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News Analysis: Nigeria’s byzantine drug problems

Latest arrest: fatoke abiodun with the 2 wraps of cocaine

President Jonathan will need to declare an emergency to deal with the country’s drug epidemic, writes Bayo Onanuga

Nigeria’s anti-drug Czar, the NDLEA announced Saturday the arrest of a 60 year old out-of-job guitarist trying to export 1.5 kg of cocaine to Italy or even further into Europe.

Latest arrest: fatoke abiodun with the 2 wraps of cocaine

On Christmas Day, the NDLEA also arrested two other Nigerians, who were returning to Nigeria from Trinidad. Both of them had ingested cocaine weighing 1.17 kg. In the same month, the agency nabbed yet another Nigerian who was trying to smuggle cocaine to the UK, well concealed in tablet soaps.

The NDLEA celebrates each arrest. But they are celebrations of small triumphs, as many drug mules and barons escape the radar of the agency.

Aside from the chronic cancer of corruption, Nigeria faces a byzantine drug problem, on the same scale, if not bigger, like the one being experienced by the small West African nation of Guinea Bissau. The twin problems besetting our nation are striking in their origin: they are symptomatic of the terminal failure of the Nigerian state and the leadership since independence. A consistently predatory, rapacious, parochial, ethnically-driven ruling elite has failed not only to deliver strong state institutions, but also failed to deliver on welfare programmes for the citizens, breeding, as one analyst put it, illicit economies and criminal gangs in all sectors.

Almost everyday, Nigerians are mentioned in one drug seizure or arrest in many parts of the globe—in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia, to the extent that our nationals are fast building the notoriety as hard-drug entrepreneurs, with tentacles everywhere, doing the illegal business as if executing a multi-national franchise

Venda Felbab-Brown, an American analyst, at last year’s October 14 Conference on Drug Trafficking in West Africa, held in Virginia, USA, painted graphically, the epidemic drug problem that our country is enmeshed:

“The level of traffic has increased dramatically over the past decade, especially the past five years, so much so that various policymakers and academics are talking about a drug epidemic in West Africa. Driven by the newly intensified demand for cocaine in Western Europe, the shrinking of demand for cocaine in the United States, and the pressure on cocaine smuggling from interdiction operations in the Caribbean, the level of trafficking through West Africa has increased to a quarter of Europe’s annual consumption, with seizures increasing from 1.2 tons in 2005 to 4.3 tons in the first seven months of 2007. By some measures, 50% of non-U.S.-bound cocaine goes through West Africa, which comes to about 13% of global flows. With some countries, such as Guinea-Bissau, appearing to be overrun by drugs and significant political instability, coups, and assassinations linked to organized crime and the drug trade in the country, analysts worry about the threat the drug trade poses to the rule of law, political stability, and the quality of governance in the region.”


In early December 2012, a Nigerian was arrested in Trinidad after the seizure of cocaine worth $2.5million. His modus operandi was to export cocaine through the post.

A sting operation set up by the country’s narcotics agency led to arrest of the Nigerian with car parts, picture frames, African art pieces and weed-whacker parts. Concealed in the items was cocaine. The drugs weighed 339 grams for the earlier posted package and 3.923kg for the packages seized at the home of the suspect. The street value of the cocaine, police say, is more than $2.5 million.

Just a few days ago, Venezuela’s National Guard arrested four Nigerians attempting to smuggle cocaine on public transport from the city of Maturin to the eastern state of Delta Amacuro. The drug intercepted was on its way to Nigeria.

According to the Venezuelan newspaper, El Nacional, the Nigerians were arrested in a region of the country notorious for being a part of the network for cocaine smuggling, by air and sea from Latin America to West Africa, from where the drug is transshipped to Europe.

Nigerians serve as mules in the labyrinth network, which explains why a few of them are caught at the airport.

Last year, Venezuela seized 45 tonnes of illicit drugs, 27 tonnes of them cocaine. Methamphetamine is also high on the list.

One indication of the increased involvement of South American criminal organizations in trafficking narcotics to Nigeria came last year, when Argentine custom agents discovered a 530kg shipment on a cargo plane bound for Nigeria.

Other troubling signs are the discovery of methamphetamine laboratories inside Nigeria, with South American chemists, Bolivians and Colombians being arrested.

In Asia, Nigeria’s drug entrepreneurs have become a nightmare to anti-narcotic agents.

India’s Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) of Mumbai Customs, last week, arrested a Nigerian national with 3.2 kg of cocaine worth Rs. 3.2 crore. The accused was trying to smuggle the same from Cotonou in Benin to Mumbai.

The Nigerian, Umeh Patrick, 50, arrived by a Kenya Airways flight from Cotonou to Mumbai via Nairobi around 2am and had crossed the green channel at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.
Patrick had concealed the drug in a specially created bottom in his suitcase, officials said. He told the officials that a man had given him the bag in Cotonou and instructed him to call once he reaches Mumbai, after which he was to be told whom the drug was to be delivered. “This was done so that if the carrier is caught, he would not be able to reveal the name of the person who was to receive the drug, such that the syndicate is protected,” said a Customs official.
India’s Anti-Narcotics Cell (ANC) is now so worried about increasing seizure of banned drugs in the country.

In 2012, the ANC seized 721 kg drugs worth Rs 14.51 crore in Mumbai. Of this, 122 kg was amphetamines and 3.4 kg cocaine, ANC Deputy Commissioner of Police Vinayak Deshmukh said on Thursday.
“The quantity of drugs seized in 2012 is higher than the 526 kg seized in 2011. Cocaine and amphetamines seized in 2011 was also not high,” Deshmukh said.

The ANC said Nigerians top the suspects arrested in connection with the drug smuggling and that most of these Nigerians stay in Wadi Bunder area, and in several cases, the cocaine was being brought from New Delhi.

“We tried tracing the source, but the chain of supply is very organized. The Nigerians, who act as mules, only meet one person who gives them the drugs, and do not know anyone farther up the chain. Several of the arrested accused have claimed that the suppliers had threatened to kill them if they revealed any details to police,” said an ANC officer.

Nigeria’s drug problem is real and President Jonathan will need to declare an emergency to deal with the problem, before Nigeria becomes another Guinea Bissau, Bolivia or Colombia.

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