Niger Delta Avengers claim first attack in energy hub since ceasefire
Nigerian militant group the Niger Delta Avengers said on Saturday it had carried out its first oil pipeline attack in the country’s southern energy hub since declaring a break in hostilities in August to pursue talks with the government.
The Avengers have previously launched attacks that have reduced the OPEC member’s crude oil production by around a third from the 2.1 million barrels per day average at the start of the year.
The group said in a statement on its website that it had “brought down oil production activities at the Bonny 48 inches crude oil export line” in an attack on Friday night.
An Avengers spokesman said in an emailed statement later that the attack took place in the sea near Bonny island in Rivers State, the location of a number of oil facilities. Reuters was not immediately able to independently verify the details.
The group, which wants a greater share of the OPEC member’s wealth to go to the Niger Delta where most of the country’s crude is produced, said the attack was a “wake up call” for the government and accused it of intimidating young people in the region since the ceasefire began.
“While we were promised that the concerns of the Niger Delta will be addressed once a truce is declared, the activities of the government and her agents are not assuring enough, there has been no progress,” the group said.
But it added that it was still in favour of dialogue and negotiations. Earlier this month the Avengers told Reuters they had had no contact with the government since agreeing to halt hostilities.
An army offensive launched in late August against militant camps has raised tensions in the region amid claims, denied by the military, that troops have harassed locals.
Separately, the army said a soldier had been killed and two others were missing following an attack early on Saturday elsewhere in the region on troops by suspected militants from a different group.
Army spokesman Sani Usman said suspected militants linked to the Bakassi Strike Force attacked troops in Bakassi in Cross River State, about 100 miles (160 kilometres) away from the area in Rivers where the Avengers said they had carried out an attack.
“A soldier was killed in action, while two soldiers were missing in action,” said Usman.
(Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram and Tife Owolabi, in Yenagoa; Editing by Andrew Bolton and Hugh Lawson)
Having frozen her personal account with a balance of $5m as well as four other accounts linked to her with a balance of $15.6m, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is set to invite Dame Patience Jonathan, the wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Impeccable sources at the EFCC told SUNDAY PUNCH that detectives had visited the Skye Bank branch on Adeola Hopewell, Victoria Island, where the accounts were opened and had obtained the files containing Patience’s information.
The source told our correspondent that the detectives had been able to establish a prima facie case of money laundering and forgery against Patience.
It will be recalled that as part of investigations into a former Special Adviser to the President on Domestic Affairs, Waripamowei Dudafa, the EFCC traced four company accounts to him all domiciled at Skye Bank.
The bank accounts of the four companies — Pluto Property and Investment Company Limited; Seagate Property Development and Investment Company Limited; Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Limited; and Globus Integrated Service Limited — were said to have been opened with stolen identities.
Some of the directors of the company were also said to be domestic servants of Dudafa who did not know that any account had been opened on their behalf.
Shortly before the EFCC could arraign the suspects, Mrs. Jonathan deposed to an affidavit insisting that the monies belonged to her, a move which prompted the commission to beam its searchlight on Patience.
A detective at the EFCC said, “After three months of investigation, I can confirm to you that we are set to invite Patience Jonathan. We obtained the files from the bank and we realised that those accounts with the $15m were opened with fake identity cards, including driving licences.
“We took the cards and went to the Federal Road Safety Corps to verify if the cards were authentic. We found out that the cards were fake. So, this is not just money laundering but a clear case of fraud.
“If they had nothing to hide, why did they go to this length?”
While the companies have pleaded guilty, Patience insists that the money belongs to her but claims she does not know the companies.
In an affidavit, one Sammie Somiari deposed to on behalf of Patience, Mrs. Jonathan claimed that Dudafa helped Patience to open the bank accounts in 2010.
However, EFCC investigations revealed that the accounts were opened between 2013 and 2014.
According to Somiari, Dudafa had on March 22, 2010 brought two Skye Bank officers to meet Patience at home to open five accounts.
The deponent claimed that Patience was the sole signatory to the accounts.
He, however, claimed that after the five accounts were opened, Patience later discovered that Dudafa opened only one of the accounts in her name while the other four were opened in the names of companies belonging to Dudafa.
Meanwhile, sources within the agency told our correspondent that the commission had been under pressure to drop the case as there are plans by Patience’s supporters to embark on a series of protests this week.
On Friday, scores of supporters of Mrs. Jonathan stormed the Port Harcourt zonal office of the EFCC asking the commission to stop probing her.
They insisted that Patience, who is also from Rivers State, was innocent.
The protesters, who were led by one Sara-Igbe Sukubo, a self-professed anti-corruption ambassador, said they were in the commission to express their unhappiness and submit their letter of protest over what he called ill-treatment of Mrs. Jonathan.
In his response, the South-South zonal head of the EFCC, Ishaq Salilu, told the protesters that the EFCC as a creation of law discharges its responsibilities within the ambits of the law.
He said, “The EFCC is a law-abiding organisation which discharges its duties not minding whose ox is gored. We do not shy away from our responsibilities. Where there is a case, we pursue it to its logical conclusion, if there is no case, there is none, we move to other things. The motto of the commission is ‘Nobody is above the law.’”
Senior Researcher in Natural Resource Governance (Africa), South African Institute of International Affairs
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international regulatory treaty between 182 member states. It was formed in 1973 and regulates the international trade in over 35,000 wild species of plants and animals.
The 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP17) will be hosted by South Africa running from 24 September to 5 October.
The focus of the convention is not solely on the protection of species. It also promotes controlled trade that is not detrimental to the sustainability of wild species. It has become the best-known conservation convention in the world.
Illegal wildlife trafficking is a major global problem and CITES is the premier multilateral arrangement to address the problem. The upcoming conference is therefore crucial for advancing human and environmental welfare.
The nature and size of the problem
A recent United Nations report states that the trafficking of wildlife is both a specialised area of organized crime and a significant threat to many plant and animal species.
For instance, there has been an alarming 85% increase in the number of African rhinos poached since 2009. There are only about 20,000 white rhinos left, and fewer than 6,000 black rhinos.
And the latest Great Elephant Census reveals that there are only about 375,000 savannah elephants remaining in Africa. Populations are currently shrinking by 8% per across the continent, primarily due to poaching.
Katarzyna Nowak, research associate in Zoology and Entomology at the University of the Free State, notes that illegal wildlife trade deprives nations of their biodiversity, income opportunities and natural heritage and capital.
Most mammalian megafauna face dramatic range contractions and population declines… 60% of the world’s largest herbivores are classified as threatened with extinction on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
In addition to poaching and trafficking, habitat contraction and fragmentation threaten species survival. Livestock encroachment into wildlife habitats, land-use change and armed conflict combine to account for contraction. Fragmentation also threatens large migratory species, as smaller pockets of protected areas often cannot support sustainable populations of large herbivores and carnivores.
CITES can therefore only deal with one dimension of a much broader problem. But the more effective it becomes at dealing with trafficking, the more traction is likely to be gained in tackling the others.
How does CITES work?
The convention works primarily through a system of classification and licensing. Wild species are categorised in Appendices I to III. This often reflects species’ threat status on the Red List of the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species first created in 1964.
Appendix I prohibits trade in species classified as highly endangered. Appendix II allows trade under very specific conditions. This requires exporting countries obtain a permit, but not the importing country. Appendix III species require only a certificate of origin to be traded.
National CITES management authorities may issue permits once scientific authorities show non-detriment findings. In other words, scientific evidence must demonstrate that species sustainability will not be adversely affected by trade. Where data is lacking, the precautionary principle applies.
For instance, elephants are protected under Appendix I and II because of the geographically differentiated threats facing different populations. Either way, if countries cannot demonstrate that the trade in ivory will not result in species decline, they will not be allowed to trade.
Part of the difficulty of allowing the occasional sale of ivory is that sufficient, reliable data on how markets may respond is not available. A vast volume of ivory is sold illegally, and so scientists and statisticians cannot get good data to establish whether one-off sales of ivory exacerbate demand for ivory, or what kind of impact sales may have on speculative activity.
Estimates from seizure data to make inferences about market dynamics is risky. The precautionary principle suggests that no trade in ivory should be allowed, given the current rates of elephant slaughter across central and east Africa, even though some southern populations are apparently not at risk of decline.
In technical terms, there is an added difficulty of what is called the split-listing problem. Here, some elephants are listed on Appendix II – now the largest volume – and all others are listed on Appendix I. Appendix II-listed elephants were subjected to a moratorium on future trade after the 2008 one-off sale. This is due to expire in 2017, and South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe have submitted a proposal to be allowed to sell their naturally accruing ivory again.
Another difficulty with migratory species is establishing which member state the elephants actually belong to. If an elephant wakes up in Zimbabwe and goes to sleep in Botswana, whose elephant is she? The upcoming conference will have to deal with these kinds of questions.
The convention also requires that traded species be clearly marked and have legitimate certificates of origin. Seizures of specimens are not allowed when permits are invalid, fraudulent or dubious. Unfortunately, trafficking syndicates are particularly adept at circumventing these measures by forging permits or laundering wild-caught species through captive-breeding facilities.
The secretariat may recommend trade suspension where countries fail to comply with CITES provisions. Trade suspensions were handed to 27 countries at the recent 66th meeting of the CITES standing committee, 16 of them in Africa. For example, countries that failed to submit National Ivory Action Plans were issued with suspensions.
The World Conservation Monitoring Centre, a specialist arm of the UN Environment Programme, manages the CITES trade database and evaluates whether parties are effective at enforcing recommended suspensions.
Will CITES succeed at reducing trafficking?
The convention faces a tremendously difficult task. It was initially designed to regulate trade, not to defeat illegal wildlife trafficking. The convention in itself is relatively powerless to defeat powerful, well-organised transnational crime syndicates. But working in collaboration with other multilateral agencies it can ensure greater success in regulating trade in species as well as protecting irreplaceable biodiversity.
Many countries do not have the capacity to adapt their national laws to enforce CITES provisions and recommendations. For instance, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is racked by internal armed conflict and therefore lacks the capacity to do so. But enforcement is crucial to ensuring the convention’s future efficacy.
Countries with capacity should help those without. Harmonisation of legislation, and equally strong penalties between countries, is also a prerequisite for success.
The more countries start to see that wildlife conservation is not the preserve of a wealthy few or some random single-issue lobby group, but rather integral to the survival of humanity, the more likely CITES is to gain real policy efficacy.
Why should you care?
CITES is a crucial instrument for ensuring that species are not traded in a way that threatens their survival. If, for instance, the world wants to secure a future with elephants, member states would do well to shut down all domestic ivory trade, and to put all stockpiles beyond commercial use. The Elephant Protection Initiative, for instance, calls on members to do this. It provides an excellent example of states adopting policies that complement CITES regulations.
Elephants and other charismatic species are important to conserve not just because they have inherent value, but also because they play a key role in ensuring the ecological integrity of their migratory habitats.
These habitats – wilderness landscapes – not only preserve wildlife species, but also operate as invaluable carbon sinks. This shows us that properly regulating trade in wild fauna and flora is one crucial component of addressing other major challenges like climate change.
Gabon’s Constitutional Court upheld on Friday the election victory of President Ali Bongo, whose family has ruled the central African oil producer for nearly a half century, rejecting a challenge by his main opponent.
The decision, read late at night in an almost empty court chamber, raised the prospect of a repeat of the violence that erupted with the announcement earlier this month of Bongo’s narrow victory over Jean Ping in the Aug. 27 poll.
Six died in riots that caused major damage in the capital, Libreville, and elsewhere in the country of some 1.8 million people.
In a speech immediately after the court ruling, Bongo renewed a call for an open political dialogue to bring together both his allies and his opponents to work together in the country’s best interest.
“When we come out of an election and families are having to mourn their dead, it means we’ve betrayed democracy,” he told a crowd of supporters who minutes later erupted into a rendition of Gabon’s national anthem.
There has been little indication that Ping, who has claimed he won the poll, is ready to enter talks with the government.
At the Libreville residence of the opposition leader – a former African Union Commission chairman – around a dozen of his supporters sat beside a swimming pool, watching in silence as a judge read the court’s decision live on television.
“When the institutions of a country behave like this it is just sad,” said one supporter, who gave his name only as Olivier. “Always it is the strongest who wins. The people’s voice was rejected.”
The government stepped up security in Libreville in the days leading up to the court ruling, deploying extra police and soldiers on the streets in an effort to head off trouble. The communications minister warned Ping on Wednesday that he risked arrest if violence broke out after the decision
In his petition to the court, Ping alleged fraud in Haut-Ogooue province, where Bongo won 95 percent on a turnout of 99.9 percent.
A European Union elections observer mission stated it had uncovered anomalies in the province’s results.
The court refused to accept copies of vote tally sheets provided as evidence by Ping, many of which it said were illegible. Ping’s legal team was absent from the courtroom as the ruling was announced.
Bongo’s allies submitted evidence to the court rejecting Ping’s allegations and countering that the opposition leader had himself orchestrated vote fraud.
The court cancelled results from 21 polling stations in Libreville over irregularities. The decision helped Bongo improve his margin of victory from 49.85 percent of ballots cast to 50.66 percent in the final court-certified result.
(Additional reporting by Gerauds Wilfrieds Obangome in Libreville and Joe Bavier in Abidjan; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)
Let’s be clear: there IS a ban on the commercial international trade in ivory. There are no legal loopholes. This might come as a surprise given the increasingly loud calls for governments to adopt a “complete ivory ban” at the world’s most important wildlife trade meeting – the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – which starts this week in South Africa. By CARLOS DREWS.But an international ban is in place. It is the cornerstone of global efforts to save elephants and must be strictly maintained. Measures to stop the poachers and traffickers and close down domestic ivory markets have to be strengthened. But there is no way to make the ban stronger on paper – it can only be enhanced through effective enforcement.
Some countries and conservation organisations dispute this. With around 20,000-30,000 elephants being poached across Africa each year, they are pushing hard for the large elephant populations in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to be upgraded to Appendix I of CITES in line with the rest of the continent’s elephants, arguing that this would provide them with the highest level of protection.
However, these elephant populations already benefit from this top level protection thanks to a special condition attached to their existing Appendix II listing. This prohibits these countries – which harbour over half the continent’s remaining elephants – from trading any ivory for commercial purposes. So, as the CITES Secretariat has pointed out, adding these elephants to Appendix I would have no practical effect.
Except for one critical caveat. It could inadvertently make the situation worse by opening a back door to the resumption of legal international ivory trade.
At the moment, the only way to reopen the trade is by a two-thirds majority vote of all 182 Parties at a CITES conference. Namibia and Zimbabwe are angling for this, having submitted proposals to allow them to trade ivory from their legal stocks. WWF does not support these proposals because this is not the time to contemplate even a limited resumption of the international ivory trade, and it is extremely unlikely that the world will back them.
However, there is another way that pro-trade countries could bypass the ban. Ironically, all this would require would be a change to the existing elephant listings; exactly what many anti-trade countries, conservationists and campaigners are calling for. Altering the current position in any way would automatically open up a 90-day window for countries to lodge reservations.
If this were to happen it is likely that some countries – potentially both African countries with ivory stockpiles and Asian countries with ivory consumers – could do so. This would exempt them from the current restrictions regarding elephants, so they could start trading ivory internationally again with no oversight from CITES at all. And remember, there is no possible reward to justify such a gamble.
But this is not the only reason WWF does not support the uplisting proposal. These four elephant populations do not – as the independent experts at the IUCN and TRAFFIC point out – meet the agreed scientific criteria for listing on Appendix I. They do not have a restricted range, nor are their populations small or undergoing a marked decline. Supporting a proposal that does not meet these criteria would undermine the integrity of the Convention, weakening the prospects of future protection for countless threatened species.
All sides of the ivory trade debate want to halt the slaughter of Africa’s elephants. The shocking decline in African elephant numbers detailed in the recent Great Elephant Census shows there is no time to lose: bold, urgent action is needed to tackle the poaching crisis.
Divisive debates at CoP17 over these three trade proposals will not help. WWF believes they will only serve to divert attention away from critical debates about measures, including strengthening the National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) process, to deal with the fundamental issues behind the illegal ivory trade – corruption, inadequate laws and lack of enforcement along the illegal trade chain, along with rampant demand in Asia.
Initiated at the last conference, the NIAP process is absolutely central to global efforts to stop the poaching and the trafficking, and reduce demand for ivory. It required the 19 African and Asian countries most implicated in the illegal ivory trade to take concrete time-bound actions to address gaps in their legislation and enforcement or face sanctions. And it is now beginning to yield results.
But these gains are fragile. The conference must compel these countries to implement their ivory action plans rigorously. If not, they must be held accountable and face the threat of trade sanctions under CITES. Parties should also agree to tough decisions to discourage consumption and close down the world’s few remaining commercial domestic ivory markets.
If the world unites at this conference behind this robust approach, it will go a long way to tackling the demand fuelling the poaching crisis and the organised criminal networks driving it.
The international ivory trade is already banned. Let’s not mess with it and instead focus our combined efforts on what will make a concrete difference for elephants in the years ahead.DM
Dr Carlos Drews is acting WWF Wildlife Practice Leader
Photo: A Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) worker carries a tusk of an elephant as they offload them from a container to a burning site at the KWS headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, 20 April 2016. Containers loaded with ivory tusks from various parts of the country such as Mombasa, Voi, Nanyuki and other places are being offloaded at the burning site ahead of the ivory burning event on 30 April 2016 where 105 tonnes of ivory is set to be burned. This would be the single biggest haul ever to be burned. EPA/DANIEL IRUNGU
Nigeria has hunted down 700,000 firms that have never paid taxes as the country seeks new revenue sources to offset low oil prices that have pushed Africa’s biggest economy into its first recession in more than 20 years, its tax chief said.
Tunde Fowler, executive chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), said in a rare interview that he also expected 10 million individuals to be discovered by December and made to pay taxes for the first time.
The OPEC member slid into recession in the second quarter and militant attacks on oil facilities in its Niger Delta region have cut crude production, which provides 70 percent of government revenues, by around a third.
Planned loan deals with foreign lenders have yet to materialise, prompting the leader of the Senate to speak of an “economic emergency”.
The government, struggling to fund a record 6.06 trillion naira (14.19 billion pounds) 2016 budget that aims to stimulate growth by tripling capital expenditure, set FIRS a target of raising 4.95 trillion naira in taxes, up from 3.73 trillion last year.
Persuading Nigerians to pay tax is no easy task. FIRS does not appear to be on track to meet its target for tax collection so far this year, but experts believe it can do better in future.
“We collected a little over 2.3 trillion, so far – from January to 31 August. It is almost at par with last year but take into consideration that the economy is going through a little slowdown,” said Fowler.
He said revenue from value-added tax (VAT) had increased by 25 percent year-on-year and corporate income tax held steady over the same period but petroleum profit tax was expected to have halved, mainly due to low oil prices.
Fowler, appointed last year after a stint as tax chief in Lagos where monthly tax revenues surged by 70 percent in the four years to December 2012, said FIRS expects to generate 5.2 trillion naira in 2017.
The tax chief said a new unit created at the start of the year had deployed inspectors armed with laptops to update databases, registering businesses and individuals who are then tracked to check whether they have paid taxes — business executives say they get “aggressive” visits from tax inspectors.
“We have been able to add about 700,000 companies and we expect to add about 10 million individuals across the nation (by December),” said Fowler, adding that this would bring the total of registered individuals to 20 million.
John Ashbourne, Africa analyst at Capital Economics, said Fowler’s target of doubling the number of tax payers was “ambitious” and would be hard to achieve in a country where “paperwork is often lacking”.
But he said the projections for 2017 were “quite achievable”. “Revenue will almost certainly be much, much higher next year, but this is primarily due to the devaluation of the naira, which has boosted the local-terms value of each oil barrel that is exported,” he said.
Even a doubling of the number of individuals paying taxes in Africa’s most populous nation of 180 million inhabitants, where 80 percent of the workforce is employed in the informal sector, leaves FIRS with an uphill struggle.
“From our estimates, we expect that we have 60 million individuals who should pay some form or level of tax,” said Fowler.
He said tougher enforcement would be combined with a planned waiver on interest and penalties covering the period from 2012 to 2015 under which people and businesses would only be asked to pay the principal amount of tax liabilities due.
“We will give them a 45-day window to come forward and register and that will make them eligible for that waiver,” said Fowler of the proposal, which was submitted to the finance minister this week to check she was in agreement even though FIRS has the legal authority to enforce the change.
“A lot of people who are not in the tax net are a bit jittery or afraid to come and register thinking that we might go back two or three years and the amounts might be considerable,” he said.
But he warned that those who failed to register for the scheme — which he said could be rolled out as soon as October 3 — would face stiff penalties.
People or businesses that did not come forward voluntarily would be asked to pay back taxes plus interest and penalties, he said.
“We will also consider criminal prosecution of chief executive officers or board members,” Fowler said.
He was cautious on the idea of an increase in Nigeria’s VAT rate which, at 5 percent, is among the lowest in the world.
International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde suggested a rate hike while visiting Nigeria in January and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo later said the government was considering tax regime changes to raise funds.
Fowler said it was part of the government’s remit to “take a decision” on VAT but he thought “the economy is not ready for a VAT increase right now”.
“The level of compliance was too low so that if we increased the rate of VAT it would be a punishment and unfair on those who are collecting and remitting VAT,” he said.
(Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Giles Elgood)