SHOLA ADEKOLA and TOLA ADENUBI got investigative in tracking drug routes in Lagos. Their findings should interest all genuine stakeholders.
DRUG traffickers are drawn to some new routes through which they now bring drugs into Lagos with what appears to be a good measure of ease. Among the routes is an island under Badagry Local Government Area of Lagos State. The features of these routes that make them attractive for the movement of the banned substances and more will be interrogated in the course of this article.
Lagos seaports and airports have been targets of drug traffickers in recent years. Despite the continued arrests of suspected drug traffickers in these airports and seaports, it has been gathered that this criminal trade is still being propelled by the economic principle of demand and supply. With the high demand for drugs and the large amount of money being made, drug barons and traffickers are ready to increase the risk level.
Some years back, drug trafficking was almost an abomination in Nigeria which no family would want to be associated with directly or indirectly. In other words, anyone caught trafficking in drug was then seen as a black sheep because of the stigma the act carried.
With time, however, the illegal trade has not only become a part of the society but a serious crime that is giving the country a bad name. Every day, the crime spreads to the nooks and crannies of the country with its effect on old and young in the society. Before now, many couriers, with the support of their barons, had succeeded in making fortunes out of the trade.
Factors like poverty, unemployment, peer influence, ignorance and disregard for consequences of drugs on humans have been advanced as some of the factors responsible for drug trafficking. There is also a decline in societal values as people are becoming more materialistic to the detriment of uprightness. Stakeholders have repeatedly urged agents of socialisation like family, schools, religious bodies and civil society groups to redouble their efforts towards building a healthy and safe society.
Recently, a journalist was contacted by drug barons in the Akala area of Mushin to help traffic drug out of the country. According to the journalist, the offer was too tempting but he only declined on religious ground. “They promised me money, depending on the weight of what I could carry. They showed me some vehicles around Akala and promised to give me any one of my choice. There were many t’okunbo vehicles waiting for whoever was ready for the deal”, the journalist said.
According to the image maker of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Mitchell Ofoyeju, the NDLEA is working very hard to dismantle these drug trafficking cartels. In the past five years, the agency has discovered 11 laboratories used for the illegal production of methamphetamine in the country. Search is ongoing to detect more even as regular seizures are being made at the airports and other points. The NDLEA arrested 63 suspected drug traffickers in Lagos between January and June, 2016.
“The suspects were arrested with a total of 484.11 kilograms of drugs at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Ikeja. The suspected drug barons also abandoned 336.09kgs of the seized drugs. Those arrested are 46 males and 17 females while the breakdown of drugs are cocaine, 35kgs; heroin, 8.460kgs; methamphetamine, 54.4kgs; ephedrine, 6.12kgs; cannabis, 5.47kgs and psychotropic substances, 374.63kgs.
“Twenty suspects were nabbed while attempting to export drugs while 25 were caught importing drugs into the country and 18 suspects were apprehended during follow-up operations. Three abandoned seizures, including 25 kilograms of methamphetamine billed for South Africa, 311 kilograms of tramadol originating from India and 0.09 grams of cocaine from Brazil, were made during the period.
“The monthly breakdown of arrests and drug seizures as at January, 12 suspects with 6.30kgs; February, 10 suspects with 54.76kgs; March, 13 suspects with 39.49kgs. In April, 13 suspects with 28.04kgs; May, 13 suspects with 353.95kgs while June had two suspects and 1.59kgs”, Ofoyeju said.
Why Lagos deals persist despite arrests
Many reasons have been attributed to the rise in drug trafficking through Lagos airport in particular.
For Mr Segun Babatunde, who works in one of the local airlines, apart from its commercial status, a reason for the high rate of the crime in Lagos is the population of the city and the existences of different races and the zeal to do all manner of businesses and make wealth. The icing on the cake is said to be the presence of an international airport, which the peddlers see as the easiest and quickest means of smuggling out their stuff. Drug barons, it has been gathered, are not relenting because drug trafficking is a money-spinning crime. They have a large pool of unemployed youths to recruit as mules. While some people are desperate to smuggle drugs for money, others see drug trafficking as a way of getting capital for their businesses.
According to the NDLEA, Lagos airport is the busiest airport in the country. There are numerous flights connecting different continents, especially the preferred destinations of drug trafficking syndicates. Lagos having two seaports, an airport and an international border, it was learnt, also makes the city attractive to drug syndicates. A strong stimulant drug like methamphetamine is now produced in Nigeria. The drug is in high demand in Asia, Europe and America so, the syndicates are struggling to satisfy demand in those markets.
Going by a statistics released by the NDLEA, there has been an increase in drug trafficking through Lagos more than other parts of the country in view of the arrests made on a daily basis.
Drug peddlers take advantage of Lagos’ porous border. The country is said to operate many porous borders. The Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Martin Abeshi, said recently that the nation had about 1,400 unmanned illegal entry points that lead into the country.
In Lagos, drug peddlers have consistently taken advantage of the Seme axis of the nation’s border post. The border has become a free entry and exit points for terrorists and smugglers of all manner of contraband goods.
In order to further assist stakeholders in unravelling the drug mystery, Saturday Tribune examined major routes for the trade.
From Badagry, drug peddlers and smugglers bring in drugs from routes like the Tolgegi Island. With the increased surveillance of eagle-eyed Customs operatives on the land borders, which has resulted in the arrest and seizure of various amounts of drugs along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, drug peddlers have shifted focus to this island, which allows them to access Lagos by canoe and barges.
Tolgegi Island is located just beside the Nigerian/Benin Republic border and is under the control of Badagry Local Government Area. However, because it is an island, drug peddlers bring drugs into Lagos without having to make use of the road. Drugs are loaded in water crafts under the cover of darkness and brought into the country through many unmonitored jetties.
There are also unsecured jetties like the Oto jetty, located in the sleepy village of Oto-Awori, near Ijanikin town. The Oto jetty affords drug peddlers the luxury of cutting off many Customs and military checkpoints located along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway at least up to Agbara town.
“Oto jetty is just after Agbara and can be accessed from islands like Tolgegi under the cover of darkness. Speaking to Saturday Tribune, a student of the Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (ACOED), who also resides in Oto-Awori town, explained that students notice movements at night from the jetty area into the town.
According to the student, who refused having his name in print, “once it is dark, we students don’t like going to the jetty. It is not advisable to do so due to security concerns. We notice movement of people from the jetty carrying bags at night. Where they are coming from, I cannot really say. But I know some students who smoke Indian hemp always talking about getting it very cheap at the jetty.”
Why peddlers are unrelenting
NDLEA has continued to arrest and prosecute drug couriers across the airports, particularly in Lagos.
Hardly does a day pass by without a drug suspect being caught at the Lagos airport. The arrests are said to be made possible by the sophisticated gadgets installed at the airport to expose any narcotic inside luggage. Developed countries like the United States, Britain, Germany and France have assisted the NDLEA in the fight against drug peddling.
Despite the resilience of officials of the NDLEA and other security agencies, the drug suspects have continued to come up with new devices capable of beating the security network at the Lagos airport. Findings, however, showed that the further the suspects go to achieve their aims, the more the NDLEA officials overtake and catch up with them as witnessed in the criminals’ daily arrests.
The desperation to continue with dangerous business has been attributed to the level of poverty which the barons often lure their victims with mouth-watering offers. The majority of those arrested had, during confessions, cited the need to make ends meet as reason for engaging in the crime.
While some of them have managed to get away or caught in Nigeria, others have paid the supreme price in countries where convicted drug peddlers are executed.
The desperation of the peddlers in the face of death at the Lagos airport has continued to be a source of concern for airport users. The NDLEA officials have vowed to continue the hard fight even as they warned the drug traffickers to turn away from their evil ways. Many are quick to blame the increase in drug trafficking to the state of the economy and the high unemployment rate in the country.
NDLEA not doing enough –Retired officer
Retired Group Captain John Ojikutu said efforts to arrest and prosecute sponsors were inadequate. He said: “Before the Abdulmutallab case in 2009, lsrael came out with some intelligence reports that about 70 to 80 per cent of drugs getting into the United States through Europe was coming from Nigeria. I do not think that he trend has significantly changed.
“The problem is not necessarily about how to intercept the couriers or arrest the sponsors as most are probably known to the law enforcement agencies. The fear, as the Israelis and, indeed, Aviation Security watchers put it, following the experience of the Abdulmutallab debacle, is that the terrorists could use the couriers of these drugs as moles to carry explosives on board. That was why the Abdulmutallab case did not come as a surprise to some AVSEC experts”.
According to the anti-narcotic agency, with the present security network at the places, it has become almost impossible for anyone to smuggle drugs through the Lagos airport and even the seaports without being detected.
Why it is difficult nabbing barons
“Drug barons are the drug kingpins that coordinate the illicit production, sales and distribution of narcotics. Unlike the couriers, they try to distant themselves from the business but we have succeeded in penetrating their wall of defence and brought many of them to justice. We are partnering with other security agencies because drug control demands collective effort of all. Some of the agencies are cooperating but there are a few cases of bottlenecks that need to be perfected. There are instances where some stakeholders are infiltrated by drug syndicates.
The Arik Air crew member, who was arrested with cocaine and recent seizure of 144kg of ephedrine at the Abuja airport involving five suspected staff of Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) are good examples. The agency will continue to build on the benefits of platforms such as Airport Communication Programme (AIRCOP) that involve inter-agency cooperation in deepening her working relationship with other stakeholders”, NDLEA said.
The agency has vowed to continue the fight, saying it was undeterred. The chairman of NDLEA, Colonel Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah (retd), said: “We must continue to develop integrated programmes in tackling the problem of drug trafficking and related organized crimes at various levels. Deliberate steps should be taken to improve regional and international drug control measures aimed at dislodging drug syndicates. These include robust collaboration, increased funding, use of modern technology in drug crime prevention and exchange of criminal intelligence.”