By Fabian Ekeruche
Leading international environmental NGOs have hailed Nigeria’s new “Endangered Species Conservation and Protection Bill” which passed first reading at the House of Representatives.
This is contained in a joint statement by Africa Nature Investors (ANI), Environmental Investigation Agency(EIA) and Wild Africa Fund.
The statement was signed by Mr Kelechukwu Iruoma, Nigerian Representative, Wild Africa Fund, on behalf of the others.
The statement said that the bill, prepared by the Federal Ministry of Environment, is targeted at combating wildlife trafficking and protect highly endangered species.
It said the bill is jointly sponsored by Hon. Johnson Oghuma, Chairman, House Committee on Environment and Hon. Sam Onuigbo.
According to the statement, the legislation would make Nigeria compliant with international conventions on endangered species, organized crime and corruption.
It added that when passed into law, the bill would increase investigative powers to include financial enquiries and intelligence-led operations.
“In addition to creating offences for damaging critical habitats, permit violations, the introduction of invasive species, obstruction and preparing to commit an illegal act:
“The bill will increase penalties to reflect the seriousness of the crimes and their impact on endangered species.
“The bill will expand courts’ ability to expedite wildlife cases and recover assets, create corporate liability and support international cooperation,” the statement said.
The statement quoted Oghuma as saying that the rate at which some species of fauna and flora were being extinguished was assuming a frightening dimension.
“Every day, more and more species are becoming endangered and pushed to the brink of extinction.
“It is worthy of note that any action that is against biodiversity and sustainability comes with a great cost. Just as humans have the right to life, so do the plants and animals.
“Nigerians must do everything within their strength to ensure their sustainability.
“It is time to act to stop environmental degradation and protect our wildlife and plants globally and Nigeria cannot afford to be the last,” the statement quoted Oghuma as saying.
The statement said that the environmental NGOs were actively supporting the Nigerian Government’s efforts to fight illegal wildlife trafficking, with support from the UK Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund and the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).
The statement quoted Tunde Morakinyo, Executive Director, ANI, as saying: “This is a momentous thing for Nigeria. The whole world is watching us.
“Let’s get it right and show the world how we can be the leaders in Africa on fighting the illegal trade in wildlife.
“We salute the politicians for giving this their attention so close to the elections. They know how important this is for Nigeria.”
The statement quoted Mary Rice, Executive Director, EIA, as saying: “This comprehensive legislation is cutting-edge and is a potential game-changer.
“Working alongside our partners, EIA sees this as a key step in tackling trafficking and protecting critically endangered wildlife in Nigeria and across Africa.
“We hope it can be rapidly adopted to address the current crisis.”
The statement also quoted Peter Knights, Wild Africa Fund CEO, as saying: “Nigeria has become the epicentre of the illegal trade in ivory and pangolin scales.
“If passed, this Bill would give authorities the legal tools to close down trafficking – border.
“Government agencies have made huge seizures but have struggled to prosecute and pursue criminals internationally due to weak laws previously.”(NAN)