Nigeria braced for war with drug lords

The military junta may have a dismal rights record, but it is tackling the burgeoning narcotics trade, David Orr reports from Kano

The woman stood before the general, her gaze downcast, her bare feet shackled. She was heavily built, in her late forties, and her face was blotchy and unhealthy-looking.

Mama Laide, as she was known among local traders, had been arrested at Kano airport. Customs officials had found 550g of cocaine concealed in her hair. According to her ticket, she was bound for Amsterdam, although her passport also contained visas for Switzerland and Britain.

"Look up so people can see you," growled General Musa Bamaiyi, head of the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). "How many children do you have?" Glancing nervously towards where the general sat, the woman replied that she had eight children.

"Why didn't you give the drugs to your own children first, instead of taking them abroad for other people to become addicted to?" he asked. But the woman had nothing more to say. With a wave of his hand, he gestured for her to be led away.

It was a day of triumph for General Bamaiyi. He had paraded a convicted drug courier before the assembled Kano state officials, army officers and policemen. He had presided over an impressive little spectacle: the burning of 700kg of cannabis, heroin and cocaine seized in Kano state, northern Nigeria. The bonfire was still smouldering as the guests sipped their soft drinks and congratulated the general on his tough anti-drugs speech.

Nigeria has a dismal reputation among international drug- control agencies. It is one of only four countries to have been blacklisted by the US for not co-operating in the worldwide fight against drugs: the others are Burma, Syria and Iran. For years Nigeria has been known as a transit point for drugs entering the US and Europe.

Now, it would seem, Nigerians are extending their role in the world drug trade. No longer, anti-drug agencies say, are they simply facilitating the passage of drugs through their country or acting as couriers. They are now heavily involved in trafficking and distribution.

Their range is extensive. It is estimated that 40 per cent of heroin entering the US is smuggled in by Nigerian drug-rings. Nigerians are said to control 80 per cent of drug distribution in Atlanta and several other cities with large black populations. They are also said to be taking control of drug distribution in many parts of England, especially in the north-west.

One foreign drugs expert based in Lagos says that Nigerian operators are taking on the cartels in Colombia, Brazil and Turkey.

"Nigerians now have the worst reputation for drug-trafficking of any nationality worldwide," says Antonio Mazzitelli of the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP). "The Nigerians are business people and they're very good at it. Before they were content to be employed; now they're employers themselves. They buy directly from a producer in Latin America, ship directly to the UK and sell it on the streets."

What makes it particularly difficult to break up the Nigerian drug-rings is their flexible structure: a trafficker can work for one drug baron one week, then switch to another "firm" the following week.

The web of ethnic ties which binds this loosely connected fraternity is well-nigh impenetrable from the outside. "Trying to stamp out Nigerian drug-trafficking", Mr Mazzitelli says, "is like trying to make a piece of jelly stick to the wall."

Despite the military government's appalling record on instituting reforms, the Nigerian authorities appear to take the drug issue seriously. Already Nigeria has lost millions of dollars of American aid because of the blacklisting. Two years ago the NDLEA, known to be riddled with corruption, was shaken up. Earlier this year it was granted extra powers, enabling it to investigate and seize bank accounts suspected of holding laundered drug money.

International drug-control experts do not believe there is evidence of direct involvement in the trade by the military government. Corruption, however, is endemic in Nigerian society, and co-operation between political figures and drug barons cannot be ruled out. According to diplomatic sources in Lagos, General Bamaiyi has stood on so many high-ranking toes that pressure is growing inside the government for his removal.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen