Why Nigeria remains country of concern in obnoxious wildlife trade
Damning allegations of Nigerian government officials actively engaging in or profiting from illicit trade in endangered species have continued to soil the national wildlife image abroad, Chinedum Uwaegbulam reports
United States Department of State has continued to rate Nigeria as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ in illegal wildlife after data recognised that widespread high-level corruption is fuelling illegal wildlife trade in the country.
Nigeria was added to the list in 2020, along with Cambodia and Cameroon. There were no changes to this list in 2021. The list has remained the same since then. This designation does not indicate that all parts of the government are or have been involved in wildlife trafficking, but that there are serious concerns that either high-level or systemic government involvement has occurred.
The review was completed by the Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, which brings together 17 federal departments and agencies to implement the U.S. National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking to improve responses and resilience to wildlife trafficking in a number of key countries, including Nigeria.
The U.S. in consultation with the Departments of the Interior and Commerce, and with the international development agency, identified Countries of Concern among 28 Focus Countries as directed by Section 201(b) of the Act, reviewed publicly available information, as well as classified material, which indicated that Nigerian government actively engaged in or knowingly profited from the trafficking of endangered or threatened species.
This review is yet further evidence that Nigeria, whose crime index and criminal market scores for wildlife crime were rated as the highest in Africa, must urgently strengthen its response to the wildlife criminals, who continue to exploit weak law enforcement to devastate the region’s wildlife populations for the illegal trade.
Currently, Nigeria plays a key role in the illegal wildlife trade, as it represents the largest export point for ivory and pangolin scales destined for consumer markets in Asia. For instance, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) research and analysis of seizure data indicates that Nigeria has been implicated in the trafficking of at least 49,983kg ivory and 161,403kg pangolin scales, the equivalent of more than 7,400 elephants and hundreds of thousands of pangolins.
There is a high pressure on Nigerian wildlife, where pangolins, forest elephants and other endangered species, are traded both domestically and internationally. Animals are hunted for their bushmeat and body parts, such as pangolin scales and elephant ivory tusks. The country’s deforestation has also led to further decrease in endangered animals.
According to a report of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Elephant Trade Information System to COP17, Nigeria is the second most prominent ivory exporting country of West Africa, functioning as a major ivory hub that draws in ivory from Central Africa and, increasingly, as far away as East Africa
Although, less prominent, rhino horn is also trafficked through Nigeria and the country is linked to at least 114kg rhino horn seized elsewhere. Wildlife trafficking in Nigeria is linked to other forms of serious criminal activities such as the illegal trade of drugs, precious stones, fraud and corruption.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) World Wildlife Crime Report (WWCR) 2020, found that in 2019 alone, at least 51 tonnes of pangolin scales seized globally originated from Nigerian ports, compared to only two tonnes in 2015. More than half of all seizures of pangolin scales worldwide could be traced back to Nigeria in 2019.
Data further suggests an increasing role of Nigeria in the illicit ivory trade. Despite a global decline in trafficking in ivory since 2011, Nigeria has been identified in a growing number of incidents as part of the illegal trade chain.
The January 2021 seizure of 20 feet container at the Apapa Ports by the Nigeria Customs Service, containing the remains of various endangered species, further buttresses these findings in the WWCR 2020. The container included 2,772 pieces of elephant tusks of different shapes weighing about 4,752kg; 162 sacks of pangolin scales weighing 5,329kg; 5kg of rhino horns, dried and fresh animal bones; 103 kg of skulls suspected to be of lions and other wild cat; and 76 pieces of timber (semi processed and processed).
Customs officers in Nigeria have seized a staggering 9.5-tonne shipment of poached pangolin scales. The haul – found in an abandoned warehouse in Lagos in 147 sacks – very roughly equates to 9,500 dead pangolins, the world’s only scaled mammal.
In recent decades, pangolins have swiftly become the world’s most trafficked mammal. Pangolins are poached and illegally traded in Africa and Asia to supply commercial markets both locally and internationally with scales and meat.
Scales are used in traditional medicines and for jewelry, particularly in East Asia; the meat is consumed across Africa and Asia as both a subsistence and delicacy food.
For that reason, Nigeria has been flagged as a Category-A Party, the highest category of concern, under the CITES National Ivory Action Plans (NIAP) framework for its role in ivory trafficking.
The government amended the Endangered Species (Control of International Trade and Traffic) (Amendment) Act in December 2016 to increase fines under the First Schedule from N1, 000 to N500, 000 or five years imprisonment, or both for offenders, who hunt or trade in endangered species. This includes such species as chimpanzees, pangolins, sea turtles, as well as some species of civet, monkeys, pythons, and crocodiles.
With regards to the Second Schedule, fines were increased to N300, 000 or three years in prison or both. Airlines, shippers, or cargo handlers, who freight illegal wildlife products, now pay a fine of N2 million.
However, the law is rarely enforced, as seen with many other wildlife laws, such as the National Environmental (Protection of Endangered Species in International Trade) Regulations 2011, which has a maximum fine of N5 million and a three-year jail term for people involved in wildlife-related crimes. Besides, many of the cases taken to courts are still pending, while the culprits including foreigners escape justice.
According to EIA, effective law enforcement responses to wildlife trafficking in, from and to Nigeria, can only materialise if systemic corruption in Nigeria is addressed as a matter of urgency. EIA said it would continue to call for and provide support as appropriate to the Nigerian government and its partners to implement obligations under international and national law to deter, detect, disrupt and prosecute wildlife trafficking and associated corruption.
The Guardian gathered that the illegally trafficked species in Nigeria, such as Elephant ivory, Rhino horn, Pangolin scales, Tiger bone/teeth, Leopard skin and gorilla meat are driven by their use as traditional medicine, religious purposes, luxury product and status symbol, as well as increase strength, power and sex drive.
Compared to drug trafficking, environmental crime is still not seen as a serious priority in many countries and remains a low-risk and high-profit undertaking. The retail prices per kilogramme vary due to demand as at 2021, as follows: Elephant ivory ($8,000), Rhino horn ($32,000) and Pangolin scales ($1,000).
Counter Wildlife Trafficking Advisor, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Nigeria, Elisha Bello, said wildlife crime is a global lucrative business with high demand driving high prices; and extremely widespread. Nearly 6,000 different species of fauna and flora have been seized between 1999 and 2018, with nearly every country in the world playing a role in the illicit wildlife trade.
According to Bello, demand for pangolins in Asia is being supplied by pangolins from Africa. In both regions, pangolins are killed for their meat and their scales, which have been used medicinally. Pangolin products have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat a wide range of ailments.
The scales are said to promote blood circulation and increase lactation in pregnant women, while the meat is used as a tonic. They are also used as medicine in Africa. In Nigeria, for example, pangolin parts are used to treat a wide range of physical and psychological conditions.
He said traders often use the same routes to export and import pangolin scales, as they do ivory and drugs, while traders and traffickers also store stockpiles of scales in countries where the rule of law is weaker and wildlife crime enforcement limited before moving the scales for immediate sale to buyers in more high-risk locations.
EIA Senior Pangolin Campaigner, Chris Hamley, said: “Nigeria has become one of the primary exit points for the trafficking of pangolin scales and elephant ivory between Africa and Asia, largely undetected by Nigerian authorities.
“In addition, elephant ivory is openly available for sale in Lagos and ivory processing is also taking place at a commercial scale. In recent years, very little progress has been made in Nigeria to address its critical role in wildlife and timber trafficking, so this enforcement action is doubly welcome.
“We welcome the initiative of the Nigeria Customs Service in inflicting such a major loss on a criminal network trafficking pangolins. All eight pangolin species are at risk of extinction. The industrial volume of dead pangolins represented by this 9.5 tonne haul of scales should spur the Nigerian Government to go beyond seizures and proactively investigate the criminal networks involved.
“With successful prosecutions of wildlife traffickers, Nigeria would become a more high-risk environment in which to undertake this illicit activity.”
Wild Africa Fund Nigeria Representative, Kelechukwu Iruoma, called for strong laws and enforcement to protect endangered species in the country.
The group urged the National Assembly to pass the Endangered Species Conservation and Protection Bill, which will make Nigerians to protect endangered species. “This will go a long way in strengthening enforcement and prosecution of wildlife trafficking offenders and put an end to the illegal killing of Nigeria’s wildlife.
“Our iconic giraffes, rhinos, and cheetahs have already gone into extinction due to illegal wildlife activities. It will be disastrous for Nigeria to lose its remaining endangered animals. These endangered species play significant roles in preserving the ecosystem. Pangolins, for example, consume about 70 million insects in a year to regulate the insect population numbers so that crops can grow,” Iruoma added.
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