Verified:GMOs Are Officially Approved to Be Grown in Nigeria

PermitGenetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) Are Officially Approved to Be Grown in Nigeria

The fact that GMOs are approved to be grown in Nigeria is not in doubt. What is disputed is why the approval was surreptitious, to the extent of being issued on a Sunday. We have issues with the press statement issued on the 20th of June 2016, and credited to the Hon. Minister of Environment Amina J. Mohammed, stating that “What we have approved are for field trials.” She further stated that “All the GMOs in Nigeria officially approved are under experimental fields.” The statement further said that the insect-resistant cotton for commercial release will still be subjected to further processes for the next two years.

We doubt that the National Biosafety management Agency (NBMA) has a different understanding of a permit for commercial release and placement in the environment from what the permit document itself states in plain language.

Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Ltd did not apply for field trials of GMO cotton. They applied for a commercial release and placement in the environment. This means commercial planting of GMO cotton in Nigeria. Section 4 of the permit states and we quote After a thorough analysis of the application dossier, Risk Assessment and Risk Management plan prepared in connection with the assessment of the application for the permit, it is unlikely that the proposed release will cause adverse impact on the environment and on human health. A permit is therefore granted to the Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Ltd as applied for.”

This was signed by the Director General/Chief Executive Officer of NBMA on Sunday 1st May 2016.

The permit does not leave room for further trials. The requirement of the applicant is merely to make reports on their experience in their farms. This is very different from confined field trials as is the case with the permit for GMO maize – which, in any case, we equally object to.

Indeed, the press statement directly contradicts the record on the Biosafety Clearing House’s (BCH) website and on NBMA’s official website. The official response to the concerns of Nigerians and massive rejection of the rushed offer of permits for failed GMOs appears to be calculated to obfuscate the issues and lull Nigerians into thinking that all is well.

Clearly, NBMA as conceived and constructed is incapable of objectively managing biosafety regulation in Nigeria. We cannot repose any confidence in an agency that never mentioned or let it slip that they had opened the doors to an influx of GMOs by issuing permits to Monsanto until we announced to the general public.

In this era of change we cannot cling to wrong-headed policies or unto the wrong foot put forward by the previous government. Having a biotech policy cannot be a justification for opening up the nation’s fragile ecosystems and stressed environment to genetically modified organisms. A biotech policy cannot erase the globally accepted Precautionary Principle on which biosafety regulations hang.

While describing the concerns about GMOs expressed by the public as legitimate, the Minister of Environment stated that the Federal Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), is organizing an experts’ meeting involving civil society groups, national agencies and international organisations to address all concerns expressed, with a view to clarifying Nigeria’s position on the use of GMOs. Our response to this is why did NBMA not take into consideration the robust objections made by 5 million Nigerians to the wishy-washy applications made by Monsanto if the NBMA is ready to hear voices other than those of the biotech industry. NBMA by its letter of 28th April 2016 acknowledge receipt of objection from Health of Mother Earth Foundation and other civil society groups, stated: “your observations have been noted by the Agency… That the National Biosafety Management Agency would review the application holistically and take the best interest of Nigeria, to avoid risks to human health, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The socio- economic impacts would also be well considered before taking the final decision on the application.”

We consider it intriguing and suspicious that a mere one working day after this letter, the DG of NBMA issued permits to Monsanto. This smacks of utter disdain for opinions and positions of concerned citizens who are conscious of the devastating socio-economic and environmental impacts of the failure of these crops, especially GMO cotton in neighbouring Burkina Faso as well as in India, Pakistan and elsewhere.

We are concerned that NBMA and NABDA keep going around hyping myths sold by the biotech industry to an unsuspecting public, while being careful not to reveal to citizens that they had rushed to issue permits a mere two months after they applications were advertised. NBMA obviously relishes in holding the record as the fastest GMO endorser in the world.

The Permit issued by NBMA to Monsanto also states amongst other things that the “The purpose of the dealings is commercial production of the GM cotton in all areas of Nigeria where cotton is cultivated and for products of the GMO to enter general commerce.” If the Agency insists that commercial release is the same things as filed trials, the Minister of Environment would do well to ask NBMA to issue a glossary of Nigerian GMO terminology.

The Minister also alluded that with the “Act in place, Nigeria has taken laudable strides in order to adopt the necessary legal biosafety framework and policy, bearing in mind that if Nigeria gets it right, it will guide other African countries.”    An analysis of the Biosafety Act shows it as an extremely weak and ineffective law that is rigged to subvert the sanctity of the Nigerian environment and to facilitate the colonization of our agricultural and food systems. It reads like a piece of legislation pieced together by the biotech industry.

As we have stated elsewhere, the board of NBMA is populated by groups avowed to the promotion of GMOs. It is a law that requires urgent review and we call on our President as well as the National Assembly to disband the board of NBMA and repeal or radically review the NBMA Act of 2015 for the security of our food systems, protection of our environment from toxic agro-chemicals and for the preservation of our biodiversity.

We cannot claim to be immune to the dangers that GMOs and attendant chemicals such as glyphosate pose to human and environmental health. Nineteen (19) European countries have completely banned genetically modified crops. On Friday the 24th of June 2016, The Russian State Duma passed a bill banning all import and production of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country. The bill will affect all crops and animals considered to be genetically modified, except for those used for scientific purposes. Violations of the law carry a fine of 10,000-50,000 ($150-$750) rubles for individuals and 100,000-500,000 rubles for legal entities ($1,500-$7,500).[i] Meanwhile Our Nigerian Biosafety Acts pegs fines for violations at N2, 500,000 (about $7,000) for individuals and N5,000,000 ($14, 000) for companies.

According to the report, “Russian officials insist that country’s farms will be able to produce enough food for the country without the use of yield-increasing GMOs.”  This is not geopolitics; it is biosafety.

In Africa, Rwanda has resolved that it will not lift the ban on GMOs despite a sharp decline in its crop yields. Other countries are resolute in resisting the political arm-twisting associated with the actions of this industry.

Perhaps it is worthy to mention again here that, the BT Cotton application that Monsanto had recycled here in Nigeria was adopted almost verbatim from the Malawian application, Monsanto had sent in 2014 to Malawi. Our sources tell us that the Malawian National Biosafety Regulatory Committee recommended the nullification of the application to the designated Minister of Environment on a number of grounds:  No cost-benefit analysis has been carried out to support Monsanto’s claims that this technology will benefit cotton farmers in Malawi, issues of secondary pests, exposure pathways and pest resistance not addressed, safety and environmental risks had not been adequately addressed by the Monsanto application, issues of liability and redress had been ignored by the application, just to mention a few.[ii] We also objected to Monsanto’s applications in  Nigeria on many grounds.  It is also worthy of note that it took about six months for the Regulatory body in Malawi to come to a decision and recommend to the Minister that Monsanto’s application should be nullified. It took NBMA just a month after 22 days’ window period given to the Nigerian public to submit comments on the applications submitted by Monsanto to issue two Permits to Monsanto to deploy GMOs in Nigeria.

What risk assessments and environmental impact studies did NBMA carry out before issuing these permits?

Surely the Hon. Minister does not expect us to believe that NBMA will do right by Nigerians. How can NBMA really evaluate the efficacy of technologies like GMOs or assure Nigerians of their safety when officials of the agency in all their media appearances do better than GMO salesmen or spokespersons for the biotech industry? How can anyone say there is nothing wrong with a genetically modified crop, Bt Cotton, that just failed in neighbouring Burkina Faso, and the farmers are making claims of $48.3 Billion CFA Francs ($83.91) from Monsanto? Are we having regulators or GMO traders making decisions over our destiny?

Clearly, NBMA as conceived and constructed is incapable of objectively managing biosafety regulation in Nigeria. We cannot repose any confidence in an agency that never mentioned or let it slip that they had opened the doors to an influx of GMOs by issuing permits to Monsanto until we announced to the general public.

We restate our stand that the so-called permits issued to Monsanto to introduce GMOs into Nigeria should be overturned and the Biosafety law itself should be repealed. We also call on the National Assembly to urgently investigate the process leading to the granting of the permit on Sunday, 1st May 2016 to assure Nigerians that we are not pawns and that Nigerians will not be used as guinea pigs in a commercial game to open Africa to toxic technologies.

 

Signed

 

  1. Nnimmo Bassey,

Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)

nnimmo@homef.org

 

 

  1. Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje,

Food Sovereignty Manager/Coordinator ERA/FoEN and FoE International

mariann@eraction.org

 

  1. Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour

Convener Nigerians Against GMO

grv@nogmong.com

[i] Russian State Duma Bans Import and Production of GMOs http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/russian-state-duma-bans-import-and-production-of-gmos/573403.html. The Moscow Times Jun. 24 2016 17:51

[ii] See Objection and press release on civil society position at www.cisanetmw.org./index.php/events1.

 

Oil Politics – echoes of Ecological Wars

Oil Politics cover

Oil Politics – echoes of Ecological Wars
This is to announce Oil Politics – echoes of Ecological Wars a forthcoming book by Nnimmo Bassey published by Daraja Press.
Set out in seven sections, this book of 54 essays deals with deep ecological changes taking place primarily in Nigeria but with clear linkages to changes elsewhere in the world. These essays provide insights into the background to the horrific ecological manifestations that dot the Nigerian environment and the ecological cancers spreading in the world. They underscore the fact there are no one-issue struggles. Working in a context where analyses of ecological matters is not the norm, decades of consistent environmental activism has placed the writer in good stead to unlock the webs that promote these scandalous realities.

How Safe are Monsanto’s GMOs?

GMOs are basically regulated because their safety is in doubt. The approval granted Monsanto to conduct field trials of genetically modified maize requires that these crops should keep a distance of 20m from non GMO farms. That is absolute nonsense and is designed to ensure that our natural maize varieties are contaminated. It is known that pollen grains travel several kilometres. Contamination has been one key tool used by Monsanto in countries like USA and Canada to chase after non-GMO farmers that actually are the victims of this companies polluting activities.

eco-4_0We have read with interest Monsanto’s defence of NBMA in its response to Premium Time’s report highlighting NBMA’s surreptitious granting of permits to them to bring their GMOs and glyphosate into Nigeria. We restate here that Monsanto’s applications were approved without due diligence and that the law setting up NBMA is extremely flawed in that it gives individuals in the agency the latitude to toy with the health of Nigerians, our environment and food systems. Contrary to Monsanto’s claims, IARC concluded that there was strong evidence of genotoxicity and oxidative stress for glyphosate entirely from publicly available research, including findings of DNA damage in the peripheral blood of exposed humans.

May we be reminded once again that NBMA signed the permits on a Sunday – a public holiday, when government offices were closed and just one month and a few days after the applications were opened to the public for comments. NBMA says it was “convinced that there are no known adverse impacts to the conservation and sustainable use to of biodiversity taking into account risk to human health.” However, it is instructive to note that the BT cotton submitted or rather recycled in Nigeria by Monsanto is a replica of the BT Cotton application that it had submitted in Malawi in 2014. That application  in Malawi was opposed on scientific,  legal and socio-economic grounds. That application has not been approved at the time of this writing. They recycled the application here and we opposed that application on similar grounds.

Monsanto argues that their GMOs and their weed killers are safe. The truth is that the company is good at avoiding liability while exploiting the agencies that ought to regulate them. They claim, “A big part of that confidence comes from knowing that independent experts who’ve looked at GMOs have concluded that they’re as safe as other foods. That includes groups like the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization, as well as government agencies like the FDA.”

This is an interesting argument. We quote two statements, one from Monsanto and the other from FDA and leave the public to read between the lines.

Philip Angell, a Monsanto’s director of corporate communications said: “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.”

For the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety.”

When Monsanto and FDA makes statements like these, the reading is that consumers are left to literally stew in their soups.

In the words of David Schubert, Professor and Head of Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies, La Jolla, California;

“One thing that surprised us is that US regulators rely almost exclusively on information provided by the biotech crop developer, and those data are not published in journals or subjected to peer review… The picture that emerges from our study of US regulation of GM foods is a rubber-stamp ‘approval process’ designed to increase public confidence in, but not ensure the safety of, genetically engineered foods.”

This is exactly what is happening in Nigeria today, unfortunately. We have an agency that disrespects the voices of the people, ignores national interests and blatantly promotes the interests of biotech corporations. The relationship between National Biosafety Agency (NBMA), National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and Monsanto is rife with conflict of interest against the Nigerian people. How is it that the regulated is so influential on the regulator? The evidence in leaked Wikileaks cables  is clear. How can we have NABDA sit on the Board of NBDA, be a co-applicant with Monsanto and then sit to approve the application? This should fit into the definition of corruption in this season of Change.

Monsanto has been desperate to tell the world that their weed killer laced with the ingredient known as glyphosate is safe. The debate about the safety of glyphosate has been interesting with Monsanto in this response to Premium times claiming that “glyphosate poses no unreasonable risks to humans or the environment when used according to label instructions.”

The above claim says two or more things. First that glyphosate poses risks. Secondly that this risk can be tolerated when the chemical is used according to label instructions. Thirdly, when something goes wrong, Monsanto will absolve itself of culpability by claiming that the chemical was not used “according to label instructions.”

The scientific debate over whether glyphosate causes cancer continues, but based on research several countries have banned the use of the chemical. The very fact that there is no consensus on the safety of glyphosate is the reason why Nigeria must apply the precautionary principle. It is interesting that Monsanto accuses IARC of selective interpretation of scientific data. This is a case of a kettle calling a pot black. We doubt if there is any other corporation that engages in selective interpretation of data more than Monsanto.

Despite Monsanto’s claims that glyphosate is safe, French Minister for Health, Marisol Touraine has said that France will ban Glyphosate – whether or not the EU decides this week to renew the authorisation of the chemical. According to her “the studies we have show it’s an endocrine disruptor.”

Earlier this year, a poll by the international market research firm YouGov found that two-thirds of Europeans want the chemical banned. According to the survey of more than 7,000 people across the EU’s five biggest states, the banning of glyphosate was supported by 75% of Italians, 70% of Germans, 60% of French and 56% of Britons.  It is clear so many people around the globe do not want Monsanto’s modified crops or toxic chemicals, so why are they still aggressively pushing and promoting it around the world; dismissing environmental, heath, socio- economic concerns and circumventing government regulations?

Talking about research, a high court in Paris  punished a high ranking official representing Monsanto’s interests for deceitfully covering up research data proving that Monsanto was hiding toxicity of its own corn.

Another report revealed that Monsanto marketed its potent weed killer glyphosate, a key element in their Roundup, and the corn and soybeans genetically engineered to withstand it by claiming that it would replace other, more toxic weed killers such as atrazine on American farmland. It didn’t happen. Recent scientific research suggests that both atrazine and glyphosate are more harmful than scientists once thought. For instance, several studies have shown that frequent exposure to glyphosate doubles a person’s risk of developing a blood cancer known as Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. “In light of new evidence on the dangers of glyphosate, European Union nations failed to pass a short-term extension of glyphosate’s license for agricultural use when they voted on this on June 6, 2016. The pesticide could be barred in the EU as soon as next month.”

From the antecedents of Monsanto when it comes to cutting corners when it comes to risk assessments we have   no inclination to give it any benefit doubt.

There was a time when scientists insisted that cigarettes do not cause cancer. Today that has been exposed as a lie. Monsanto claims that their liability over PCB is over an historical misdemeanour. This is another problem with Nigeria’s Biosafety Act. If problems emerge in future over toxic chemicals introduced into the Nigerian environment today, Monsanto will go free because the law does not have provisions for strict liability. Meanwhile we remind ourselves that if toxic PCB is in history, so is Monsanto’s Agent Orange, the defoliant used in the Vietnam war and the toxic template on which the company continues the business of killing biodiversity.

GMOs are basically regulated because their safety is in doubt. The approval granted Monsanto to conduct field trials of genetically modified maize requires that these crops should keep a distance of 20m from non GMO farms. That is absolute nonsense and is designed to ensure that our natural maize varieties are contaminated. It is known that pollen grains travel several kilometres. Contamination has been one key tool used by Monsanto in countries like USA and Canada to chase after non-GMO farmers that actually are the victims of this companies polluting activities.

Our agricultural systems, eating habits and cultural requirements are not the same as those of Americans, for example, and bringing these crops into our country will expose us to unimaginable health impacts.

We would also be closing markets against ourselves. A case in point is a recent refusal of Brazil to buy corn from the USA, due to GMO concerns, even in the face of shortage of corn needed in chicken feed. Note that Brazil is a country already with other varieties of GMOs!

Finally, we ask, are we so stupid that a genetically modified crop, Bt Cotton, that just failed in neighbouring Burkina Faso, (and the farmers are making claims from Monsanto) is what we are glibly opening our country to? Are we having regulators or GMO traders making decisions over our destiny?

Monsanto should note that its We the People of Nigeria, not Corporations and agrochemical Companies like Monsanto that will dictate the food system we want.

We restate our stand that the so-called permit issued to Monsanto to introduce GMOs into Nigeria should be overturned and the Biosafety law itself should be repealed. We also call on the National Assembly to urgently investigate the process leading to the granting of the permit on Sunday, 1st May 2016 to assure Nigerians that we are not pawns in a commercial game to open Africa to toxic technologies.

By Nnimmo Bassey, Mariann Bassey Orovwuje and Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour

 

 

Road, Yes; Displacement, NO!

IMG_1332The Health of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, organized  a  two- day  Community dialogue and an Environmental Impact Assessment EIA training for communities that will be critically impacted by the proposed Digital Superhighway Project proposed by the Cross Rivers State Government.

The  thrust  of  the  meeting  was  to  build  the  capacity  of relevant community stakeholders  to  discuss issues related to their forests as well as the overall impact 10km right of way to be acquired on either side of the proposed Superhighway. The threats to their biodiversity rich forest and its resources, the environment and livelihoods they depend on for daily survival were of great concern.

Participants were drawn from  Okokori and Edondon in Obubra Local Government area; Old Ekuri and New Ekuri from Akamkpa Local government area; non‐governmental organizations,  representatives  of  civil  society  groups and community based organizations and media from within and outside Cross Rivers State.

At the end of a three day interactive community dialogue and EIA training, participants and community stakeholders from Edondon, Okokori, Old and New Ekuri resolved that they:

  1. Need good roads but do not want their cultural heritage destroyed.
  2. Insist on active engagement of communities in the EIA process with adequate compensation paid where necessary.
  3. Write to Government to register their concerns relating to the proposed super highway project.
  4. Call for NGOs and International agencies support to build a stronger alliance against the super highway project especially with regard to threats to forests
  5. Community’s FPIC must be sought in all projects before implementation.
  6. protest and resist any unsustainable forest management practices in the forest rich region.
  7. Reduce every activity that promotes deforestation.
  8. Promote forest conservation and regeneration of indigenous trees in degraded areas.
  9. Minimize poaching, unregulated hunting and stop to illegal wild life trade
  10. Reject use of forest lands for large scale plantations
  11. Campaign against water pollution and the indiscriminate use of chemicals.
  12. Strengthen the Community Forest Watch for effective community forest monitoring
  13. Form a community health monitoring group to ensure sustainable forest management practices.
  14. Help to protect, preserve and conserve their forest which provides them with social, economic, spiritual benefits

RESOLUTIONS ISSUED AT A  TWO DAY COMMUNITY DIALOGUE & ONE DAY EIA TRAINING @OKOKORI & EKURI COMMUNITIES HELD IN CROSS RIVERS STATE, NIGERIA.  9‐11th June, 2016.Signatories

————————————–

Representatives of Old Ekuri Community

Representatives of New Ekuri Community

Representatives of Okokori Community

Representatives of Edondon Community

Ekuri Initiative, EI

Health of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF

Rural Action for Green Environment, RAGE

Green Concern for Development, GREENCODE

Peace Point Action, PPA

Lokiaka Development Centre, LDC

Rainforest Research and Development Centre, RRDC

NGO Coalition on Environment, NGOCE

 

Nigeria’s Biosafety Agency Dances to Monsanto’s Tune

 

NABMA ogaNigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Defies FG, Nigerians, Permits Deployment of GMOs in Nigeria

Despite the promise of the Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jibril that “Nigeria would not mortgage the safety of its citizens by introducing unproven products into the country” and the concerted efforts by over 5 million Nigerians (made up of 100 groups comprising farmers, faith-based organizations, civil society groups, students and local farmers) to prevent the introduction of genetically modified (GM) cotton and maize into Nigeria’s foods and farming system, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) has issued  two  permits, one for the Commercial Release and Placing on Market of genetically modified cotton and  the other for the confined field  trial  of maize, to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited.

The two permits have been posted on NBMA website. They were signed by the Director-General of NBMA, Mr. Rufus Ebegba on Sunday, 1st May, 2016 (a public holiday) and issued to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited. The first is entitled: “Permit for Commercial release/ Placing on Market of Cotton (MON15985) genetically modified for lepidopteran insect pest resistance” with Permit No: NBMA/CM/IM/001.[1] The second is entitled: “Permit for Confined Field Trial (CFT) of maize (NK603 and MON 89034 x NK603) genetically modified for insect resistance and herbicide tolerance” with Permit No: NBMA/C FT/001.[2]

Reacting to the development, Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Mother Health Foundation – one of the groups in the front line of the resistance, “This is extremely shocking. Little wonder officials of NBMA, National Biotech Development Agency (NABDA) and their pro GMO train have been fighting tooth and nail to fool Nigerians by claiming that GMOs are safe! They approved the poorly concocted applications and issued these permits on a Sunday when government offices do not open. In fact, 2nd May was also a public holiday.”

According to Mariann Bassey Orovwuje, Food Sovereignty Campaigner, “several main areas of concern had been identified regarding objections to the release (and placement in the market) of GM Cotton and confined field trial of Maize in Nigeria. There are serious concerns and they include amongst many: health concerns, environmental concerns, socio-economic concerns, technical and administrative concerns, molecular concerns, safety assessments, environment risk assessment, secondary pests and insect resistance and many more concerns have been extensively laid out in our submissions to NBMA objecting to Monsanto’s applications.”

Screen shot

NBMA approved Monsanto’s proposal for Bt cotton despite the fact that on the 14th of April, 2016, our neighbours, Burkina-Faso’s cabinet announced their goal to reduce the acreage for genetically modified cotton this season until it’s completely phased out in 2018 and replaced by conventional cotton. The reached that decision because GMO cotton yielded shorter fibres and they were thus suffering economic loses.

In the objection to Monsanto’s applications[3], the concerned Nigerians stated that in its application MON 15985, Monsanto is using genes referred to as cry2Ab2 and cry1Ac, which produce Bt toxins that have been synthetically manufactured with no history of safe use in nature. The insertion of the antibiotic resistant marker gene (ARMG) causes concerns regarding the potential transfer of antibiotic resistance to other living organisms. This concern, which is dismissed by the applicant, has been raised by a scientific panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stating that this particular ARMG should be restricted to field trial purposes and should not be present in GM plants to be placed on the market – unfortunately this is what NBMA has released into the Nigerian market.

The groups also complained that there is no baseline data regarding the quantity, spread and use of cottonseed meal/cakes/ oil used for human or animal consumption in Nigeria, and therefore no foundation for the assessment of food and feed safety.

Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, a concerned consumer, sees NBMA’s decisions as grossly faulty. He finds “the claim of the agency shocking when it claims that in arriving ‘at this decision the National Biosafety Management Agency took into consideration the advice of National Biosafety Committee National Biosafety Technical Sub-committee and public views… The Agency was convinced that there are no known adverse impacts to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity taking into account risk to human health.’ The agencies they consulted are in the business of promoting these toxic and risky GMOs in Nigeria. We do not also know which public NBMA consulted.”

Nnimmo Bassey concurred, “We have always said the NBMA Act of 2015 is gravely defective, because its governing board is filled with GMO promoters such as NABDA and the Biotechnology Society of Nigeria. Those GMO promoters are concerned with ensuring the profit of biotech entrepreneurs rather than the health and environmental concerns of Nigerians. A case in point is that NABDA a member of the Board of NBMA is a co-sponsor with Monsanto of the application for the field trials of the GMO maize. We are also appalled that an agency saddled with defending Nigeria’s biodiversity is actively promoting these risky technologies.”

NBMA approved Monsanto’s proposal for Bt cotton despite the fact that on the 14th of April, 2016, our neighbours, Burkina-Faso’s cabinet announced their goal to reduce the acreage for genetically modified cotton this season until it’s completely phased out in 2018 and replaced by conventional cotton. The reached that decision because GMO cotton yielded shorter fibres and they were thus suffering economic loses.

NBMA approved the glysophate herbicide resistant maize despite the IARC report[4], that linked the active ingredient glyphosate to cancer. It is no surprise that nations like Sri Lanka, amongst others, heeded and took action by banning Monsanto’s round up herbicide because of its link to Kidney disease. That NBMA is considering giving us this “trojan horse” gift is indeed unfortunate knowing the low level of use of protective gears by our rural farmers and communities living close to farms.  References used in support of claims made by Monsanto are too old and none referred to the two GM maize events specifically but are general references for normal maize research. This may be due to the lack of thorough scientific peer-reviewed research carried out in support of the claims made in the application, or is a deliberate effort at hiding information. We note that no details of feeding studies whatsoever were provided by the applicant

NABDA, a member of the Board of NBMA, is a co-sponsor with Monsanto of the application for the field trials of the GMO maize. We are also appalled that an agency saddled with defending Nigeria’s biodiversity is actively promoting these risky technologies.

No data is given on the safety of the chemicals to which the events are resistant, namely glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs). In fact, no information on experiments carried out has been made available. The application is of extremely poor quality. The application ends on page 50 without comprehensive information on insect pest resistance, which is a critical aspect of the information required to justly appraise the application in relation to the insect-resistance trait and in particular to purpose 3 of the field trials to evaluate the efficacy of the MON 89034 × NK603 against certain Lepidopteran pests.

Throughout the application, Monsanto asserts that NK603 and MON 89034 × NK603 are equivalent to conventional maize.   The theory of ‘equivalence’ is a worn out argument that has been discredited by independent science, including in a joint South Africa – Norway biosafety project published in 2011. (See SANBI (2011). Monitoring the environmental impacts of GM maize in South Africa: The outcomes of the South Africa – Norway biosafety co-operation project (2008 – 2010). Department of Environmental Affairs.[5]

NBMA Approved this herbicide resistant GMO knowing full well that The EU nations have refused to back a limited extension of the pesticide glyphosate’s use, threatening withdrawal of Monsanto’s Roundup and other weed killers from shelves if no decision is reached by the end of this month.

Commenting on the decision, Bart Staes MEP environment and food safety spokesperson said: “We applaud those EU governments who are sticking to their guns and refusing to authorise this controversial toxic herbicide. There are clear concerns about the health risks with glyphosate, both as regards it being a carcinogen and an endocrine disruptor. Moreover, glyphosate’s devastating impact on biodiversity should have already led to its ban. Thankfully, the significant public mobilisation and political opposition to re-approving glyphosate has been taken seriously by key EU governments, who have forced the EU commission to back down.”

On May 26, 2016, a St. Louis jury ordered Monsanto to pay $46.5million in damages for negligence in the production of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs. This case, which went on trial April 28 2016, involved just three of nearly 100 plaintiffs “claiming that exposure to PCBs caused cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Sadly, while a number of plaintiffs have died as a result of the cancers they developed from Monsanto’s toxic PCBs, their claims were made by surviving relatives. The suit claims that Monsanto knew about the dangers of PCBs decades ago, but gave false testimony and scientific information to the public saying it was safe”[6]

Further damaging evidences pile up against indicted Monsanto: A trial in Redlands, California in May 2016 on the dangers of Monsanto’s Roundup reveals that “it is not only glyphosate that is dangerous, but also chemicals listed as inert ingredients.” A high court in Paris has punished a high ranking official representing Monsanto’s interests for deceitfully covering up research data proving that Monsanto was hiding toxicity of its own corn.[7] The information showed that it could promote neuro-developmental disabilities including autism, attention-deficit, disorder, dyslexia and other cognitive impairments affecting millions of children worldwide and seem to be increasing in frequency.

Essentially, therefore, GMO maize and cotton into Nigeria must be rejected because they would not only create health challenges, sterilize agric-potentials of the nation but scuttle the change agenda of the current government just as they would lead to neo-colonization of Nigeria and Africa. The time to stop it is now.

It is a mark of utter recklessness that NBMA would rush to issue approvals for GMOs to be released in Nigeria less than a year of the NBMA Act coming into force. We demand that the permits surreptitiously issued to Monsanto on a platter of gold without regard to the concerns of millions of Nigerians should be revoked immediately. We also urge that the recently enacted National Biosafety Agency Management Act should be quickly repealed to prevent NBMA from running amok with GMOs and flooding our country with these risky organisms.

Signed

  1. Nnimmo Bassey, Director, HOMEF

nnimmo@homef.org

Tel: +234 803 727 4395

  1. Mariann Orovwuje,

Food Sovereignty Manager/Coordinator ERA/FoEN and FoE International

mariann@eraction.org

+234 703 449 5940

  1. Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour

Prv@spatialtectonics.com

+234 703 428 9598

—————–

Notes

[1]See the permit at http://www.nbma.gov.ng/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Decision_Document_on_Bt.Cotton_for_Monsanto_signed.pdf

[2] See the permit at  http://www.nbma.gov.ng/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Decision__Document_GM_Maize_for_Bt_and_Ht_CFT_-Signed.pdf

[3] See the objections at http://www.homef.org/publication/objection-release-gmo-cotton-monsanto and at http://www.homef.org/sites/default/files/pubs/objection-to-monsanto-application-field-trials.pdf

[4] The WHO IARC report was composed of many peer-reviewed studies; it was free from conflict of interests and most importantly, in contrast, those done by Monsanto and submitted to EFSA for regulatory approval are unpublished, the scientist involved are unnamed.

[5] http://www.sanbi.org/node/1958/reference

[6] http://www.fooddemocracynow.org/blog/2016/may/26

[7] http://www.rapaluruguay.org/transgenicos/Maiz/Genetically_Maize.pdf

Standing Before History

Standing Before History

In his statement before execution, Ken Saro-Wiwa declared: we all stand before history. Today, in another sense, we all stand at the brink of history. We stand at the line denoting the fact of the justness of the historic, determined and heroic calls for a clean up of Ogoniland and the entire Niger Delta.

The submission of the UNEP report on the assessment of the Ogoni environment in August 2011 laid to rest any doubts anyone may have had over the degree of hydrocarbons pollution in the Ogoniland, and by implication the Niger Delta. That scientific work proved to the whole world that Ogoniland has suffered extreme pollution and by interpretation that the response ought to be one of environmental emergency. For years down the road, there has been nothing concrete beyond signposts to indicate that this signal was understood by government.

Today we salute the memory of the Ogoni 13 and all that have laid down their lives, lost their limbs and were displaced in the hard and long years of struggle for justice. Today we stand in solidarity with our peoples who still breathe air loaded with hydrocarbon fumes, drink water laced with toxic chemicals, fish and farm in polluted lands. Today we recall a fragment from one of the letters Ken Saro-Wiwa wrote during his last imprisonment and note his cry for environmental justice:

I’m not going into partisan politics. What I meant is that I would be taking a wider role in the nation’s affairs—expanding the Ogoni struggle to other parts of the delta and beyond. I could never be a part of whatever Abacha is planning for the future. What I want to see, and what I will always argue for is ERECTISM — ethnic autonomy, resource and environmental control. If this comes to pass, then Ogoni will be free and it is to them that I wish to dedicate the rest of my life. And I hope that that can be an example to other ethnic groups. The translation of my dreams into reality. Nothing to do with partisan politics.[1]

With decades of extreme hydrocarbons pollution, the environment of Ogoniland and several places in the Niger Delta has been out of control. The environment that ought to provide the backdrop for life, safety and progress, indeed turned hostile, becoming an impediment to the enjoyment of the right to life.

Today we applaud the courage of President Muhammadu Buhari as he flags off the cleaning of the environment of Ogoniland as the pathway to the detoxification of the Niger Delta environment. Taking this step at a time such as we are in is a mark of commitment that we must salute.

I believe that civil society and concerned peoples of this great nation, will pledge to work to see that this is not a mere political event, but one that is adequately funded, systematically pursued and implemented with clear targets and milestones, with best available expertise and with the full inclusion of local communities. As we commit to do this, we keep in mind the stanza of our national anthem which declares: the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain.

 

[1] See Silence Would Be Treason- Last writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa, (2013) letter written 24/10/1994

The Bite of Biafra

We all BiafransThe Bite of Biafra*

 

The name, Biafra has been around as the name of a bight far longer than the brief moment during which Eastern Nigeria took it on. The Bight of Biafra is that part of the Gulf of Guinea renamed the Bight of Bonny by Nigeria in 1975, possibly in an effort to snuff Biafra out of memory. Some names simply stay stuck even after they may have been dropped officially. Many unyielding street names attest to this phenomenon also. It is a lesson of history.

Current contestations have pushed Biafra in our faces and we simply have to deal with it. Chido Onumah in the title article of his book, We Are All Biafrans admonishes, “while I believe Nigeria is negotiable, I do not think any attempt to negotiate Nigeria can and should be done solely on the basis of ethnic, religious or cultural affinity. That is my position on the Biafran issue.”[1] We agree with him. These cleavages cannot define who we are or under what political architecture we chose to live in.

Earlier in the chapter of the same book titled 2015: Why Buhari matters, Chido writes and I quote:

“The improvement of millions of our country men and women, the wanton abuse of rights, the unmitigated corruption, alienation, internal colonisation and exacerbation of the fault lines of the country, are not issues that the current political order can tackle.”[2]

These fault lines are not only socio-economic or political, they are also physical. They are pervasive and democratically distributed across the land.

Permit me to reiterate that we are indeed all Biafrans. Consider the forces of displacement that pushed some Nigerians into the geographical zone that took that name. Today, the forces may not be the same, but Nigerians are being displaced, marginalised and pushed into conflicts of various degrees of viciousness. There are enclaves of Biafra everywhere in Nigeria. You may not like the name, you may even change it, but Biafra sticks to us like our shadows.

Accepting the inevitability of our identity may well help us to find the glue that would hold us together, or give us the boldness to accept to live together in a state of flexibility. Rigidity often leads to collapse. And that is why forced codes of relationships cannot build trust, solidarity or cohesion. Our fractiousness and selfishness speak to this reality.

The dispossessed, the displaced and the marginalised are found all around us. They are voiceless and easy to overlook. Like vermin, they can be crushed underfoot.

Desertification threatens to swallow up the slim tracts that pass for the heritage of our compatriots. Water stress, including the shrinkage of Lake Chad to less than 10 per cent of the size it had at independence, displaces millions of herders and fisher folks. Toxic effluents from tanneries and sundry industrial outfits and wastes from power plants turn our rivers into adversaries.

The dispossessed, the displaced and the marginalised are found all around us. They are voiceless and easy to overlook. Like vermin, their lives count for little.

Gully erosion challenges the notion of Biafra. It also reinforces it. These huge gullies have literally become insatiable mouths that swallow everything in its path that does not scamper away on time. Farmlands, homesteads, sundry infrastructure disappearing before our eyes.

The dispossessed, the displaced and the marginalised are found all around us. They are voiceless and easy to overlook. Like vermin, they should be glad to have the earth provide them graves.

Some fellow countrymen and women think they can hide away under trees in thick forests, living with nature and communing with other species, our relatives. But we need superhighways with internet backbones; we need shopping malls and we need top notch hotels. Highways chalk up cheap political points for making first, second or third year anniversaries. So, deforestation defrocks forest communities. Who needs monkeys or chimps when we can make ourselves spectacles for the rich.

The dispossessed, the displaced and the marginalised are found all around us. The are voiceless and easy to overlook. What is the purchasing power of a forest dweller? What do they add to our GDP?

Coastal erosion and subsiding lands. Sea level rise. If the guns cannot silent dissent, these will swallow them up. Add unrelenting pollutions and infernal gas flares and we will soon be pumping fists of victory in the toxic air.

Books

The dispossessed, the displaced and the marginalised are found all around us, and our challenges can be traced to similar roots. Games of power and reckless exploitation and accumulation. One powerful truth is that the oppressed in one are the same as the oppressed in the other. That defines our all being Biafrans. Being pressed into the borders called Nigeria, we ignore that pressure at our peril.

We could push ahead in fear or hate. We could also choose to sit together and deliberate on how to ease the shocks, overcome the odds, build love and solidarity and introduce some flexibility that considers the possibility of the bight in the Biafra in which all Biafrans live. It is a choice. Inaction may shut the bight but usher in the bite of Biafra.

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*A reflection by Nnimmo Bassey on Chido Onumah’s We Are All Biafrans- A participant-Observer’s intervention in a country sleepwalking to disaster. The book was presented at Shehu Musa Yar’Arua Centre, Abuja, on 31 May 2016

 

 

[1] Onumah, Chido (2016), We Are All Biafrans, Lagos, Parresia Publishers Ltd, p.162

[2] Ibid p.10