Pubdate: Sun, 17 May 2009
Source: Punch (Nigeria)
Copyright: 2009 The Punch
Authors: Ademola Babalola and Jide Babalola


There are fears that political power and decisions in Nigeria and the other 
West African countries risk falling under the control of wealthy drug 
barons who record annual turnover of $1billion, SUNDAY PUNCH investigations 

Nigerian drug barons and other criminal syndicates in the West African 
countries are said to be presiding over a thriving trade in cocaine and 
other hard drugs with total worth enough to take over the weak political 
structures in the sub-continent.

The fear of the wealthy drug barons, a United Nations officer on Drugs and 
Crimes in Africa, Latin America and the Middle-East, Mr. Chris Van Der 
Burgh, said, was at the centre of the body's new strategy to combat drug 
trade in the region.

In the case of Nigeria, he said international bodies were partnering with 
the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to police the banks through 
which he alleged the drug proceeds were being laundered.

Van Der Burgh, in an exclusive interview with one of our correspondents 
said the political structures in West Africa were too weak and "are easy 
preys for global drug trafficking syndicates who seek to take over 
political power through associates among such countries citizens."

The UN official said an average of 50 tons of cocaine from Latin America 
now passes through the affected countries annually, the monetary value of 
which he estimated at $1bn.

He said the fast and increasing level of drug trafficking as well as the 
volume of money laundering in the West African countries "could easily 
overtake all legitimate economic outputs within a few years if left unchecked.

"The cocaine being trafficked from Latin America through the region is 
having a devastating effect on countries in West Africa. For example, what 
passes through Guinea Bissau now is far in excess of Guinea Bissau's 
national economy.

"Of course, it is an indication of what a geometric problem it is; when you 
have drug trafficking, you have other forms of trans-national organised crimes.

"You have vast amount of money being generated and of course, this money 
has to be laundered in various manners. It is a geometric problem and it 
calls for geometric measures to be taken," Van Der Burgh explained.

Although Van Der Burgh refused to disclose details of UNODC's intelligence 
reports on Nigerian drug syndicates, he stated that while some 
international drug barons send cocaine shipments through seaports and 
airports, others flood European countries with a huge number of 'mules' who 
transport cocaine in small quantities.

"Obviously, shipments are passing through airports and through sea borders. 
When people are intercepted in European countries, one of the procedures 
they (drug barons) use is to flood a flight to a specific country with what 
they call mules or air couriers who either keep it on the body or swallow it.

"But obviously, the mules are not the main culprits. They are right at the 
end of the chains. It's the big ones behind the scenes that keep the 
business going on. The small people are lured by quick money and they 
easily get tempted with offers of $10, 000," he stated.

Pointing out that Nigeria is not alone in facing serious challenges from 
drug traffickers and professional money-launderers, he explained that 
concerns about such problems made UNODC establish a special unit that helps 
the EFCC to monitor Nigerian banks.

"We have been on this project since early 2006 and it is basically aimed at 
helping the EFCC to assist banks to prune up their legislation and 
operating procedures up to international standards, so as to prevent money 
laundering taking place. I'm really not in a position to comment on the 
level of Nigerian banks' involvement in this problem," he said.

While acknowledging that official corruption remains a big threat to 
efforts aimed towards curbing crime, he said that the ultimate challenge 
was in the hands of each country's security and law enforcement agencies.

He added that various international bodies were helping to implement a 
cross-border action plan that was endorsed by presidents of ECOWAS countries.

"Of course, what people say and what people do are sometimes two different 
things. On this political declaration is the signature of the Heads of 
State and governments and it's an official record that they have committed 
themselves at the highest political level to put in place measures to deal 
with this problem," he said.

In Nigeria, daily reports of arrests made by the National Drug Law 
Enforcement Agency were indicative of increase in the drug trade in Nigeria.

There are many known drug traders said to be walking the streets of the 
country unhindered, while many of them dominate the social scene.

In fact, many of them have had records waxed in their praises.

Curiously, little was known about the world of the drug traders before 1984 
when the trio of Batholomew Owoh, Bernard Ogedengbe and Akanni Ojuolape 
were publicly executed by the Gen. Muhammadu Buhari regime for trafficking 
in hard drugs.

At the height of the drug trafficking menace in 1989, the Gen. Ibrahim 
Babangida administration established the NDLEA via Decree 48 the same year.

In spite of past efforts of the anti-narcotics agency, the trade appears to 
be on the increase.

In one of its recent successes, the NDLEA in Ogun State last March 31 
confiscated 6.5 tons of marijuana from the home of a 114-year-old man, 
Sulaiman Adebayo. The illegal haul was packed in 254 sacks.

"The quantity of drugs suggests a large scale involvement ... There is more 
to the case than Pa Sulaiman," NDLEA chairman, Ahmadu Giade later said in a 

Lax customs control and corruption have also made Nigeria a conduit for 
hard drugs from Asia and Latin America into Western markets.
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