A bill seeking to conserve and protect highly endangered species from extinction and trafficking passed first reading in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
The bill, which was prepared by the Nigerian Ministry of Environment and jointly sponsored by Johnson Oghuma and Sam Onuigbo, seeks to establish a legal framework that would make Nigeria compliant with international conventions on endangered species, organised crime and corruption.
It also seeks to increase investigative powers to include financial enquiries and intelligence-led operations.
The bill, if enacted, will among other things create offences for damaging critical habitats of endangered species.
According to the sponsors of the bill, it would further provide for increased penalties to reflect the seriousness of the crimes and their impact on endangered species, expand courts’ ability to expedite wildlife cases and recover assets, create corporate liability and support international cooperation.
Mr Oghuma, who serves as the chairman house committee on environment, said: “The rate at which some species of fauna and flora are being extinguished is assuming a frightening dimension. Every day, more and more species are becoming endangered and pushed to the brink of extinction.”
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“Just as humans have the right to life, so do the plants and animals,” Mr Oghuma said.
“We [Nigeria] must therefore do everything within our 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.”
Within the last decade, Africa Nature Investors Foundation (ANI), the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Wild Africa Fund have been actively supporting the Nigerian Government’s upscale efforts to fight illegal wildlife trafficking.
This is done through support from the United Kingdom’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund and the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
Commenting on the bill, ANI Executive Director, Tunde Morakinyo, described the bill as a “momentous thing” for Nigeria, adding that the whole world is watching.
He said: “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,” Mr Morakinyo added.
Similarly, EIA Executive Director, Mary Rice, said: “This comprehensive legislation is cutting-edge and 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,” she noted.
On his part, Wild Africa Fund CEO, Peter Knights, said 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 agencies have made huge seizures but have struggled to prosecute and pursue criminals internationally due to weak laws previously,” he added.
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