Stakeholders Kick Against Proposed Amendment Of NBMA Act 2015

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…not in national Interest – NABDA

…seeks to globally isolate Nigeria from practising biotechnology – NBMA

…taking the clock backwards – IITA

…antithetical, counter-productive, seeks to create combative atmosphere – CASER

Senate public hearing
L-R: Member, Senate Committee on Environment, Sen. Deji Wangagra, committee vice chairman, Sen. Ibrahim Hadejia and committee member, Sen. Michael Nnachi during the public hearing at the National Assembly.

Stakeholders in Nigeria’s biotechnology and biosafety sector have vehemently kicked against the proposed amendment of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) Act 2015, describing it as “a calculated attempt to stop the progress Nigeria has recorded in the application of modern biotechnology”.

Taking a stand in Abuja today (August 31, 2022), at the Senate Committee on Environment’s public hearing for an act to amend the bill, stakeholders made up of promoters, regulators, scientists, academia, farmers, civil society organisations (CSOs), research agencies, lawyers and others unanimously said the bill was against Nigeria’s interest.

Making his submission, the director-general of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, stressed that Nigeria has a well-established biosafety law to regulate the safe application of modern biotechnology. He called the amendment “unnecessary” and said it will limit the practice of science in Nigeria.

“If at all there is a need for any amendment, it is the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) that will look for it. If this amendment is made [to please those who requested for it] then it is going to draw back all the developments that have been achieved in this country. It will bring down all activities being done in the biotechnology space. This is science. If you look at it, it is driving the world faster.

“If we amend this bill then all the successes, we have recorded in the sector will now go down and that is the negative effect of this amendment and we are not in support of this amendment. We categorically, clearly, say ‘no’.

“I am representing the interest of the country and the country has developed biotechnology to foster the development of the nation,” he said.

Earlier, the director-general, NBMA, Dr. Rufus Ebegba expressed shock that the regulating agency saddled with the responsibility of implementing the law was not consulted in seeking the amendment of such an important law adjudged to be the best globally.

Ebegba prayed the National Assembly to do the best for the nation by jettisoning this amendment whose intent is to globally isolate Nigeria from practising and benefiting from the safe applications of modern biotechnology.

“This law has been adjudged globally as the best biosafety law. On that note, if this amendment is approved Nigeria will be globally isolated from the practice.”

He posited that if the law is amended it means science and technology will no longer drive the nation’s economy.

“Nigeria has 11 research institutes and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture policy on agriculture recommends the use of biotechnology to drive the agriculture sector. We have a full-fledged National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and the National Biotechnology Policy to deploy this technology to drive our economy. A green, bio-economy can never be achieved under this [amended] law,” he said.

In his submission, the executive director, Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Samaru, Zaria, Prof. Mohammed Ishiyaku, opined that the proposed amendment seeks to substantially undo the exploitation of the very important arm of science (biotechnology) which has the potential to improve Nigeria’s economy.

“We have just concluded the release of the cowpea variety that is highly nutritious and will improve the livelihood of Nigerians. If this amendment goes through as [it is], having gone through it, I haven’t seen anything that will add any value to the Act establishing this agency; rather, it is discriminatory, restrictive and binds the hands of scientists in domesticating the potential of modern biotechnology to the Nigerian people. Also, it makes us more susceptible and dependent upon the products of modern biotechnology from elsewhere which is not good for the development of our country,” he maintained.

The plant breeder further said the amendment as it stands will not add any value to the development of science and technology in this country, stressing that it will also restrict Nigerian farmers from accessing the potential benefits of modern biotechnology.

“I recognise that under the current law, the agency has been empowered fully to ensure that scientists are always put under the microscope to see that we are doing things which ensure the safety of Nigerians,” he added.

Public hearing stakeholders
A cross section of stakeholders during the public hearing in Abuja.

Speaking for the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Prof. Chiedozie Egesi highlighted that Act has made Nigeria a model for other nations in Africa and Asia to leverage for their laws and implementation.

“So, what, really, is the reason for the call for an amendment? I must say unequivocally, as a Nigerian, that this proposed amendment is retrogressive and takes the clock backwards. It is not needed at this time.

“We have a biosafety law that manages the science of biotechnology and research and helps us to manage reckless importation of unregulated products into the country.

“As the law stands today, it is what we need. We know the power of biotechnology in helping anyone’s economy, especially in agriculture and beyond.

“I think we should focus more on how to implement biotechnology and how it profits Nigerians, rather than troubling ourselves with the amendment of biosafety,” he added.

Similarly, the executive director, Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER), Frank Tietie Esq. said the proposed new clauses are “mere semantic substitutions” of the original law with words having inappropriate technical connotations that only serve to “create ambivalence, confusion and increase frivolous and vexatious court cases which only benefit meddlesome interlopers and litigating gold-diggers”.

He said: “Therefore, the introduction of the doctrine of strict liability in the development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is antithetical to Nigeria’s national interest and its policy of maximising benefits of biotechnology. Thus, the creation of a punitive and combative atmosphere in an industry that is highly reliant on research and development strictly to serve the well-being of Nigerians is counter-productive. The proposed amendment is not only misconceived but driven by selfish motives to fuel gold-digging litigations.”

In his submission, the president, Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium (NBBC), Prof. Celestine Aguoru said the amendment is targeted at driving indigenous Nigerian scientists away from the country, as it will limit their scope and frustrate them.

“I submit, in all honesty – except for some of us who remaining here to struggle, to see what we can do with the research equipment that we have – that the National Assembly will not help those who want to drive us out of Nigeria to go and practice where the environment will be good for us to practice because that is virtually what that law they are proposing to amend is seeking to do.

“Drive them out, let them go somewhere, do it and bring it to us, we will eat. There is no point, no need for considering this amendment,” he added.

Earlier, the vice chairman, Senate Committee on Environment, Sen. Ibrahim Hadejia, explained that a public hearing is part of the legislative process for purpose of obtaining expert and technical advice and input from all stakeholders, operators, regulators and practitioners in the field to enable it to take an authoritative, well-informed and effective decision on the Bill and report to the senate in full session.

He, however, expressed dismay that the sponsors of the proposed amendment failed to attend the hearing to defend their proposal, describing it as an unserious trait for failing to support their proposal in public.

“This public hearing is for stakeholders, scientists that have requisite knowledge and experience to make contributions. This is part of the law-making process. From the opinion we’ve heard, everybody said the same thing ‘no need, [no] justification’ for an amendment. This is very germane because it is the people speaking,” he added.

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