Fighting Corruption in Nigeria’s Forestry and Fishery Industries

Although Nigeria is known mainly for oil and gas production, Nigeria’s agriculture sector, including forestry and fisheries, now accounts for over 21% of the country’s GDP. Despite the benefits of the forestry and fisheries industries to Nigeria’s development, corruption-fueled illicit activities in these sectors threaten to destabilize local communities and damage the environment. Two areas of illicit activity are of particular concern:

  • Illegal Logging: Nigeria has become the largest exporter of rosewood logs in the world and one of the largest overall wood exporters in Africa. Yet almost all of the exported rosewoods coming from and through Nigeria were illegally harvested. The rosewood exported from Nigeria, known as Kosso, is covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which requires that all exports of Kosso be accompanied by an official document issued by the national CITES authorities. This document verifies that the wood was lawfully harvested; shipments without this document must be seized by the importing nation’s customs officials. But as a 2017-2018 report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) revealed, illegal loggers have resorted to large-scale corruption to evade this and other restrictions. For example, EIA investigators discovered that influential Nigerian and Chinese businessmen paid over US$1 million in bribes to Nigerian senior officials, including ministers and congressmen, for the improper issuance of CITES documents. In addition, illegal loggers paid local officials bribes to allow logging in protected areas, and to turn a blind eye to this illegal conduct. Nigerian police officers, who also sought to profit from these illegal activities, began manning checkpoints for the purpose of exacting bribes from logging truck drivers transporting rosewood. The large-scale corruption scheme in the Nigerian timber sector has led to the rapid degradation of fragile forests, which in turn has amplified the risk of flooding and erosion and contributed to global climate change.
  • Illegal Fishing: Nigerian law requires that all commercial fishing vessels operating within Nigerian waters be licensed, and trawlers are required to submit catch statistics for inspection. However, according to a fisheries crime study conducted by INTERPOL, vessels fishing in Nigeria’s territorial waters evade these requirements by bribing maritime patrol officers. There are also allegations that companies are improperly obtaining licenses by bribing the issuing officials. The lack of transparency regarding which companies and vessels have been issued valid licenses makes the identification of possible violations difficult. Corruption-fueled illegal fishing has also resulted in the dwindling of fish stocks in Nigeria, thereby threatening traditional livelihoods in its coastal communities.

Although the Nigerian government has shown a desire to crack down on corruption generally (see here and here), more must be done with respect to corrupt practices in the forestry and fishery industries. Here are two steps the Nigerian government ought to take, as part of a more comprehensive plan to fight corruption in these sectors:

  • First, the government could increase transparency in the licensing process by requiring that the appropriate departments within forestry and fishery regions publish a list of licensed companies, together with information about those companies. Such a list could discourage officials from granting licenses in return for bribes, because civil society watchdogs and the Nigerian federal government could investigate licensed companies to determine whether they meet the requirements needed to obtain their licenses. If a company is found not to meet the requirements, an investigation could subsequently be launched into the issuing official, potentially exposing that official to punishment if improprieties are revealed.
  • Second, to address the problem of local officials taking bribes to ignore illegal activities or otherwise forgo their duties, the federal government should make expanded use of undercover sting operations. Sting operations—which the Nigerian government has used in other contexts (see herehere, and here)—could and should be used to test the integrity of local officials. For example, the federal government could send undercover agents posing as businessmen looking to engage in illicit logging or fishery activities, and these agents could offer bribes to officials in exchange for non-interference or the procurement of falsified documents or licenses. Similarly, the government could send undercover agents posing as truck drivers for an illegal logging company, or as commercial fishing vessel operators without appropriate licenses, and offer bribes to enforcement officers in exchange for ignoring the illegal activities. Such sting operations would not only provide evidence for the prosecution of the officials involved, but the federal government could widely publicize these cases and emphasize that the government conducts such stings on a regular basis. Doing so would likely deter many officials from engaging in such corrupt practices, even if the statistical probability of getting caught in a sting remained quite low.

As in other contexts, a combination of greater transparency and more rigorous enforcement can help suppress corruption in these sectors. Doing so ought to be a high priority of the Nigerian government, as corruption in the forestry and fishery sectors threatens not only the integrity of Nigerian institutions, but also the country’s long-term sustainable development.

6 thoughts on “Fighting Corruption in Nigeria’s Forestry and Fishery Industries

  1. Pingback: OTHER THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED – FEBRUARY 20 – raytodd.blog

  2. Hi Ubong – thanks for this important post! Illegal logging and fishing certainly seem like large vulnerabilities for Nigeria, both in the present and future. I am curious – would the suggestions that you propose require legislative action, or are the measures something that the executive could initiate itself? If the former, is there any sense of how much support such action would have among legislators? If the latter, what is the biggest obstacle to the executive making a move?

  3. Reading about the intersection of corruption and sustainability is so refreshing, Ubong! I’m particularly curious about the idea of environmental sting operations. I know that these techniques are used in the United States on occasion, primarily in the context of dumping materials into waterways or illegal pollution discharge. Do you envision difficulties in rolling them out? If illegal logging and fishing occur in a decentralized way, rather than in concentrated locales, it might be difficult to conduct sting operations in a coordinated manner.

  4. Thanks for another interesting post Ubong! I want to tie this to another one of your posts you made in the past that discussed the concept of trickle-down corruption. Is it safe to say that the success of your solutions depends on how anti-corrupt the authoritative and senior officials at the top of the Nigerian government and administrations are? I’m curious as to how effective sting operations can be if the level of corruption you mentioned has reached the ears and the wallets of senior Nigerian officials. And if these sting operations target and deter local officials from participating in corruption, would you expect a shift in focus to more senior officials?

  5. Thanks for this great post, Ubong! As I was reading, I wondered about the role international law could play here. Does CITES have an enforcement mechanism/court, or have there been thoughts about the potential claims affected Nigerians or other states could bring in the international/regional African courts? Additionally, I believe that a UK court just a few weeks ago said that Nigerians can bring claims in UK courts against Shell for its role in polluting the Niger Delta–are there similar foreign law possibilities here to incentivize Nigeria to do a better job cracking down?

  6. I also think the international community could come together to address these issues. For instance, the UN established the Kimberly Process to certify conflict-free diamonds when blood diamonds came to be seen as a humanitarian crisis. Even if a similar certification process fails to address these environmental issues adequately, the heightened attention brought to Nigeria’s forestry and fishery industries could lead to boycotts of rosewood or certain fish. For as the impact of climate change grows, public interest in such “green” initiatives is growing too. Presenting this corruption as an in issue of global warming increases its international saliency, and thus could lead to global pressure to reform.

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