BusinessDay

How ‘tough times’ push more Nigerians into drug trafficking

The increasing number of Nigerians willing to turn to smuggling of narcotics is being blamed on ‘hard times’, as ‘lucrative’ illicit financial flows appear to some, their best bet to beat the county’s struggling economy.

Some blame high unemployment and poverty levels, as the number of Nigerians without visible means of income continues to rise due to lack of jobs and poor business environment to enable businesses.

A recent report by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), a body responsible for enforcing drug trafficking laws in Nigeria, indicated that more Nigerians have taken to drugs businesses, including drug peddling, abuse and trafficking.

One of such traffickers arrested at the Murtala Mohammed international Airport Lagos, was reported to have entered the drug trade to raise N6m to pay for ransom for her mother held by kidnappers in Kaduna.

The anti narcotics agency, in startling revelations indicated that some people now covert their private residence into drugs factories, including cultivation of cannabis sativa. Another was the owner of a laboratory in the high brow Victoria Garden City (VGC), in Lagos, discovered to be used for producing crystal methamphetamine.

BusinessDay was also told how a 32-year-old lady was arrested for growing cannabis within her residence in Abuja, while another 90-year-old man who claimed he supplies bandits with drugs was arrested alongside others at Lagos airport and some locations outside Lagos.

A trans-border drug dealer, was arrested by operatives of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, with three drums of crystal methamphetamine, locally called “Mkpuru Mmiri”, believed to have been imported from India. The consignment weighing 90 kilograms and loaded into a commercial bus at the Ojuelegba in Lagos was intercepted during a stop and search operation along Umuahia – Ikot Ekpene highway on Saturday 6th August 2022. The agency also revealed that 560,068.31414 kilograms of assorted illicit drugs were on 4th August 2022 set ablaze by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, the largest to be destroyed in the 32-year history of the anti-narcotic agency.

The NDLEA Spokesman, Femi Babafemi, revealed that an average of 50kg of methamphetamine is produced every week in Nigeria and could reach at least 100kg in the nearest future.

He revealed that apart from the smuggling of grade A drugs such as cocaine, more Nigerians are now investing in the production of crystal methamphetamine, popularly called Mkpuru Mmiri and cultivation of cannabis sativa, despite the Agency’s efforts which saw the dismantling of illicit meth laboratories across the country.

“Where do these drugs end? From our preliminary interrogation, we now know the drugs from this lab were both for export and local consumption. We also know the supply chain of distributors and buyers for export and the domestic markets have been on the increase in recent times, especially within the past 20 months.

“258.74 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine were seized from the house where he lived with his family.

“When you consider the fact that the price of this dangerous drug was going for as high as US500, 000 per kilo in the international market in recent time, you will understand why they care less to put the lives of their own families at risk by producing this in the same house where they live. Therefore, taking these two labs out of operation is a major feat in our continuing effort to curb the meth problem,” Babafemi told BusinessDay.

According to a report from the NDLEA, 18,940 suspected drug traffickers were arrested just in the last 20 months alone, comprising 17,444 males and 1,496 females and including 12 barons, from January 2021 to July 2022.

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Within the same period, the Agency revealed that drugs worth N60b were destroyed while 2,904 offenders were tried and convicted to various jail terms in court and 3. 6 million kilograms of narcotic and psychotropic substances seized.

“The drug traffickers have become more daring, despite government efforts to check abuse, increase surveillance and harsh punitive measures,” Babafemi further lamented.

According to him, “the huge financial benefits remain a major motivating factor for smugglers who continue to adopt deceptive means to ferry their goods

“For instance, smugglers hide drugs inside head of fish, footwear, baby foods, vegetables, imported machines and automobiles, aside from the traditional injection of cocaine.

“The prices of the drugs in the global market is huge, a kilogram of cocaine goes for about $600 in the international market and the greed to make money at all cost blind them to the risks.”

Kachi Ononuju, Director General (DG) of the Heritage Center, a think tank dedicated to research into economics, politics and opinion, sees unemployment, economic hardships as major factor, driving Nigerians into what he describes as “high risk economic activities”.

Nigeria’s unemployment rate has reached an alarming 33%, with more than half of the labour force now either unemployed or underemployed, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics. Poverty headcount rate is projected to jump from 40.1 per cent in 2018/19 to 42.6 per cent in 2022. Infant, the World Bank projects that more than 5million Nigerians will be pushed into poverty by the end of this, bringing the number to 95.1 million.

BusinessDay checks also revealed that as border closure pandemic significantly reduced global drug supplies during the Covid-19, producers are desperate to recover what they lost during the period, and now see Nigeria’s huge population and porous borders as an attractive hub, both for transit and market.

Babafemi said drug traffickers are targeting Nigeria’s porous environment as a hub for local consumption. “The activities of the NDLEA has brought their activities to the front bunkers, exposing their devices to the public knowledge.”

He disclosed that the anti- narcotics has been battling to halt the increasing resorts to cultivation of cannabis in rural areas of the country, adding that a total 691 hectares of cannabis farms were detected and destroyed across six states, within the same period.

“We are now faced with an overwhelming task of drug control in the country with an exceptionally high prevalence of drug use of 14.4%.”

Alcohol, Marijuana, Methamphetamine, Cocaine! Opiates, Hallucinogens, Inhalants, top drugs attracting the patronage of the drug lords, as their prices continue to rise on the international markets.

The high demands, coupled with increased enforcement activities of anti necrotic agencies pushed the price of a bottle of Codeine syrup, a drug used for temporary relief in common cold and allergic rhinitis to rise from about N500( five hundred ) Naira in 2020, to over N20,000( Twenty thousand) Naira.

This was confirmed by an ex drug addict/ trafficker, Sule (not real name), who added that a “card of tramadol has also increased from less than N200 to about N1500.

This high cost of the drugs have forced the addicts to resort to other low quality psychoactive substances to relieve emotional boredom, including agbo, burukutu, local bitters, amongst others.

According to Sule, “I work as an iron bender and the drug is very popular amongst labourers, block makers and those of us who do hard jobs. I used to buy in large quantities from Lagos and resell to people in Abuja, until I was arrested, tried and jailed by a Court at Gwagwalada, Abuja for six months.

Sule who disclosed that he returned to his iron bending job after spending six months at the Kuje Correctional Center, said the drug is now out of reach.

“You don’t feel pains when you take the drug and it makes you work without getting tired and eat heavily. That is why Labourers use it.”

The Director General (DG) of the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control( NAFDAC), Mojisola Adeyeye, identified causes of drug abuse in Nigeria to include, “love for money by peddlers, proliferation of the market with individuals who sell medicines, lack of control of prescription in the healthcare facilities and lack of control of dispensing among dispensers”

“Other reasons for abuse of drugs include smuggling substances of abuse through Nigeria’s porous seaports and land borders, corruption and compromises at the point of entries, diversion of legitimate exports to illicit use, weakness in inspections and weak penalties for the sellers and traffickers”

Adeyeye also sees the decline in family value systems, and lack of good parenting, peer pressure, social media influence, poverty and unemployment to have also greatly lead to spike in drug use, aside current socio- economic challenges.

The checks by BusinessDay revealed a high prevalence of Codeine and tramadol – a synthetic opioid analgesic used to treat moderate to severe pain – amongst the substance commonly abused in Nigeria.

David Luka, a leading Psychiatrist based in Kaduna, told BusinessDay that there is a direct correlation between the increasing cases of depression and growing economic hardship in the country.

“A lot of them have added tobaccos and cannabis and a new type known as acuscura,” he explained. Amidst this growing concerns, the NDLEA said it has also put in place measures that will ensure that political parties comply with the nation’s extant laws, especially as it affects drug use amongst youths during political campaigns.

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