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NIGERIA: Growing Drug Trafficking at the Airports

Nigeria has become a major traffic route of illicit drugs from South America to Europe despite efforts to curb drug trafficking. Chinedu Eze writes that in addition to Nigeria being a major drug route, Nigerians are becoming major consumers too.
 
 
Since the past 20 years Nigeria has been known as a corridor for illicit drug movement. Drugs like cocaine, heroin and cannabis pass through Nigeria. While the latter is hugely consumed and also grown locally, until recently not many Nigerians consumed cocaine and heroin.
 
Airport security experts have at various fora disclosed that there is a drug cartel at the airports in the country, especially the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, that most members of the cartel are agency officials, especially those of Aviation Security of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria.
 
These officials as has been alleged provide easy passage of drug couriers to the boarding gate of the aircraft.
 
Few years ago a commandant of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), M.K. Jibrin, narrated the drug ring at the airport. He identified those involved in touting and drug trafficking to include uniformed officers that work for the aforementioned organisations and others who have easy access to the airports.
 
He explained that these touts “carry cargo and portfolio for travellers across screening points without knowing the contents. They do this just to get tips or extort money from travellers.”
 
Jibrin said that touts deceive their colleagues at the screening point about the status of a traveller they “are escorting and extorting.”
 
“They tell lies that the traveller is a senior government official, a diplomat, a traditional ruler, wife or aid to a senior military officer or politician etc. All these lies are aimed at giving such traveller a passage through the screening point without being searched.”
 
This is the way most drug couriers escape screening at the airports.
 
Tackling Trafficking
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) said that in the last five years it had seized N30 billion worth of drugs annually.
 
In fact, NDLEA claims that significant part of the funding of terrorism in Nigeria and in other parts of the world come from money earned from drug trafficking, noting that if the illicit movement of drugs is not urgently curtailed, terrorists would have enormous resources at their disposal to acquire the most sophisticated weapons to kill more innocent people.
 
Spokesman of the agency, Mitchell Ofoyeju who made this known recently during a media round table held in Abeokuta organised by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that in addition to funding terrorism, drugs are responsible for other crimes, including armed robbery, rape and kidnapping.
 
In a paper titled, The Role of NDLEA in Drug Control in Nigeria, Ofoyeju disclosed that the agency apprehended over 39, 364 suspected drug traffickers between 2009 and 2013.
 
He said the agency has  not relented in the drug war despite huge funding and logistics and legal bottlenecks it has been grappling with, adding that the suspects consists of 36,902 males and 2,462 females. The NDLEA has during the period also won the conviction of 8,081 drug offenders.
 
“Between 2009 and 2013, the NDLEA apprehended a total of 39,364 suspected drug traffickers. This consists of 36,902 males and 2,462 females. It has also won the conviction of 8,081 drug offenders.
 
Total weight of drugs seized by the NDLEA in the last five years is 1,062,982.51kg. The breakdown is as follows, cannabis 915,377.34kg, psychotropic substances 145,091.824, cocaine 1,931.383kg and heroin 582.102kg,” Ofoyeju said.
 
He said NDLEA carries out surveillance so as to trace cannabis plantations in forests across the country, an exercise he described as very tedious.
 
“This is because officers trek for long hours to get to the farmlands. In the past three years, the NDLEA has destroyed 3,169.3 hectares of cannabis plantations in the country,” he said.
 
According to him, illicit drug production, trafficking and abuse constitute a serious threat to societal peace, growth and development.
 
“Illicit proceeds derived from drug trafficking can be diverted to finance terrorist activities or used to fund campaign of drug barons and their cohorts. Laundered funds affect the economy because they are illegal. Illicit drugs also influence criminal acts like murder, armed robbery and rape among others. Drug abuse accounts for a large number of untimely deaths across the world.”
 
Ofoyeju said there is no country that is free from the negative effects of narcotics, remarking that this reality places a huge responsibility on governments, organisations and individuals.
 
“Experts have advocated the policy of collective responsibility as one of the effective strategies of addressing the challenge of illicit drugs in the world. I agree with the submission because with collaboration among stakeholders, the problem of drug trafficking and abuse will be drastically reduced and ultimately eradicated,” he remarked.
 
Involvement of Security  Operatives at Airports
Also aviation expert, Adebayo Babatunde, told THISDAY that the involvement of security operatives in touting has been as old as the airport in Lagos and traced it to what is referred to as the Bingo syndrome.
 
“Security operatives getting involved in facilitating the movement of drug couriers has been a long standing problem which can be traced to the bingo syndrome that came as a result of some relationship between security operatives with passengers carrying fake passports or drugs.
 
He said that measures were taken in the past to put an end to this dastardly act but the measures seemed not to have worked as touts still have a field day at the airports, especially the international airports in Abuja and Lagos.
 
“Few measures were taken in the past to end the relationship and these included removal of some of the security officers from the airports; some were dismissed out rightly about four-five years ago.”
 
Effects of Local Consumption of Drugs
But the gruesome reality lies in the fact that the mind of many Nigerian youths is being damaged by drugs. THISDAY visited the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Aro, Abeokuta to have a first-hand effect of drug addiction as the hospital specialises in the rehabilitation of drug addicts and others that suffer mental failure due to drugs.
 
The hospital which was established in 1983 said that for every one patient that was brought to the hospital, there are 200,000 that roam the streets of Nigerian cities. Since its establishment it has treated 2000 cases, which is small number compared to the many roaming the streets.
 
Rehabilitation of patients, which the hospital prefers to refer to as residents, takes about six months. What was noticeable is that most of the patients came from well to do families who, of course, have the resources to buy drugs, most of which are expensive. Most of them are undergraduates, graduates, some even with Master’s Degree, but largely most victims of drug abuse are those in their late teens and early 20s.
 
The addicts have damaged minds, have proclivity to commit crimes, are severely addicted and could become violent sometimes. Sometimes they make attempt on their own lives due to depression.
 
Dr Sunny Amosu who is a consultant and psychiatrist in the hospital said that the unprecedented rise in alcohol and drug use problems in the mid-1980s led to the establishment of the Neuropsychiatric Hospital by the federal government in conjunction with the World Health Organisation and it was the first residential drug abuse treatment unit in Nigeria.
 
The deputy director, clinical psychologist, Mrs. Imisioluwa Ibikunle said drug dependence is considered a multi-factorial health disorder that often follows the course of a relapsing and emitting chronic disease. She said addiction is a complex but treatable disease that effects brain function and behaviour.
 
“No single treatment is appropriate for everyone. Effective treatment attends to multiple needs of the individual, not just his or her drug abuse and remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time is critical. Also, counselling individuals and or group and other behavioural therapies are the most commonly used forms of drug abuse treatment,” she said.
 
Because drug addicts have high inclination to contract HIV due to their reckless life style and the fact that they could be schizophrenic and not check their actions, it is directed that treatment programme should assess patients for the presence of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases as well as provide targeted risk reduction counselling to help patients modify or change behaviour that place thematic risk of contracting or spreading infectious diseases.
 
One of the resource persons at the Media Round Table, Glen Richard, noted that West Africa has long been the focus of United Nations attention, but it is only recently that the international community recognised organised crime as a key issue for the region.
 
“This recognition stems primarily from a single contraband flow – cocaine – a flow so large that its wholesale value on arrival in Europe would exceed the national security budgets of many countries in West Africa. While the threat of cocaine is clear, there are many other forms of organised crime that threaten the stability of the region. These threats are both a cause and a consequence of weak governance, a dynamic explored in the present report,” Richard said.
 

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