Nigerian groups ask court to declare GMO permits illegal

Maize varieties across the world amidst existential threat by GMO
Maize varieties across the world amidst existential threat by GMO

17 non-governmental organizations in Nigeria have dragged the country’s government before an Abuja Federal High Court, over permits issued by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) for GMO Cotton and GMO Maize in Nigeria.

The groups led by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) are asking the court to declare as null and void the permits granted Monsanto Agricultural Nigeria Limited for the commercial release of BT Cotton (MON 15985).

They are also asking for the revocation of the permit granted the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) for the confined field trial of NK603 and MON89034X NK 603 Maize in Nigeria.

According to the groups, the permits given to Monsanto were issued on May 1st, 2016, a Public Holiday being Sunday and Workers Day were “illegal, null and void.” They also contended that the permit issued to NBDA violates the fundamental human rights of the general public.

They are therefore asking the court for a perpetual injunction to restrain both Monsanto and NBDA from carrying out any activity or further activity pursuant to those permits.

Listed as defendants in the suit (FHC/ABJ/CS/846/201) are: NBMA, the Nigerian Minister of Environment, MOSANTO, NABDA, Minister of Agriculture, the Attorney General of the Federation and the National Agency for Foods Drugs and Administration (NAFDAC)

The groups averred that the issuance of the permits to both Monsanto and NABDA constitute threat to the fundamental human rights of the general public and a breach of the 1999 constitution as amended in 2011.

In the Originating Summons deposed to by HOMEF Executive Director, Nnimmo Bassey the groups asked the court to determine whether with regard to section 15 of the interpretation Act 2004, the grant of the approval by the agency on a Sunday is a valid Act..

The groups also want the court to declare that the procedure and issuance of the permits to the 3rd for the purpose of commercial release of BT cotton (MON 15985) and to the 3rd and 4th defendants for confined field trial with (1) NK603 and (2) MON89034 X NK603 maize in Nigeria constitutes a breach of and a threat to the fundamental human rights of the general public as enshrined in section 33, 34 36 and 39 of the 1999 constitution of Nigerian as amended 2011.

However, the Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) thinks differently about the concerns and fears raised by the groups.

In an interview with ClimateReporters, the agency’s Director General, Rufus Ebegba admitted that GMO in Nigeria is still new and people should not express fear over it. He added that the National Biosafety Management Agency will ensure that nothing will be allowed into the nation’s environment for consumption without being confirmed safe.

Highlighting the importance of GMOs, Ebegba stressed that “the term modified organisms applies to all genetically modified materials both living and non-living. Modern biotechnology is a scientific tool, it is a means whereby genes, that is material of inheritance of any particular character you want exhibited in another organism is being moved into another so that the organism will have the ability to behave in that manner.”

“For example, there is this genetically modified maize that is pest resistant. This gene was taken from a particular bacterium that has been in the soil for over three years among plants, even when you eat raw garden eggs, you are eating the bacteria. It has been confirmed not to have adverse effect either on human or the environment. It has always been there for so many years,” Ebegba added.

According to him, scientists were able to discover that it has a particular material called gene that can kill insect. That gene was moved from that bacteria and was incorporated into some maize that now have the ability to resist insects so that is called BT maize and that maize becomes genetically modified.