Nigeria’s Federal Government has launched the Wildlife Law Enforcement Task Force (WLETF) to address wildlife crime in the country. The Honorable Minister of Environment, Mr. Mohammed Abdullahi, said at the launching in the country’s capital Abuja that the task force will be the primary enforcement implementation mechanism for the country’s wildlife strategy. According to him, “The purpose of this Task Force is to provide coordinated, cooperative and centralized wildlife law enforcement support by facilitating national multi-agency information sharing, intelligence-led operations and collaborative compliance and enforcement actions.”
The minister added that the task force will be additionally guided by a National Combating Wildlife Crime Steering Committee (NCWCSC), which will bring together high-level officials of WLETF member authorities to decide on WLETF strategic activities and to liaise with the Federal Ministry of Environment. The Minister represented by the Acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Mr. Charles Ikeah, further reiterated the government’s commitment to combating wildlife crime which he said is critical to the country.
Wildlife crime is one environmental crime not popular with Nigerians.
Perhaps due to the worsening situation of things in Nigeria, its citizens do not typically care about environmental crimes, especially the ones that they do not know are crimes. Everyone focuses on “more important” issues now because it determines everyone’s survival. For instance, when a very big snake is killed and put up for sale by the road side, nobody carries placard to protest it because it does not determine their survival. However, an environmental crime is an illegal act whether knowingly done or not.
These acts directly harm the environment and they involve the environment, wildlife, biodiversity and natural resources. Various international organizations have recognized wildlife crimes, illegal mining, pollution crimes, illegal fishing, and illegal logging as environmental crimes. In particular, wildlife crimes constitute illegal wildlife trade in endangered species in contravention to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). It also involves the illegal poaching, smuggling or transport of a specific animal product or species, such as the horn of a rhinoceros or the tusks of an elephant.
WLETF is Nigeria’s first-ever strategy to combat wildlife crime.
This explains why the Acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, who represented the Minister of Environment, said that the launching of the task force is Nigeria’s first-ever national strategy to combat wildlife and forest crime in Nigeria. “It is part of the fallout of the strategy that has resulted in the formation of this WLETF which we are launching today,” he said. He added that wildlife crime is undermining Nigeria’s ability to mitigate against the effects of climate change through the large-scale loss of forest cover due to illegal and unsustainable logging.
He said that this crime is being undertaken by organized criminal groups who undermine the rule of law and challenge Nigeria’s heritage. He said on the activities of the crime groups, it spans across national boundaries and continents fueled by fraud and corruption. The criminals are known to link poachers in West Africa to consumers, buyers and sellers in Asia, Europe and the United States. The minister said that they are often the same groups that carry out other forms of transnational organized crime, such as trafficking of humans, weapons and drugs.
Nigeria’s wildlife strategy part of ECOWAS initiative.
Mr. Ikeah also commended USAID West Africa Biodiversity and Low Emissions Development (WABILED) project and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs for supporting the WLETF establishment process. These enhanced efforts to address wildlife crime in Nigeria are part of a wider initiative by ECOWAS to tackle wildlife crime across the entire West African region. The West Africa Strategy on Combating Wildlife Crime is central to this initiative and implementation of this regional strategy will be undertaken by the West Africa Network to combat wildlife crime.