It was all drama as the two suspects – identified as Julius Novigana and Victor Agbor – who were arrested in connection with the smuggling of consignments containing 140 different species of snakes and 660 other animals imported into Nigeria from Cameroon disappeared from the custody of the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Services (NAQS) in Cross River State.
Their disappearance was brought to light during the weekend after Mr. Ibrahim Jubril, the Minister of State for Environment, visited to handover the reptiles to the University of Uyo for research.
The minister was told on Friday by Sunday Uket, the Director of the agency that “just two persons were brought here and we have no clue where they have disappeared to.”
The suspects were handed over to officials of the NAQS on July 26 by the Customs Area Comptroller in charge of Calabar Free Trade Zone, Cross River and Akwa Ibom Commands, Mrs. Nanbyen Burromvyat, following their interception.
Apparently appalled following the disclosure, the minister, who said he was not happy with the agency’s poor handling of the case, added that the smugglers would have given information on where they got the reptiles from and where they were taking them to and for what purpose.
“But the agency has messed up the vigilance and good intentions of the Customs service officers who intercepted the consignment,” he said.
However, while handing over the reptiles to the University of Uyo representatives, Jubril said the importers wanted to use Nigeria as a transit point to smuggle the animals to Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Luxemburg, the original destination, as inscribed on the consignments.
“The importers thought they could use the Nigerian water channel or airports to smuggle these reptiles because they considered our airport and water channel as easy transit points for their nefarious activities, but thanks to the Customs for their vigilance; they intercepted the items,” he said.
He said the reptiles had the capacity to wipe out the country’s fauna if released without proper research because of their poisonous nature, adding that it was for that reason that the ministry decided to release them to the University of Uyo to conduct appropriate research.
“We must learn to have the interest of the environment at heart in all our activities. There are many things that these reptiles can do that are both destructive and beneficial to our habitat. So, we must always learn to ensure that we are vigilant at all times to ensure that nobody or organisation imports things that can negatively impact on our environment,” he said.