Nigeria considers stringent legislation to protect endangered species
• Offenders to pay N12million for import, export of animals, plants
• Starting project likely to harm species without EIA attracts N10 million fine
• 10 years jail term or N15m fine for extractive activity in protected area
The Federal Government is proposing a new law that increases penalties to reflect seriousness of the crimes and their impact on endangered species, as well as expand courts’ ability to expedite wildlife cases and recover assets, create corporate liability and support international cooperation.
Coming under the Endangered Species Conservation and Protection Bill 2022, which is before the House of Representatives, the government has also created offences for damaging critical habitats; permit violations, introduction of invasive species, obstruction and preparing to commit an illegal act.
Promoted by the Federal Ministry of Environment, the legislation would make Nigeria compliant with international conventions on endangered species, organised crime and corruption, while increasing investigative powers to include financial enquiries and intelligence-led operations. Chair of the House Environment Committee, Hon. Johnson Oghuma and Hon. Sam Onuigbo, jointly sponsored it.
Specifically, it stipulates imprisonment of up to 10 years imprisonment or a fine of not less than N12 million or both for any person that imports, exports, re- exports or attempts to embark on such activities listed under Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix I.
For offences related to species listed under the Second Schedule or that are listed under CITES Appendix II, the person is liable to a term of imprisonment of up to seven years or a fine of not less than N6 million or both. An offence relating to a species listed under the Third Schedule or listed under CITES Appendix III also attracts N4 million or both such fine and imprisonment.
Animals and plants in the Appendix I include Leaf-nosed Bat, Fat-mouse, Flying Squirrels, Giant Ground Pangolin, Drill, White-throated Monkey, Sclater’s Monkey, Chimpanzee, Cross River Gorilla, Lion, Leopard, Cheetah and Wild Cat, while Animals in the second schedule include African lung Fish, Butterfly fish, Snake fish, Forest Guinea fowls and African Palm Squirrel.
Also, any person that fails to conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA) before embarking on any project would be guilty of an offence under sub-section (1) and liable to a term of imprisonment of up to five years imprisonment or a fine of not less than N10 million or both such fine and imprisonment.
Similarly, any person who carries out an extractive activity within a protected area, without a permit or other lawful authority, commits an offence and is liable to a term of imprisonment of up to 10 years imprisonment or a fine of not less than N15 million or both such fine and imprisonment. Upon conviction, the person is also liable to the cost of restoration, restitution and any other costs associated with the clean up and rehabilitation.
Besides, a person who kills, hunts, captures, or injures a species without a permit or other exemption under this Act, which relates to a species listed under the First Schedule or is listed under CITES Appendix I or Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) Appendix I, is liable to a term of imprisonment of up to five years with no option of a fine.
But if the offence relates to a species listed under the Second Schedule or is listed under CITES Appendix II that person will liable to term of imprisonment of up to three years imprisonment or a fine of up to N4 million or both such fine and imprisonment; where that offence relates to a species listed under the Third Schedule or is listed under CITES Appendix III, that person is liable to term of imprisonment of up to two years imprisonment or a fine of up to N3 million or both such fine and imprisonment.
Africa Nature Investors Foundation (ANI), the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Wild Africa Fund (WAF) have been actively supporting the Nigerian Government’s efforts to fight illegal wildlife trafficking, with support from the UK Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund and the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
Oghuma said: “The rate at which some species of fauna and flora are being extinguished is assuming a frightening dimension. Every day, more and more species are becoming endangered and pushed to the brink of extinction. It is worthy of note that any action that is against biodiversity sustainability comes with a great cost. Just as humans have the right to life, so do the plants and animals.
“We must therefore do everything within our strength to ensure their sustainability. It is time to act to stop environmental degradation and protect our wildlife and plants globally and Nigeria cannot afford to be the last.”
ANI Executive Director, Tunde Morakinyo, said: “This is a momentous thing for Nigeria. The whole world is watching us. Let’s get it right and show the world how we can be the leaders in Africa on fighting the illegal trade in wildlife.
“We salute the politicians for giving their attention so close to the elections. They know how important this is for Nigeria.”
EIA Executive Director, Mary Rice, said: “This comprehensive legislation is cutting-edge and a potential game-changer. Working alongside our partners, EIA sees this as a key step in tackling trafficking and protecting critically endangered wildlife in Nigeria and across Africa. We hope it can be rapidly adopted to address the current crisis.”
Chief Executive Officer, WAF, Peter Knights, said: “Nigeria has become the epicentre of the illegal trade in ivory and pangolin scales. If passed, this Bill would give authorities the legal tools to close down trafficking – border agencies have made huge seizures but have struggled to prosecute and pursue criminals internationally due to weak laws previously.”