By Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
The Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) has described the illegal importation of genetically modified (GM) maize worth $9.8 millionÂ Â into Nigeria as alarming.
The group expressed worry that this incident mightÂ just be a fraction of other undetected arrival of unauthorised foods into Nigeria, including those of the genetically modified varieties.
The Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey in a statement issued yesterday in Abuja stated that
Nigerians should be alarmed at these incidents because whoever imported the GM maize might have done so due to the preponderant attitude of government that Nigeria was open to GMOs, stressing that this was an indication that more GMO foods and products might have slipped into the country undetected.
According to him, “we read the report of the press conference by the Director General of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) at which he decried the importation of genetically modified (GM) maize into Nigeria. News reports had earlier announced that a vessel named Diamond Harbour, arrived the ENL terminal of the seaport at Lagos with 25,750MT of maize worth $3.7m at the current market value of $144.29/MT.Â Two days later, another vessel named Zola berthed at the same terminal with 42,900MT of maize valued at $6.1m.”
The group queried, â€œWhat happened to Nigeriaâ€™s pre-shipment procedure? These GMOs should not have been authorised to head to Nigerian ports in the first instance.â€
HOMEF has been strident in demanding the banning of GMOs in Nigeria. The organisation believes that Nigerian farmers can meet the food needs of Nigerians if they were supported with extension services, processing and storage facilities as well as adequate rural infrastructure.
The group urged the agency and the Nigerian Customs (NCS) to ensure that the illegal consignments were impounded and destroyed, adding that NBMA should equally conduct market audits to ensure that crops, foods and feeds that had genetically modified traits had not been sneaked into the country.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly has assured that it would review theÂ existing Acts and the relevant sessions of the law in tune with the biotechnology to ensure that the biosafety agencyperform its role effectively.
The Chairman,Â Senate committee on Environment, Sen. Remi Tinubu disclosed this in Abuja at the 3rd National Biosafety Conference,Â with the theme; “Biosafety, Paving way for Safe and Sustainable Environmental Management,Â Agricultural Development and Economic Recovery.”
Tinubu who was represented by Sen. Sulaiman Hunkuyi noted that the National Assembly remained a willing tool and ready to partner in pushing the agency to the next stage of development and also to protect the general public.
She added that, “technology generally has made the world a global village. The GMO, biotechnology and other such very important key aspects of technology into our existence has made it too important to relinquish into the background every little detail at any given point in time. Hence, with that one will not discount the opportunity of being on our toes to look at the existing Acts and the relevant sessions of the law to review it in tune with the technology,Â in tune with the stages of development with other world global state in that sector.
“So, in this respect, in my own opinion, we have to be on our toes to deliver what is required, specifically in bio-security to our nation, bio-security to our people and indeed the entire population,” Tinubu stressed.
On is part, the Minister of Environment,Â Usman Jibril, said the only way to achieveÂ economic growth, food security, sufficiency and sustainable environment was innovation of self,Â smart, scientific and technological means of maximising available resources to increase food and fibre production.
He assured of the federal government’s determination to partner with all stakeholders in exploring use of relevant technology that would provide adequate foodÂ for Nigerians.
Jibril stressed: “As a demonstration of government’s commitment,Â the NMBA was established to enable Nigerians benefit maximally from the practice of safe mordern biotechnology.Â This is the newest agency under the ministry and this isÂ an agency that is constantly under attack.
This is understandable. We will not be afraid of receiving criticism but we want constructive criticism.Â That is why in thisÂ conference, those who are for and against this technology are invited to share their views and express what they feel, so that together we can understand the future of biotechnology. We have to understand that when people criticise,Â they may have their motives and there are those who do it out of ignorance, there are others who do it from a well informed position,Â and therefore all deserve to be listened to. We can try to ignore them but we will not be helping the nation.”
Earlier, the Director General of the agency, Dr. Rufus Ebegba, said Nigerians should sleep with their eyes closed, saying the agency is in place to protect them from any potential adverse impact of GMOs.
He noted:Â “We will also protect their health protect the environment, and the agency is well protected to do that. They should stop listening to news and information that is not authentic. If they want the right information they should come to the agency.Â The media is awash with negative news and that is not the best for our country. There is no need to create fear in the minds of Nigerians
“As for the rumour of the poisonous GM maize that is being imported particularly to the North-eastern part of the country, they should be rest assured that nothing unsafe will be allowed into the country.Â They should be rest assured that nothing unsafe will be allowed to the Nigerian market or the environment.Â The agency is on ground to ensure that such thing do not come into the country,” Ebegba said.