In this article, the context of the Government of Nigeria (GON) and its agencies killing a truth-seeking environmentalist is (a) physical as in murder, execution, assassination or driving one to suicide. Or (b) psychological as in breaking one’s spirit, discrediting one’s name, ruining one’s career; being a victim of government-sponsored attack dogs. Ken Saro-Wiwa a major Nigerian environmentalist suffered such a fate. It would not be paranoia or scaremongering to be concerned that the GON is after yet another environmentalist, Rev Nnnimmo Bassey. The question is to what extent, considering the beginnings of similar trends and actions in the past. “Discredit him then kill him” is an old tactic. It should be taken seriously.
A smear is an attempt to damage a person with falsehoods; a criticism is an expression of disapproval about an entity or person based on real or imagined failures or mistakes. They are not the same thing. The basis for the smear levelled against Bassey was that he was the main architect of the National Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) Report and that he was critical of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) and the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA). What is quite interesting is that the scientific contents of the NIREC Report were not discussed by the author who chose to adopt a non-scientific non-rational discourse instead. Reason: anyone who reads the NIREC Report would see the committee is constituted of noted high calibre thinkers, the issues raised were fact-driven and relevant to Nigeria’s interest, the methodology adopted was evidence-based, and the report was impeccably referenced.
The NIREC Report is an evidence-based investigation into claims and counterclaims concerning the implications of the introduction of GMOs into Nigeria using appropriate scientific methodology. The scientific findings were then tested for compatibility with religious beliefs and the national interest. The theme of the Report can be reasonably narrowed down to 10 important crucial questions and rational recommendations for them. The questions are; (1) Do GM crops increase crop yield? (2) Do GM crops reduce pesticide use? (3) What are the effects of GM crops on human health? (4) What are the benefits of GM bio-fortification for our otherwise natural crops? (5) What are the long-term effects of GM crops on the environment; and the way forward? (6) What deficiencies were identified in the current Biosafety Act 2015? (7) What deficiencies were identified in the National Health Act 2014? (8) Are there concerns with the distribution of GM crops to IDPs by NGOs? (9) Which are the GM crops currently sold or cultivated in Nigeria? (10) What are the religious, socio-cultural and national interest implications of the use of GM crops?
A summary of the evidence-based answers was that GMO did not increase crop yield, GMOs did not reduce pesticide use, pests were not necessarily eradicated but mere swapped by introducing GMOs, GMOs carried serious potential health risks, the future of the environment in the long-term was uncertain in the presence of GMOs, the Biosafety Act of 2015 and the Health Act 2014 required significant revision to eliminate deficiencies in them and areas where GMOs are bought and sold should be identified. All these recommendations were developed with adherence the provisions and expectations of a clearly defined religious (Christian and Islamic) and broad-based national interest concerns. Finally, more research into GMOs was required before the claims of the advantages of GMOs could be taken seriously.
What is so unpatriotic, venal or self-serving about the NIREC Report and its alleged architect Nnimmo Bassey, considering these the salience of the questions and recommendations as presented? If the contents of the NIREC Report are scientifically or morally unsound, would a rebuttal(s) based on cogent scientific evidence to the contrary not be the rational professional response?
The concerns about biosafety and GMOs are global. More and more nations are resisting or banning GMOs but Nigeria is once again shaping as the willing “toilet of the world”. Before any indignation is expressed, do not forget Nigeria is Number 1 in oil pollution, gas flaring, desktop computer dumping and the growth rate in tobacco smoking in the world with growing generous help from foreign large corporations.
Furthermore, members of NIREC complained that members of NABDA and NBMA appeared to be uninterested in the focus of biosafety in Nigeria or lacked the capacity to be so, categorically saying they have not lived up to expectation as development agencies for biosafety in Nigeria. It also cited the agencies’ conflicts of interest regarding GMO companies. Many can understand that suggesting that scientists are corrupt is something they do not take lightly even if it is proven. We can speculate that this smear attack on Nnimmo Bassey might have been the “Revenge of the Scientists”. Others have seen it as something far more serious and dreading an unsafe and uncertain future for Nnimmo Bassey in Nigeria.
The great thing is that Nnimmo Bassey is no stranger to threats resulting from his stoic and fearless approach to fighting environmental issues in Nigeria and all around the world very effectively. He would certainly not be perturbed personally but so many are concerned for him.
The GON and its agencies must know millions are watching.