The Nigerian government has initiated investigations into the seizure by the Vietnamese Customs Service of over 2,500 kilogrammes of pangolin scales and 600 kilogrammes of ivory tusks. Also being investigated are seizures by the Hong Kong Custom Service of 8,200 kilogrammes of pangolin scales and 2,000 kilogrammes of ivory said to have originated from the Apapa seaport in Lagos.
Minister of Environment, Suleiman Hassan Zarma, made this known while reacting to media reports on the seized items which are said to have high market values especially for the use of the pangolin scales as medicinal ingredients in parts of Asia, especially China.
“The ministry has initiated the investigation of the reported illegal trade by communicating officially with the Vietnamese and Hong Kong CITES Management Authority with a view of furnishing us with the documents that will be forwarded to the Nigerian Customs Service and INTERPOL for further investigation,” stated the minister.
CITES implies the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It is an international agreement between governments, which Nigeria is a party to. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
According to Zarma, a land surveyor, it was rather unsettling when he received the information 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 despite our laudable conservation efforts which informed our leading the war against illegal wildlife trade in the West African region,” Zarma stated.
He opined that the source could not have been Nigeria as the pangolin is close to extinction in the country, adding that 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 lamented.
Reiterating the country’s commitment to the fight against illegal wildlife trade, the minister noted that Nigeria signed and ratified the CITES in 1974 and, to give municipal credence to the convention, the country promulgated the Endangered Species (Control of International Trade and Traffic) Decree No.11 in 1985, now enacted as the Endangered Species Act 2016.
While stating that pangolin and elephants are highly protected and endangered species and listed on Appendix I of CITES as well as on Schedule I of the National Endangered Species Act, 2016, the minister however observed that 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.
“It is in view of the above that there has not been any case of illegal wildlife trade from Nigeria as a source country. However, globalisation allows and encourages international trade which traffickers have exploited and exposed us to some of these unwholesome practices which we frown at as a nation and defender of endangered species,” concluded the minister.