Nigeria's drug agency warns on funding
13 February 2014, 13:41
Lagos - From heroin stashed in human hair to drugs concealed in tins of sardines, Nigeria's anti-narcotics agency is used to having to deal with increasingly ingenious attempts at smuggling.
But where once the west African nation was only a key staging post for getting drugs such as cocaine and heroin around the world, it is now facing a battle to contain a growing problem at home.
Nigeria is involved in "all levels of the drugs business", Femi Ajayi, director-general of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), told AFP in an interview.
"Nigeria was a drug transit country in 1990. But now it is a drug transit, drug warehousing, drug consuming and exporting nation. We export every drug now."
As such, one senior official suggested current funding of the federal agency was "grossly inadequate" to combat the illegal trade, potentially hampering future expertise.
Ajayi for his part warned that if nothing was done, the country's already fragile internal security could be compromised.
"When we underfund or neglect NDLEA, we are indirectly voting for a country of drug dependants and drug addicts," he said at the agency's headquarters in Lagos.
"Adequately funding NDLEA is therefore a vote for national security."
Official agency figures indicated that the organisation's annual budget has been in steady decline in recent years.
In 2011, when it had 3 200 employees, the budget was 633 million naira ($3.9m) but in 2014, 441 million naira has been allocated, despite staffing going up by 2 000.
In its 2013 World Drug Report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes, said Africa was becoming increasingly important in the global drugs trade.
Cannabis use in Nigeria was above the average for west and central Africa of 12.4%, while the country had the highest number of seizures of the drug in the region.
Growing cannabis has expanded from Nigeria's southwest to the southern oil states of Edo and Delta, central states of Kwara, Kogi and Benue, and Kebbi in the northwest.
Cultivation of the drug is seen as increasingly attractive, leading to a decline in the cultivation of local cash crops such as cocoa, rubber, kola nuts, cassava, cowpea and yams, said Ajayi.
The NDLEA said it destroyed 2 322 hectares of cannabis plantations between 2011 and 2012 and seized drugs worth more than estimated 33 billion naira in 2012 alone.
Some 360kg of drugs were destroyed between 2011 and 2012.
Concern over drug use
NDLEA figures indicated that it had a 98% success rate in prosecutions between 1990 and 2011 and that the number of suspected drug traffickers had fallen in recent years.
Recent arrests at the country's airports include a 54-year-old grandmother with a kilogramme of heroin in her hair and a 48-year-old widow with 66 wraps of methamphetamine in her body.
Suspects have previously been found with drugs concealed in fried chicken imported from Brazil, industrially-packed tins of sardines, herbal syrups, palm oil, steel-moulding machines and rug carpets.
Ajayi said more resources were needed because they were also facing a different threat from more organised - and ruthless - drug kingpins.
At least 70 agents have been killed across the country since 1990 and officers have come under attack during raids.
An official at the justice ministry claimed that if the NDLEA's budget was being cut, Nigeria was "just not serious" about tackling the problem.
"I want to believe there is a deliberate attempt by politicians to cripple NDLEA by starving it of funds," the official said, on condition of anonymity.
But the justice ministry spokesperson, Ambrose Momoh, denied that the agency was being singled out.
"I do not know why it is so. But I am aware that poor government funding cuts across other agencies and ministries. So, it is not only NDLEA that is suffering from under-funding," he told AFP.
"The supply and trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances is raging and ravaging Nigeria," added Ajayi.
"Drug trafficking is still a very major problem despite our successes. I am worried."