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Customs Corner

Nigeria advised to do more to crack down as pangolin trade increases



Nigerian trafficking

Nigerian advised to do more to crackdown

as pangolin trade increases

  • Training of Nigerian officials and exchanges with their customs counterparts in destination countries including China and Vietnam are expected to improve intelligence sharing and curb trafficking.
  • Enforcement and prosecution of laws against wildlife trafficking remains weak, say experts, who emphasize the need to treat the matter as a transnational crime rather than as a conservation issue.
  • Authorities seized 113 tonnes of pangolin scales originating in Nigeria between 2016 and 2019, more than half of global seizures.

Law enforcement officials around the world have seized more than 200 tonnes of pangolin scales since 2016, more than half of it linked to Nigeria, a new report has found.

The report, published February by the Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC), identified 52 major seizures of pangolin products between 2016 and 2019. More than 130 tonnes were intercepted in 2018 and 2019 alone, indicating an unprecedented increase in trafficking, often engineered by organized criminal networks. In all likelihood, “significant quantities” of pangolin scales continue to be smuggled undetected across borders and oceans.

WJC, which works to tackle organized crime in wildlife trafficking, focused on seizures of 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) or more, collecting and analyzing media reports, as well as conducting its own investigations to fully assess the extent of the illegal trade in pangolin scales.

The report identifies 27 countries and territories “disproportionately involved” in the trafficking of pangolin scales: just six — Nigeria, Vietnam, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) — accounted for 94% of all intercepted scales.

The analysis points out that the most persistent smuggling routes connect Nigeria to Vietnam and Hong Kong, with Singapore emerging as a transit hub between these countries.

The total weight linked to Nigeria irrespective of role continued to increase throughout the period studied, rising from 10.4 tonnes in 2016 to 13.2 tonnes in 2017, 36.5 tonnes in 2018, and 52.9 tonnes last year. (The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime last year pointed out that with pangolins in Nigeria seemingly already hunted to the verge of extinction, scales smuggled out of the country to Asia may originate from poaching in neighboring countries.

Pangolin traffickers. Image by USAID via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Strengthening enforcement

Nigeria’s Endangered Species (Control of International Trade and Traffic) Act outlaws trade in pangolins. It was amended in 2016 to allow a maximum fine of 5 million naira ($13,000) or one year in prison for offenders.

But with seizures in 2019 easily outstripping 2018’s total, these penalties appear to be insufficient deterrent for either the wealthy syndicates involving Asian merchants and their Nigerian counterparts that drive the trade, or the hunters and bushmeat vendors who supply it, poaching pangolins from as far away as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Abimbola Animashawun, an intelligence officer with the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), says it is “worrying … that Nigerian law and penalty for such offenses is still too weak and this is not helping matters at all.”

Very few people have been convicted for wildlife trafficking offenses, despite occasional in-country seizures of large shipments of scales. Thirty-one seizures of illegal wildlife between March 2010 and August 2018 are recorded in a September 2018 submission to CITES, the global wildlife trade authority, from Nigeria’s environment ministry. But only eight of these cases were prosecuted, with three convictions: in each case, the court handed offenders a six-month jail sentence with the option to pay a fine of 100,000 naira ($260).

Enforcement at both ends of the supply chain is also hindered by corruption, according to Sarah Stoner, WJC’s director of intelligence.

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“As in any major transnational organised crime, corruption is an enabler of wildlife trafficking, and from previous investigations the WJC has identified that wildlife trafficking is often synonymous with the presence of ‘compliant’ enforcement officials who facilitate the smuggling,” Stoner told Mongabay in an email.

“There is no doubt that transnational trafficking at this scale could not happen without corruption and it continues to be the greatest challenge in addressing wildlife trafficking.”

A raft of new initiatives, including workshops for Nigeria’s enforcement officers and international exchange meetings, has been implemented by conservation groups since 2017 to improve capacity for detection, interception and intelligence sharing.

For instance, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has organized workshops for Nigerian customs officials to help them search and thoroughly inspect consignments to improve detection rates for illegal wildlife products such as pangolin scales and ivory, thanks to funding from the U.K. Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund. Customs officials currently prioritize efforts to intercept contraband like rice, imports of which via land border posts have been banned since 2016.

WCS says it hopes the officers who received training will be better able to prevent trafficking of pangolin scales. Additional workshops are planned for Lagos and Port Harcourt this year, said WCS Nigeria director Andrew Dunn.

In September 2019, WCS also facilitated a visit to Nigeria by top Chinese customs officials to share intelligence about Chinese nationals and others identified as part of organized networks involved in the seized pangolin scales originating from Nigeria.

This meeting, Dunn said, will help both countries better coordinate efforts to tackle trafficking of pangolins and other wildlife. There are plans for a similar visit by Vietnamese customs officials in the first half of 2020.

With additional support from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, WCS is also working with Nigeria’s National Environmental Standards and Regulations Agency (NESREA) and the NCS to ensure that all seized wildlife products, such as pangolin scales and ivory, are properly catalogued in an online database and stored in secure locations around the country.

One of the WCS staff works directly with the NESREA in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to keep reliable inventory of all seizures, improve security of the stockpile to ensure that intercepted contraband does not slip back into the market, and make the data readily available for policymakers to improve planning.

White-bellied pangolin. Image by Darren Pietersen/African Pangolin Working Group

Stoner urges stronger international cooperation and demands that trafficking of pangolin scales must be addressed as a transnational crime rather than as a conservation issue. “As in other forms of serious and organized crimes, the application of advanced investigative techniques and intelligence analysis is largely not being applied to wildlife trafficking,” she said.

Stoner points to a recent large-scale seizure of pangolin scales smuggled via Cameroon and the consequent arrest of 20 suspects as a “good example of how high-level and closely coordinated interventions to effectively disrupt the criminal networks driving the global trafficking of scales are crucial.”

Stephen Aina, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation’s coordinator for species recovery and conservation programs, says he wants custom officials to explore the use of whistle-blowers for interceptions and arrests. But he says he also believes a more coordinated approach is required to address the trafficking of pangolin.

“Efforts within the country are at best disjointed and largely uncoordinated,” Aina said.

“There is the need for stakeholders to develop a pangolin conservation blueprint and action plan that will be binding on all actors … a nationally coordinated recommendation is key.”

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Customs Corner

As Normalcy Returns To ANLCA, Newly Elected Management Team Visit Ag CGC In Abuja



Authors: Muhammad Bashir.

The Acting Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, on Wednesday, 20th September 2023, says the Service will maintain its position of consulting relevant stakeholders to enable its administration to succeed.

The CGC made this known when he received members of the Customs Consultative Committee led by the Chairman of the Council, Aare Hakeem Olanrewaju, at the Customs Headquarters, Abuja, along with newly elected excos of the Association of Nigeria License Customs Agents.

He urged the newly elected leaders of the Association to consider their peculiar privilege in sustaining peace amongst them, which, according to him, will encourage the Service to take them as vital partners.

“I want to use this opportunity to rekindle the good understanding and peace between yourselves so that we will be able to synergize in eradicating threats against revenue collection and national security.” He added.

He said that “the ball is now in the coat of the executive, new management committee and, of course, the board members. I urge you to swing into action and start work because there is much to do to bring sanity and professionalism to the industry.”

He said that the Nigeria Customs Service now shares the challenge of consolidating the recent victory with the association – which will clear the way for innovations in the automation of procedures and benefit authorised economic operators.

The Acting Comptroller-General told the new leaders of ANLCA that the Nigeria Customs Service is willing to collaborate with them to ensure the successful facilitation of trade, adding, “We are going to hold a meeting to Customs Agents to ensure that we bring the required sanity into our operations.”

On his part, Mr. Hakeem Olanrewaju, the Chairman of the Customs Consultative Committee who led the delegation, said they were at the Corporate Headquarter of the Customs to present the newly elected National Executive Council of ANLCA to the Ag. CGC.

Mr Olanrewaju, who congratulated the Ag. CGC, on his appointment by President Bola Ahmad Tinubu, also assured the CGC that the Association had been put back on the rail after having a long time of experiencing hot fracas, adding that “with the intervention of the Ag. Comptroller General of Customs, the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents has embraced a collaborative peace.”

He also recalled how the Nigeria Customs Service, under the stewardship of Ag. CGC Bashir Adewale Adeniyi approved the establishment of a Customs Consultative Committee to broker peace in the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents.

Speaking at the venue, the newly elected president of the association, Emenike Kingsley Nwokeoji, appreciated the Ag CGC for taking the bull by the horns to engineer the peace deal between the faction of the association, affirming that his team have already swung into action to move the association forward.

The president, who described the Ag. CGC as the sole competent officer to lead the Service rightly, adding that “your appointment is timely and most deserving that our dear country needs the most for economic and development growth.”

He, however, extolled the Ag. CGC’s style of leadership as one that accommodates and understands issues at stake and promptly proffers solutions to them, adding that “in that regard, we wish to inform you that we count on you; we know your antecedent, and we hope you will count on us too, to achieve your objectives.”

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Customs Corner

Nigeria Customs Backs UN-Habitat’s Effort to Combat Smuggling



Author: Muhammad Bashir, Abuja.

The Acting Comptroller-General of Customs, Bashir Adewale Adeniyi MFR, has said that the Service, under his watch, will implement every necessary action against saboteurs of Nigeria’s economy to cripple their ‘illegitimate’ business of smuggling.

The CGC restated this on Tuesday, 19 September 2023, when he received Ambassadors of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN—Habitat, led by Dr. Raymond Edoh, at the Customs Headquarters, Abuja.

The Ag. CGC said, “On behalf of the entire Management Team of the Nigeria Customs Service, I wish to inform you that we will partner with you in this campaign, and we will grant you all forms of support you may need to carry out this campaign — and I want to assign one of our amiable DCGs, Abba Kura, to work with you closely.”

He appreciated how they travelled from afar to intimate the Nigeria Customs Service of their campaign against smuggling, which, according to him, the Nigeria Customs Service has already started yielding positive results in suppressing the menace of smuggling.

The CGC also welcomed Dr Raymond’s offer to engage officers and men of the Service in capacity—building to enhance their understanding of digital literacy skills, adding that the Service has already started embracing technology to advance its work by introducing related courses to officers.

The CGC appreciated the collaborative effort between the Nigeria Customs Service and UN—Habitat and believes that the collaboration signifies a commitment to tackling smuggling and enhancing trade facilitation in the nation, setting the stage for a more prosperous future.

The CGC said, “What we’re trying to do is to raise a modern Customs Service through partnering with stakeholders to achieve our goals because we value partnership, and I am happy that you extended your hands of collaboration to work with us.”

He also appreciated their pledge to train officers and men of the Service in digital literacy skills, assuring that the Service will continue to prioritize proficiency in the fight against smuggling through technological approach.

He underscored the importance of digital skills, promising that the relevant Service department will enhance trade facilitation.

On his part, the Director of UN—Habitat, Dr. Raymond Edoh, appreciated President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for reposing the responsibility of heading the Nigeria Customs Service on the Acting Comptroller-General, describing him as “a competent Customs officer who knows the terrain and masters the job.”

According to him, they decided to visit the Ag. CGC at the Customs Headquarters to express their interest in partnering with the Service.

He appreciated the Service for being a “gatekeeper of the country” that protects citizens against border threats, stressing that his organization will collaborate with NCS to mitigate the smuggling of illicit goods and train officers and men of Customs on digital literacy skills and certification.

UN-Habitat is the United Nations entity responsible for developing urban policies and translating them into action to create sustainable cities and promote viable urban development and adequate shelter for all.

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Customs Corner

Shuaibu Takes over Ogun 1 Command as Makinde proceeds to Customs Headquarters



Author: Vivian Daniel.

Following the recent redeployment of Area Controllers and Heads of Units by the Ag. Comptroller-General of Customs Bashir Adewale Adeniyi MFR, the Deputy Comptroller of Customs, Ahmadu Bello Shuaibu was posted to Ogun 1 Area Command to take over the mantle of leadership from Comptroller Bamidele Makinde.

According to a statement issued by Superintendent of Customs Hameed Bukoye Oloyede,
Public Relations Officer, Ogun 1 Area Command on 18th September 2023; until his relocation, Comptroller Bello Shuaibu was the Ag. Area Controller of Ogun II Command.

During his handover speech at the Command’s Headquarters in Idiroko Ogun State, Comptroller Bamidele Makinde congratulated the new Area Controller while admonishing Officers for their unwavering support of the new leadership of Deputy Comptroller Ahmadu Shuaibu and wished him a successful tenure in Office.

“May I call on Officers to redouble their efforts and give the incoming administration maximum support and cooperation to sustain the performance tempo of the Command. In a similar vein, I wish to solicit the unflinching support of our critical stakeholders for the new Customs Area Controller”.

Comptroller Makinde further disclosed that during his 17 months in office, the Command had generated a total sum of N225,009,835.50 as revenue for the nation and seizures with a Duty Paid Value (DPV) of N6,604,107,655.92. He attributed the achievements recorded during his administration to the hard work of his gallant Officers and Men, the Command’s dynamic synergy with the critical stakeholders and the general assistance of the Nigeria Customs Service Headquarters.

The Deputy Comptroller, Ahmadu Shuaibu, while addressing newsmen at the occasion, appreciated everyone for their envisaged maximum support and open-mindedness.

He congratulated his predecessor, whom he described as “an articulate and result-oriented leader”, on his successful tour of duty with laudable achievements. He pledged to sustain the successes recorded by the Command under his watch.

He specifically expressed his gratitude to the Ag. CGC for finding him worthy of the new position and pledges to discharge his duties diligently and facilitate legitimate trade within the Command’s Area of Responsibility while upholding the goals and objectives of the Nigeria Customs Service.

“I am a team player. I seek the total cooperation of all stakeholders to succeed. We must work together, and Nigeria must move forward,” he stated.

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