act.

In addition, they seek an order revoking the permits granted by the 1st Respondent to the 2nd respondent and an order of perpetual injunction restraining the 1st and 2nd respondents by themselves, their agents, servants, workmen or otherwise whatsoever from carrying out any activity or further activities pursuant to the permits granted by the 1st respondent.

In 2018, the plaintiff brought this case before the Federal High Court, but it was struck out due to technicalities as it was said to be statute barred. The judge however established that the case did have a course of action and merit, hence it is resumed under the fundamental human rights enforcement procedure.

In a statement made available to newsmen on Tuesday, 21 January 2020, Nnimmo Bassey, the Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation stated that it is imperative that we contend for our rights as a people and for the rights of the environment. He added that this case is pivotal to the protection of Nigeria’s food system from the claws of the merchants of agricultural biotechnology whose main agenda is profit no matter the detrimental impacts on the people’s health, environment or economy.

The statement made reference to the recent  bill named Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Alteration) Bill 2019 sponsored by the Chairman of the senate committee on Agriculture, Abdullahi Adamu which seeks to ensure that the state directs its policy toward food security and makes access to food a fundamental human right in the constitution.

While Bassey lauds this move by the senate, he remarked that the approvals of GMOs including the Bt cowpea in Nigeria negates the efforts towards food security and toward upholding access to food as a fundamental human right especially as a majority of farmers/people are not aware of the implication of the artificial genetic changes in these food crops and neither do they have a choice as to whether or not to plant/consume them. He insists that citizens do not just require access to food, but access to food that is safe, wholesome and culturally appropriate.

He also commended the move by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Ghana where GMOs have been rejected with the emphasis that the nation has capable scientists who can use traditional breeding methods to produce high yielding varieties and disease resistant plants for cultivation by farmers.

The statement concluded: “Africa and indeed Nigeria must wake up to put the interests of her people first, to ensure food sovereignty and escape the colonial agenda of agricultural modern biotechnology. We must let justice prevail.”

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