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Celebrating the inspiring women transforming wildlife criminal justice in Nigeria

Article by Justin Gosling
Senior Project Coordinator, EIA 

Nigeria is blessed with incredible biodiversity, but this unique wildlife is under constant threat from poaching, trafficking and habitat destruction. Amid these challenges, a group of remarkable women has risen to the forefront, dedicating their lives to the relentless battle against wildlife crime. From intercepting wildlife products destined for Asia to hard-hitting investigative environmental journalism and ground-breaking work to close loopholes in wildlife laws, their tireless efforts in advancing wildlife criminal justice ensure that justice prevails for the voiceless inhabitants of our natural world. 

The region of West and Central Africa (WCA), with Nigeria at its forefront, has emerged as the global hub for the trafficking of illegal wildlife products, primarily bound for Asian markets. Investigations conducted by the Environmental Investigation Agency UK (EIA) have revealed the clandestine movement of wildlife and illicit financial flows through Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Gabon and Nigeria. 

During the past four years, EIA has been actively engaged in Nigeria to combat this transnational crime. Efforts include bolstering the capabilities of law enforcement agencies, conducting field investigations within the region and enhancing national legislation in collaboration with our local project partners Wild Africa and Africa Nature Investors Foundation. In doing so, we have identified several amazing women who have made notable contributions to advance wildlife criminal justice in Nigeria. 

Recognising and celebrating the role of women in the fight against wildlife crime is important, not only to acknowledge their achievements but to inspire and encourage a new generation of girls and women to become leaders in a world where the triple-planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution pose a threat to young people and future generations unlike any other.

Abimbola Isafiade (formerly Animashawun), Nigeria Customs Service

Photo by Abimbola Isafiade

Abimbola Isafiade, popularly called Abim, is in charge of the Special Wildlife Office of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). Under her watch, the frequency of pangolin scale seizures and criminal prosecutions by NCS has significantly increased in the past few years. Compared to a few years ago, when there was hardly any prosecution of wildlife crime, the Special Wildlife Office has so far been successful in securing 12 convictions against wildlife traffickers in the past two years. 

Animashaun’s adept coordination with law enforcement agencies and her emphasis on intelligence-gathering have played a pivotal role in intercepting illegal wildlife products, disrupting trafficking networks and ensuring that perpetrators face legal consequences for their actions. 

Through strategic partnerships with law enforcement agencies and international organisations, she has helped to strengthen Nigeria’s capacity to combat wildlife trafficking, disrupting illicit supply chains and holding perpetrators accountable. 

Fatima Musa Abdullahi Ahmed, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission

Photo by Fatima Musa Abdullahi Ahmed

Fatima Abdullahi, Intelligence Analyst and Chief Superintendent of the EFCC, has demonstrated a strong commitment to tackling the illegal wildlife trade by ensuring wildlife crime cases get the attention they deserve. 

Thanks to her excellent analytical skills and perseverance, Fatima has successfully progressed complex investigations into wildlife trafficking networks operating in Nigeria and beyond. She championed the use of financial investigations in wildlife crime cases as an essential tool that is often overlooked. 

Her collaborative approach has helped connect the dots of wildlife crime cases across different agencies. As a hard-working and approachable professional, Fatima is a great ambassador for EFCC and all Nigerian law enforcement agencies. We immensely value her ongoing contribution to wildlife criminal justice in Nigeria and commend her for her vital work to date. 

Sharon Ikeazor, former Minister of State for Environment in Nigeria

Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth

During her tenure as the Minister of State for Environment in Nigeria, Barr. Sharon Ikeazor, demonstrated a strong commitment to tackling wildlife crime in the country. 

Recognising the urgent need to address the escalating threats to wildlife, she spearheaded initiatives to strengthen legal frameworks and law enforcement mechanisms. One notable contribution was her instrumental role in pushing for the amendment of existing laws and the creation of new legislation aimed at imposing harsher penalties on offenders involved in wildlife crimes. 

The new Endangered Species Conservation and Protection Bill had its first reading in Nigeria’s House of Representatives in February. Barr. Ikeazor also championed public awareness campaigns to foster a culture of conservation and discourage illegal wildlife activities. 

Shamini Jayanathan, OBE, Criminal Barrister

Photo by Shamini Jayanathan

Shamini Jayanathan is a British criminal barrister with more than 15 years’ experience of prosecuting and defending before juries across England and Wales. In 2012, she moved into the field of legal diplomacy and capacity-building on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). For more than three years she focused on building legislative, prosecutorial and judicial capacity within the sphere of counterterrorism in Somalia, Somaliland and Kenya. 

As the Director of Arcturus Consultancy Ltd, a criminal justice advisory service based in Kenya, she has acted as the Global Prosecution Advisor to UNODC, among other roles. The field of organised environmental crime, in particular wildlife and forestry trafficking, has benefited enormously from Shamini’s expertise and creativity, and her initiatives in this space are being replicated globally. 

A passionate advocate for holistic criminal justice reform, she has supported prosecution and judicial authorities in identifying surgical solutions to criminal justice challenges that have impacted the entire criminal justice pathway in several African countries including Nigeria. 

Most recently, Shamini has been instrumental in assessing and helping to evolve Nigeria’s endangered species legislation. In 2023, she was appointed to the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to the Rule of Law and to International Development.

Laila Johnson-Salami, Environment Correspondent, Arise News

Photo by Laila Johnson-Salami

Laila Johnson-Salami has emerged as a prominent figure in the fight against wildlife crime in Nigeria through her dedicated and impactful reporting on illegal wildlife trade. 

With a keen focus on helping the public understand wildlife trafficking and its devastating consequences on Nigeria’s unique wildlife and forests, she has brought attention to rampant poaching and trafficking of endangered species across the country. 

Through her investigative work, she has shed light on the networks behind these illicit activities, uncovering the intricate web of corruption and exploitation that fuels the trade. Laila’s in-depth and well-researched episodes, part of the Go Wild TV series on Arise News (a co-production with Wild Africa),  have been instrumental in shaping the narrative around wildlife crime in Nigeria. 

Olukanni Bosede Catherine, Head of Wildlife and Cites Management Division, Federal Department of Forestry (Nigeria)

Photo by Olukanni Bosede Catherine

Olukanni Bosede Catherine, the Head of Wildlife and CITES Management Division of Nigeria’s Federal Department of Forestry, has exhibited exceptional leadership by implementing strategies to address the complex challenges associated with wildlife crime. 

With a deep commitment to conservation, she has promoted initiatives to strengthen law enforcement mechanisms and enhance collaboration between government agencies, non-governmental organisations and international partners. 

Catherine has been instrumental in helping Nigeria develop the Wildlife Law Enforcement Task Force (WLETF) to address wildlife crime in the country. Additionally, she has been actively involved in international initiatives aimed at curbing the illegal wildlife trade, representing Nigeria’s interests and championing collaborative efforts to address this transnational crime. 

In conclusion, EIA UK Executive Director Mary Rice added her thanks and acknowledgement: 

As we celebrate these trailblazing women and draw inspiration from their accomplishments, their stories serve as a reminder that change is possible, even in the face of daunting challenges. It goes without saying that their passion, resilience and dedication have been instrumental in reshaping the wildlife criminal justice landscape in Nigeria. Let us continue to honour and support the efforts of these wildlife champions and together let’s strive to create a world where both people and wildlife thrive harmoniously.”

… and how about you? 

In a world faced by a myriad of growing issues, we need new, young leaders to take on these challenges in the decades to come. 

Could you, your daughter or sister be among the next generation to follow the example of the champions above and take on the fight to address environmental crime and biodiversity loss?