The second highest ranking official of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed, is at the centre of a bribery and illicit trade scandal, having allegedly authorised export of endangered timber, rosewood, to China in her last days as Nigeria’s minister for environment.
Mrs. Mohammed is well-regarded globally for her record as a champion of the poor and the environment. But a report on Thursday by the Washington-based Environment Investigation Agency that the top diplomat allowed export of roseword from Nigeria, despite an existing ban, is causing outrage in the environment and international development circles.
According to EIA, documents signed by Mrs. Mohammed in January of this year were used by Chinese importers to clear more than $300 million worth of rosewood logs now confiscated by Chinese border authorities.
Logs from rosewood feed the booming luxury furniture market in China, and the timber, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes, is “the world’s most trafficked wild product” accounting for a third of all seizures by value, more than elephant ivory, pangolins, rhino horn, lions and tigers put together.
The timber, also called kosso, was then marked, last year, an endangered specie and placed under trade restriction by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – to which Nigeria is a signatory.
Environmentalists say export of rosewood from Africa has decimated the region’s forests, raising fear the deforestation, if left unchecked, could power soil erosion and make the Sahara Desert spread to productive areas quickly.
But despite the restrictions, Mrs. Mohammed allegedly signed thousands of permits, allowing the export of 1.4 million rosewood logs in one of her 11th hour actions in Abuja, before inauguration in New York in February.
EIA said its investigation revealed “Nigerian officials were paid over $1 million” to help facilitate the export of the rosewood, but Mrs. Mohammed was not categorically accused of receiving bribe.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq said Mrs. Mohammed “categorically rejects any allegations of fraud.”
“She says that she signed the export certificates requested before the ban only after due process was followed and better security watermarked certificates became available,” Mr. Haq said on Friday in his briefing, text of which was obtained by PREMIUM TIMES.
Meanwhile, Foreign Policy magazine reports that John Scanlon, CITES’s secretary-general, had written Nigeria’s authorities since August, expressing concerns over the illicit trade.
The Nigerian government is yet to react to the matter.