Facts and figures released by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) indicate a staggering increase in drug trafficking through the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA) Ikeja, Lagos, Daily Trust reports.
Drug traffickers seem not to be deterred by the aggressive clampdown and campaign spearheaded by government authorities. On daily basis, the traffickers become more daring, devising new ways to carry illicit drugs into the country through the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos.
The passenger traffic at the airport, the busiest in Nigeria, has increased significantly in recent times. Figures obtained from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) show that passenger movements in all the airports was 316,680. The figure grew steadily to 318,503 in October, 328,652 in November and 336,652 in December, 2015. The MMIA had over 70 per cent of the traffic, it was learnt.
But as passengers’ traffic grows so also the rate of drug trafficking has increased. This situation calls for concerted efforts to control the upsurge, according to anti-drug officials. The drug traffickers have devised more ways, ranging from using letters laden with heroin, to hiding drugs inside boxers, socks and, more recently, feigning pregnancy while the bulging tommy merely contains hard drugs.
According to the first quarter report of the NDLEA, the airport command of the agency arrested no fewer than 30 suspected drug traffickers at the Lagos airport between January and March.
Those arrested included 26 males and four females while 100.545kgs of narcotic drugs, valued at N574 million were seized in the period under review. Also, a total of 61 Nigerians, including 60 males and one female, were deported to the country for various drug offences.
The NDLEA commander at the airport, Ahmed Garba, gave the breakdown of the seized drugs to include cocaine, 18.460kgs; methamphetamine, 29.400kgs; cannabis, 3.075kgs; Tramadol, 21.990kgs and Diazepam 30.620kgs.
The suspects, according to the commander, had been charged to court and the cases are ongoing.
The commander said: “The suspected drug traffickers arrested in the first quarter had been charged to court and the cases are ongoing. Many special operations were conducted, and seizures including that involving an abandoned luggage containing 2.240kgs of cocaine from Dubai recorded. The agency traced the bag to one Egbuche Fidelis Osita and four others.
In 2015, the agency, at the airport, seized narcotic drugs valued at N3.7 bullion and received a total of 183 Nigerians, made up of 176 males and seven females, deported on drug related offences.
It was learnt that the last arrest in 2015 was that of a 37-year-old woman recruited on facebook to smuggle drugs to Malaysia.
The seized drugs in 2015 consisted of 172kg of cannabis, 160kg of ephedrine, 114kg of methamphetamine, 96kg of cocaine, 45kg of tramadol and 5kg of heroin.
The last suspect for the year, Ezeabata Uju Gloria, was reportedly caught with 1.325kg of methamphetamine on her way to Malaysia. One Mr Philip Maduabuchi Akpaka, 39, who is the suspected leader of the drug cartel in Nigeria who prepared the travel documents of Gloria, was equally arrested by the agency.
Out of the total number of those arrested, 55 were importing drugs from other countries, 62 others were exporting drugs out of the country while 25 were arrested within the state.
Records show the highest number of deportees are from Italy with 55, Thailand, 41, United States, 24, and 17 from Norway. Other countries are South Africa, 15, Spain, 10, France and Saudi Arabia, 3 each, while Brazil, China and Greece deported 2 persons each. One person each was deported from Zambia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Peru, Indonesia, India Belgium, Austria and Argentina.
An analysis of last year’s interceptions and the worth compared with the first quarter result indicates that about a quarter of drugs intercepted had been recovered in the first quarter of 2016, implying that if the drug peddlers and their sponsors were not arrested, the trend would continue.
Experts and analysts say the drug trafficking menace continues to thrive owing to the involvement of big men and powerful cartels which had not been smashed.
A former acting chairman/chief executive of the NDLEA, Mrs. Roli Bode-George, agreed that more work needed to be done to stop the trend, if the monetary value of seized drugs is anything to go by. This, according to her, underscores the threat posed by illicit drug production, trafficking and abuse.
“Drug trafficking is a serious crime capable of undermining our security,” she said, adding, however, that “the agency is working very hard to seize drugs and financially incapacitate drug trafficking organisations.”
Many are quick to blame the increase in drug trafficking to the state of the economy and the high unemployment rate in the country.
But retired Group Capt. 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% of drugs getting into the US through Europe were coming from Nigeria. I do not think that the 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 AVSEC (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.
Yet, in spite of the arrests, how many of the couriers or their sponsors have been prosecuted in Nigeria?
Ojikutu said: “The increase in the trend is not unconnected to the state of the national economy – unemployment, the foreign exchange rate and its scarcity. Moreover, the NDLEA does not pay much attention to inbound passengers, but outbound passengers, particularly through the land borders and, especially, at some airports and on some known airlines. The traffic is generally from Middle and Far East to WA/Nigeria to Europe.”
But the NDLEA says it is undeterred. Col. Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah (rtd), the chief executive/chairman of the agency, advocated for an integrated approach in the control of illicit drug trafficking.
He said: “We must continue to develop integrated programmes in tackling the problem of drug trafficking and related organised 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.”
The chairman said most cocaine seizures made originated from Dubai, while methamphetamine was destined for South Africa and Asia.
“We also observed the smuggling of psychotropic substances to African countries. There was a seizure of raphynol to Ghana, Diazepam to Liberia and tramadol hidden in DJ Rack Box to Congo-Brazzaville.
“The NDLEA will, therefore, remain dynamic in its operations and maintain a clear lead over criminal organizations,” he said.
Observers, however, believe that the authorities should put in more effort in smashing the drug cartels to redeem the already battered image of Nigeria. And, more importantly, they argue, the agency’s officials should be closely monitored to ensure that they do not aid or abet drug dealers in their illicit trade.