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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Why inadequate pesticide laws, regulatory lapses exist in Nigeria: Call for caution

Part One – the why!

Since 2015, the Nigerian government has grappled with the ongoing issue of its food exports consistently being rejected by the European Union, United States, Asia, and other nations that prioritise food safety for their citipzens and the environment. These countries have implemented stringent measures to ensure food safety, responsible chemical usage, and a standardised import monitoring system.

Pesticides application
Pesticides application

Paradoxically, they generate revenue and secure employment by promoting the export of their locally banned toxic chemicals, including pesticides, to countries like Nigeria, which have inadequate, or no food safety laws, weak regulations, poor manpower capacities, and little or no enforcement regulations.

The trade of internationally banned pesticide practices occurs under the umbrella of international conventions, treaties, and frameworks that allow the movement of highly toxic chemicals, particularly to developing nations. Despite the knowledge of the impossibility of safe handling of these toxic chemicals in the recipient country, this decision is facilitated by a few national delegates representing government ministries and agencies who lack the necessary capacity, handy information, network, and resources to make sound, informed decisions to the benefit of all Nigerians.

It is difficult to blame the governments of Europe, America, and some Asian countries, as well as their international agrochemical companies, for taking advantage of this situation and profiting from the manufacturing and trade of internationally banned and highly hazardous pesticides in countries like Nigeria. As the saying goes, “mugu fall – guy man go wak” (the victim has fallen, and the trickster is at work). Often, private companies with a sole profit-driven agenda sponsor the questionable actions taken by food safety regulators in Nigeria.

This trend has caused many, if not all, regulatory agencies in Nigeria to operate contrary to their regulatory mandate. Instead of professionally regulating in an unbiased manner to ensure consumer protection and a healthy market, they promote and protect products, technologies, and methods. This toxic alliance between regulators and private companies in the food sector has not only resulted in significant compromises of food safety laws in Nigeria but also explains the growing food safety hazards and numerous deaths in the country. This article aims to highlight and present instances of legal flaws and propose actions to address the gaps for better food and pesticide regulation in Nigeria.

Inadequate laws and regulatory lapses exist in Nigeria due to various factors:

  1. Poor Collaboration between CSOs and Regulators: In Nigeria, there is a notable lack of effective collaboration between regulatory bodies and civil society organisations (CSOs). This lack of cooperation poses a hindrance to the development and implementation of robust pesticide regulatory frameworks. CSOs such as the Alliance for Action on Pesticide in Nigeria (AAPN), Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Coalition against Paraquat (CAP), and others play a vital role in advocating for consumer protection and ensuring the enforcement of stringent pesticide regulations. Unfortunately, rather than being recognised as collaborators working towards a safer nation, many CSOs are often labeled as antagonists by government officials, further exacerbating the lack of collaboration and trust between the two parties.
  2. Poor Capacity and Limited Budget: Regulatory agencies in Nigeria, including the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), and the Ministry of Agriculture, encounter notable challenges due to insufficient resources and budgetary constraints. These limitations impede their capacity to effectively enforce regulations and promptly respond to internationally banned or highly hazardous pesticide products. Furthermore, these agencies often face a shortage of qualified personnel, lack adequate machinery, and have limited working laboratories for conducting product testing. These resource-related issues further contribute to the difficulties faced in enforcing robust pesticide regulations.

The lack of financial resources compels regulatory agencies to seek support from private sector companies and international development partners. However, this reliance on external funding sources often leads to a concerning situation where these entities are primarily focused on advancing their own interests rather than improving regulations for safety. Consequently, the regulatory agencies become susceptible to external influence, resulting in a shift from their intended role as enforcers to becoming promoters and marketers for the very companies they are meant to regulate. This compromised relationship further undermines the integrity and effectiveness of the regulatory process.

  1. Toxic Alliance between Regulators and Promoters of Agrochemicals: A concerning issue in Nigeria is the existence of a toxic alliance between regulators and promoters of agrochemicals. This alliance compromises the integrity of regulatory processes and prioritizes the interests of agrochemical companies over public health and safety. The close relationship between regulators and industry actors can result in compromised regulations, weak enforcement, and biased decision-making. For instance, the toxic relationship between the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) and Gate Foundation in the promotion of GMO in Nigeria. Only recently, a former Director General of NBMA confessed to enjoying the support of AATF programme supported by the Gates Foundation, part of which resulted in his appointment as the Director General of NBMA. He admitted that they opened his eyes to the endless possibilities of biotechnologies.

Little wonder many CSOs like HOMEF contest the lack of openness and zero precaution approach in the commercial approval of GMO in Nigeria by NBMA. Similar traits are also being seen in the pesticide issues, as regulators are now speaking and using similar narratives and instances like agrochemicals companies  (no matter how ridiculous it sounds) i.e. “what causes cancer in Europe, may not cause cancer in Africa”, “Some pesticides are banned in Europe because of their Bees, we can use them here as we don’t have to worry about bees”, “blame the hazards on the farmer’s poor use, not the companies”, and “the government needs to create alternatives before banning a pesticide”, etc.

  1. Proposed Pesticide Bills Backed by a Toxic Alliance: The current legal framework in Nigeria may inadvertently support the toxic alliance between regulators and agrochemical promoters. Flaws in existing laws and regulations allow for loopholes that enable the exploitation of regulatory systems for personal gain, easing pesticide entry and turning Nigeria into a dumping ground for pesticides. The proposed bill to Establish a Pesticide Council 2021 (HB 1396) is one such proposed law that would promote the toxic alliance to the detriment of the Nigerian people and the environment.

For instance, Section 3 of the proposed bill – Composition of the Council – excludes and repeal the power of relevant agencies like NAFDAC, NESREA, NAQS, and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Council (FCCPC) as part of the Council members {Section 3(1b)}. For a Bill that seeks to protect against unreasonable adverse effects of pesticide on Nigerians and our environment, excluding these enforcement agencies is wrong, and suggest a lack of intention to collaborate with them.

The bill went further in Section 3 (1b) to reserve two seats in the Council for an internationally affiliated association – CropLife Nigeria, as Council members. CropLife is an International Association consisting of international private companies that manufacture and promote highly hazardous pesticides. CropLife members – companies like Bayer –Monsanto, Syngenta, Corteva, BASF, etc – manufacture and promote the usage of highly hazardous pesticides like Paraquat, Glysophate, 1,3-dichloropropene, etc, in developing countries like Nigeria, even when these pesticides are banned in their European home countries due to their adverse health impact on Europeans.

The bill in Section 4(i), boldly recommends that “council members accept gifts of land, money and other property on such terms and conditions that is ethically acceptable to the Council and as may be specified by the person or association or organisations making the gift”. This is a window for lobbyists. It opens the Nigerian pesticide regulation to corruption and compromises the health and safety of Nigerians.

Aside from the recommendation that allows Council members acceptance gifts, the bill also gives power to the Chairman of the Council to delegate decision-making power to the members of the Council – by implication CropLife members and other council members. In conclusion, the Bill seems to focus on jumping or overhauling the perceived existing bureaucracy in the current regulation of pesticides in Nigeria. The bill seems to focus more on harmonising the existing regular channels, thereby easing the registration and operational processes of pesticide promoters. It does not consider the existence of the existing regulatory agencies, officer liability to polluters or precaution to HHPs or environmental protection.

After the above points were highlighted by the Alliance for Action on Pesticides in Nigeria (AAPN) at the public hearing on the bill in November 2021, the Farm Input Support Services (FISS) in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) publically withdrew their support of the bill. CropLife delegates in attendance also okayed their removal from the bill. It is shocking that the same Farm Input Support Services (FISS) that publically withdrew their support from the Pesticide Council Bill 2019 is now Nichodemouly including CropLife Nigeria back in their proposed amendment of the Fertiliser Control Act of 2019. This stirs worries and suspicion on why FISS is insisting on forcing CropLife into a national council.

CropLife Nigeria being in the Council should not be accepted. Suggesting they even have two seats on the Technical Committee on Agricultural Pesticides Council is unacceptable. CropLife Nigeria is funded and controlled by CropLife International with multi-million-dollar agro companies that control the global food and seed and have numerous lawsuits globally for toxic chemicals and human rights abuses and patent theft allegations.

Having such an internationally affiliated and sponsored organisation in a National Council is a threat to Nigeria’s food sovereignty especially with its reputation globally as a core food lobbyist. To represent the private sector, Nigeria has other local private-sector agrochemical associations like the Nigeria Agro Input Dealers Association (NAIDA), and the Organic Fertiliser Producers and Suppliers Association of Nigeria (OFPSAN). These and many reputable local private agrochemical associations should be added to the council with just one seat on the council, not CropLife.

  1. Failure to Work Sustainably with Local Channels and Groups Consistently: Regulatory agencies in Nigeria often fail to work consistently with local channels and groups. These local stakeholders, including farmers’ associations, community organizations, and consumer groups, can provide valuable insights and feedback on the ground realities of pesticide usage and its impact. Engaging these groups in a sustained manner would help in developing more effective regulations and ensuring their proper implementation.
  2. Poor Collaboration among Agencies: Inefficient collaboration among different regulatory agencies within Nigeria further contributes to inadequate laws and regulatory lapses. Fragmented coordination and lack of communication between agencies involved in food safety and pesticide regulation create gaps in enforcement and monitoring. Harmonizing efforts and establishing effective inter-agency collaboration is crucial to strengthen the regulatory landscape and addressing regulatory lapses effectively.

To be concluded

By Donald Ikenna Ofoegbu, Lead Coordinator, Alliance for Action on Pesticide in Nigeria (AAPN)

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