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Nigeria, UNODC, EU seek strategic approach to tackling wildlife, forest crimes

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the European Union (EU), and the Federal Government ofNigeria have underscored the need for strategic approach to effectively tackling wildlife and forest crimes.

International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC)
Delegates at the inaugural ceremony of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC): Analytical Toolkit Nigeria, in Abuja

Oliver Stolpe, Country Representative of UNODC, spoke at the inaugural ceremony of the “International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC): Analytical Toolkit Nigeria” on Tuesday, April 18, 2023, in Abuja.

He decried the high level of environmental degradation, saying Nigeria had one of the highest rates of deforestation globally, saying that, from 2002 to 2020, the country lost 141kha of humid primary forest equivalent to 14 per cent of its total tree cover.

“Excessive, unsustainable, and most illegal extraction threatens the livelihood of local communities and species, who called these woods their home.

“Wildlife is not only threatened by the continuous shrinking of their habitat but also by professional poachers and local hunters.

“Organised criminal trade of wildlife and forest products through Nigerian ports has created a threat to biodiversity across the entire region.

“Not one of these developments has gone unobserved, neither by the government of Nigeria nor by the international community,” Stolpe said.

He commended the adoption of the first national strategy to combat crime, the recent establishment of the wildlife enforcement task force, and efforts to review the legislative framework and boost the criminal justice system to be strategic steps taken.

Stolpe also revealed that such efforts started to bear fruits with regard to the ability of Nigerian law enforcement to seize illegally traded wildlife and forest products.

“These efforts have not yet reversed the trend to put an end to the role of Nigeria, as a regional hub for the illegal trade in wildlife and forest products.

“The legal framework continues to evidence gaps as concerns the penalties foreseen by law.

“Recent cases suggest that investigators, prosecutors and judges appear to require further capacities and resources to mount an effective and credible justice response when organised crime is involved,” he added.

Also speaking at the event, Samuela Isopi, Ambassador of the EU to Nigeria, described the event as an urgent step for the survival of not just the animals to be protected, but humans.

Isopi, represented by Dr Sobri Mekaoui, Programme Officer, EU delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, urged stakeholders to work closely together at the country level for the benefit of Nigeria and humanity.

“Basically, this effort when fully analysed is about the preservation of the human species as much as it is about the preservation of wild animals.

“That explains why this event is funded by the European Union, through the general grant for the implementation of the ICCWC, which includes Nigeria as a target country.

“The EU will continue to play a leading role and support actions that contribute to the preservation, conservation, protection of wildlife, biodiversity and the environment in general as our commitment to climate action,” Ïsopi said.

To achieve holistic climate action, every nation must be prepared to push forward the green agenda not just in the area of hardware, but also efficient administration of justice in this regard.

He disclosed that the EU Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS supported Nigeria with a 2 million conservation project being implemented by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Cross River State of Nigeria.

Also, the project would protect the environment and biodiversity against the effects of climate change and strengthen the system through the design and implementation of ecological, socio-economic, and law enforcement, to measure progress towards conservation objectives.

During the official inauguration of the toolkit, Mr Mohammed Abdullahi, Minister of Environment, said the toolkit would further boost sustainable management of forest and biological resources.

Abdullahi, represented by Malam Stanley Jonah, Director of Planning Research and Statistics, explained the toolkit would ensure a world free of wildlife crime, a safer planet and a global vision of living in harmony with nature.

“We hope to continue to welcome and work closely with our Development Partners to sustain and heighten the tempo as necessary as we can.

“We have resolved to leave no stone unturned in protecting and conserving our valued natural endowments for national development and for the sake of our planet.

“The responsibility is not for one entity to shoulder, it calls for strategic involvement of a broad range of stakeholders and partners, to build a sense of ownership and responsibility for quantitative and qualitative results,” he stated.

By Fortune Abang

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