Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Barons, couriers and victims of narcotics

The death that will kill a man begins as an appetite.
– Nigerian proverb
Since 1987, June 26 of every year is observed as the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. The General Assembly of the United Nations “recognised that despite continued and increased efforts by the international community, the world drug problem continues to constitute a serious threat to public health, the safety and well-being of humanity, young people in particular, and the national security and sovereignty of states, and that it undermines socio-economic and political stability and sustainable development.” This year’s theme is “Lets Develop — Our Lives — Our Communities — Our Identities — Without Drugs.”
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, “Drug trafficking is a global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws.” While the United Nations in 1997 established UNODC to assist member states in their struggle against illicit drugs, crime and terrorism, at the national level, Nigeria through Decree 48 of 1989, now an Act of Parliament CAP N30 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, established the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency.
According to the NDLEA, “In Nigeria, the problem of drugs began to assume very worrisome dimensions at the end of the Second World War following the return of some Nigerian soldiers from, mainly, Burma, India, where they had fought. One of the negative consequences of the war was the return of the soldiers with some seeds of cannabis sativa, also known as Indian Hemp, which they in turn experimented and discovered that the illicit plant could do well in some parts of the country. With time, the cultivation of cannabis sativa began to grow and so was the trafficking and abuse of the cannabis plant. Drug barons soon discovered that the geographical location of Nigeria, its thick population, bustling commerce, and vibrant air transport hold so much attraction for a thriving drug business. This led to the experimentation with Category A drugs such as cocaine, heroin and other psychotropic substances; a situation that has made the country a drug trafficking/transit point.”
Experts are of the opinion that apart from the devastations of the Second World War, no other phenomenon has had more debilitating consequences on mankind like drug scourge. This view is anchored on the fact that even the much dreaded HIV/AIDS which has yet defied any known cure has narcotics as one of its principal causes. Besides, drugs are known to induce social vices, civil upheavals and other forms of criminalities.
Drug trafficking and abuse are a twin demon plaguing Nigeria and this is heart-rending. There is hardly a week in which the NDLEA does not arrest some drug couriers or destroy Indian hemp plantations. The agency’s Chairman/Chief Executive, Ahmadu Giade, recently told stakeholders that the “NDLEA played a very crucial role towards the peaceful conduct of the last general elections. This is because the monetary value of seized drugs and cannabis plant destroyed in 2014 hit a record high of N542bn. This huge amount is mind-blowing and has the capacity to derail the most credible elections. Such proceeds can be used to either subvert the wishes of the electorate or instigate upheavals.”
In an article entitled, “Do the math – why the illegal business is thriving”, Oriana Zill and Lowell Bergman offered insights into the lucrative nature of the illicit trade. According to the researchers, “What keeps the drug industry going is its huge profit margins. Producing drugs is a very cheap process. Like any commodities business, the closer you are to the source the cheaper the product. Processed cocaine is available in Colombia for $1,500 per kilo and sold on the streets of America for as much as $66,000 a kilo (retail). Heroin costs $2,600/kilo in Pakistan, but can be sold on the streets of America for $130,000/kilo (retail). And synthetics like methamphetamine are often even cheaper to manufacture costing approximately $300 to $500 per kilo to produce in clandestine labs in the US and abroad and sold on the US streets for up to $60,000/kilo (retail).”
Any wonder many Nigerians now volunteer to be recruited as couriers of these deadly substances? The NDLEA claimed to have arrested 3,478 persons between January and May 2015 over drug-related offences. The agency said it also apprehended a suspected drug kingpin, Chukwunwendu Ikejiakwu, aka Blessed, after 13 months of “high level surveillance.” The agency explained that Ikejiakwu led an international drug trafficking organisation that recruited and sponsored drug couriers to China, Malaysia, Turkey and Italy.
In the course of their get-rich ambition, many of these couriers have met their untimely deaths in foreign lands. According to Sunday Sun of May 3, 2015, as many as 132 of Nigerians are said to be on death rows in some Asian countries like China, Indonesia and Singapore. Of this number, 120 of them are on death row in China for drug sales/drug smuggling offences. In Singapore, only one Nigerian is reported to be on death row. At least, six Nigerians had been executed in Indonesia for drug trafficking this year alone. This happened in January and April despite the Nigerian government’s pleading for clemency.
Really, considering the negative impact of narcotics abuse on human life, stiffer penalties need to be meted out on the merchants of these deadly substances in Nigeria. The current punishment seems not to be much of a deterrent. I advocate for the reintroduction of death penalty just as it was in 1984. In the alternative, I propose a minimum of 20 years imprisonment with hard labour, without an option of fine, together with forfeiture of the proceeds of the crime. These merchants of deaths, barons and couriers have destroyed many innocent lives and need to be made to pay dearly for their crimes against humanity.
It is very unfortunate that one of Nigeria’s most popular and talented musicians is currently battling for his life as drug abuse has turned a once very handsome and elegant musician to a frail, shadowy figure who is at the brink of death. Many other less popular persons have been destroyed or rendered insane by these psychotropic substances. Beyond punishments for these merchants of deaths, there is a need for the NDLEA and the National Orientation Agency to partner the media to step up enlightenment campaigns about the evils of drug abuse and trafficking. Religious houses and community leaders should also support the initiative. The NDLEA deserves commendation for the sustained war against narcotics. I appreciate the organisation’s recorded success and solicit better funding and support to enable it perform better. It is imperative for us to develop our lives, communities and identities without drugs.