Why inadequate pesticide laws, regulatory lapses exist in Nigeria: Call for caution

By Donald Ikenna Ofoegbu

Part one – the why!

SINCE 2015, the Nigerian government has grappled with the ongoing issue of its food exports consistently being rejected by the European Union, United States, Asia, and other nations that prioritise food safety for their citizens and the environment.

These countries have implemented stringent measures to ensure food safety, responsible chemical usage, and a standardised import monitoring system.

Paradoxically, they generate revenue and secure employment by promoting the export of their locally banned toxic chemicals, including pesticides, to countries like Nigeria, which have inadequate or no food safety laws, weak regulations, poor manpower capacities, and little or no enforcement regulations.

The trade of internationally banned pesticide practices occurs under the umbrella of international conventions, treaties, and frameworks that allow the movement of highly toxic chemicals, particularly to developing nations. Despite the knowledge of the impossibility of safe handling of these toxic chemicals in the recipient country, this decision is facilitated by a few national delegates representing government ministries and agencies who lack the necessary capacity, handy information, network, and resources to make sound, informed decisions to the benefit of all Nigerians.

It is difficult to blame the governments of Europe, America, and some Asian countries, as well as their international agrochemical companies, for taking advantage of this situation and profiting from the manufacturing and trade of internationally banned and highly hazardous pesticides in countries like Nigeria. As the saying goes, “mugu fall – guy man go wak” (the victim has fallen, and the trickster is at work).

Often, private companies with a sole profit-driven agenda sponsor the questionable actions taken by food safety regulators in Nigeria. This trend has caused many if not all, regulatory agencies in Nigeria to operate contrary to their regulatory mandate. Instead of professionally regulating in an unbiased manner to ensure consumer protection and a healthy market, they promote and protect products, technologies, and methods. This toxic alliance between regulators and private companies in the food sector has not only resulted in significant compromises of food safety laws in Nigeria but also explains the growing food safety hazards and numerous deaths in the country.

This article aims to highlight and present instances of legal flaws and propose actions to address the gaps for better food and pesticide regulation in Nigeria.

Inadequate laws and regulatory lapses exist in Nigeria due to various factors:

1. Poor Collaboration between CSOs and regulators:

In Nigeria, there is a notable lack of effective collaboration between regulatory bodies and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). This lack of cooperation poses a hindrance to the development and implementation of robust pesticide regulatory frameworks.

The CSOs such as the Alliance for Action on Pesticide in Nigeria (AAPN), Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Coalition against Paraquat (CAP), and others play a vital role in advocating for consumer protection and ensuring the enforcement of stringent pesticide regulations.

Unfortunately, rather than being recognised as collaborators working towards a safer nation, government officials often label many CSOs as antagonists, further exacerbating the lack of collaboration and trust between the two parties.

2. Poor Capacity and limited budget:

Regulatory agencies in Nigeria, including the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), and the Ministry of Agriculture, encounter notable challenges due to insufficient resources and budgetary constraints.

These limitations impede their capacity to effectively enforce regulations and promptly respond to internationally banned or highly hazardous pesticide products.

Furthermore, these agencies often face a shortage of qualified personnel, lack adequate machinery, and have limited working laboratories for conducting product testing. These resource-related issues further contribute to the difficulties faced in enforcing robust pesticide regulations.

The lack of financial resources compels regulatory agencies to seek support from private sector companies and international development partners.

However, this reliance on external funding sources often leads to a concerning situation where these entities are primarily focused on advancing their own interests rather than improving regulations for safety. Consequently, the regulatory agencies become susceptible to external influence, resulting in a shift from their intended role as enforcers to becoming promoters and marketers for the very companies they are meant to regulate. This compromised relationship further undermines the integrity and effectiveness of the regulatory process.

3. Toxic Alliance between regulators and promoters of agrochemicals:

A concerning issue in Nigeria is the existence of a toxic alliance between regulators and promoters of agrochemicals. This alliance compromises the integrity of regulatory processes and prioritises the interests of agrochemical companies over public health and safety.

The close relationship between regulators and industry actors can result in compromised regulations, weak enforcement, and biased decision-making.

4. Proposed pesticide bills backed by a toxic alliance:

The current legal framework in Nigeria may inadvertently support the toxic alliance between regulators and agrochemical promoters.

Flaws in existing laws and regulations allow for loopholes that enable the exploitation of regulatory systems for personal gain, easing pesticide entry and turning Nigeria into a dumping ground for pesticides. The proposed bill to Establish a Pesticide Council 2021  (HB 1396) is one such proposed law that would promote the toxic alliance to the detriment of the Nigerian people and the environment.

For instance, Section 3 of the proposed bill – Composition of the Council – excludes and repeals the power of relevant agencies like NAFDAC, NESREA, NAQS, and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Council (FCCPC) as part of the Council members {Section 3(1b)}. For a Bill that seeks to protect against unreasonable adverse effects of pesticide on Nigerians and our environment, excluding these enforcement agencies is wrong, and suggest a lack of intention to collaborate with them.  

The bill went further in Section 3 (1b) to reserve two seats in the Council for an internationally affiliated association – CropLife Nigeria, as Council members. CropLife is an International Association consisting of international private companies that manufacture and promote highly hazardous pesticides. CropLife members – companies like Bayer –Monsanto, Syngenta, Corteva, BASF, etc, manufacture, and promote the usage of Highly Hazardous Pesticide like Paraquat, Glysophate, 1,3-dichloropropene etc, in developing countries like Nigeria, even when these pesticides are banned in their European home countries due to their adverse health impact on Europeans.

The bill in Section 4(i), boldly recommends that – “council members accept gifts of land, money and other property on such terms and conditions that is ethically acceptable to the Council and as may be specified by the person or association or organisations making the gift”. This is a window for lobbyists. It opens the Nigerian pesticide regulation to corruption and compromises the health and safety of Nigerians.

Aside from the recommendation that allows Council members acceptance gifts, the bill also gives power to the Chairman of the Council to delegate decision-making power to the members of the Council – by implication CropLife members and other council members.

In conclusion, the Bill seems to focus on jumping or overhauling the perceived existing bureaucracy in the current regulation of pesticides in Nigeria. The bill seems to focus more on harmonising the existing regular channels, thereby easing the registration and operational processes of pesticide promoters. It does not consider the existence of the existing regulatory agencies, officer liability to polluters or precaution to HHPs or environmental protection.

After the above points were highlighted by the Alliance for Action on Pesticides in Nigeria (AAPN) at the Public hearing on the bill in November 2021, the Farm Input Support Services (FISS) in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) publically withdrew their support of the bill.

CropLife delegates in attendance also okayed their removal from the bill. It is shocking that the same Farm Input Support Services (FISS) that publically withdrew their support from the Pesticide Council Bill 2019, is now Nichodemouly including CropLife Nigeria back in their proposed amendment of the Fertiliser Control Act of 2019. This stirs worries and suspicion on why FISS is insisting on forcing CROPLIFE into a national council.

5. Failure to work sustainably with local channels and groups Consistently:

Regulatory agencies in Nigeria often fail to work consistently with local channels and groups. These local stakeholders, including farmers’ associations, community organisations, and consumer groups, can provide valuable insights and feedback on the ground realities of pesticide usage and its impact. Engaging these groups in a sustained manner would help in developing more effective regulations and ensuring their proper implementation.

6. Poor Collaboration among agencies:

Inefficient collaboration among different regulatory agencies within Nigeria further contributes to inadequate laws and regulatory lapses. Fragmented coordination and lack of communication between agencies involved in food safety and pesticide regulation create gaps in enforcement and monitoring. Harmonizing efforts and establishing effective inter-agency collaboration is crucial to strengthen the regulatory landscape and addressing regulatory lapses effectively.

Part two: Checking the flaw

Based on the issues identified regarding inadequate pesticide laws and regulatory lapses in Nigeria, here are some recommendations to address these challenges. By implementing these recommendations, Nigeria can work towards establishing a comprehensive and effective pesticide regulatory framework that ensures food safety, protects public health, and promotes sustainable agricultural practices.

1. Enhance collaboration and partnership:

There is a desperate need to foster a culture of collaboration and cooperation between regulatory bodies and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to ensure meaningful engagement in the development and implementation of pesticide regulations.

Regulatory agencies and CSOs should establish regular dialogues, joint initiatives, and knowledge-sharing platforms between regulators, CSOs, farmers’ associations, community organisations, and consumer groups to incorporate diverse perspectives and enhance the effectiveness of regulations.

2. Strengthen regulatory capacity:

Both the federal and state governments need to prioritise and allocate sufficient financial resources and budgets to regulatory agencies like NAFDAC, NESREA, FMARD, NARS, etc to make them independent and enhance their capacity in terms of personnel, equipment, and laboratories for pesticide testing and enforcement.

Provide comprehensive and continuous training programs to regulatory personnel to enhance their technical knowledge and enforcement capabilities.

3. Promote transparent and accountable governance:

The new Secretary General of the Federation, having resumed office, should ensure transparency and accountability in the regulatory process by implementing clear guidelines and mechanisms to prevent conflicts of interest and undue influence from agrochemical companies or other external entities. There is a need to develop and enforce strict ethical codes of conduct for regulatory officials to prevent the acceptance of personal gifts, donations, and/or appreciation that compromises their mandate and understanding of their roles.  Bribes, lobbying or any form of unethical practices that compromise the integrity of pesticide regulation should not be encouraged – pesticides and food are public health issues. They can be a security threat.

4. Review and strengthen Existing Laws and Regulations:

CSOs and government need to conduct a comprehensive review of existing pesticide laws and regulations to identify gaps and inconsistencies.

Especially those that put business profit and ease the business entry of toxic chemicals that can be abused into Nigeria.

Caution cannot be thrown to the wind with haste in the check and approval of chemicals especially highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) going into our food, water, soil, air and bodies. With the average life expectancy in Nigeria falling towards the mid-40s, more caution needs to the placed on food safety laws and enforcement. We need to amend and strengthen existing legislation to address the identified flaws, close loopholes, and ensure alignment with international best practices for food safety, environmental protection, and public health.

5. Introduce regulatory risk Insurance for agrochemical Investors:

To cover the investment loss of investors who, after a product registration (within the 5 years registration period), are forced to deregister, recall, remove and destroy a now ban pesticide product in Nigeria (following a NAFDAC or FMARD decision for public and environmental safety reasons), the Federal government through the Nigerian Agricultural Insurance Corporation (NAIC) should design an insurance policies like the Regulatory Risk Insurance.

This will provide coverage for losses or damages that may result from changes in government policies, laws, or regulations that affect businesses and investments.

This type of insurance can help protect agricultural businesses from financial losses due to unexpected regulatory changes that may affect their operations, such as restrictions on pesticide use, land-use regulations, or changes in import/export policies.

It will also give NAFDAC and FMARD more confidence to take bold actions that prioritise the safety and health of Nigerians, without fear of possible reprisal attacks and threats to their personal safety.

6. Enhance inter-agency collaboration:

There is a National Council on Chemical Management (NCCM) in Nigeria, chaired by the Federal Ministry of Environment. The council needs to wake up to their call and meet regularly using online platforms where budget provisions and logistics are not available. The relevant government should all be proactive and establish effective communication channels and coordination mechanisms among themselves; covering all regulatory agencies involved in food safety, environmental protection, and pesticide regulation, as well as CSOs and consumer protection groups.

We all need to foster inter-agency collaboration to harmonise efforts, streamline regulatory processes, and improve enforcement and monitoring of pesticide usage.

7. Promote public awareness and education:

All relevant MDAs at national, state and local government levels need to launch public awareness campaigns to educate farmers, consumers, and the public about the potential risks of pesticide usage, safe handling practices, and the importance of adhering to regulations.

There is a need to promote sustainable agricultural practices and the use of alternatives to pesticides through training programmes, workshops, and extension services. Traditional leaders, farmers’ associations, market groups, cooperative groups and local government councils and state land and agricultural commissions need to also play a key role in this regard.

7. Engage international partnerships:

NAFDAC, NESREA and other regulators, FISS specifically, need to seek collaboration with international organisations, development partners, and countries with robust pesticide regulatory systems to leverage their expertise, resources, and best practices.



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    The relevant regulator should seek technical assistance and capacity-building support to enhance Nigeria’s regulatory frameworks, enforcement mechanisms, and monitoring systems from such groups, not the promoters and markets for products.

    Easier said and done, some may dare to say regarding the implementation of the above recommendations.

    However, far from it. These recommendations are far from rocket science, and most need little or no resources, just friendly communication, building relationship, handholding one another, and deliberately putting Nigerian lives and interests first. After all, if we do not protect Nigeria who will? The West?

    Donald Ikenna Ofoegbu is a Lead Coordinator for Alliance for Action on Pesticide in Nigeria (AAPN) he can be reached via [email protected]

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