Between Nigerian Farmers, Biosafety Bill And Goodluck Jonathan

Jonathan 200.jpg 600By Abdallah el-Kurebe

There is a big issue between Nigerian farmers and President Goodluck Jonathan. The issue is that of Biosafety Bill, which is a regulatory framework for the application of biotechnology in the country; it is an issue about which Jonathan stands to gain if he ensures the Bill becomes law before elections in March.

The Bill is a much sought for legal framework that was harmonized on March 11th and laid before the National Assembly on the 12th March 2015, was passed by the Senate and House of Representatives on February 26 and March 6th 2015, respectively.

The simultaneous action by the National Assembly has not only portrayed members as having understood the importance of biotechnology in agriculture but also excited Nigerian farmers, who are happy that their country is on course to join other nations in the application of research studies with the potential to substantially increase yield.

Interestingly following the development, farmers are already pledging that should President Jonathan give assent to the Bill before election, that would earn for him their votes.

Though farmers spoken to are celebrating the passage of the Bill by the National Assembly they are hopeful that Mr. President would act in the same way that “the mother of a hungry child would hastily feed him.” Their votes would be their “promissory notes” to Jonathan.

Hajiya Larai Mohammed is a farmer from Lapai in Lapai local government of Niger state. She grows soybean and beniseed and also processes shea nut into oil.

According to her, “As woman farmer, I know that the application of biotechnology in agriculture will draw more women into farming because it will ease the cumbersome traditional method of farming now employed by farmers, especially women.

“I think I will not hesitate voting for Jonathan should he signs the Bill into law before election. I am not saying this as a condition though because he knows what is good for the nation, especially in the area of agriculture and food security. His Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) has made me like his administration,” she said.

For Mallam Rabe Iliya of Rabah town in Rabah local government of Sokoto state assured, “I will personally organize members of farmers’ associations to vote for Jonathan if all is done to have the Biosafety law in place.”

Rabe is of the view that apart from the Federal Government’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA), which has encompassed several packages including “GSM fertilizers, etc “the Bill if passed into law will give Nigerian farmers seeds that could quadruple yields.”

Jabbi Boyi Shagari, an all-year farmer from Goronyo town in Goronyo local government of Sokoto state. “I have been hearing about seeds that are resistant to drought, pests, and that could grow with less application of fertilizer. If there truly exist these and all we need is a law to allow their use by Nigerian farmers, be rest assured that my vote and that of my family would be cast for Jonathan if he signs the Bill into law.”

Alhaji Zubairu Turaki, a farmer and  politician in Kebbi state said that “Apart from the fact that I am a politician, one reason I like Mr. President for is his agricultural programmes for Nigerian farmers. Agriculture has made me to campaign for him vigorously. I see what farmers stand to gain from the passage of the Biosafety Bill into law.”

Alhaji Ibrahim Mani, a farmer in Katsina state says that although the state government is trying in the area of mechanized farming, peasants farmers could not afford tractors and other farm implements.

“With a Biosafety law in place, peasant farmers can multiply their farm yields, double their earnings and be self-subsistent. Crops from these seeds will provide more yields because of their resistability. If only the House of Representatives will take the path of the Senate for the President to sign it before elections, individual members of the National Assembly and Jonathan will receive votes boost, I am sure,” he said.

My favourite candidate is one who has agriculture as number one policy and programme. You know Zamfara state government is APC-controlled but let me assure you that as a state whose people are predominantly farmers, if only we could have this law in place before election, Zamfara farmers’ votes will go to Jonathan.”

“Assent-for-vote” notwithstanding, it is expected that Mr. President will not delay his assent to the Bill. At least, he should not allow another lapse that could result in another fresh presentation of the same Bill by the Eighth Assembly.

In the last few years, Jonathan has especially  exhibited enough zeal to diversify the nation’s revenue generation platform from oil. His assent to the Bill therefore would further strengthen ATA and by extension Agriculture to the status of best revenue earner for the country.

Nigeria cannot believe in science and, at the same time continue to doubt technology.

Nigeria was once an African giant in food production. It was simply of Agric fame because her major foreign earner was agric-based. Remember the famous ground nut pyramid, cotton and cocoa.

Ironically, likened to a farmer who buys food from the market to feed his family, the discovery of oil reduced the country to a “famous for food importation.”

However, the introduction of some programmes that are aimed at diversifying the nation’s economy from oil to agriculture and other sectors has displayed some degree of dedication of government to reduce hunger in the country.

The law when assented to would provide for the application of biotechnology in agricultural, pharmaceutical companies, among many others.

The Bill, which seeks to provide regulatory framework for safety measures in the application of modern biotechnology in Nigeria, must not entertain the undue delay that it entertained in the previous years.

Nigerian scientists, especially those in the field of agriculture will dust off their research findings on genetics and begin the application of these findings to develop the country.

The prospective law would protect Nigerians against possible negative effects Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), which fears are expressed in certain quarters.

It would also as rightly observed by the Director-General, National Biotechnology Development Agency, NABDA, Professor Lucy Ogbadu, “assist government in ensuring that Nigerian farmers did not illegally find ways of importing GM crops” and that Nigerians did not consume GM products illegally imported into the country.

The strong suspicion that GM products were already present in Nigerian food markets would be allayed because no longer would there be any need for the importation of such products, the same having been legalized to be produced in the country.

Although Nigeria would be presumed as a new entrant into the GM initiative, her entrance will surely open up opportunities for other African countries that rely on Nigeria for economic direction.

Burkina Faso and Kenya have set the pace in agricultural biotechnology but Jonathan’s Nigeria will surely “overtake” and “lead” in Africa. This is because “when Nigeria sneezes, other countries catch cold.”