Anti-GMO activists lose landmark court case in Nigeria

By Nkechi Isaac

August 15, 2018

Just two weeks after Nigeria’s federal government approved the commercialization of Bt cotton, scientists scored another victory with a court judgment that rejected objections raised by anti-GMO activist groups.

In September 2017, a group of 17 non-governmental organizations, led by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), filed a suit against the federal government in the Abuja Federal High Court seeking to block the deployment of Bt cotton and genetically improved varieties of maize.

Those named as defendants in the suit included the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), the Ministry of Environment and other agencies.

The activist 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, claiming that the permits were issued on a non-business day, May 1, 2016, which was a Sunday and a public holiday, Workers Day.

The groups also maintained that issuing the permits to both Monsanto and NABDA constituted a threat to the fundamental human rights of the general public and a breach of the 1999 constitution as amended in 2011.

Delivering judgment yesterday, Justice A.R. Mohammed, the presiding judge, dismissed the action on the grounds that it was statute barred and the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain it, saying the matter was instituted over a year after the cause of action. He added that the matter was not a fundamental rights issue, as claimed by the plaintiff.

The Justice also noted that anti-GM groups can appeal the decision, but advised against it as it may be a “technical lockout.” He also explained that the operational relationship between NBMA and NABDA did not breach any civil society laws or the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Speaking exclusively to the Alliance for Science on the implication of the defendants’ victory in court, 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.

In remarks after the judgment was delivered, Dr. Rose Gidado, an assistant director at NABDA, said the victory was an important step for biotech in Nigeria.

“This is a milestone,” she said. “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 that the anti-GMO groups wanted to put in place 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.”

In addition, Gidado stated 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.