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Timbers: Illegal export triggers int’l probe

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Last week, in response to rosewood crisis in West Africa, the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) informed its 183-member countries the need for exceptional control measures into Nigeria-China timber trafficking. TAIWO HASSAN reports

 

Corruption by local officials and sharp practices by Chinese businessmen is driving a thriving illegal trade in timber from Nigeria and other parts of West Africa with grave consequences.

The nefarious activities are jeopardising the country’s manufacturing sector amid scarcity of raw materials for furniture making.

Smart Chinese businessmen are exploiting a lax regulatory and enforcement environment, loopholes in existing laws, lack of government policy and direction as well as corruption by the government officials to drive an illegal trade in export of the country’s forestry resources.

In states such as Kogi, Ekiti, Ondo, Ogun, Taraba, Kaduna, Adamawa and Cross River, a rapacious demand by China for an ornate species of wood, rosewood (Pterocarpus erinaceus), locally known as Kosso, has, since late 2013, fuelled an unprecedented frenzy of illegal logging of wood that is fast depleting the nation’s natural forestry resources.

Timber merchants working for Chinese businessmen are moving from one state to another, depleting the rosewood resources in their forests, leaving blighted and raped landscapes without minding the enduring effects of unrestrained harvesting of the product on the environment.

Forestry experts are worried that the unrestrained and uncontrolled harvesting of the special type of timber across the states will have devastating impact on the environment and contribute immensely to global warming, which is currently threatening the world.

Apart from the effect on the environment, the experts fear that the illegal activities of local and Chinese merchants will also have telling economic implications in the near future on many communities where the forests that are being violated are located.

The Chinese connection

The unprecedented demand for rosewood in Nigeria is driven by a rapacious need by China to feed a taste for ornate and luxury furniture by the country’s burgeoning middle and upper class.

The Pterocarpus family of which rosewood is a part belongs to the Hongmu (meaning red wood in Chinese) wood family, which refer to range of exotic, high worth hardwood highly sought after by the elite and royalty in China and is used in making furniture, floorings and art works.

Ownership of such exotic furniture and art works are considered as worthy investments by the very rich in Chinese.

A spike in demand in Asia and locally in China has created a boom and the Chinese government has supported the growth and expansion of the Hongmu wood industry in order to generate employment and tax revenue.

Probe

According to the report on the probe, the Secretariat of the Convention and a special CITES noted that it would verify all the authenticity of rosewood permits issued by the Federal Government soon when it visits Nigeria.

“Going forward, all “kosso” rosewood permits issued by Nigeria, the world’s largest exporter of rosewood over the past years, will have to be verified by the Secretariat of the Convention and a special CITES mission will soon be sent to the country,” the report stated.

In November 2017, the Washington, DC-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released the Rosewood Racket report, the result of a two-year undercover investigation following the corrupt timber trade from the fragile forests of Nigeria to high-end furniture boutiques in China.

Triggered by skyrocketing Chinese demand, over a billion U.S. dollar worth of rosewood has been illegally exported from Nigeria between 2015 and 2017.

Part of it had been laundered by traffickers through a sophisticated scheme that involved approximately 3,000 questionable CITES permits officially issued by the Federal authorities.

With these permits in hand, traffickers smuggled over 1.5 million logs to the Chinese market – the equivalent of three Empire State buildings.

This happened despite environmental protection policies adopted by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Environment.

Alerted by EIA’s report and evidence, the CITES Standing Committee discussed the Nigerian rosewood trafficking crisis during its meeting in Geneva last month.

It was at the meeting that the committee took a decision that was validated by the secretariat and officially communicated to all parties of the convention – including almost all member states of the United Nations – on January 15, 2018.

While acknowledging the mechanism of cooperation established between Nigeria and China, the official notification formally requests that the parties to the CITES Convention “not accept any CITES permit or certificate for Pterocarpus erinaceus issued by Nigeria unless its authenticity has been confirmed by the Secretariat.”

 

Breakthrough

 

Indeed, this represents a remarkable step under the convention in order to better control the trade in this commercially threatened species and avoid massive fraud.

Furthermore, in response to Nigeria’s invitation, the CITES Secretariat will conduct an official inquiry – a “technical mission” – in the country.

The investigation will focus on the key elements of what has been a monumental laundering machine for illegally harvested or exported rosewood logs: suspect issuance of thousands of CITES permits, lack of coordination between the Ministry of Environment and Customs, and the general opacity of the process.

In his remark to the rosewood probe, EIA Executive Director, Alexander von Bismarck, said: “Now that the problem of the illegal rosewood trade between Nigeria and China has been formally acknowledged under CITES and exceptional measures have been agreed, we hope that all the parties involved will come together to end what is most likely one of the largest forest crimes of this century.”

The report of the international probe revealed that millions of rosewood logs were harvested and exported illegally from Nigeria when Amina J. Mohammed, the current Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nation, was Minister of Environment.

Last line

For industry stakeholders, the inability of the current administration to tame the volatility in the illegal export of timbers outside the shore of Nigeria is causing the economy trillions of naira in revenue loss.

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Business

Telecoms’ GDP leaps to 1.8% growth

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From a decline of -3.28 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2017, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate in Nigeria’s telecommunications sub-sector jumped to 1.8 per cent in the first quarter of this year, New Telegraph has learnt.

This, according to latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), shows a general improvement in the Information and Communication sector.

The telecoms and information services, which come under the Information and Communication sector in the NBS’ categorisation of economic activities, had in the last three quarters recorded negative growth rate as it fell by 1.9 per cent in second quarter 2017. In the third quarter of same year, it also went down by -5.68 per cent. By fourth quarter, the sector still went down by -3.28, even at the time when the overall GDP growth rate of the country looked positive.

However, the telecoms sector has shown remarkable signs of growth since the beginning of this year as subscriber data continue to surge.

Analysis of active mobile subscriptions in the first three months of the year shows that the telecom operators added 4.2 million subscribers within the period. Data subscriptions on the four GSM networks also crossed the 100 million mark in January and have maintained a steady growth.

The Information and Communication sector is composed of the four activities of Telecommunications and Information Services; Publishing; Motion Picture, Sound Recording and Music Production and Broadcasting. In nominal terms, the first quarter of 2018 saw the sector grow by 1.79 per cent (year-on-year) , a 7.25 per cent points decrease from the rate of 9.04 per cent recorded in the same quarter of 2017. However, it is 2.34 per cent points higher than rate recorded in the preceding quarter. The quarter-on-quarter growth rate was 3.58 per cent. The Information and Communications sector contributed 10.64 per cent to total Nominal GDP in the 2018 first quarter, lower than the rate of 11.43 per cent recorded in the same quarter of 2017 but higher than the 10.04 per cent it contributed in the preceding quarter.

The sector, in the first quarter of 2018, recorded a growth rate of 1.58 per cent in real terms, year-on-year. From the rate recorded in the corresponding period of 2017, there was a decline by 1.15 per cent points. Quarter on quarter, the sector exhibited a growth of –4.15 per cent in real terms. Of total real GDP, the sector contributed 12.41 per cent in 2018 first quarter, lower than in the same quarter of the previous year in which it represented 12.46 per cent but higher than the preceding quarter, in which it represented 11.35 per cent.

Analysts see the growth rate as a positive sign of more economic activities in the sector, leading to job creations and increased contribution to the economy.

Citing the NBS statistics, Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta recently disclosed that the telecoms sector in the first quarter of 2017 contributed N1.45 trillion to the GDP, adding that in the second quarter, the figure rose to N1.549 trillion.

“This performance at a period of recession is very remarkable,” he said. “We are keeping dates with the NBS to identify and track how these trends progress. On the aggregate, the telecoms industry’s contribution to GDP in Nigeria stands at 10 per cent.

“But the figures may not tell the entire story. Investments in the sector, in human and material resources, have continued to soar. In 2001, the telecom sector could boast of a mere $50 million worth of investments but as at September 2017, we have investments worth $70 billion. The Value Added Services (VAS), segment of the telecom market in Nigeria today is worth $200 million and is estimated to grow to $500 million by 2021. The industry has provided both direct and indirect employment opportunities, accentuated growth and expansion.”

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Business

Reps probe Pencom over alleged financial mismanagement

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The House of Representatives has resolved to investigate the National Pension Commission (PENCOM) over alleged reckless financial management of retirees’ funds and infraction on the public procurement Law. The House has consequently mandated its committee on public procurement and pensions to carry out a comprehensive investigation on alleged monumental fraud ongoing at the commission.

 

The decision followed the passage of a motion sponsored by Hon. Zakariya Galadima on the “need to investigate the alleged violation of provisions of the public procurement Act and financial mismanagement by the National Pension Commission (PENCOM)” During debate, the legislators faulted the commission over several financial infractions as against the principles and objectives of the provisions of the Pension Reform Act, which required the commission to collect and utilize fees, levies and penalties prudently in accordance with its regulatory and compliance roles. For instance, part of the 2014 Act authorizes PENCOM to invest the retiree funds in order to generate revenue but the lawmakers are worried that such investments powers of the agency have been grossly eroded by financial abuses.

 

In his lead debate, Galadima faulted the agency over several financial mismanagement while expressing worry that PENCOM engaged in fraudulent practice by investing N1billion into Aso Savings and Loans Plc under its investments portfolio at a ridiculously low interest rates and further directed Aso to lend the money to MGSL Mortgage Bank Limited where a top PENCOM management staff has interest.

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Confectionery firm hosts BBNaija ex-housemates

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Infusion Cakes & Cafe, a Lagos-based confectionery firm, has hosted ex-housemates of the reality TV show, Big Brother Nigeria (BBNaija), in a meet and greet session in Lagos recently.

Founder and chief executive of Infusion Cakes & Cafe, Mrs. Ibigbeye Okobi, in a statement, said the company decided to host the BBNaija ex-housemates because: “We really enjoyed the free spirit they exhibited, how natural they were and how they were able to get Nigerians to actually get engaged in everything they did while in the house.”

Okobi said the management of Infusion Cakes & Cafe also felt that the location of the company in the highbrow Lekki area of Lagos would serve as an excellent platform for Nigerians who were keen to meet the ex-housemates, get to know and interact with them in a friendly and hospitable environment to really appreciate them.

Infusion Cakes & Cafe is a modern bakery and cafe where customers can get a combination of international and locally made cakes, coffee, pastries and desserts for refreshment, weddings and special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, among others.

The highlight of the event was a competition for the decoration of cakes. Participants in the competition included the reigning Miss Nigeria, Miss Mildred Peace Ehiguese; one of the BBNaija ex-housemates, Anto; and a representative of Team Definition, a band of musical artistes which entertained guests at the session.

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