From: Bamidele Fashube, Abuja
Director General of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr. Rufus Ebegba says the shipload of maize illegally imported into the country in 2017 was reptriated rather than being destroyed due to high cost of confiscation.
Ebegba disclosed this during end of the year media briefing at the agency’s Headquarters in Abuja.
He was responding to questions regarding number of convictions secured against those who flouted the NBMA Act since inception of the agency.
An agricultural firm, Olam in 2017 was accused of importing 90 tonnes of GM maize worth $10 million illegally into the country but subsequently impounded by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) at the Apapa seaport.
“The only sanction we have had so far is when a ship load of GM maize came into this country and we had to repatriate it at the border because, for some obvious reasons, first it will be costly to confiscate such large consignment, since they have not entered into the Nigerian territory, they were still at the border so the best way is to repatriate. That is also a good punishment for them,” Ebegba said.
The meeting was also to showcase the Federal Government scorecard on the biosafety sector especially ensuring safety of modern biotechnology.
He explained that though the sector is relatively new in the country but has existed over two decades in some developed nations.
However, he unfolded plans to further partner with border authorities to check illegal import of GM products without approval.
“I can tell you that since we started operation, what we have been looking at is creating enabling environment so Nigerians can be well informed of the NBMA law.”
On assurance of safety, he described the pro-GMO groups as puzzle of people who believe in certain aspects of the economy.
“If you mean well for the nation, why don’t you go to the relevant authorities or agency and express your fears and concerns but they just decided to vilify the agency for their personal interest but we will continue to enlighten Nigerians and give them the confidence that this agency is there for them to protect their lives.
“I want to use this opportunity to tell Nigerians that the NBMA will ensure that nothing unsafe that comes from modern biotechnology will be allowed into the Nigerian space. We shall assure Nigerians of that.”
He assured that, “whatever is approved is safe after doing a diligent risk assessment and not just approving anything.”
“If anybody brings in any GMO into this country without approval or certification for safety, such person, company or group will be liable and there are severe consequences of jail or fine. The agency is capable of ensuring the law is implemented.”
Ebegba noted that through the agency, greater products have been developed to support farmers and increase farm productivity.
According to him, the sector would encourage more youth to go into agriculture as a way of reducing unemployment and promoting young ones into farming.
“We are being used by the government as an instrument of government to ensure safety of these products to enhance and diversity the economy.”
In his recent reaction to GMO products, the Executive Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Rev. Nnimmo Bassey kicked against adoption of Genetically Modified products.
“A bulk of genetically engineered or GMO seeds are engineered to withstand herbicides produced by the same companies. They go hand in hand. The rest of GM crops are engineered to be pesticides themselves.
“We are for agriculture that works with nature. We are for agroecology, not artificial seeds engineered to tie farmers to the apron strings of corporations.”
The agency has granted seven confined field trials, one commercial release and nine approvals for grains, food and feed processing.