FG rues use of Nigeria as transit route for smuggling
- As Shuaibu’s Team intercepts N1.7bn Pangolin Scales
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd) has said that most wild life seizures made by the service are coming from outside the country, and lamented the use of Nigeria as a growing transit route for the smuggling of endangered wild life.
Ali who spoke at the premises of the Customs Headquarters Strike Force Team A Lagos Monday, when he showcased seized pangolin scales seized by the team with a market value of N1.7billion, fingered some francophone neigbouring countries in the act.
Represented by the National Customs Public Relations Officer, Deputy Comptroller Joseph Attah, the customs boss said Nigeria will do everything within her power to stop the country from being used as a smuggling route for endangered wild life, through strategic decimation of the smugglers resources and through arrests, seizures and prosecution of suspects.
“The fight to stop these smugglers from using Nigeria as transit route is already ongoing. Suspects are being arrested and prosecuted, the items are being arrested and impounded, that is a sure way of running the smugglers out of business”, Ali said.
Ali further explained that the latest interception and seizure by the Ahmadu Shuiabu’s led Strike Force Team was with the collaboration of the Wild Life Justice Commission, which he said has been partnering with the Nigeria Customs vide credible intelligence.
The customs boss in addition said the service is collaborating with expert institution to identify the DNA of the endangered wild life, in order to identify the location from where they have been taken from.
Recall that the latest seizure is coming barely two months after a similar seizure of the same specie estimated at N22billion was made by the Team. Ali also said that investigations are ongoing to reveal the country of origin and the destination for the pangolin scales.
“At this point, we cannot tell you a particular place this item is coming from, but one of the arrested suspects is from one of these neighbouring francophone countries. Through ongoing investigations, we will be able to provide a direction and also, where the items were been taken.
“Recall that we had a number of francophone citizens arrested during the last seizure. They are currently in court, so there are indications that the francophone countries around us are involved, we are prosecuting them along their Nigerian accomplices.”
Pangolin scales belong to the group of illegal wild life trade which contravenes Section 63 “e” and “g” of CEMA Cap 45 LFN 2004 and Nigeria is also a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Speaking during the press briefing, Ali said: “It’s my pleasure to brief you on the success story of the Nigeria Customs Service ongoing crackdown on illegal wild life trade.
”Even though, this criminality is not essentially a Nigerian thing, sadly some foreigners with active connivance of few Nigerians are bent on using our dear country as a transit route for illegal wild life trade.”
“You will recall that Nigeria Customs Service, acting on credible intelligence provided by our international partners about two months ago, announced wild life seizure worth over N22bn with arrested suspects currently facing prosecution.
“In the course of further investigation to arrest other members of the gang, we received another credible intelligence from same international partner, Wild Life Justice Commission, and swiftly deployed our intelligence operatives with the Strike Force as a SWOT team. This led to the interception of One Mercedes Benz Bus with registration number BGT 256 LG along Kudirat Abiola Way Oregun, Ikeja, Lagos.”
The Customs boss said two suspects, including a foreigner, was arrested in connection with the seizure, noting that the suspects would soon be charged to court; while providing details of the quantity and sizes of the pangolin scales as packaged.
“Upon 100 percent examination, the bus was found to contain the following: Pangolin Scales by 60kg, Pangolin Scales by 35kg, Pangolin Scales by 54kg, Pangolin Scales by 64kg, Pangolin Scales by 66kg, Pangolin Scales by 58kg, Pangolin Scales by 50kg, Pangolin Scales by 73kg, Pangolin Scales by 61kg, Pangolin Scales by 64kg, Pangolin Scales by 92kg, Pangolin Scales by 89kg, Pangolin Scales by 60kg, and Pangolin Scales by 92.5kg, totaling 1,009.5kg of Pangolin scales plus one sack of Pangolin Claws by 5kg.”
“The Duty Paid Value of the entire seizure cumulates at N1, 7billion. Two suspects have already been arrested in connection with this Seizure. They are Mr. Salif Sanwidi and Mr. Sunday Ebenyi. They will also be charged to court to answer for their crime.”
“As responsible member of the global community, we cannot allow our nation to be used as a conduit pipe for illegal trade on wild life. We remain committed to the quarterly meeting with embassies of USA, UK and Germany and welcome on board other International organizations that are joining the fray.”
…FG Assures Accountability of Seized Pangolin Scales
Reacting to concern about the big business nature and safety of the high prized pangolin scales in the international pharmaceutical market, Ali assured that while customs duty is limited to the seizure of elephant tusks and pangolin scales, the items are handed over to the statutory agencies, and expressed confidence about their safety.
Corroborating, Oluyemi Babajide, Coordinator, of the National Action Plan, of The Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species and Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES, in the Federal Ministry of Environment at the press briefing, said at the completion of the prosecution processes, the seizures will be handed over to Nigeria Environmental Enforcement Agency (NESREA).
But Oluyemi Babajide, Coordinator, of the National Action Plan, of The Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species and Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES, said’’ the Pangolin scales are in safe hands’’.
He further explained that Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, the Minister of Environment, has written to NESREA to make arrangement for the destruction of all related items handed over to the agency by Nigeria Customs.
It is however unclear whether the decision by the federal government to engage in the destruction of such valuable and economically prized items is the practice, in other climes.
It is believed that elephant tusks, pangolin scales and claws are sourced by foreign pharmaceutical companies as special ingredients for certain medicinal formulation; while the buyers are rumoured to be getting huge supplies from Africa.
Babajide also explained that CITES was on ground to conduct the aforementioned DNA, to know where the impounded species has originated from in African, in order to trace the country of export.
It will be recalled that three foreign nationals, Traore Dkomba, Isiak Musa and Mohhammed Bereta were in August this year arrested alongside nine sacks of pangolin scales and elephant tusks by the Deputy Comptroller Shuaibu led Team.
The Nigeria Customs Service announced it was going to declare their supposed leader, one Berete Morybinet, wanted; even as the service also announced that management has issued alert for his arrest.
Ali had said that all security agencies at the nation’s land borders have been put on notice to tighten up security at the borders to ensure that he did not escape from the country.