Thursday, September 26, 2013

More, on National Zoo scams

More, on National Zoo scams

Workers pocket millions, animals turn beggars to stay alive

Welcome, once again, to Nigeria’s only national zoo, the National Zoological Garden Jos (NZGJ). Located near the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) office in the Plateau State capital, the NZGJ has become synonymous with fraud and corruption.

This Marabou Stork inside Nigeria's National Zoo seems to be praying for death to come and free it from further suffering. PHOTO: MAURICE ARCHIBONG. All Rights Reserved.
The NZGJ is under the Department of Monuments, Heritage and Sites of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), which is an agency of the Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation. Messrs Yusuf Abdallah Usman, Oluremi Adedayo and Bode Oke are Director General; Director of Monuments, Heritage and Sites (MHS); and, Director of Finance and Accounts (DFA) respectively at the NCMM.

At the NZGJ, many cages are empty because the animals that once inhabited them had since died. Inside the compartments, where a few specimens still abound, the creatures are traumatised. So forlorn and depressed are some of the inmates that they have lost their traditional characteristics. For example, in its natural environment, the lion is famed king of the jungle. But, at the NZGJ, where the lions; like other inmates, are starving to death; every lion has lost its notorious ferocity and is more like some timid pussy-cat.

We found two pairs of these felines at the NZGJ: a lion and a lioness in each of two adjacent cages. From the flacid features of these felines, especially the tiny waist-line of one of the beasts, we guessed the animals hadn’t been fed for a long time. So hungry were the lions, that even when we fetched out our camera to take its picture, the particular captive was too weak to be bothered. The poor lion simply starred morosely at us.

Yes, inside the NZGJ, supposed kings of the jungle seemed so subdued they could not roar, even if they wanted to. At Nigeria’s National Zoo, each lion has lost every authority and is completely at the mercy of attendants. Instead of kings, lions inside the NZGJ are more like slaves at the hands of zoo keepers, who determine whether these captives should even eat, at all; and, when.

Similar is the plight of a cheetah, here. The cheetah is the fastest animal in the wild, but the one we found at NZGJ looked so dull it could barely walk, let alone sprint. Unlike the average cheetah in the wild, the one we found inside the NZGJ was not fleet-footed, at all. Now weak and emaciated, due to chronic starvation, you could count this poor cat’s ribs.

In the wild, many animals are either herbivores or carnivores, but starvation has forced some inmates of the NZGJ to become omnivores. Like cockroaches, many animals here eat anything. Records show that some had even died after being forced by starvation into ingesting polythene sheets (nylon bag)! An example is a waterbuck that was found dead on 29 April, 2012.

“There were blackish spots on the liver and its spleen was inflamed and discloured”, according to an NZGJ doctor’s  report. The vet further noted in the post-mortem: “Allotriophaga was observed with massive ingestion of polythene bags”. In other words, because nutrition, which is key to any creature’s survival; “was compromised over time”, the waterbuck became so famished it resorted to ingesting rubbish, including polyethylene sheets.

Inside another cage, we found a lone mongoose crawling back and forth. Given its long tail and entire length, this mongoose’s space was too small, but that was just one of its many problems. Like other creatures inside the NZGJ, this mongoose was starving too. As we watched the distraught animal literally running from pillar to post, endlessly wandering to and fro; the muse that crossed our mind was: could it be wondering whether it was not an error to describe its uncaring human hosts as “superior animals”?

Inmates turn jesters, beggars to stay alive 

At the NZGJ, we found dozens of various species of Primates: baboons, chimpanzees, monkeys; and what have you. Akin to other captives at this zoo, these Primates were also famished. Hungry beyond imagination and stripped of their dignity, various monkeys reflexively shot out their palms at the sight of any visitor to beg for food. Sadly, acute hunger had also turned some of these creatures into obligate entertainers or circus animals.

In deed, some monkeys out of desperation to remain alive, seemed to have grasped comprehension of the English and Hausa language word for dance. If you have a few fingers of banana in your hand, the monkeys at NZGJ instantly come alive before you can finish saying dance! They lung into girations with gusto: the monkeys vigorously demonstrate their acrobatic skill with the hope of being offered banana, peanut, anything; as reward.

At other cages further inside the grove, we found some Marabou Storks. In their natural habitat, these fowls are bright and beautiful. A Marabou Stork is normally colourful, but at the NZGJ, many of the ones we saw looked obviously desolate, even doomed. We saw two storks that could barely lift their head: this duo was not only permanently bowed, but ostensibly broken.

Unlike the monkeys that can dance for food or stretch out their palms to beg, the fowls appeared condemned; to have resigned to the fate of approaching death to free them from further anguish. In deed, the fate of inmates of this Jos-based National Zoo reminded of En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot) by Irish-born writer and Nobel Literature Prize winner, Samuel Beckett.

This is Nigeria’s only national zoo, where the life of an inmate counts for nothing! At the NZGJ, visitors are confronted with man’s inhumanity to lower animals …

The Nasarawa State connection

Meanwhile, more than 15 of the 30 animals sent by Nasarawa State Government to the NZGJ for preservation have died, despite more than N50 million spent over the last six years for the upkeep of all inmates at that repository.

Investigation revealed the NCMM remits N200,000 to the NZGJ monthly, while this zoo gets another N1.5 million quarterly from Nasarawa State for the maintenance of its animals, which were transferred to the NZGJ in 2007. In other words, the NZGJ gets a total of N8.4 million per year.

Sadly, inmates at NZGJ have been dying in their droves despite the N8.4 million annually remitted for the animals’ upkeep. Interestingly, Nasarawa authorities continue to disburse N1.5 million every three months to the National Zoo, despite the depletion from deaths of its livestock here.

This development is spin-off of a 2007 Letter of Introduction with reference number S/SSG/GA/47/Vol.1/X and dated 3 October, which was sent to The Curator, National Museum and Monuments, Jos. That memo, which emanated from Office of Nasarawa’s Secretary to the State Government, stated; inter alia: “On an official mission to your establishment to discuss the possiblity and terms of temporary relocation of some wildlife animals and birds from the temporary sanctuary in Lafia pending the construction of a permanent Zoo/Museum complex in the state”.

Interestingly, though the letter was received by Jos Museum authorities on 4 October, 2007; another memo, bearing a list of 30 animals was fired from Nasarawa Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources barely four days later. And, by 2 November, 2007; all the animals had been tranferred to the NZGJ.

However, death began to ravage the wildlife within 48 hours of arrival in Jos. According to a Jos Museum memo, “Five gazelles were later brought by (a chief veterinary officer in Nasarawa civil service): one had rectal prolapse – was managed, but later died. The nursing gazelle was weak – later died, despite medication. (In the same vein), the kid of the deceased mother gazelle (also) died. There are only two gazelles left”.

The catalogue of tragedies continued: “Also, two of the Nile Crocodiles died, possibly due to stress of transportation and restraint”. Summary: Five animals had been lost before you could say NZGJ! Sadly, the majority of the Nasarawa livestock sent to NZGJ had perished by 31 August, 2013. Also ravaged by death is the collection of the NZGJ. By 3 June, 2012; 12 specimens had died in as many months. Painfully, the lost animals included a lion and a lioness. Between 3 June, 2012 and 31 August, 2013; 10 more deaths had swept through the NZGJ collection.

National Zoo or bastion of corruption?

At Nigeria’s national zoo, half-a-million naira has been known to vanish before a German-speaker could say, In einem Augenblick (in a twinkle of an eye). Going by a document, which Travels was privileged to see; there was a case where N450,000 was paid to a company with no fixed address in May, this year.

Messrs A Greenland Garden was paid N450,000 within seven days of filing its Quotation For Planting Carpet Grass on 22 May, 2013! Apart from N90,000 that Greenland Garden collected for supplying carpet grass, the company smiled home with another N80,000 for “Tilling” and an additional N50,000 for “Removal of Stumps of wood”, after charging the NZGJ “N85,000 for Labour”.

Yes, the nation has been severely fleeced by NZGJ managers and their Abuja-based benefactors through millions of naira allegedly paid out on suspected dubious grounds. We further gathered that staggering sums of money had been withdrawn allegedly for the procurement of animals, but subsequent investigation revealed some of these inmates were actually gifts.

For example, N200,000 was allegedly diverted under payment for a pair of dwarf cattle, which; an insider of Jos Wildlife Park revealed, was a present to the NZGJ. Again, we gathered that another N200,000 had disappeared as cost of buying a pair of donkeys, which were bought to feed lions and hyenae inside the NZGJ. However, the lions and hyenae are frequently fed with carcasses of animals crushed to death by motorists on Jos roads and other highways in Plateau State.

The feeding of animals with unwholesome meals is one reason many inmates here are sick. Such is the situation at NZGJ that two zoo workers are down with tuberculosis possibly contracted from infected inmates. Furthermore, NZGJ managers want Nigerians to believe it spent N800,000 on the purchase of two female horses! A document revealed the NZGJ paid out a whooping N500,000 for a female horse.

It is also worth reminding that N45,000 was spent on procurement of “goats for breeding”. However, two of the three goats recently acquired have already vanished from the zoo! Altogether, N1.49million was spent on the purchase of 18 animals for NZGJ between September 2012 and August 2013. Curiously, however, the stock at the NZGJ has been dwindling, instead of rising despite all these procurements. In a report to NCMM headquarters, NZGJ managers claimed that only two inmates (an ostrich and a water tortoise) had died at this zoo between September, 2012 to date; whereas over nine animals had been lost at this garden in the period under review!

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