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UN Decries Illegal Trade in Wildlife in Nigeria

It lamented weak legislation which impedes the prosecution of offenders.

Dr. Oliver Stolpe

United Nations has decried illegal trade in wildlife and forest product, insisting that low enlightenment, weak legislation and implementation among other gaps continued to impede effective prosecutions of offenders.

Speaking at this year’s commemoration of the World Wildlife Day (WWD), themed: “Connecting People and Planet: Exploring Digital Conservation”, in Abuja on Tuesday, the Country Representative, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Oliver Stolpe, where a presentation of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime, (ICCWC), Toolkit Report for Nigeria in collaboration with the UNODC and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, (FAO) was made.

He said: “While thanks to the good work of the Nigeria Customs Service, (NCS), seizures at Nigeria’s land, sea and airport border points have been on the rise, two thirds of all seizures involving Nigeria were reported by the authorities of other countries.

“This suggests that interception capabilities still need to be strengthened, while enhanced information exchange and cooperation with relevant authorities in countries of origin, transit and destination offer opportunities for intelligence led operations and parallel or even joint investigations with the objective of detecting and dismantling trafficking networks.”

He added that  the 2023 UNODC Organized Crime Threat Assessment for Nigeria revealed that “Nigeria is a key transit hub and consolidation point for various forms of illegal trade in wildlife and forest products, especially for pangolin, ivory and rosewood.

“These products are sourced both from Nigeria as well as from other countries in the region including Cameroon, Gabon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire and Benin Republic.”

He added that: “According to UNODC’s World Wildlife Seizures Database, there are more than a 1000 records between 2011 and 2020 which indicate Nigeria as a source, transit or destination country, or where the offender was a Nigerian national.”

Stolpe noted that “Another finding of the research suggests that armed groups are increasingly involved in the illegal harvesting and trafficking of rosewood, with nine park rangers losing their lives in violent encounters with persons involved in illegal logging in the Gashaka-Gumti National Park. in general, it appears that illegal logging activities continue, despite the 2018 trade suspension of rosewood from Nigeria.”

The UN body called on religious and traditional leaders to partner with the government in enlightening Nigerians on the importance of preserving and protecting Nigeria’s rich biodiversity.

In commemoration of the World Wildlife Day celebration, the Minister of Environment, Balarabe Abbas Lawal, has emphasized the importance of digital innovation in conserving biodiversity and protecting wildlife.

Abbas who made the disclosure today in Abuja, with the theme”Connecting People and Planet: Exploring Digital Conservation,” highlighted the significant role of technology in safeguarding the planet’s extraordinary biodiversity.

According to him, there is need to leverage technological advancements to combat illegal wildlife trade, mitigate habitat loss, and address the impacts of climate change.

Also the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO Country Team Leader, Dr. Otto Muhinda, emphasized the importance of recognizing emerging and reemerging diseases, as they pose a significant threat to global health.

 He underscored the need for coordinated efforts to prevent outbreaks and mentioned the collaborative initiatives undertaken by global organisations such as the FAO and the United Nations Environment Program.

Drawing attention to Nigeria’s own challenges, Dr. Muhinda cited examples of zoonotic diseases prevalent in the country, including Lassa fever and anthrax. He emphasized that wildlife serves as a reservoir for many of these diseases, with 60% of zoonotic diseases originating from animals.

He emphasized the need to balance conservation efforts with preserving human health, particularly in communities that rely on wildlife as a source of food.

While acknowledging the focus of this year’s theme on digital innovation in conservation, Dr. Muhinda emphasized the importance of understanding the link between wildlife conservation and disease prevention. He stressed the need for data-driven approaches to identify and address diseases present in wildlife to safeguard human health effectively

Minister of Environment, Balarabe Lawal, on his part, said that digital tools empowers individuals to better understand, protect, and preserve our wildlife.

According to him, “From cutting-edge monitoring systems to innovative data analytics, digital conservation transcends geographical boundaries, fostering global collaboration and knowledge sharing among scientists, conservationists, and communities worldwide.

“By harnessing the collective power of technology, we can unite in our efforts to safeguard biodiversity and ensure a sustainable future for generations to come.”

The Conservator General, National Parks Services, Ibrahim Goni, while stressing the importance of protecting wildlife and forest resources, explained that: “Some of our protected and conserved areas that houses a wide array of these unique wildlife resources are battling with insecurity challenges such as banditry, kidnapping, cattle rustling and other crime and criminality, as well as various anti-conservation activities including habitat destruction through illegal logging, hunting, communal agitation and quests for more farmlands, and of recent, illegal mining and exploration.

“Faced with this seeming ecological dislocation and its attendant toll they impinge on wildlife resources. This day will therefore remind us of the urgent need to scale up the fight against wildlife crime and human-induced reduction of species, which have wide-ranging economic, environmental and social impacts.”

Michael Olugbode in Abuja

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