Amina Mohammed came in 2015. The trade was already flourishing. Ware houses in Lagos, Shagamu, Ijebu Ode were filled with logs of rosewood (Kosso). Trucks plying interstate roads sagged with heavy logs. Everywhere was all littered with wood.
The ports were congested with wood containers awaiting shipment. There was a Ministry of Environment making noises about deforestation. And there was a presidency , a Customs Service, and a boisterous campaign against desertification. The forests were filled with meandering Chinese businessmen who were stripping them, and laying them bare.
Amina Mohammed came with sermons of sustainable development. She ran from pillar to post with her fine manners and language of global diplomacy, preaching protection of the environment. President Buhari who gave her the environment portfolio had promised to knock corruption punch drunk. But the trucks laden with woods continued their seamless irreverent flow to the ports. No one was arrested.
The riddle was the mundanity of the evil.
Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an American NGO, has belled the cat. The report is stinging. The logs that littered everywhere were the ravenous work of organized crime. The racket had smuggled 1.4 million logs of rosewood, worth about 300 million US dollars, to China. The report is starling. Those who were paid to protect our forests had pimped them out. It said much more. When the kosso logs reached China, they were detained.
The Chinese authorities wanted to see documentation. The rosewood criminals had no papers. The Chinese officials couldn’t be bribed. So the Chinese criminals rushed back to Nigeria. With tons of grease. And greased their way to thousands of retrospective permits.
The EIA insists that some high profile officials of the Nigerian government collected about one million dollars in bribe money. These officials printed and handed the criminals an abundance of CITES permits. Armed with these permits, the criminals went back to China. The seized logs then made a triumphant entry into luxury furniture factories. The world is accustomed to Nigeria’s incurable corruption. But this baffled a few. Amina Mohammed has good reputation.
The EIA indicted Amina Mohammed, Nigeria’s former environment minister. Only an environment minster can sign the CITES permits. She had been appointed UN Deputy Secretary General. But she lingered and lingered in Nigeria.
She wrote the UN to say she had to clear critical pending matters on her table. The EIA says it was then she signed 4000 CITES permits,at midnight, on the eve of her departure in January 2017. The EIA showed copies of the permits. They all bore her signature, in red ink. Amina Mohammed is clean. But only her can explain what motivated that permit signing frenzy and its suspicious timing.
And she has been explaining. Her explanations have been a little convoluted. I will straighten them. She said she did her best to rein in the rosewood racket. She said she is not under any investigation. She said she collected no bribes. She said she acted judiciously. She said she suspended issuance of CITES permits twice, to check indiscriminate felling of woods. She said the EIA is a mere NGO, a meddlesome interloper.
She said so much. She is innocent.
Everyone is until proven guilty. It’s unfortunate that the dirty linens that are hanging under the bright UN sun are being associated with her.
One had expected a tidier response from her. Or she could have simply done a ‘COZA’ : chosen not to respond to what she could have derisively termed—tissues of malicious lies spewed by her enemies to destroy her enviable global reputation. Amina has chosen to speak, but she has not been clear or not understood. So I have chosen to help her.
Queen Amina Mohammed, you are a great woman. But you are a public servant. There is no investigation more virulent than the uncontrolled multitude of investigations into this matter happening now in private homes, offices, schools and social media. Investigations by the ordinary people can be quick and unforgiving. So don’t say you are not under investigation. You must shed hubris.
I agree you are innocent. But you have admitted signing a number of CITES permits in January 2017. I know you may not have collected any money from those criminal Chinese businessmen. But have you considered tendering a vague apology? Perhaps for poor judgement or something like indiscretion.
Sometimes it works. Defiance can be counter productive. I know you didn’t know the rosewood logs were seized by the Chinese authorities. And couldn’t have known that the permits you churned out helped the racket evade justice.
The timing and number of permits you signed, and the manner they were used, have put you in a difficult position. I know you were running around trying to sort out the Ogoni clean up project before departing. So you may not have studied the permits the civil servants gave you to sign, closely. But you can’t swat off this sensational report. A quick apology isn’t that costly in Nigeria.
It would be childish to claim you didn’t see the logs that littered everywhere during the Jonathan regime. It would be laughable to claim you put a stop to it. But it would be self indicting to suggest mere permits can confer legitimacy to irresponsible rosewood racketeering. Permits that encourage the despoliation of our forests are illegal permits in themselves.
A minister of environment is not at liberty to issue enough permits to leave the country with no trees. Amina, you may have acted innocently, but your actions have aroused reasonable suspicions.
But there is a way out, Amina. This is from me to you.
You can get the President to set up a committee to investigate the rosewood scandal. Don’t worry, he won’t call the EFCC. He would name the vice president as head of a three -man committee. He trusts no one else. The committee would sit day and night, and turn in a huge report in two weeks. The report will be so huge, the President would need two years to review it.
Trust me, queen Amina. The President doesn’t change.
During those two years a lot can happen. But if some political Rottweilers continue barking, you will get the United Nations to site some projects in the South-East and South-South regions. You will personally and visibly attend the commissioning ceremonies. You will say a few good words about Biafra and resource control.
Queen Amina, all will be forgotten, by all. But if anything remains afterwards, it will become what it should really be: An elaborate piece of witch-hunting.