Thursday, December 13, 2007

Just what we needed...

Only just stumbled on this Economist article but was shocked to hear that Nigeria is West Africa's drug-trafficking hub! I've definitely heard more about drug raids in Ghana than I have in Nigeria, but it's possible that i've been living in the dark. It's one thing to be an international trafficking hub, like we were in the 80s, when most of the drug seizures were from consignments destined for the international market; but for these drugs to be so readily available on the streets of Nigeria (rural communities too!), is a whole other thing.
Drug intelligence is a costly endeavour but with so many hungry mouths at the Federal Govt's doorstep, it seems the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) gets the short end of the stick. According to Ahmadu Giade (Chairman), only 13 vehicles are available to the Agency throughout the whole country to fight drug crime, while the personnel receive meagre salaries, which he fears could lure them to the side of drug traffickers. I thought that was bad till I realised there's even less $$ (sorry, NN) going into the rehabilitation sector. Most rehab clinics are private and your average Nigerian can't afford that luxury. The few public ones are underfunded and over-stretched; and NGOs are (un)fortunately too busy dealing with more pressing issues like HIV/AIDS that drug addicted persons end up alone and stuck in a downward spiral of addiction (we all know Nigerian extended families have very low tolerance for drug addiction). Not quite sure what can be done about this, but just thought The Afro Beat should put a spotlight on the situation and get your thoughts.

Nigeria's Drug Trade, Just what they needed - The Economist

A FAIRLY typical recent morning at Murtala Mohammed, Lagos's main airport, saw four traffickers carrying cocaine, heroin or marijuana caught, arrested and X-rayed before noon. All but one of them lived abroad, in Belgium, India and Spain. Stuck without money or just looking for more, they had agreed to swallow the stuff or slip it into their luggage. Since the beginning of the year, Nigeria's Drug Law
Enforcement Agency has made 234 similar arrests at this Lagos airport. But this, according to the agency's director-general, Lanre Ipinmisho, is just grazing the surface of the country's booming drug trade.

West Africa is the newest centre for trafficking drugs into Europe. European demand for cocaine and heroin is rising fast and dealers, faced with intense scrutiny on familiar import routes, have been obliged to find new ones. Cocaine from the Andes is arriving at west Africa's ports, airports and border crossings. Heroin from Afghanistan is coming in too.

Nigeria is not the only victim of the growing trade. Guinea-Bissau, a small country emerging from civil war and a string of coups, has seen its tiny export economy overrun by illegal drugs. But as the economic hub of west Africa, Nigeria has, inevitably, also become its drug-trafficking hub. Last year 44% of the west African
drug-traffickers arrested in Europe were Nigerian (compared with 3% from Guinea-Bissau). Drugs have been trickling across Nigeria's borders since the 1980s, but over the past few years the trickle has become a torrent.

Nigeria's history of fighting the scourge is not the sort to discourage dealers. Its drug agency, founded in 1990, was immediately immersed in scandal when its own top people were themselves found to be involved in trafficking. At the end of October the country's independent commission on corrupt practices called in the agency's former chairman and eight other officials for questioning over money and drugs missing from an exhibit.

Organised criminals have also got into the business. The country's anti-graft body, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, says it often stumbles upon drugs during money-laundering raids. The most powerful crime syndicates are involved, says Lamorde Ibrahim, the commission's director of operations in Lagos. A six-person group from his office and the drug-enforcement agency work incognito, unknown even
to colleagues.

The network of gangs and dealers means that drugs are increasingly available on Nigeria's streets. At the Lagos State Rehab and Vocational Training Centre former junkies tell stories of taking to drugs while at university, or jobless, or under pressure from the city's notorious gangs of "area boys". Enough cannabis to roll one cigarette can be found on the streets for as little as 20 naira (about 15 cents). The UN's drugs office estimates that heroin and cocaine cost slightly more,
at 20 to 50 naira and 80 to 100 naira a pinch.

Reform of the drug agency may have begun to be serious. Pointing to a change, Mr Ipinmisho says that traffickers are often confused by their arrest, having been promised safe passage through the airport by junior officers, who can now no longer sneak them through. The intentions may be better, but the agency still complains of its lack of equipment and manpower.

Nigeria is the only west African country on America's list of major drug-producing and transit countries. It is concerned enough to have sent Tom Schweich, the State Department's international drugs man, to Nigeria last month. He promised to supply the latest body-cavity X-ray machines to four of Nigeria's international airports. New technology like this will be installed first at the airports and then, more slowly, at ports and land borders. Not too slowly, Nigerians hope. Their country is already notorious for corruption and financial crime; the last thing it needs is narcotics too.