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
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: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory