Criminal networks from Nigeria have been identified as the dominant group in smuggling activities along major corridors of West and North Africa, ruling with support from the Nigerian diaspora and a large network of drug couriers.
The drugs often move through Brazil and Latin America to West Africa and out to Europe and Asia.
A 2023 report on the global smuggling of cocaine by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime shows that a rebound in seizures was recorded in 2021 mainly in Africa, and Nigeria made a significant contribution.
“Nigerian groups are known for trafficking small quantities by means of mules on passenger flights. Data from Brazil show that in each year since 2018, the most common foreign nationality of drug mules arrested at Brazilian airports has been Nigerian,” the report said.
Nigerian trafficking groups are known to operate as tribe-based cells of four or five members, where each cell member has a small number of people working for them without knowing the members of the core group.
They are thought to collaborate with larger groups outside of the country.
Although record levels of seizures were achieved in 2019, Nigerian criminal networks are playing up Africa’s role in the global supply chain.
According to the report, data suggest that the role of Africa, especially West and Central Africa, as a transit zone for cocaine on its way to markets in Europe has picked up substantially since 2019.
Both the total quantity seized in Africa and the number of large seizures appear to have reached record levels during 2021, preliminary data shows.
West African countries with strong maritime network account for much of the volume of cocaine seized.
However, other indicators show that the issues are escalating on the continent. South Africa, for example, reported a record amount of cocaine seized, suggesting a large increase in flows into the country and raising the prospect of a rebound in the domestic market.
Brazilian crime groups seem to be increasingly targeting Portuguese-speaking countries like Mozambique, Angola, and Cabo Verde. And airports in Kenya and Ethiopia are also believed to have been targeted as “stopovers” en route from Brazil to Europe.
The business of selling illegal substances thrives in Nigeria as security agencies are busier with the arrest of drug dealers, particularly at airports.
In 2019, there was a 274 percent increase in narcotics seizures and arrests, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, implying that the growing drug market is increasing availability to Nigerians.
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Despite the ban on over-the-counter purchases of narcotics, drug dealers and abusers are unrelenting. A ‘National Survey on Drug Use in Nigeria’ report shows that over 14 million Nigerians abused drugs between 2018 and 2019. The abuse was most prevalent in the South-West as 4.3 million people were engaging in it.
Cannabis, the most abused substance, recorded about 10.6 million abusers in 2018; opioids 4.6 million; cough syrups, 2.4 million; and cocaine 92,000.
A BusinessDay investigation in 2019 revealed that even though the government’s clampdown on anesthesia implied people without a doctor’s prescription could not access these drugs over the counter, abusers fed by a thriving cartel of under-dealers still had access. The sale is run in a coded manner between recognised dealers and retailers to cover their tracks.
Jonah Achema, principal staff officer on public affairs at thr National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, said the abuse is difficult to contain as the rise in population sets the tone for a corresponding rise in social vices.
“We are aware that all manner of concoction is going on and we have embarked on massive awareness campaign targeted at all categories of people including students, out-of-school and in worship places,” he told BusinessDay earlier.
The agency however saw a three percent drop in the arrest of suspected players, driving the circulation of narcotics from 9,779 captured in 2018 to 9,479 in 2019.