Here's the full story of how Buhari's former minister of environment, Amina Mohammed, got into some serious mess.
According to an environment advocacy group, Mohammed granted illegal permits to Chinese firms to import endangered species of Nigerian timber during her stint as Environment Minister in the Buhari cabinet.
Mohammed has been accused of aiding and abetting the depletion of Africa’s virgin forests and endangering wildlife, by her actions.
A Washington based environmental advocacy organisation called ‘Environmental Investigation Agency’ alleges that Mohammed signed documents which allowed Chinese wood importers to clear $300M worth of Rosewood log held for months by Chinese border authorities.
Mohammed is currently the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations.
Senior Policy Advisor and Director of Forest Campaigns at the EIA, Lisa Handy, says “thousands of permits were ultimately signed by the then Minister of Environment, Amina J. Mohammed, who currently serves as Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations…”
The EIA calls the investigation the “Rosewood Racket”.
EIA investigators say Mohammed signed thousands of retroactive CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) permits in January 2017 in one of her last acts as Minister of Environment.
Alexander von Bismarck who is the Executive Director at the EIA told Nigeria’s Guardian newspaper that “the power and reach of organised timber criminals in forest rich countries is overwhelming, if illegal wood is allowed to be sold overseas without consequences”.
1.4 million Rosewood logs left Nigeria for China following Mohammed’s signature, according to the EIA.
The logs which were at the time detained at the Chinese border for months because they had left Nigeria in violation of national and international laws, were then cleared to end up in Chinese shops for use in luxury furniture.
There are unconfirmed reports that Mohammed and other top officials in Nigeria received over $1M in bribe money just to allow the illegal Rosewood passage into China.
The Rosewood which is locally called “Kosso”, came from remote Nigerian forests.
Rosewood is a threatened specie of trees. Logging Rosewood illegally is a criminal offence.
"The EIA says the exploding Chinese demand for Kosso over the past five years has triggered a series of “boom and bust” cycles which have led to the depletion of forests across West African Nations", writes the Guardian.
"The boom began in Gambia and Benin, but Chinese traders had to rapidly move on through other countries in the region, before settling on the untapped forest resources of Nigeria—as supply was exhausted in just a few short years".
Mohammed says she did no wrong.
The UN Deputy Secretary General reportedly said in an interview last month that “the certificates came in bags and I just signed them because that is what I had to do. I don’t remember how many I signed…”
Mohammed added that she ensured that Nigeria’s forests were harvested sustainably whilst she was Environment Minister.
Mohammed’s current employer, the UN, is standing by her.
“The Secretary General (Antonio Guterres) has been informed by the Deputy Secretary General about the reports and reiterates his full support and confidence in her”, read a statement from the UN.
The statement added that; “she of course categorically rejects any allegations of fraud. The Deputy Secretary General welcomes the effort to shine more light onto the issue of illegal Rosewood logging and exportation that she fought hard to address during her tenure in the Nigerian government.
“She says that her actions as Nigerian Environment Minister were intended to deal with the serious issue of illegal wood exportation. As a result, she instituted a ban and set up a high level panel to find policy solutions to the crisis of deforestation in Nigeria.
“Ms. Mohammed says that the legal signing of export permits for Rosewood was delayed due to her insistence that stringent due process was followed. She says that she signed the export certificates requested before the ban only after due process was followed and better security watermarked certificates became available”.
The statement was signed by UN spokesperson Farhan Haq.
Mohammed is the highest-ranking woman at the United Nations.
She served as Buhari’s environment minister from November 2015 to February 2017.
According to an AFP report on the development; “Foreign Policy magazine quotes a senior Nigerian forestry official, who asked not to be named and who said that Mohammed had signed 2,992 export certificates on January 16.
“Mohammed had been due to begin her new post at the United Nations on January 1, joining Antonio Guterres as he began his term as UN chief.
“But she delayed her move to New York to stay on as Environment Minister at the request of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and was finally sworn in as Deputy Secretary-General in late February".
Mohammed’s office is perched on the 38th floor of the UN headquarters in Manhattan.
The sprawling UN office in Manhattan overlooks the East River.
Nigeria has become the largest exporter of Rosewood since 2013, according to the EIA.