By Rev. KufreAbasi Essien
On Sunday, June 5, 2016, the world converged In Angola to celebrate the World Environment Day (WED). The WED was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1976 on the first day of the United Nation Conference on the Human Environment. It was established to draw the world’s attention to environmental issues affecting our planet, and suggesting possible ways and action plans for the protection of the earth and her resources.
Every year, the UN selects a theme for the WED. Such a theme reflects the peculiar challenge faced by the host country and the region. This year, the theme was Go Wild For Life: zero tolerance for the illegal wildlife trade. This theme naturally reflects the resolve of UN and the Angola government to fight the war against illegal trade in wildlife and the associated products.
Incidentally, Angola and Nigeria have a number of things in common. Take for instance the dependence on oil as a major source of foreign exchange. Both countries are now suffering the impact on their economies as brought about by the crashing oil prices. They are both seeking ways to diversify their economy in order to break the strangle-hold on their economy by the epileptic oil prices.
Just like Nigeria who has experienced the horror of a civil war, Angola has been torn apart by the war that engulfed her between 1995 and 2012. The Nigeria Biafra civil war brought deepened scars of tribal and religious sentiments which have reverberated till today, challenging the unity of the country. In a similar manner, the Angolan war destroyed the fabrics of her economy and damaged the very symbol of her national pride encapsulated in the population of elephants that she used to parade. Today, while Nigeria battles to regain the trust and unity that once was, Angola is also battling to protect the elephant population that was heavily decimated by the war.
Recent news reports claim that a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – INTERPOL report released on June 4, 2016, shows that transnational criminal networks are profiting to the tune of up to $258 billion per year from environmental crimes, including illegal trade in wildlife. The killing and smuggling of wildlife and the associated products are said to undermine the economy and ecosystems, fuelling organised crimes and feeding corruption and insecurity across the region.
This is similar to what Nigeria is facing. The Buhari-led government is fighting to ensure the repatriation of funds stolen by corrupt officials who seem to have set up a transnational criminal network, robbing Nigeria of billions of dollars and domiciling such in offshore accounts. These stolen funds came from the oil industry which has also destroyed our ecosystem, fuelled organised crimes, fed corruption and sparked insecurity across the nation.
Already, PMB has positioned agriculture as a major tool with which the country’s economy is to be diversified. His Excellency will do well if he also considers integrating wildlife conservation as part of this tool-set. If Nigeria develops and focuses on her wildlife industry, she stands to gain a lot.
There is no doubt that the economy will enjoy a boost resulting from influx of revenue coming in from royalties paid by nature watchers, hobby hunters, nature photographers, sales of stock animals, etc. Beyond this, wildlife conservation centres and reserves will provide the necessary facilities for research and provision of other forest resources.
Such activities in the country will also create secondary benefits. Our hospitality industry will naturally receive its own fair share of the economic stimulus generated by the wildlife ventures. This will therefore create a great opportunity to package and market our culture through the tourism sector of the economy which has beer neglect.
Going wild will help a school like The University of Uyo, who is under threat by a ravine to turn this challenge into profit for the University community and the country as a whole. With support from government, the ravine could be stabilized, afforested and turned into some sort of Games or wildlife reserve where honey could be drawn to drawn to support the faculty of pharmacy, local endangered species could be preserved, and the local film industry could shoot epic movies on the f……. of the forest.
I am aware of the existence of some games reserves and conservation areas in the country; however, Federal government should deploy these facilities to creatively solve the problems facing the country. May be, a good starting point should be to reflect on what Angola is doing.
The Angolan government is considering the use of wildlife to diversify its economy. To show the level of commitment, the government is training former combatants to become wildlife rangers. This is killing four birds with a stone: the former combatants are rehabilitated; the nation’s wildlife is protected; the economy is diversified and the spears of war are turned to symbols of peace.
This approach is a well thought-out re-integration programme which brings benefits to all the parties. As the Nigerian government inaugurates a committee to negotiate with the Niger Delta Avengers, it may be necessary to draw from this lesson in integrated rehabilitation by the Angolan government, that is, if PMB wishes to reconstruct the oil-rich but poverty ridden and environmentally-battered region through a meaningful amnesty programme, where the ex-militant work to earn money.
I am also thanking that the Nigerian Army will finally conquer the Sambisa forest. When this happens, Federal government should not hesitate in turning it into a wildlife reserve where lions, elephants, antelopes, snakes and other species are kept instead of young Nigerian girls held against their will. And the AK-47 wielding Fulani herdsmen should be turned into wildlife rangers.