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
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas