On Monday, March 21, 2022, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) began the first phase of the Bioethics Educational Programme meant to educate the general public on the significance of Bioethics and give participants the basic essential knowledge and understanding of the core principles of Bioethics.
The Bioethics Educational Programme, organised by the Bioethics Unit of NABDA, was declared open by the Director General (DG) of the research agency, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha.
The Director General, a Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, was reported to have said in his welcome speech that “the Bioethics educational programme will provide a foundation for humanity response to the ever increasing dilemmas and controversies that science and technology present for mankind and environment.”
He revealed that the Honourable Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, has signed the National Bioethics Federal Executive Council (FEC) Memo for onward transmission of the National Bioethics documents to FEC for the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The NABDA helmsman reportedly said Nigeria is a signatory to the 2005 UNESCO Declaration on Bioethics and Human rights.
He was quoted to have said: “As a signatory to the declaration, Nigeria is expected to develop the National Bioethics Framework and Policy Documents that will lead to the establishment of a functional national bioethics committee.
“Article 23 of the Declaration affirms that member states should endeavor to foster bioethics education and training at all levels as well as encourage information and knowledge dissemination programme about bioethics.”
The NABDA boss further disclosed that the process for the establishment of National Bioethics Committee started in 2009 with UNESCO organizing the first national bioethics stakeholders’ conference. According to him, the second meeting was also conducted by UNESCO in 2017 while NABDA in conjunction with the National Commission for UNESCO convened the third one in 2019.
The three meetings, he remarked, were all geared towards drafting the National Bioethics Framework and Policy Documents which were fundamental documents necessary for the creation of the National Bioethics Committee.
“The National Bioethics Documents are to serve as guide for the establishment and proper functioning of the National Bioethics Committee,” the DG said, adding that there were several gains to be made from the constitution of the committee, while also emphasizing the need for Nigeria, as the giant of Africa, to be the leading edge on issues relating to bioethics for other countries of the continent to look up to.
Speaking at the programme, a Deputy Director at NABDA and Head of Bioethics unit, Dr Chitu Princewill, stated that three major components were required for the formation of National Bioethics Committee in Nigeria. In the words of Dr Princewill, “First is the development of a national bioethics framework and policy documents, second is the bioethics educational programme and the third is inauguration of the members.
“The inauguration will come after the approval of the National Bioethics programme and Policy Documents by the Federal Executive Council headed by the President.”
Resource persons at the Bioethics educational programme include Prof. Peter Omonzejele from University of Benin, Edo State, said to be the first Bioethicist in Nigeria, Prof. Adefolarin Malomo, Neurosurgeon at the University College Hospital, University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Prof. Omokhoa Adeleye, Public health and Community Medicine, University of Benin, Prof. Ayodele Jegede, Medical Sociology/Anthropology and Bioethics and Dr. Princewill, Deputy Director and Head of the Bioethics, NABDA.
Participants were drawn from Head of Service, Ministries of Science, Technology and Innovation, Health, NATCOM-UNESCO, Sheda Science and Technology Complex (SHESTCO) and NABDA. The programme was described by partakers as “very timely, informative, educative and impactful”.
Lectures at the two-day programme centred on Introduction to Bioethics, Evolution of Human Research, Theories of Bioethics, Principles of Bioethics, Research Misconduct and Integrity, Applications of Ethical Principles in Daily Practices, Importance of National Bioethics Committee and Ethics and the Society.
As further explained on the website of NABDA, “The Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights adopted by UNESCO advocates the establishment of independent, multidisciplinary and pluralist ethics committees at national, regional or institutional levels. UNESCO’s role as the international clearing house for ethical issues initiated a project to support the establishment and operation of bioethics committees, the ABC Project (Assisting Bioethics Committees). It is in line with this project that National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) was made the UNESCO Focal Point on Bioethics in Nigeria.
“As the Focal Point for UNESCO Bioethics in Nigeria, NABDA represents the country in the International Bioethics Committee (IBC) and the Inter-Governmental Bioethics Committee (IGBC).
“The functions of the (Bioethics) unit is to provide advice on ethical problems relating to research, development and application of scientific knowledge, to formulate recommendations concerning guidelines and legislation, develop tools for standard setting, strengthen co-ordination and contacts among experts and institutions and foster debate, education and public awareness, and engagement in bioethics.”
As has been defined in different publications, “Bioethics is the study of the ethical issues emerging from advances in biology, medicine and technologies.” It is said to be basically concerned with “the ethical questions that arise in the relationships among life sciences, biotechnology, medicine, politics, law, theology and philosophy.”