By Micheal Jegede (Contributing Editor)

Director-General/Chief Executive Officer of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Dr. Rufus Ebegba, has condemned the call for the ban of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and repeal of the Act establishing the agency by a coalition of Non-Governmental Organisations.

The coalition led by GMO-Free Nigeria Alliance and Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) had in a protest insisted that Nigeria does not need GMOs.

“Nigeria does not need GMOs. They are promoted on false premises. Research has shown that GMOs do not give higher yields and are no more nutritious than normal crops. They do not use fewer herbicides and pesticides. With the many problems, we are contending with as a nation, GMOs should not be allowed to compound our situation. We must not accept a technology simply because it is available. We must as a people determine what is good for us,” the coalition had averred.

However, at a press briefing held in Abuja on Tuesday, NBMA’s DG/CEO said Nigerians should learn to trust the federal government and allow the Agency to do what will be in their best interest.

He implored Nigerians not to be afraid as their health and wellbeing in relation to Biosafety are of great concern to the agency.

“A lot of misinformation has been going round the public especially in the media space as some people have taken it upon themselves to misinform Nigerians and backlash the Agency for doing its job and fulfilling its mandate of managing biosafety matters in Nigeria.

“It is important to state here that the NBMA is charged with the responsibility of providing regulatory framework and institutional and administrative mechanism for safety measures in the application of modern Biotechnology in Nigeria, with a view to preventing its adverse effects on human health, animals, plants and environment.

“Nigerians should know that the NBMA was not created to stop GMOs but to ensure that Nigerians and the environment are safe from any adverse impact they may have on human health and the environment,” Ebegba said.

He further stated that “Globally, safe science and technology have been known to be drivers of economic change world over, Nigeria cannot afford to be left behind that is why the federal government through NBMA makes sure it approves only safe application of modern biotechnology for the economic development of the country particularly in the Agricultural sector.

“I have said it before and will say it again, the NBMA is very thorough in its dealings and before any approval is granted, the National Biosafety Committee and the National Biosafety technical Committee meet to analyze, deliberate on the product which most times spans for two days and decisions are taken after careful and thorough analysis of the application. The NBMA does not act on its own as these committees comprise of experts drawn from sister Agencies, line ministries, scientists, Non-governmental Organizations, farmers and many other expert stakeholders who after their review make their recommendation to the NBMA for further action.”

Dr. Ebegba noted that “Since the inception of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) in 2015, the obvious impact of the Nigerian Biosafety Authority has been felt all over the globe. From the decision to approve Bt Cotton for environmental release in 2016 to the decision to approve PBR Cowpea for environmental release in 2019, the NBMA has made decisions based on scientific facts for the benefit of the Nigerian people and just like our activities that have not gone unnoticed in Africa, it has not gone unnoticed worldwide.

“This is why the Nigerian Biosafety system is well sought after in Africa and the world as our regulations and guidelines have become models that other countries use in developing their own guidelines and regulations. The Nigerian biosafety system is a source of inspiration to other African countries and this is mainly due to our doggedness in ensuring that our mandate is achieved no matter the challenges, safety is our watch word.”

He disclosed that “In line with the mandate that has been added to the Agency, on regulating new modern biotechnologies such as gene drive, gene editing, synthetic biology and ensuring Biosecurity, the Agency has developed a draft National Biosecurity policy which was presented to stakeholders by the Honorable minister of state for environment last December.

“The Agency has equally developed gene editing guidelines which have been validated by stakeholders. The guidelines will ensure the proper regulation of gene edited products. However, some plants edit their genomes themselves independent of human efforts that is naturally hence cannot be expected to be regulated. But any man-made or scientifically inserted gene into an organism or plant will be regulated.”