Wildlife Trafficking in Nigeria: UNODC partners National Judicial Institute, Environmental Investigation Agency and African Nature Investors Foundation on Roundtable with the Judiciary and Law Enforcement Agencies

Abuja, 24 February 2021-Wildlife, and forest trafficking is one of the key incidences of crimes that affect the environment. The recently concluded CCPCJ Expert Discussions on Crimes that Affect the Environment, drew attention to the need to classify wildlife and forest crime as a serious crime and ensure decisive actions are taken against the perpetrators.

In recent years, Nigeria has evolved into a primary transit hub for trafficking in illicit wildlife products, including pangolin scales, ivory and other protected species from Eastern and Central Africa, arriving in the country through its porous borders, as indicated in UNODC’s World Wildlife Crime Report 2020.

Nigerian authorities have stepped up enforcement actions against illicit trafficking of wildlife and forestry products. Several large scale seizures of wildlife and forest products took place in 2021. In January 2021, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) intercepted a container of mixed wildlife products at the Apapa Port in Lagos. The container was loaded with 2,772 pieces of elephant tusks weighing 4,752kg; 162 sacks of pangolin scales, weighing 5,329kg; 5kg of rhino horns; 103kg of skulls suspected to be of lions and other wild cats; and 76 pieces of processed timber. A similar seizure was made at a warehouse in Lagos in July 2021, containing 7,137 kg of pangolin scales, 4.6 kg of pangolin claws and 870,44 kg of ivory. In September 2021, NCS also intercepted 15 sacks of pangolin scales weighing 1,009.51 kg . On 2 February 2022, the Nigeria Customs Service reported yet another seizure of 14 sacks containing 839.40kgs of pangolin scales and 4 sacks containing 40 pieces of cut ivory weighing 145kgs.

UNODC through its Project “Strengthening Nigeria’s response to the trafficking of wildlife and forest products” is supporting the Nigerian authorities to address wildlife and forest crime. The project, which is funded by the Government of Germany, supports the development a National Strategy to Combat Wildlife and Forest Crime in Nigeria; strengthens the capacity of law enforcement officers to intercept and detect illegal shipments; as well as upgrades the capacity to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate wildlife and forest crime.

In furtherance of the implementation of the latter, UNODC partnered with the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Africa Nature Investors (ANI) Foundation, as well as the National Judicial Institute (NJI) to convene a one-day roundtable for Judges and a three-day roundtable for investigators and prosecutors of the frontline law enforcement agencies with a mandate to combat wildlife and forest crime.

The roundtable with the Judges held on 21 February 2022 in Abuja with Honourable Justices of the Court of Appeal, and Judges of the Federal High Court and State High Courts drawn from the six geo-political zones in the country.

The roundtable with Prosecutors and Investigators held from 22 to 24 February 2022 and had investigators and prosecutors from the Directorate of Public Prosecutions of the Federation, Nigeria Customs Service, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), National Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), INTERPOL Central Bureau Nigeria, Nigerian Postal Services (NIPOST) and the National Park Services in attendance.

The roundtables included discussions on the data and transnational dimensions of wildlife trafficking in Nigeria, effective approaches to investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating wildlife crimes as well as increasing the awareness of Nigeria’s legislative framework applicable to wildlife crime.

UNODC’s Country Representative for Nigeria, Mr Oliver Stolpe, noted that impunity seems to be one of the key drivers of wildlife and forest crime in Nigeria. Therefore, it has become absolutely critical that the legal community is aware of the key issues related to the illegal wildlife trade as well as the legal framework to combat illegal wildlife trade.

Hon Justice Salisu Garba Abdullahi, administrator, NJI, noted that the roundtable with the Judges should be considered a milestone for the judiciary in Nigeria as it will highlight issues related to wildlife trafficking and environmental protection laws as well as build the capacity and awareness of judicial officers in their adjudication of crimes that affect the environment.

The Judges all commended UNODC, EIA and ANI for jointly organising the roundtable, with most noting that they had not yet come across wildlife crime cases and that there was an urgent need for increased awareness across the legal community in Nigeria of the scope and damaging effects of wildlife and forest crime.