Critical Conversations

Drug Trafficking: A Recharged Agency Tackles A Monstrous Hurdle

Authorities nabbed Sami Ashoko, the most wanted drug baron in Nasarawa State. Ashoko’s warehouse filled with cannabis was raided and 100 bags of the illicit drug weighing 1,095.3kg were seized. Director of Advocacy of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Femi Babafemi, made the disclosure on 7 April 2021.

In the words of The Commander, Nasarawa State Command of the NDLEA, Justice Arinze, “Sami Ashoko is the most wanted drug baron who has been on our watch list in Nasarawa state. This seizure has beaten the previous record of 45 bags weighing about half a ton recovered in January 2021 as the highest singular seizure of cannabis since the inception of the Command in 1999. The seized consignment was meant for Easter sales, and which he expects to sell out in two weeks.”

In a related development, members of another cartel were arrested in Iyamho, Etsako West Local Government area of Edo State and their illicit consignment weighing 1,330kg meant for Bauchi State were equally seized. Buba Wakawa, Commander of the Edo State Command of the anti-drug law enforcement agency revealed that the arrest and seizure disrupted the Easter sales plan of the cartel, which tried to escape arrest through hinterland routes in their white colour Peugeot J5 space bus that had the registration number Lagos JJJ 722 XC.

Apart from these, another trafficker who supplies drugs to some notorious drug joints in Abuja was arrested last weekend along Gwagwalada Expressway, FCT. This was while bringing 46 compressed blocks of cannabis for drug dealers in Mabushi and Banex areas of the capital city. The notorious drug supplier confessed to being a major supplier of illicit substances to major drug joints in Abuja.

It was Dominic Milton Trott who said that “The first casualty of war is truth, and the war on drugs is no different”. It is of a truth that drug trafficking is fast gaining momentum in Nigeria. The successful Easter weekend operations, led by officers of the respective NDLEA commands in Nasarawa, Edo and the FCT, is a pointer to this niggling development.

According to a Survey Report published by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, cannabis is the most commonly used drug. An estimated 10.8 per cent of the population or 10.6 million people, use cannabis. The average age of initiation into cannabis use among the general population was 19 years. The report noted that cannabis use was 7 times higher among men: 18.8 per cent among men and 2.6 per cent of women.

Meanwhile, an estimated 4.7 per cent of the population, i.e., 4.6 million people use opioids (such as tramadol, codeine, or morphine ) for non-medical purposes.

Above all, an estimated 376,000 were estimated to be high risk drug users. The majority of high risk drug users were regular users of opioids. Of the abused psychoactive substances by Nigerian youths, the consumption of tramadol is more worrisome.

A governmental policy placed tramadol as a restricted pharmaceutical product used to treat severe pain and can be administered only through prescription by medical professionals. Despite this, it is widely imported, smuggled and used – particularly among young people – for recreational and non-medical purposes.

Health experts warned that this constitutes a threat to health security in the country. Asides this, former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Muhammad Abdallah opined that tramadol was a major catalyst for insurgency in the Northeast. According to him, “That is what fuels insurgency in the North-East. Because Theatre Commandants have testified to me that every Boko Haram camp they have overrun, they found paraphernalia of drug abuse particularly tramadol”.

Senate President, Ahmed Lawan had equally opined that there is a causal link between drugs and insurgency in the country. According to him, “Drug peddlers pass their drugs – cannabis, heroin, and possibly even cocaine through Nigeria…the proceeds of such activities fund terrorism, they fund banditry, you wonder how the bandits have RPGs and these massive arms that they’ve. Definitely, these are some acquisitions provided by some barons, not the bandits themselves.”

The link between terrorism and other related crimes, such as drug trafficking, is evident and has been recognized by the United Nations Security Council. In the words of Officer Irka Kuleshnyk, UNODC Senior Terrorism Prevention, he posited that “While it is difficult to establish how widely terrorist groups are involved in the illicit drug trade, or the breadth and nature of cooperation between these two criminal groups, but the magnitude of the numbers involved make the relationship worrisome.”

Drug trafficking is lucrative that neither trafficking in jewels nor arms trafficking can be compared. Even the sale of oil is lagging behind which is why one of the most trafficked illicit substance, cocaine, is called “the white oil”. Experts estimate that money laundering and drug trafficking make more than half a trillion dollars in profit across the globe. They note that this huge amount of money funds jihadist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS), Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban.

Read Also: NDLEA- Renewed Vigour against Drugs as Marwa Takes Over

Indeed drug trafficking has provided funding for insurgency and other related crimes in various regions across the world, including transit regions. In some cases, drugs have even been the currency used to commission terrorist attacks, as was the case in the Madrid bombings.

Although the responses of successive governments to transnational organised crime have varied, they face fundamental challenges. These include poorly equipped and regulatory agencies, porous borders and lack of cooperation from locals, especially those living in border communities. Drug traffickers have also learnt to adopt some models of concealment that are yet unknown to law enforcement agencies.

However, illicit drug traders and terrorists are not mysterious entities. As UNODC Senior Terrorism Prevention posits, they are usually groups and networks that operate in ways that can be understood, identified, tracked and ultimately disrupted.

Nelson Okoh