Thursday, September 19, 2013

Amid looting spree: Animals dying in droves at National Zoo


Amid looting spree: Animals dying in droves at National Zoo


Nigeria’s only National Zoo, the National Zoological Garden Jos (NZGJ), has morphed into a metaphor for corruption, mauricearchibongtravels can authoritatively reveal. Launched in 1956, the NZGJ is located within the sprawling Jos Museum complex in the Plateau State capital.

A Tantalus Monkey: one of the hungry inmates of NZGJ begging for food.
Beside dozens of visits over the last 20 years, our latest visit to the NZGJ lasted several days, 8 September to the 11th this year; and, we were confronted by shocking shenanigan right at the entrance! Yes, we encountered the fraud that this supposed sanctuary has evolved into, even before we gained access to see the animals.

Admission fee to the NZGJ is N50 or N100 per child or adult visitor respectively. Being something of a numismatist, I enjoy keeping tickets collected during my visit to a museum, zoo et cetera; as memento. So, after parting with the N100 requisite gate fee, I was forced to request a receipt as the man that collected the money showed no inclination to giving me one.

“I don’t have the (ticket) booklet now, but you will get the ticket before you leave”, the man told me. In order not to appear difficult, therefore giving the impression that I did not trust him, I chose to wait and see. As I headed to what should be the entrance, I was directed to enter through a different route, a wide-open gate. In the past, that gate served as exit but nowadays, it serves for both ingress and egress. The reason would hit me later.

There is a revolving metallic device at the entrance to the animals’ abode. Normally, this equipment records the number of people that passed through it. Consequently, the authorities could tell how much had been realised by multiplying the visitors’ number with the fee. As regards knowing how many visitors were minors, against adult viewers, the number of ticket leaflets sold ought to help iron that out as there is a different booklet for N50 ticket, apart from the N100 ones.

But, to obfuscate the figure of visitors and how much was collected at the box office, viewers are diverted to pass through a gate that cannot record the number of people that went in. To further perfect the fraud, NZGJ managers and their agents often refuse to issue a ticket to visitors: this was my experience on Monday and Tuesday, 8 and 9 September respectively. On both days, I had arrived at the NZGJ before 10am.

On emerging from the zoo, after spending about an hour observing the inmates, I looked around hoping to find the man that promised to give me a ticket for the N100 entrance fee I had paid. Alas! The man was nowhere to be seen. Since I was planning to return to this zoo the next day, 9 September, 2013; I left. When I came back the following morning, there was a woman in charge of gate-takings. The reason I returned was principally to take pictures. The fee for taking still photographs at this zoo is N400. After paying N400 to the woman at the entrance, and seeing that she was also determined not to issue a receipt for this payment, I had to demand that document.

In response, she glibly remarked; “Oga, na wa for you, o. The man with the booklet is not around. May be, before you come out, he might have returned”. Again, I went into the zoo. Some two hours later, when I came out, the woman that had collected my money was still around. But, when I requested for my receipt, she said; “The person that has the ticket has not yet come back”. To avoid pressing, lest my cover got blown; I left.

So, in two days, I had parted with N600 (two Entrance fees, N200; plus still Photography fee, N400); yet there was no receipt to show that I even paid one dime. Evidently, the nation had been severally robbed, for; most of the other visitors’ payments had been similarly diverted into private pockets.

But, rather than allow myself to be depressed by the robberies I suffered at the hands of NZGJ operatives, I was practically excited and determined to unravel the true situation, here. I subsequently lunged into an investigation to find out more as to what was actually going on at this repository. In the end, our interest and diligence would yield bounteous harvests!

The NZGJ is under the Department of Monuments, Heritage and Sites of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM). Embroiled in controversies over the last eight years, the NCMM is an agency of the Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation. Chief Edem Duke is Tourism and Culture Minister, while Messrs Yusuf Abdallah Usman, Oluremi Adedayo and Bode Oke are Director General; Director, Monuments, Heritage and Sites (MHS); and Director of Finance and Accounts (DFA) respectively at the NCMM.

Believe it or not, official documents we stumbled on; confirmed: “Misuse of Public Funds” at the NZGJ. This disclosure came from a 15 May, 2013 memo to the NCMM DG, Mr. Abdallah Usman. In that letter, from Jos Zoo Accountant, Mr. Bwosh Choji; the attention of the NCMM DG was drawn to staggering incidences of fraud at this facility.

According to the said memo, a certain staff, Mr. Steven Maren, “is with the tickets and collecting revenue since 9 April, to date”. There’s more: “The fund is now being spent, based on instruction of the manager”. Furthermore, “Madam Jemilah Khalid gave the sum of N450,000 to Miss Mary Ohaegbu without following due process: no application, no records of the financial transaction. The manager has been giving verbal instruction to spend fund raised from gate-takings”, according to the memo sent to Usman.

Take Two: “The manager collected the sum of N550,000 as honorarium for NCMM directors in Abuja”. The sum of N200,000 was collected on 13 September, 2012; while another N350,000 was allegedly siphoned on 12 March, 2013. “The collections were done without any application”, we gathered. Take Three: “In December 2012, the manager brought tickets from (NCMM) headquarters, Abuja … The tickets were being issued … without involvement of the Accounts Department … It was one zoologist (name withheld) that was collecting the sales returns”.

Take Four: “Fumigation of the Zoological Garden” left NZGJ treasury N350,000 poorer. “The sum of N350,000 was collected by Mr. John Aruwa on 4 December, 2012; for fumigation of the zoological garden”. As if these were not enough, another memo revealed that N450,000 was paid out for the planting of grass at NZGJ picnic grounds!

Apart from the 15 May memo, the NZGJ Accountant had fired another letter, entitled Observations on Revenue Remittances, to that repository’s Manager; on 2 September, 2013. The overture of the 2nd of September missive, which reads: “I have been observing non-compliance with financial regulation on revenue remittance before disbursement”, summarises the messy situation regarding book-keeping at the NZGJ.

To prove his case, Bwosh went on to list the sordid details: “It has been the practice to spend money collected from our revenue point, without it passing through Account Office for proper recording before expenditure”. According to this accountant, public funds were being used to buy GSM phone-recharge cards for personal calls; and, that the Revenue Officer has been keeping public funds at her residence for weeks in contravention of “Financial Regulation 72, Section 11, sub-section 1120”.

Bwosh again: “On 2 September, 2013; Mrs. Jemilah Khalid came to the office and collected the sum of N35,000 (revenue collected over the weekend at the zoo) from Mr. Abdul, an Accounts Staff, on duty at the Zoo Gate”. The NZGJ Manager allegedly gave instruction via a phone call to Mrs. Khalid to take the said N35,000 to her home for disbursement, according to Bwosh’s memo.

“On that same day”, Bwosh continued, “the sum of N20,500 was disbursed by Jemilah Khalid in her house”. Of this amount, N2,500 was given to the Zoo Manager, John Aruwa, as reimbursement for recharge card; while N18,000 was paid to Mary Ohaegbu to take care of weekly purchases for the zoo. Again, the accountant went on to stress: “These payments were made without following financial regulation: no application, no approval; and, no voucher was raised”.

To make matters worse, payment of public funds were made in an individual’s private residence. Citing relevant sections of the financial rules, Bwosh charged: “Under no circumstance shall payment be made, for voucher not yet raised (FR 72, section 6, sub-section 601 and FR 72, section 7, sub-section 708). An officer that takes public money to his/her house is deemed to have done so with fraudulent intention (FR 72, section 7, sub-section 1106)”.

It is worth noting that the 2 September, 2013 complaint from this accountant came less than a week after Bwosh issued another memo, Revenue Report 2013, to the NZGJ Manager. In that memo, dated 28 August, 2013; Bwosh complained: “I wish to observe that the sum of N41,000 was disbursed without my knowledge … This payment was made without following financial regulation: no application, no approval; and, no voucher raised”.

More, to ponder on: “On 27 August, 2013; a vendor with the zoo, Mr. Harka, came to my office to ask for receipt for the sum of N5,000, which he said he paid to Mr. Adamu Lawan, the auditor. I called the auditor to clarify and the auditor said he collected the money and gave it to Mrs. Jemilah Khalid. The auditor called Khalid in my presence and he told me that Mrs. Khalid said she had not issued any receipt for that money”; Bwosh’s memo further revealed.

Animals dying in droves

Meanwhile, staggering fraud and mismanagement have led to the loss of some 24 animals in as many months at the NZGJ. The roughly 24 deaths in two years at this national zoo bring the total number of fatalities here to over 100 animals in 10 years. Shamefully, the NZGJ has thus become a killing-field, instead of the sanctuary it is supposed to be for its inmates.

Aside from loss due to deaths, several animals have also simply vanished. An example is the discovery, on Thursday, 12 September, 2013; that a he-goat, which was procured to sire offspring by she-goats in the zoo; was nowhere to be found. Similarly, a kid (baby goat) had disappeared from this repository’s collection barely two weeks earlier. Furthermore, two pythons had also died at National Zoo Jos within two weeks. The latest snake casualty perished on 8 September, while the other died exactly a week earlier (1 September).

As if these were not enough scandals, the only royal python at Nigeria’s National Zoo has also died. Curiosly, after the death of this reptile, the disappearance of the baby-goat was attributed to the royal python. In other words, the ghost of the royal python had swallowed the kid!

To make matters worse, Paulina, a female chimpanzee that had morphed into an icon of the Jos-based zoological garden had also joined the staggering list of casualties, which as one critic of this repository’s attendants, observed; “is engendered by the ostensible incompetence of the incumbent NCMM leadership as well as NZGJ managers”.

A memo with reference number NZGJ/T.F 10/Vol. 1/12 and dated 17 July, 2013 confirms Paulina’s demise; thus: “I hereby release to you our dead chimpanzee fondly called ‘Paulina’, which died at the ripe age of 60 years on 14 July for the purpose of Taxidermy and preservation after which it shall be returned to National Zoo”.

This memo, signed by John Aruwa, NZGJ Manager, was addressed to the Director, Natural History Museum at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife; in response to a request from the latter. Curiosly, this request from OAU was made the same day that Paulina died: 14 July, 2013!

But, there is a more intriguing issue, here. On 11 May, 2013; the NZGJ authorities threw a party to celebrate Paulina’s 50th birthday. That golden jubilee fecilitation was reported in some media. Curiously, however, by the time Paulina died, on 14 July; she had suddenly aged by another decade! We are here refering to a part of the memo that reads: “Paulina, which died at the ripe age of 60 years on 14 July”. This apparent fraud was ostensibly contrived to mislead and thus give the impression that Paulina died from old-age.

Reacting to a complaint by the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE); dated 26 April, 2013; the House of Representatives’ Committee on Culture and Tourism, via a memo dated 9 May, 2013; had demanded explanations from the NCMM DG.

Mr. Usman’s response to the legislators’ letter, with reference number NASS/7HR/CT.23/Vol.2/124; was a three-page memo, CAA.168/Vol.1/106, dated 14 May, 2013. Regarding labour activists’ alarm at the wave of deaths blowing through the National Zoo, Usman stated; “The majority of animals in the Jos Museum Zoo are very old. Financial constraints have prevented the Commission (NCMM) from acquiring young animals to replace the old ones”.

Now, compare Usman’s submission with the assertion of a veterinary surgeon, Dr Oludairo Oladapo Oyedeji, then Principal Veterinary Officer at NZGJ. In his defence, after being slammed with a query; Dr Oyedeji in a letter dated 7 June, 2012; had pointed out: “From the post-mortem reports, we lost two striped hyenae, two mongooses, and one monitor lizard basically due to nutritional deprivation”.

While an animal was lost to sudden death, which also afflicts humans, the vet doctor added; “Nutrition accounts for over 85 per cent of management costs”. Nutrition, this vet continued, “is key and very important in any production outfit like the zoological garden. If nutrition is good, balanced, adequate and consistent; over 90 per cent of production problems are already solved”.

Oyedeji again: “But, when nutrition is compromised over time, it results in many other problems; especially decrease in immunity from which any disease condition can set in, causing the death of the animal. Due to poor feeding of zoo inmates, we had to deal with many disease conditions among the inmates”.

The summary of Oyedeji’s memo is that the majority of fatalities at this national zoo arose from “Chronic malnutrition and starvation as well as delay in the release of funds for teatment purposes”, contrary to Usman’s claim that the inmates died from old age. This revelation also unravels the lie in the fabrication that, “Paulina died at the ripe old age of 60 years”. 

Dr Oyedeji’s letter is one of countless NCMM memos that mauricearchibongtravels managed to access in years-long investigation of massive corruption in this Commission. It is worth pointing out that NZGJ fatalities include exotic species like lions, boa constrictor, pythons, ostrich, stripped hyenae, mongoose, patas monkeys, monitor lizard, baboons, and water buck. This is even as two baby lions that disappeared from this zoo since 2008 have not been found!

Contrary to another claim by Usman, the staggering number of animals that have perished at this zoo, has nothing to do with inadequate funding. Although there is enough funding for proper maintenance of the inmates, sadly, however; the bulk of the votes for their preservation is often simply looted or misappropriated. Too much abracadabra is going on at the National Zoo, and that has been the norm here for almost a decade.

From memos made available to mauricearchibongtravels, the NZGJ once had two veterinary surgeons: Dr Oludairo Oyedeji and Dr A. M. Fasure. But, during our latest tour of this zoo, neither doctor could be reached. “Fasure was transferred to Makurdi and Oyedeji is on leave”, a guide told me.

For the record, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF); Head of Service of the Federation; Minister of Tourism and Culture; Minister of Labour and Productivity; Permanent Secretary, Tourism and Culture Ministry; Permanent Secretary, Labour and Productivity Ministry; Chairman, Senate Committee on Culture and Tourism; and, Chairman, House Committee on Culture and Tourism; among others, had been informed of the corruption ravaging the NCMM through series of memos over the years. And, for posterity’s sake, the role of every principality in this saga is being documented.

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