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The Rosewood racket: Leaving blood trails, stripped forests and ecosystems

Nigeria has become the first on the list of China’s seven biggest suppliers of rosewood logs in Africa. Smart Chinese businessmen, according to -Akinsola B.,…

Nigeria has become the first on the list of China’s seven biggest suppliers of rosewood logs in Africa. Smart Chinese businessmen, according to -Akinsola B., a researcher, are exploiting a lax regulatory and enforcement environment, loopholes in existing laws, lack of government policy and direction, as well as corruption by government officials, to drive an illegal trade in the export of the country’s forest resources. These loopholes and corruptions are stripping forests and ecosystems bare and leaving a trail of dead rangers.


Between 2005 and 2014, the cumulative value of seized illegal rosewood also known as kosso or of the Pterocarp

Some of the finished products from rosewood up for sale in China

us erinaceus family, was higher than seized rhino horns, parrots, marine turtles and pangolins combined. It is, according to the United Nations Office for Drug and Crime (UNODC), the most lucrative illegal operation in wild fauna and flora.


The migration of rosewood poachers across West Africa began in 2011, according to Dr. Abimbola Ogunwusi and Dr. Ibrahim Hussaini of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), with Chinese traders who began illegally logging in The Gambia which became the largest exporter from the sub-region to China, until supplies dwindled and the country’s government followed through with an export ban. The poachers turned to Guinea Bissau, Togo, Benin, Ghana and now, Nigeria.

Rosewood is found in Ekiti, Ondo, Ogun, Cross River, Kogi and Taraba, which is the latest target for illegal felling of the trees after it had been ravaged in Kogi and Cross River.

The indiscriminate and illegal logging of rosewood in Nigeria has led to deaths of rangers working to protect the endangered wood specie.

Desperate  illegal loggers kill park rangers

Data obtained from the National Parks headquarters in Abuja showed that from 2008 to 2019, a total of 36 rangers have been killed across national parks in the country-11 from Gashaka Gumti National Park in Taraba State and six from the Chad Basin National Park in Borno State. Seven were killed in the Kainji Lake National Park in Niger State, four in Kamuku National Park, Kaduna State and five in Old Oyo National Park in Oyo State. In the Cross River National Park, two were killed while one was killed in Okumu National Park in Edo State.

During the 2019 World Rangers’ Day, Conservator of the Gashaka Gumti Park, Mohammed Kabiru, said at least nine rangers were killed by rosewood poachers.

The deceased include Usman Yahaya, Joshua Mamman, Adamu Hamman, Ajayi Peter and Hamman Njidda, Hamman Dikko, Zamani Teituly, Sunday Ali and Yakubu Umaru.

According to him, the discovery of rosewood in the park, and its economic importance between 2014 and 2015, put rangers in danger as illegal loggers became bold and desperate.

He explained that rosewood demand started as early as 2013, saying, it is a hardwood that is used in making furniture and has medicinal value as well. It is also used for dyeing clothes, and as fuel, animal feed and vegetables for humans.

The loggers, Kabiru said, shifted their attention to the park after they exhausted the wood outside it, and as such, hunted rangers who were working to protect the Park’s biodiversity.

Effects of illegal rosewood exploitation 

The African Union (AU) said current trends in rosewood abusive exploitation, not only contribute to environmental instability, but also to conflicts and violence in many areas. Therefore, illegal trade in rosewood could be considered a threat to political stability in Africa.

Logs carefully packed and ready for shipment to the port of export at Mayo Kam

Isabel Osorno, a Scientific Support Officer of CITES Secretariat, while presenting the 2019 findings on the threat assessment from 25 West and Central African countries, said there were significant discrepancies between exports (reported) versus imports (recorded) due to false permits, inaccurate permits and false declarations.

The findings showed that between January 2018 and April 2018, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Management Authority of Nigeria authorised exports of over 61,000 cubic meters of rosewood, whereas the Central Bank of Nigeria showed authorised exports of only 6, 587 cubic meters during the same period. Osorno said export of logs or squared logs from Nigeria is prohibited under national law, including customs law.

Nigeria a transit route

Timothy John, a CITES officer at the Federal Ministry of Environment, told Daily Trust that Nigeria is being used as a transit route and does not have the kind of volume of wood allegedly being exported.

Stating that efforts were ongoing to address the issue, he said Nigeria faces the challenge of identifying those woods but lacked enough forestry staff to handle it.

He, however, berated the process whereby some legislation granted permission to anyone deemed fit to operate in wood exportation, saying they do not know the implication of what they do.

Retrospective permits a sure threat

2017 reports by the Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA) after two years of investigating the booming illegal rosewood trade, revealed that, “Approximately 4,000 permits were retrospectively issued by the [CITES] Nigerian Management Authority in early 2017. The permits were used by importers and their agents to clear the 12,000 detained containers.”

It also said thousands of documents from CITES had been used in contravention of the core objectives of the convention.

EIA evidence suggests that the 10,000+ containers, equivalent to at least 1.4 million logs and over US$300 million, were exported in violation of both CITES rules and Nigerian national law, and in breach of Nigeria’s federal log export ban, which only allows “processed products” of a certain dimension to lawfully leave the country.

According to the EIA, “It appears that Mrs. Amina J. Mohammed, a former Nigerian Minister of Environment, signed the CITES documents during her last days in office, just before she became the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General.

“The retrospective issuance of thousands of CITES permits is reportedly the result of a grand corruption scheme that involves over a million dollars paid by influential Chinese and Nigerian businessmen to senior Nigerian officials, some of the transaction facilitated by Chinese diplomats.”

The investigations which said rosewoods are now the most illegally traded wildlife products in the world, both in value and volume, also informed that, most of the kosso logs harvested in Nigeria over the past four years have been transported through Sagamu.

Seized wildlife by group (%) CREDIT-World Wildlife Crime Report

Sagamu, a sore rosewood hub 

The trade has turned Sagamu, the little town in Ogun State on the outskirts of Lagos into one of the biggest rosewood trading hubs in the world.

In Sagamu, the squared logs are unloaded from the trucks and piled up on ‘beaches’ used by traders as showrooms for potential buyers, or immediately reloaded onto 20-foot containers. The containers are then transported Apapa Port, Lagos, where – often invalid – export papers are issued for shipment to Vietnam and China.

After six to eight weeks sea travel, the shipments arrive Vietnam or China. In China, they arrive in Guangzhou and Shanghai from where they are transported to local markets close to the three major rosewood furniture processing hubs – Xinhui (Guangdong Province), Zhongshan (Guangdong Province), and Dongyang (Zhejiang Province).

According to the EIA, the retrospective issuance of permits by the Nigerian Management Authority, the Secretariat stated on several occasions that “the retrospective issuance of permits and certificates has an increasingly negative impact on the possibilities for properly enforcing the convention and leads to the creation of loopholes for illegal trade. As a consequence, the secretariat formally recommends to the management authorities of exporting countries not to issue CITES permits or certificates retrospectively and to the management authorities of the importing countries, not to accept permits or certificates that were issued retrospectively.

Ogunwusi and Hussiani in their 2017 paper, ‘Impact of Unmitigated Rosewood Exploitation in Nigeria,’ which examines the factors aiding unmitigated exploitation of rosewood in Nigeria and its impact on forest resources and forest industry sustainability in the country, said by the end of 2014, rosewood exports from Nigeria were about 242,203m3.

They said, “By 2015, Nigeria has become the largest single exporter, accounting for 45% of total imports to the country with the hub located in Sagamu and increasing activities mounting up in Ikorodu, Lagos State.

“The Lagos/Ibadan Expressway and the Lagos/Shagamu/Ore road are littered with deposits where hundreds of thousands of rosewood and other logs are prepared for export.  Its effect is also felt in communities, many of which rely on rosewood for fuel, medicine, fodder and income even as they are induced by traders to harvest and transport the logs.

Kabiru said, at Mallum in Ardo Kola Local Government Area of Taraba State, a revenue outpost was set up to collect revenue from rosewood merchants. Between 50 and 70 trucks had daily paid revenue for over four years.

A trailer-load of kosso sold for between N5million and N6million a few years ago, while generating revenue of between N400,000 and N500,000, supposedly paid to the Taraba State government.

He also said illegal logging in the park has however seriously reduced due to efforts to guard the park and largely due to the ban on the exportation of rosewood as well as the rainy season which currently makes the terrain difficult.

Palliatives for slain rangers’ families

On the rangers who recently lost their lives in Gashaka Gumpti, he said about N500, 000 was given to assist the families through the Rangers Federation and possible employment for them if the opportunity arises.

To avert more killings and illegal logging, Ogunwusi and Hussaini proffered some solutions.

They observed that while Nigeria imports lumber and a number of raw materials for its wood products industry, and rosewood is not a popular wood specie in the country’s forest industry, development of appropriate processing technology has made it a prime raw material in China. This is boosting exploitation of the plant species for use in China to grow its economy, while causing a lot of destruction to the Nigerian environment.

From left: Hamman Njidda, Usman A. Yahaya and Joshua Mamman, three of the nine rangers recently killed in Taraba

How to curb the illegal Chinese connection 

Against this background, they recommend that, it is imperative that Nigeria conserves the remaining specie for the development of a new set of industries targeted towards product export to China. This can be achieved if government and the private sector expend resources on human and technology development, and with the cooperation of the Chinese government.

They also suggest that, to stop rosewood export to China, it may be necessary that government seeks the cooperation of the Chinese government for action on the consumer side.

Most actions taken by state governments on the ban on illegal cutting of the tree are not implementable as a result of the sheer number of people involved in the illegal trade.

This is as some state governments have imposed levies on the cut wood specie and on lorries transporting them to final dumps.


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