Legal Nigeria

The Rise of new Drug Lords

Cannabis farm own­ers in the Niger Delta of Nigeria’s South-South region are cre­at­ing a new kind of drug car­tel.  This new car­tel type is defined strictly by blood rela­tions, and it fre­quently involves par­ents recruit­ing their own chil­dren, by pulling the kids out of school. This has intro­duced a new direc­tion for a drug trade that is already a major headache for law enforce­ment and pub­lic health admin­is­tra­tors in the region.
Inves­ti­ga­tion into the rise of the new gen­er­a­tion of drug lords in the South-South region reveals that pub­lic anx­i­ety is ris­ing about this new phe­nom­e­non. The inves­ti­ga­tion has been car­ried out in Akwa Ibom  Delta and Cross River states, the three most noto­ri­ous states for cannabis con­sump­tion and trafficking.
In vis­it­ing these three states,   Newswatch cor­re­spon­dent learned how many teenagers are now actively hawk­ing ille­gal drugs, mainly cannabis (pop­u­larly known as Indian hemp), in the major cities, at venues such as night­clubs, parks, hotels, oil depots and broth­els. A gov­ern­ment source, who wished to remain anony­mous, told Newswatch that the involve­ment of school-age chil­dren hawk­ing ille­gal drugs has made the mar­i­juana more avail­able through­out these states.
Ruth Obi, Akwa Ibom State Com­man­der of the National Drug Law Enforce­ment Agency (NDLEA), remarked that “chil­dren as young as 15 are being recruited by [their] par­ents.” Obi encoun­ters child drug traf­fick­ers on a rou­tine basis. In 2014, 56 youths were found to be car­ry­ing drugs for both sale and per­sonal use when arrested in Akwa Ibom, an increase from 35 in 2013.
 Obi is clear that there is a direct cor­re­la­tion between the new clan­des­tine fam­ily drug car­tels, and the increas­ing with­drawal of school age chil­dren from class­rooms. She believes that the seri­ous­ness and scale of the with­drawal of school-age teenagers to work in drug car­tel busi­nesses for their par­ents call for urgent action from the Niger­ian Gov­ern­ment, the South-South Gov­er­nors’ Forum, and other organ­i­sa­tions that should be advo­cat­ing for child protection.
She also says that there is a link between the new car­tels and the esca­lat­ing wave of mil­i­tancy in the oil-rich South-South region of Nige­ria. This region is now wit­ness­ing an upsurge in vio­lent crimes such as kid­nap­ping (of oil work­ers, politi­cians, and politi­cians’ fam­ily mem­bers), insur­gency, sex­ual vio­lence and armed rob­bery. Accord­ing to Obi, the teenagers sup­ply drugs to off­shore work­ers, includ­ing insur­gents: “They assist their par­ents in export­ing the drugs to pirates who come through the high sea of Nige­ria and Cameroon”.
The 2010 NDLEA annual report also linked the increase in kid­nap­ping in the Niger-Delta to high con­sump­tion and traf­fick­ing of illicit drugs like cannabis, cocaine  heroin and amphetamine.
On Sep­tem­ber 2, 2014, seven health offi­cers work­ing for the Niger Delta Devel­op­ment Com­mis­sion in Abua/Odual Local Gov­ern­ment Area of the state were abducted; four expa­tri­ates and two Nige­ri­ans were also allegedly kid­napped recently in Buguma, Asar­i­toru local Gov­ern­ment Area of the State. Other promi­nent per­sons who have been vic­tims of kid­nap in the state include a renowned poet, Elechi Amadi, for­mer Vice Chan­cel­lor of the Uni­ver­sity of Port Har­court, Prof. Nimi Briggs, for­mer Niger­ian Bar Asso­ci­a­tion (NBA) Pres­i­dent, Okey Wali (SAN), and Dean of the Church of Nige­ria, Angli­can Com­mu­nion, Most Rev­erend Ignatius Kattey.
The birth of the new cartels
The use of chil­dren for smug­gling drugs seems to have begun in earnest around 2007, when a wide­spread prac­tice of child labour traf­fick­ing in Akwa-Ibom, Cross River and Delta States was largely brought to an end. This prac­tise involved par­ents send­ing their chil­dren to work in the city as house­boys and house­maids for rich fam­i­lies, for which they were paid by traf­fick­ers. In some cases no job existed, and instead the chil­dren were forced to become sex workers.
The inter­ven­tion of var­i­ous Non-Governmental Organ­i­sa­tions helped to put an end to this trade. One of these NGOs was The Fam­ily Life Enhance­ment Ini­tia­tive (FLEI), founded in 2007 by Ekaette Unoma Akpabio,  wife of the Akwa Ibom State Gov­er­nor, as a chan­nel for imple­ment­ing social and human­i­tar­ian pro­grammes in the state.
The FLEI built alliances with var­i­ous women groups at the grass­roots, as well as with related gov­ern­ment agen­cies and min­istries, includ­ing the Min­istry of Women’s Affairs and Social Wel­fare and the National Agency for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons (NAPTIP). The links cre­ated with the lat­ter, for exam­ple, were espe­cially use­ful in reduc­ing the inci­dence of child labour and child traf­fick­ing in Akwa Ibom.
This par­tic­i­pa­tory approach paid off hand­somely. Almost imme­di­ately it became ille­gal for par­ents to send their chil­dren to become house­boys and maid­ser­vants for the rich, in the cities. Many par­ents adopted an alter­na­tive plan, involv­ing their chil­dren in the drugs business.
 Akwa Ibom
The first state com­ing under the micro­scope in our inves­ti­ga­tion is Akwa Ibom. Cannabis seedlings are brought into the state from other states for cul­ti­va­tion, because the seedlings are scarce in Akwa Ibom. It is only recently that cannabis farm own­ers started plant­ing in the state. Obi says that in Akwa Ibom, rates of drug use are higher because it is a con­sump­tion state — the drugs that enter are locally con­sumed. Accord­ing to her, 15% of Akwa Ibom teenagers use drugs. ‘Com­bined’ –a mix­ture of cannabis and local gin — is a com­mon drink for youths. “Be it in a wed­ding, bur­ial, child-naming cer­e­mony, house-warming and any occa­sion at all, the drink is ever present. Almost every­body has tasted it at one time or the other”,she stated. Cocaine, heroin, and other hard drugs are con­sumed in Akwa Ibom, includ­ing mix­tures of heroin and cannabis and of cocaine and cannabis.
In Akwa Ibom, huge quan­ti­ties of drugs are smug­gled by 17 to 22 year-olds, sec­ondary school stu­dents and under­grad­u­ates alike, run­ning the drugs for their par­ents. “Some teenagers [traf­fic drugs] for their par­ents and bosses and they do it dur­ing school hours, after school, includ­ing late in the nights”, Obi explained fur­ther. “A cou­ple of years ago, we arrested some boys and girls from one fam­ily between ages 17 and 18 years. In their case, it was like their par­ents were into the busi­ness and lat­ter died and they took over ‘the fam­ily busi­ness’ sort of; so they just  inher­ited the busi­ness and we were able to arrest them and they went to prison”.
Drugs are hawked on the streets of noto­ri­ous hide­outs, includ­ing State-Abak and Akar Roads. These are very long roads where the young deal­ers just sit around while the deal­ers higher up in the chain come and dis­trib­ute the drugs to them. On receiv­ing the sup­ply, the teenagers hawk for the deal­ers, and any­body who wants to buy drugs goes there to pur­chase them.
“But the NDLEA con­stantly raid places, such as Etuk and Nkemba Streets and we are as well after the barons,” NDLEA said.
“The drug barons here take care of the teenagers and they sup­port com­mu­nity projects and when you come around to make arrest, they see you as an enemy com­ing to attack their influ­en­tial per­sons. They don’t care what the baron is doing as long as he puts food on their table’s. Some tra­di­tional rulers are not sup­port­ive of the war against illicit drugs but we keep  going to them and enlight­en­ing them on the dan­gers of drug to the youth. We go with suf­fi­cient fire power in col­lab­o­ra­tion with mobile police­men and when they see them, they com­ply”,  Obi said.
Trav­el­ling on to Delta State
Reports from Delta State are not encour­ag­ing. If you ask any NDLEA offi­cer where the pri­mary cannabis hub in Nige­ria is, do not be sur­prised if the answer is Delta State. Delta State sup­plies drugs to the South-West, South-East and North-Central regions. Many teenagers in the state know the mon­e­tary value of traf­fick­ing in cannabis, although they often remain igno­rant of its health haz­ards. Teenagers often obtain their wares from cannabis farms deep in the forests of Delta State, although Ameh Inalegwu, the assis­tant com­man­der in charge of oper­a­tions of the Delta State Com­mand of the NDLEA, said that his agency has recently destroyed these farms.
Inalegwu told our cor­re­spon­dent that the teenagers are ini­ti­ated into the illicit deals by the drug barons, who are typ­i­cally 30 to 40 years old. He explained to  Newswatch that teenagers as young as 10–15 years  started deal­ing drugs, as appren­tices work­ing for the big barons in the busi­ness.  Besides, traf­fick­ing drugs, they also use them as an enhancer and morale booster to con­front any secu­rity challenges.
 A visit to some sec­ondary schools in the cap­i­tal of Delta State, Asaba, indeed sug­gested that drugs are used and sold by chil­dren as young as 11 years old, who often belong to sev­eral gangs. In the local Gov­ern­ment Area of Sapele (towns like Gana, Amukpe-Ogorodo and Mac-Facin), chil­dren were seen openly using and trad­ing cannabis while older fig­ures sat and watched. “In Ogwashi-Uku Poly­tech­nic, a high school, drug traf­fick­ing and use among stu­dents is a com­mon phe­nom­e­non. If we dis­lodged a ‘joint’ (meet­ing point) a cou­ple of times, they resur­faced again,” says Inalegwu.
Inalegwu fur­ther says that teenagers make huge sales of drugs dur­ing events such as birth­day par­ties, buri­als, nam­ing cer­e­monies, and polit­i­cal gath­er­ings. Accord­ing to him, these occa­sions are incom­plete with­out the use of cannabis. “Dur­ing these fes­tiv­i­ties, teenagers are meant to sell drugs at a cost a lit­tle bit higher than non-occasional days.”
A one-day visit to a tra­di­tional wed­ding in Ogwashi-Uku was an eye opener for our cor­re­spon­dent. The wed­ding party saw guests using their own per­sonal mix­tures of cannabis, as teenagers offered var­i­ous types of mar­i­juana for sale.“To the Deltans, it sounds strange that cannabis traf­fick­ing and use is pro­hib­ited because it’s never seen as a bad thing. “Drugs are grown, stored and dis­trib­uted from here”, Okechukwu Nwaonyeo­sisi, a res­i­dent of Ogwashi Uku, told our correspondent.
Risk of a drugs war?
A visit to Abii in Delta State, a town noto­ri­ous for cannabis plan­ta­tion and for its large con­cen­tra­tion of stor­age facil­i­ties, shows it to be a reser­voir of all types of drugs. In Abii, cannabis is stored for Ondo and Ogun States, until its mat­u­ra­tion for dis­tri­b­u­tion; teenagers and some armed gangs guard and secure the stor­age facilities.
Inalegwu describes going to Abii as  going into a war zone. But, in spite of the clan­des­tine secu­rity appa­ra­tus of the drug lords in Abii, NDLEA offi­cers still under­take oper­a­tions there on a quar­terly basis, and seize more than three tons of cannabis on each raid. Inalegwu claimed that 15 to 35 sus­pects were arrested per month dur­ing such raids.
This is dan­ger­ous work. Inalegwu told Newswatch Times Mag­a­zine that in August 2014, the agency recorded casu­al­ties at Emuebendo, when the offi­cers of the agency were shot by the gang leader alleged to be run­ning the drug farm. In Kwale, another gang leader shot an NDLEA offi­cer, who had attempted to arrest him.
Again, teenagers are heav­ily involved. Young peo­ple who work for the drug barons, but pre­tend to be vil­lage secu­rity guards, pro­vide pro­tec­tion for the cannabis farms in Kwale, Abii and other areas of Delta State. Ameh Inalegwu says that the barons and their teenage traf­fick­ers fre­quently lay ambush to Agency offi­cers, while using logs of wood to block the roads lead­ing to the cannabis forests in the areas.
 “[The] gate­way to any crime is drugs,” Inalegwu warns. Accord­ing to the anti-drug offi­cer, the younger sus­pects in their cus­tody fre­quently tell the offi­cers that their par­ents were drug traf­fick­ers, who use the pro­ceeds to train them and then won­der why the NDLEA make arrests for traf­fick­ing in drugs. “To them, cannabis is a nat­ural resource from God”, Inalegwu stated.
Cross River State
The sit­u­a­tion is sim­i­lar in Cross River State. Ibrahim Mohammed Bashir, Assis­tant State Com­man­der in Oper­a­tional Intel­li­gence of the NDLEA Cross River State Com­mand, states that there are under­age drug traf­fick­ers in his state. “Just like any other states in the coun­try, Cross River State isn’t an exception….[but] Cross River State is a dead end, so almost all the drugs that you see in Cross River are prin­ci­pally for con­sump­tion”. He says that the level of drug use in Cross River State is high, and that alco­hol acts as a gate­way to harder drugs. “Alco­hol con­sump­tion here is high and it’s seen as a nor­mal thing here, so you see chil­dren as lit­tle as five and six years being exposed to alcohol.
“Teenagers are greatly involved [in the sell­ing of drugs], and another thing they do here is that they use the youths to sell, because they know that any­body below the age of 18 can­not be pros­e­cuted. Instead such a per­son would be coun­selled and allowed to go, so they use them as hawk­ers at the ‘joints’ and big hotels,”he said. Bashir said that teenagers con­sti­tuted about 60% of those arrested on drugs charges in the state this year.
Who is responsible?
Bashir is very crit­i­cal of schools in their atti­tude towards the drug prob­lem. Accord­ing to him, they are not read­ily avail­able to help because they don’t really know the dan­gers of drug abuse and traf­fick­ing. The anti-drugs offi­cial claimed that the NDLEA has vir­tu­ally begged schools to allow the agency to visit and deliver lec­tures on illicit drugs abuse and traf­fick­ing, but none has complied.
He fur­ther stated that the NDLEA has been able to estab­lish ‘drug-free clubs’ among the mem­bers of the National Youth Ser­vice Corps. These organ­i­sa­tions are intended to sen­si­tise young peo­ple and oth­ers to the issues around drugs. Mem­bers of the drug-free clubs visit schools to cre­ate aware­ness about the dan­gers of drug abuse and drug trafficking.
 Bashir was also crit­i­cal of many par­ents, say­ing that most of them do not know the impact of drug abuse and traf­fick­ing, and that even when they know, they pre­fer to ignore it. 
Wil­son Igho­dalo is not a new face in cam­paigns against drug traf­fick­ing. For 11 years, he has been President/Founder of the Drug Sal­va­tion Foun­da­tion, an Abuja-based organ­i­sa­tion that fights drug abuse and traf­fick­ing in Nigeria.
He also blamed some par­ents for the involve­ment of their chil­dren in drug abuse and trafficking.“Even par­ents at home con­tribute to drug abuse and traf­fick­ing by their wards. They encour­age their chil­dren into drug abuse,” he stated. “Again, do you know some par­ents smoke before their kids and some even go as far as send­ing their wards to go and buy cig­a­rettes or India hemp for them? And what do you think such a child will grow to become in future?”
Accord­ing to Igho­dalo, many Niger­ian par­ents do not suf­fi­ciently mon­i­tor who their chil­dren go out with. He believes that many chil­dren feel intense peer pres­sure to join groups of young peo­ple in tak­ing and traf­fick­ing drugs.
And the government…?
In some cases the gov­ern­ment is actively oppos­ing the rise in drug traf­fick­ing and abuse among young peo­ple in Nige­ria. One of these cases is Akwa-Ibom, where the state government’s efforts  were acknowl­edged by the NDLEA State Com­man­der, Ruth Obi. She praised the assis­tance the state had given to the NDLEA in pro­vid­ing funds for inves­ti­ga­tion and pub­lic aware­ness. Yet her praise is only partial:
 The state gov­ern­ment donated oper­a­tional vehi­cles but they are not enough. “We have to go round to all the area com­mands dur­ing patrol. We don’t have the capa­bil­ity to sus­tain our pres­ence on the roads from where the drugs are com­ing into the state. We have to be on the road every day for patrols,” she said.
But some  state gov­ern­ments seem to pay only lip ser­vice to pre­vent­ing drug traf­fick­ing by teenagers. “The gov­ern­ments of these states are not con­cerned about the pre­vail­ing recruit­ment of chil­dren by armed gang-drug traf­fick­ers in the South-South zone of Nige­ria, and not tak­ing imme­di­ate steps to nip in the bud the men­ace which is wor­ri­some to the drug agen­cies in the zone,” stated  Bashir of the  Cross River State Command.
“At our own level, it’s just that we are con­strained by so many chal­lenges. Logis­tics, funds, oper­a­tional mate­ri­als, and other things. A drug war needs logis­tics and finance. If we have the resources, we are ready to take the drugs out of the youths. We have the intel­li­gence, we have the per­son­nel but we are only con­strained with fund­ing and logis­tics and the state is not help­ing matters”.
 Bashir fur­ther explained that sev­eral efforts made by his agency to demand that the state help in the fight against ille­gal drugs have not yielded many results. “Sev­eral pro­pos­als have been sent to the state gov­ern­ment and nobody is doing any­thing about it.”
It is indeed dis­heart­en­ing that despite the huge secu­rity vote enjoyed by all  state gov­er­nors, includ­ing those in the Niger-Delta axis of the coun­try, the involve­ment of young peo­ple in drug traf­fick­ing in the region shows no signs of decreas­ing. Each gov­er­nor enjoys a huge annual fund of around N6 bil­lion, to fight crimes and main­tain order within their domain.
This secu­rity vote, which is not included in the annual bud­get and is not scru­ti­nised by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, is sup­posed to be used to reduce crime within each state, through sup­port­ing secu­rity agen­cies in the state, empow­er­ing young peo­ple and cre­at­ing employ­ment. Despite the exis­tence of these funds, the phe­nom­e­non of wide­spread drug traf­fick­ing by young peo­ple continues.
By Emeka Ibemere