Akpan Etukudoh Asare
The Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund of the United Kingdom managed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Wildlife Conservation Society has calculated that Nigeria has lost not less than $150 Billion to illicit wildlife trade in the last couple of years.
This was disclosed in Calabar when they organised a two day training for personnel of the Nigerian Customs Service in Calabar to enable them cope with and tame the increasing illicit trading in wildlife in Cross River State.
Taking on the Nigerian Customs personnel on ways and manners of tackling the illegal trade in Cross River State and Nigeria at large, Abimbola Animasaun of the Nigeria Customs Service and National Contact Point for the World Customs Organization, Regional Intelligence Liaison Office for West Africa, said : ” The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth more than $150 billion per year and is the fourth largest illegal trade in the world after drugs, weapons and human trafficking.
“The illegal wildlife trade is largely driven by high demand from Asia and elsewhere.”
She said that the illegal wildlife trade has resulted in catastrophic declines of various wildlife species across Africa such as elephants and pangolins.
Animasaun stated that Nigeria was an important transit country for the illegal wildlife trade from Central Africa to China and Vietnam, and has attracted international criticism and sanctions.
“Due to its porous borders, Nigeria has become an important transit country for the ivory trade from Central Africa to China and Vietnam. There has been some huge seizures of ivory recently, illegally shipped from Nigeria.
“This includes 3.5 tons of ivory from Nigeria seized in Singapore in March 2018, with a value of 900 million naira.
“Pangolin scales are used for traditional medicine in China and are the world’s most trafficked mammal. The scale of the pangolin trade is enormous.
“A single shipment of 2,800 kg of pangolin scales from Nigeria was seized in Hong Kong in March 2018 with a value of 1.2 billion naira.
“In 2018 alone the Nigeria Customs Service seized pangolin scales valued at10 billion naira in Lagos.
“Rosewood, also known as Kosso or Madrid, is used for high-end boutique furniture in China.
“The rosewood boom started in Gambia and Benin, and Nigeria soon became the world’s largest exporter of rosewood logs until 2018 when CITES suspended all trade in rosewood from Nigeria. Unfortunately the logging continues.
“In 2017 it was alleged that 1.4 million illegal rosewood logs from Nigeria, worth more than 100 billion naira, were laundered into China.”
The focus of the workshop was: Combating The Illegal Wildlife Trade In Nigeria: The Role Of The Nigeria Customs Service.
More than 20 officers of the Nigeria Customs Service attended the workshop together with staff from the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Animasaun took time to take the Customs officials through the intricacies and antics of the smugglers and those that give them backing.
She expressed distaste towards the amount of money the country loses as a result of the porous nature of her borders, sea and air ports where smugglers took advantage of.
She said the country has lost several billions of Naira through illegal trade in wildlife.
It was recognized that despite the number of arrests and seizures made by Customs, prosecution has been weak.
She said, “to reduce the illegal wildlife trade we need to secure convictions and jail sentences to act as a deterrent. Staff of the Customs Service recognized the need for better documentation of arrests to facilitate more effective prosecution.
According to her, the Elephant population across Nigeria and the rest of Africa has declined by 90% in the last century due to hunting for ivory.
The Customs intelligence officer disclosed that CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), is an international agreement between governments whose aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
“Unfortunately CITES has not been able to control the illegal wildlife trade and the problem is growing, due to high demand from Asia and elsewhere. The illegal wildlife trade is a low risk business with high returns, fueled by corruption, weak law enforcement, weak judicial systems and light sentences”, she lamented.
Country director of Wildlife Conservation Society, Mr. Andrew Dunn who facilitated the workshop said increasing number of rare breeds of animals found in the country has become alarming and lamentable, explaining that it was the reason they supported the staging of the workshop.
He cautioned that the country’s policing networks must rise to the dire need to scare away traffickers of such rare natural resources, and help boost national revenue.