Udora Orizu in Abuja
The federal government has commenced investigations into the seizure by the Vietnamese Customs Service of over 2,500 kilogrammes of pangolin scales and 600 kilogrammes of ivory tusks as well as seizures by the Hong Kong Custom Service of 8,200 kilogrammes of pangolin scales and 2,000 kilogrammes of ivory alleged to have originated from the Apapa seaport in Lagos.
The Minister of Environment, Suleiman Hassan Zarma, disclosed this while reacting to media reports on the seized items which are said to have high-market values, especially the Pangolin scales used as medicinal ingredients in parts of Asia, particularly China.
The minister said the ministry had initiated the investigation of the reported illegal trade by communicating officially with the Vietnamese
and Hong Kong CITES Management Authority with a view to furnishing Nigerians with the documents that will be forwarded to the Nigeria Customs Service and INTERPOL for further investigation.
According to Zarma, “It was very unsettling when information was received that the Vietnamese Customs made the discovery in concealed containers declared as consigning knocked wood by the Vietnamese company, VIC Thanh Binh Import-Export Company Limited, with office address at Lien Hong Commune, Dan Phuong District, Hanoi.
“More disturbing is the fact that Nigeria was mentioned as the source in spite of our laudable conservation efforts, which informed our leading the war against Illegal Wildlife Trade in the West African Region,” he said.
The source, the minister argued, could not have been Nigeria as pangolin scales are near extinction in the country.
According to the minister, the elephant population in Nigeria, besides being under strict conservation regimes, would not be able to provide such high volume of ivory.
“Nigeria is being used as a transit route for illegal wildlife trade and the image of our nation is being tarnished globally,” he said.
He reaffirmed the country’s commitment to the fight against illegal wildlife trade, noting that Nigeria signed and ratified the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1974, adding that to give municipal credence to this Convention, Nigeria promulgated the Endangered Species (Control of International Trade and Traffic) Decree No.11 in 1985 now enacted as Endangered Species Act 2016.
He stated that pangolin and elephants are highly protected endangered species, which are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as well as on Schedule I of the National Endangered Species Act, 2016.
The minister noted that the export of wild fauna and flora from Nigeria are covered by CITES Permit/Certificates.
“CITES is the pre-eminent global legal instrument for regulating international trade in wild animals and plant and has the objective of ensuring that International trade in wild fauna and flora does not compromise the protection of endangered species, hence the illegal
trade in this species and its derivatives are absolutely prohibited,” he said.
Zarma, therefore, reaffirmed the ministry’s role as focal point of CITES implementation and its commitment to conserve wild species which he observed, are now almost driven into extinction due to over exploitation, habitat change and illicit trafficking.