By Onozure Dania – Lagos
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, Monday, stopped the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and eight others from releasing for public use a banned chemical, methyl bromide imported into the country by Toon Consolidated Company Limited.
Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo made the order after Olukayode Enitan (SAN), lawyer to a retired judge of the Osun State High Court, Justice Olamide Oloyede and Virtues Unlimited Restorative Justice Initiative (VURJI) told the court that NAFDAC had released the alleged dangerous chemical to the importer.
Other defendants affected by the interim Order are the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Services (NAQS), National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency, Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Justice.
Justice Oloyede and VURJI are seeking an order from the court to compel the defendants to investigate, identify and destroy in a healthy and safe manner any methyl bromide, an odorless, colorless gas used to control pests in agriculture which has a serious negative effect on humans and the environment.
They also urged the court to declare that the alleged importation of the banned chemical substance into Nigeria by Toon Consolidated Company Limited pursuant to the license issued by NAQS without the permit of NAFDAC is unlawful and illegal.
At the resumed hearing of the matter yesterday, Enitan informed the court that he had filed a motion for an interlocutory injunction seeking to stop the defendants from deploying the chemical for public use pending the determination of the suit.
However, his motion could not be move because all the defendants’ counsel present in court asked for time to respond to it.
Following the development, Enitan urged Justice Oguntoyinbo to issue an interim order to preserve the rest of the suit.
The learned silk alleged that NAFDAC had already released the ban methyl bromide to the importer after imposing a fine of N300,000 on it.
He also alleged that NAFDAC issued a permit to the importer after he was served with the processes in the case and backdated it.
Enitan further claimed that the defendants have constructed a 40ft container to serve as a fumigating chamber where the chemical will be used.
He said that the court needs to protect Nigerians from the harmful effects of the chemical.
However, counsel to NAFDAC, B. Simon denied the allegations, stating that the agency issued the permit before it was served the processes.
On his part, lawyer to the Quarantine Services, O. A. Omasa, told the court not to grant the interim order because the country stands to lose millions of Naira.
The lawyer disclosed that the Chemical is now in the custody of the Quarantine Services and it has the capacity and expertise to manage it use. He said that the agency allows the importation of methyl bromide because it is used to preserve herbivore flowers exported to Mexico.
In her ruling, Justice Oguntoyinbo granted the order, holding that all parties in the case must maintain the status quo until the hearing of the motion for interlocutory injunction.
Before adjourning the case to December 2, the judge warned that all the defendants must obey the order or be cited for contempt.
In a 32 paragraph affidavit filed in support of the suit and personally sworn to by the retired judge, she claimed that the agro-chemical had been banned in Nigeria because it was dangerous to human health and caused environmental hazards by depleting the ozone layer.
The VURJI coordinator also averred that methyl bromide, when used as a fumigant and pesticide, exposes humans to severe injuries including lung damage because it is highly toxic.
Justice Oloyede also stated that due to the dangers it poses to humans and the environment, NAFDAC banned its importation and use as a fumigant in the country on February 20, 2019.
She, however, alleged that it came to the knowledge of the Plaintiffs that Toon Consolidated Company Limited was given a permit by NAQS to import 45 cylinders of methyl bromide into Nigeria and use the same as a pesticide in the country.