Abuja Court Rules in Favour of NBMA, NABDA over Suit Against Commercialisation of BT Cotton

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From Azeez Babatunde, Abuja

Abuja Federal High Court has ruled in favour of the National Biosafty Management Agency (NBMA), National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) including the Federal Ministry of Environment among others listed in the suit.

The judgement is coming two weeks after commercialization of Bt cotton gets the Federal Government’s approval.

There have been concerns from anti-GMO groups including Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) on the legality of permit issuance for GM field trials among others.

In 2017, HOMEF led 17 other non-governmental in filing a suit against the federal government in the Abuja Federal High Court seeking to stop the deployment of Bt cotton and genetically improved varieties of maize.

The defendants in the suit included the NABDA, NBMA, the Ministry of Environment and other agencies.

The anti-GMO groups asked the court to revoke the permit granted to NABDA for the confined field trial of NK603 and MON89034X NK 603 maize in Nigeria, noting that the permits were issued on an unofficial day, May 1, 2016, which was a Sunday and a public holiday, Workers Day.

HOMEF and others, also maintained that the issued the permits to both Monsanto and NABDA posed a threat to the fundamental human rights of the general public and is a breach of the 1999 constitution as amended in 2011.

However, Justice A.R Mohammed of the Federal High Court Abuja who delivered the judgement, Wednesday, 15 August, dismissed the action on the ground that is was backed by statute, noting that the court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain it.

Justice Muhammed, who said the matter was not a fundamental rights issue, as claimed by the plaintiff, explained further that anti-GM groups can appeal the decision, but advised against it as it may be a “technical lockout.”

However, he said the operational relationship between NBMA and NABDA did not breach any civil society laws or the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In his reaction on the victory, Dr. Rufus Ebegba, Director-General of NBMA, said the ruling implied that Nigeria’s judicial system is effective and also showed that the country’s biosafety system is sound.

Also reacting to the judgment delivered, Dr. Rose Gidado, an Assistant Director at NABDA, said the victory was an important step for biotech in Nigeria.

According to her: “This is a milestone. This means that Nigeria is ready to go ahead, to really adopt this technology and move forward. It means a lot to food security.”

Gidado, who is also the Country Coordinator for the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) Nigeria Chapter, added that the bottleneck created by the anti-GMO has now been removed.

“So we’re good to move ahead and meet the other parts of the world that have already commercialized [GM crops] and moved forward.”

She noted that the judgment was a very technical and sound decision, which was well considered, showing that Nigeria’s judicial system is well-informed and functioning effectively.

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