It was not unexpected when the news broke that the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations Ms Amina Muhammed was accused by an NGO of approving multimillion naira rose wood exports while she held sway as Nigeria’s environment minister.
It wasn’t also unexpected that some elements in Nigeria and beyond jumped on the opportunity and began their stock in trade of attacking the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
For starters, Amina was senior special assistant to President Olusegun Obasanjo on Millennium Development Goals (MDG), before she was appointed minister by President Buhari.
Her stint was impeccable as the mixture of her humility, competence and transparency played out well in the way she handled these two national assignments unblemished.
It was in record that Obasanjo wanted to make her a minister but she declined on personal ground. This happened at a time people were scrambling to get one appointment or the other.
Having believed in President Buhari’s intentions for Nigeria, Amina accepted to serve in his cabinet when she was appointed as minister.
That singular act seemed to have angered some elements who do not want to see anything good with Buhari and his administration.
The NGO report which was replete with factual errors provided the needed aperture for these elements to launch a multiple attacks on Amina and herb immediate boss, Buhari.
While they laundered the report to smear her current job at the United Nations by saying she’s being probed by the Nigerian government over the wood export, the timely intervention by the Ministry of Environment shamed these undesirable elements.
The Minister of State for Environment Alhaji Jibrin said in a statement without mincings words that the ex-minister was not under any probe whatsoever over any purported wrongdoing whether locally or internationally.
“The attention of the federal ministry of environment has been drawn to reports being widely circulated in the Media alleging variously that the ex-minister of environment and now deputy secretary general of the United Nations, Mrs Amina Mohammed was allegedly involved in wood export racketeering to China.
“The report which contained, spurious and unsubstantiated allegations against the former minister, is a pure misrepresentation of facts, baseless and intended to smear not just Mrs Mohammed, but the Nigerian government.
“The ex-Minister acted within the ambit of the law of both the federal republic of Nigeria and the protocols of International environmental conventions while in office between November 2015 to February 2017.
“For clarity, the processes involved in issuing approvals for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) are as follows; Potential exporters are required to apply to the ministry, inspection of factories and premises for compliance by wood experts, qualified exporters are issued letters of support invitation of the Ministry by the exporter for the stuffing of the containers, exporter applies for CITES permit and granting of approval.
“The ministry states clearly that all the CITES permits signed by the ex-minister was done in line with stringent guidance and procedures. Specifically, Rosewood (Kosso) is under CITES Appendix II which allows sustainable Trade to improve the livelihood of people in line with International best practices.
“For the records, the CITES permits signed by the ex-minister were in batches from August, 2016 to January, 2017.
“It is important to state that Mrs Amina J. Mohammed during her tenure as minister of environment carried out far reaching reforms in the environmental sector particularly in bringing rosewood from unguided trade of CITES appendix III to appendix II which sanitised the wood industry in Nigeria.
“In addition, she led the review of endangered species act, convention on international trade in wild fauna and flora and duly signed by the president of the federal republic of Nigeria, on 30th December, 2016,” the ministry said.
By the ministry’s explanation the NGO report jaundiced by inaccurate tendencies and suppositions.
The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, expression of “full support” for deputy saying he has confidence in her added another cog in the mischievous wheel of progress of the Amina and Buhari haters.
“She, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, of course, categorically rejects any allegations of fraud,” Guterres was quoted as saying further embarrassing the haters.
Reacting to the allegations, Amina in her characteristic humility said: “No permits were backdated or illegally signed by me. We are therefore appalled if any legally obtained or forged certificates were used by unscrupulous rosewood traders to circumvent exportation procedures.”
The UN deputy chief added that, “Not only do I decry fraud and corruption, we also categorically reject any allegations of corruption or coercion in our effort to better address illegal logging and exportation.”
“I categorically deny receiving any bribe. It has never been in my character. I never demanded neither did I collect any bribe, either cash or material,” she said.
Explaining that protecting wild life and forest was her major concern as a minister, she said “one of the first issues I had to deal with was deforestation. It was a huge concern as Nigeria was losing its forest cover at an alarming rate… For me, protecting the environment is sacrosanct.
“When I was minister, one of my first acts was to tackle illegal logging. What I found on ground was alarming,” she said.
The Buhari haters attempt to add the wood export to their infamous list of corruption cases under his administration has failed woefully.
Their aim of tarnishing the image of the country by making the world body to reject Amina, who was literally begged to be released from Buhari’s cabinet, has also failed.
As a Niger Deltan, Amina did something that nobody had ever done even when we had a Niger Deltan as president.
Her insistence on kickstarting the Ogoniland clean up after over two decades of neglect, has carved a niche for her as a savior of our people. It was based on this that I feel those bent in denigrating her are doing a great disservice to this country.
It took two northerners of Fulani ethnic stock- Buhari and Amina to begin the Ogoni clean up. If we can’t celebrate them, at least we shouldn’t denigrate them.
Opinion by Nicodemus Phillips, a wild life activist, writes from Abuja