By Jibrin Ibrahim
Our food is normally composed of a lot of dirt; poison, dangerous chemicals, GMOs and we are all rapidly eating ourselves to death. The easiest way of demonstrating this is to refer to research by the European Union on what they found in the food we sent them to eat. They discovered that the items from Nigeria contained glass fragments, rodent excreta and dead insects. They also found high levels of chemicals like dichlorvos, diometrate and trichlorphon in the products. Some of these chemicals were used in the planting process; others were used in preservation.
The poisonous chemicals did not serve their purpose because microbes such as salmonella, aflatoxins and mould had contaminated the food. Nigeria does not meet basic standards of food hygiene in the planting, growing, preservation and transport of its food. I remember the shock of a Kenyan colleague who saw meat being carried in an open boot of a rusted taxi and shortly after a man behind a motorcycle carrying the leg of a cow on his head without any covering. He asked me if we have any organisations that set and monitored standards and I confirmed that we had but as always, they do not do the work they are paid to do.
It was not surprising that the EU was categorical in its decision in 2015 and 2016 to formally declare that the 42 food items exported from Nigeria were not fit for human consumption. It might well be that the exporters had actually chosen the best from our markets to export to Europe and the reality is that our best is not good enough for human consumption. The items included beans, melon seeds, palm oil, bitter leaf, pumpkin, shelled groundnut and live snails. In other words, the things we eat every day that we were trying to sell to our compatriots in Europe. Had they passed the sanitation test, then issues of not having labels, improper packaging, lack of health certificates and other entry documents would have arisen?
After the incident, Audu Ogbeh, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, warned that Nigerians might be killing themselves in installments through the food that they eat. Ogbeh listed several of such poisonous foods, including moin-moin (bean cake) wrapped with cellophane (nylon) and cooked to ensure we transfer the dangerous chemicals are released into the beans. Another dangerous habit of millions of us is consuming sachet water that has been exposed to the sun at over 30 degrees Celsius to multiply the number of liver and kidney failure in our society.
Currently, there is panic in informed circles that the massive quantities of tilapia fish and frozen chicken consumed in Nigeria have been preserved with chemicals normally used for embalming dead bodies and that’s why they never go bad. Not only are we all accelerating our movement to our deaths, we are already embalming our bodies before time. Talking of meat that never goes bad, I have always wondered what gala, which we are told is a sausage is made of. Every other type of sausage I know of goes bad after some time but not gala.
This week, the Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI) revealed that Nigerian peasant farmers spend $400 million annually on the purchase of pesticides. They say that we use them in an improper manner and millions of Nigerians are falling sick due to pesticide poisoning. This information is from the Executive Director of the institute, Professor Olufemi Peters. He lamented that rather than continue to kill ourselves with these chemicals there are cheaper and healthier forms of storage such as the inert atmosphere silos for grain storage. Sadly, public health was one of the first victims of the collapse of governance in the country.
One of the most serious threats to public health in the country is the grand entry and dangerous plot to take over our agriculture by Monsanto, the chemical company that produces genetically modified organisms (GMO) and calls their dangerous products food. The Nigerian Government has given approval for GMOs to be grown on our land. The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) into which Monsanto has been pumping dollars has become the advocacy agency for promoting their GMOs and their chemicals. Our own governmental institutions are mortgaging our future.
The first major Monsanto project in Nigeria is to grow glyphosate infused maize. Recent studies have linked glyphosate to health effects such as degeneration of the liver and kidney, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It is unfortunate that Bill Gates with his America First mentality is sponsoring Monsanto’s Water Efficient Maize for Africa, a five-year development project led by the Kenyan-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation, which aims to develop a variety of drought-tolerant maize seeds. Why will he not invest in the Institute of Agricultural Research project in Ahmadu Bello University that is developing drought resistant maize that does not have the dangers of what Monsanto is doing? My fear now is that Aliko Dangote who is planning to invest billions of dollars into Nigerian agricultural production is not sucked into this Monsanto project. There are reports that some of the food aid being currently imported into Nigeria is GMO.
As a first step, the Ministers of Agriculture and the Environment should call the National Biosafety Management Agency to order and make them withdraw the authorization issued for the production of GMO crops. Given our fragile ecosystems and stressed environment, we must take our biosafety seriously and avoid the path of introducing crops that are dangerous to the health of our people and our environment. Nineteen European countries that care about the health of their people have completely banned genetically modified crops.
Even the Russian State Duma recently passed a bill banning all import and production of genetically modified organisms in the country. We must not allow Nigeria to be turned into a dumping ground for what sensible countries have rejected. Sincere scientists have shown evidence that Monsanto’s crops are genetically enhanced to tolerate the use of the herbicide glyphosate which was declared as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Everyday, more and more Nigerians are falling sick and dying and as we weep for them, we often wonder why so many young people are going. Maybe the question we should be posing is how come some Nigerians are still alive given the intense and systematic way we are poisoning ourselves.
Professor Jibrin Ibrahim is Senior Fellow, Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja, Nigeria. Follow him on twitter @jibrinibrahim17
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