Transport

Concerns mount over booming illicit drug smuggling at Nigeria seaports

BY ADAKU WALTER

Trafficking of hard and illicit drugs has become a serious social problem in Nigeria as government battles with their importation, smuggling and influx into the country.

Perpetrators now leveraging on movement of vessels to ply their trade through the nation’s seaports. Illegal drugs often smuggled by merchants and traffickers through the nation’s seaports include cocaine, hashish, cannabis sativa, codeine syrup, heroin, opioids, colorado and Tramadol, among others.

Following the development, stakeholders have called for intensified efforts at ridding the country of this menace in the maritime industry, just as the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) intercepted a 20ft container laden with 150 cartons of 250mg prohibited Tramadol tablets at Apapa port last week.

Importers of the products made false declaration of the items in the container as containing static converter and switches. However, each of the cartons contained 72 rolls with each roll containing 10 packets and each packet containing 10 sachets, while each sachet has 10 tablets.

Customs Area Controller of the Apapa command, Comptroller Yusuf Malanta, said the illicit drugs were tracked from the port of loading in Singapore to Hong Kong, China and several other ports of call to the port of destination in Apapa where Customs officers eventually intercepted them.

The Apapa Command had also in the first quarter of 2022, intercepted hard drugs including Tramadol, codeine syrup, and other contraband valued at over N1.143 billion, just as the Western Marine Command of the Nigeria Customs Service seized 32 sacks containing 2,520 pieces of cannabis sativa, weighing 1,437 kilogrammes with a street value of N168 million on a wooden boat on the Lagos waterways between February and May 2022.

Also, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) last Wednesday, stated that 4,349.25 kilogrammes of assorted drugs were seized on the Lagos inland waterways between January and May, 2022 Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of NDLEA, Buba Marwa, gave the figures during a Port Industry Town Hall meeting organised by Journal NG Help in Apapa, Lagos, with the theme: Towards A Drug-Free Port Environment.

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Marwa, who was represented at the meeting by the agency’s Commander at Apapa Port, Ameh Inalegwu, said the figure was in addition to the two commercial vessels that were seized in November 2021 in connection with importation of illicit drugs. He said the seizure of 74.119 kilograms or 451, 807 tablets of ‘jihadist drug’ known as Captagon in Apapa port, held everybody spell bound, The Trumpet gathered.

In his presentation titled: Evolving A Drug Free Port Environment: Call For Concerted Efforts, Marwa said the maritime industry is at the heart of these components, saying that several arrests and seizures have been made aboard vessels laden with large quantities of illicit drugs at the ports. He said apart from cannabis sativa that is known to be culti- vated in commercial quantities, the seizure of pharmaceutical opiates like Tramadol being exported from Nigeria raises questions such as “how did these large quantities of drugs get into the country?

Marwa explained that a huge chunk of the drugs come into the country through the water ways, adding that the NDLEA had equally resolved to maintain a strong presence at the ports, which explains the monumental drug seizures and the series of engagements of stakeholders, ranging from bonded terminal owners and operators, shipping companies and agencies, as well as other critical stakeholders in the maritime sector.

Also, Registrar of Council for the Registration of Freight For- warding in Nigeria (CRFFN), Sam Nwakohu, in his paper on the Imperatives of Freight Forwarders Compliance in Fight Against Illicit Drugs,” said the fight against drug trafficking was a huge chal- lenge in the country’s maritime domain despite government’s battles with importation and smuggling of hard substances into the country. He said several arrests made by the security agencies have unraveled a mixture of barons, importers, couriers and freight forwarders, who are the agents, shippers and haulage operators, who should be accountable for drug smuggling into the country.

“I refrain from unraveling the identity of some freight forwarders and clearing agents, who were arrested in connection with the seizures, because the cases are already in court. Packages of narcotics are either concealed within cargoes in containers or the structure of the container itself.

Some of the drugs were also hidden in the walls or below the floor of containers and vessels. “Reefer containers used for goods that need to be temperature controlled during shipping have been discovered to provide op- portunities for hiding packages in the refrigeration units. Packages are alleged to be placed by some rogue employees working for shipping companies or terminals,” he said.

The CRFFN boss, however, noted that the increasing number of freight forwarders, including clearing agents and haulage operators, who are arrested in connection with drugs and other prohibited imports shows that the need for compliance by freight forwarders and other stakeholders cannot be overemphasised.

Assistant Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in charge of Information Communication Technology (ICT) and Modernisation, Aliyu Saidu, stated that ships have become the only option for smuggling drugs since they were the only mode of transport that remained largely unaffected.

Saidu, who was represented by the Acting Controller in charge of Non-Intrusive Inspection, Paul Ekpeyong, said the smugglers, upon discovering that perishable goods were more likely to receive casual and hasty inspections due to their nature, started using refrigerated containers and bulk cargoes, especially fertilisers to peddle drugs into the country.

On the consumption of drugs by port users, National President of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Remi Ogungbemi, said truck drivers consume drugs and alcohol, which is peculiar to the nature of their job to enable them to confront and resist the hostile forces of the port environment.

He blamed the indiscriminate drug intake by truck drivers on oppression, extortion and dehu- manisation by different security agencies and hoodlums as well s the unjust hijacking of trucks by road traffic enforcement agencies.

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