The Coordinator, Food Sovereignty Programme for Friends of the Earth Africa, Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, has said that the commercialisation of Bt Cotton in the country is not a victory but a breach of law and order.
Bassey-Orovwuje was reacting to the recent announcement by National Committee on Naming, Registration and Release of Crops, Livestock/Fisheries varieties at National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB) and remarks made by Dr. Rufus Ebegba, DG/CEO of National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) and Dr Rose Gidado, the country representative of Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) and staff of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) concerning the release and commercialisation of Bt Cotton in Nigeria.
In a statement on Thursday, August 9, 2018, the activist described the development as “a pointed disregard of the best interest of the Nigerian people and their right to be consulted and respected”, adding that “this adds a new dimension to the suspicion that disregard for judicial processes is taking a worrisome turn in current situation of things in Nigeria and if we have surrendered our sovereignty to corporate interests”.
According to her, NBMA and NABDA are defendants in the pending suit filed by the Registered Trustees of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and 16 other civil society organisations (CSOs) in the Federal High Court of Justice of Nigeria in the Abuja Judicial Division, September 13, 2017, suit No FHC/ABJ/C5/846/2017.
It was gathered that the Plaintiffs – HOMEF and 16 others – sought, amongst other reliefs, a declaration that NBMA, the 1st Defendant in the case, did not comply with the provisions of the National Biosafety Management Agency Act in granting the permits to the 3rd Defendant, Monsanto Agricultural Nigeria Limited, and NABDA, the 4th Defendant in the case, for the purpose of commercial release of Bt Cotton (Mon 15985) and confined field trial with (1) NK603 and (2) MON89034 x NK603 maize in Nigeria.
The plaintiffs reportedly sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the 3rd Defendant and 4th Defendant by themselves, their agents, servants, workmen or otherwise or whatsoever from carrying out any activity or further activities pursuant to the permits granted by the 1st Defendant.
The Plaintiffs, claimed Bassey-Orovwuje, considered the permits granted by NBMA to Monsanto and NABDA in breach of and a threat to the Fundamental Human Rights of the Plaintiffs as well as the general public as stipulated in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended in 2011. The Plaintiffs, she added, also want an order revoking the permits granted by the 1st Defendant to the 3rd and 4th Defendants/Respondents, stressing that the Plaintiffs opined that the issuance of the said permits on May 1, 2016 which happened to be a public holiday being Sunday and Workers’ Day is illegal, null and void.
She alleged that while the court is yet to deliver her judgement on the case, the defendants, NBMA, NABDA and Monsanto in apparent defiance to the ongoing court process went ahead on Thursday, July 26, 2018 to register and release some Genetically Modified (GM) products and the Bt cotton – one of the subjects of litigation, into the Nigerian environment.
Bassey-Orovwuje said: “The newly released and registered products amongst others include two transgenic hybrid cotton: MRC 7377 BG11 and MRC 7361 BG1.1 They were developed by Mahyco Nigeria. Mahyco is another name for Monsanto and MRC 7377 BG11 and MRC 7361 BG11 refer to the same Bt Cotton (Mon 15985). That is the subject of litigation. This information is displayed on the webpage of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA).
“Dr. Rufus Ebegba, DG/CEO of NBMA, a regulator whose agency is named in this suit and an agency that is supposed to be unbiased and ensuring a thorough regulation of these products, stated in the light of this development that he has severally said that the country is ripe for commercialisation of Genetically Modified (GM) products.
“This singular action speaks volumes. If these agencies can show this brazen disregard for due process, if they can show this level of contempt for an ongoing court case over a matter of such grave importance, how do Nigerians trust them with their food, crops and livestock?
“The Federal Government should notify Nigeria if the NBMA, NABDA and Monsanto are above the laws of Nigeria. In the meantime, Nigerians, farmers and potential traders and buyers should beware of this threat to your foods, health and environment.”