Saturday, June 17, 2006

Nigeria: Cannabis Farmers Could Be Winning the War on Drugs

All Africa

A government drug law enforcer has admitted they are struggling to keep up with a booming industry which has seen Nigerian-grown cannabis become "the best in the world". The production, consumption and exportation of cannabis is on the increase in Nigeria.

Farmers can make thousands of Naira for every bale of cannabis grown. Couriers, who may be using vehicles originally bought for government agencies to take the drug to cities, can make at least 400 per cent profit on their purchases. International exports are also on the rise as Nigerian hemp becomes more popular in Europe and the rest of the world, the Daily Trust can reveal. The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) is under-funded, poorly equipped and under-staffed. The Edo state command has only one workable car to fight the smugglers. Three years ago a medic and a policeman were arrested after smugglers were found to be using an Ambulance belonging to the Nigerian Supreme Court to transport cannabis to market.

Law enforcement officers suspect that other cars belonging to the government are still being used by smugglers. The Edo state commander of the NDLEA Mr Okey Ihebom, agreed that the agency's war on cannabis in the country falls below standard. He said there is global demand for Nigerian's cannabis which made the control of its production, consumption and exportation very difficult and challenging.

He said: "The drug war in this part of the country is higher than any other place because, essentially, Edo state is a home for the cultivation of cannabis. They plant Indian hemp in large quantity in this state. There are five states that are leading in the production of cannabis in the country. They are Edo, Delta, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states. But the cannabis being produced in Edo and Ondo states is the best in the world. So, there is a ready market for it anywhere in the world. We also understand that the cannabis from those two states is more expensive. The producers and the pe ddlers are therefore willing to take any type of risk to produce and export the drugs." Lack of cells for detaining suspects is one of the major hitches the Edo state command of the NDLEA is facing, Mr Ihebom said.

Because drug peddlers operate in groups ready to use violence, there is the need for the agency in the state to have a strong jail where suspects could be detained. He said the agency needs money to embark on public enlightment in the state to preach against excessive smoking of cannabis in the state. He said the rate at which people smoke cannabis publicly in the state is becoming very alarming. He said: "People smoke cannabis out of ignorance. When we enlighten the public on the adverse effecting of smoking the drug, I am sure a good number of people will stop the habit and those that are not in the habit of smoking will report to us those they see smoking. We have also realised that a lot of youths are inculcating the habit of smoking cannabis. "We are trying t o see that we discourage people from smoking and exporting the drug. If that succeed, the producers would have to stop farming it because the will not see anybody to buy. I hope it will work. You know right from the state of packaging, there are some package for local consumption with the country and even the neighbouring countries. There are some packages for export. The way they are packaged are different.

"But the ordinary smoker is also very dangerous to the society. The moment one smoke and start thinking he is what he is not, you know there is trouble ahead. So we are out for both the smokers, those trading it, the dealers, the exporters, the producers and the distributors as well," he said. Mr Ihebom said their investigation has proved to them that most communities that produce and consume cannabis are still living in peace. He said: "The perception that cannabis producing or consuming communities are violent, may not be entirely true. Look at Ondo, a leading cannabis producing state in the country and yet it is a peaceful state. "But when you consider the inflow of cash from both within and abroad into cannabis producing communities, you realise that the cash flow encourages crime. That is exactly the case in Edo state. You know because of drug peddling and this international prostitution, there is also a lot of money here and so crime rate is also way high."

"You see, drug war is not a war that should be left for the NDLEA alone to fight. America with all its sophistication, can not be able to stop drug peddling. If you look at the volume of drug that enters America daily, you will be surprise. It is true that with better funding and equipping, we will do more in our struggle with these people," he said. He lamented that his command has made a lot of arrests and has confisticated a lot of cannabis both for local and foreign destinations, but the command has a lot of difficulty confirming the suspects. The NDLEA face problems in getting to the remote farms situated in thick forest which law enforcers would have to cross rivers. Mr Ihebom said: "You can not get a vehicle that can carry you to such farms. The farms are not accessible by any form of vehicle. You will drive into the forest and stop about 20 kilometres away from the farm and trek to the place. "At the farms, the farmers are mostly armed. They know the area better than us. After an exchange of fire, when we over power them, we make arrest and commence the destruction of the farms. It will take us days to destroy a large farm. At times, they will re-group and fight us back with sophisticated weapons. That was how the command lost two of its men recently. In Nigeria, we destroy such farms manually. In abroad, they use helicopters to spray chemicals that kill the plants," he said.

A drug baron who lives at Kwale in Delta state who simply identified himself as Paul, said the society he lives in, does not see anything wrong with the cultivation of ca nnabis. He said it is a trade they inherited from their fore-fathers. Paul said majority of those that buy the cannabis take it as drugs, a good number of other buyers use it to cure different ailments and as animals feeds. He said cannabis is also used in making soap and body and hair cream.

"So, those of us that cultivate the wheat and sell to major dealers, do not even know what they use them for. We cannot ask the buyers what they will do with the wheat after they buy from us. It is true that the cannabis produced in Edo and Ondo are far better than those produced in other states. We also know that the products from those states are the ones they always like exporting. "You should also understand that there is no single farmer that engages in transporting or marketing the production to other states or export abroad. A farmer remains as a farmer. The barons are businessmen and have nothing to do with farming. The barons do not go up to the farms. When they come and book f or the quantity they want, we will deliver the goods to a safe place for them. They will put them in bags or containers as they wish. "A 25 kilogramme bag of cannabis is sold at about N8, 000. I don't know how much they sell the same bag when it gets to Kano or Maiduguri for instance. Those that export, sometimes come with their compressor to compress them. Five kilogram ordinarily looks bulky could be compressed to the size of a loaf of bread and a cellotape is used to scale it. When it is compressed and cello-taped, there is no way one can perceive the odour of the cannabis. In some cases, they take away their goods and do the compressing elsewhere," he said.

Mary Osabolor served a three year jail term for attempting to export cannabis from Nigeria, said drug peddling is a very risky business. Osabolor who said she has resigned from drug business after being a baron for six years, said drug peddling is one of the fast money making venture in the country. "When you buy a ba g N8, 000 from the farmers and you succeed in bringing it out to the town, like Benin, you sell it about N20, 000. When the same bag crosses over to Zaria or any part of the north, they price it from N30, 000 to N35, 000. If you compress and export same to abroad, you start counting your money as from four thousand dollars. The major set back one will encounter in drug peddling in Nigeria is when one is arrested. But if you buy cannabis of N1milion and is confiscated by NDLEA officials, just go back to the farmers, they are ever willing to give you any quantity you can afford on credit. When you sell, you go and pay them." She said.

Daily Trust investigation revealed that cannabis are carefully concealed and in most cases, conveyed in unexpected vehicles from one town to another. Cannabis are put in bags and loaded into compartment of fuel tankers or loaded in empty drums and transported un-suspected. About 3 years ago, the driver of a Supreme Court ambulance and a mobile po lice man were arrested at Auchi in Edo state conveying large quantity of cannabis in the official ambulance of the court with siren pretending to be conveying a corpse. A convey of five official vehicles from the government house of a state in the Niger Delta were also smashed by NDLEA operatives in Edo state.

Four of the five vehicles were intercepted by the operatives and they were found conveying large quantity of cannabis to an unknown destination. The command has also arrested serving, fake military, police officers and men conveying cannabis in marked and un-marked vehicles. The use of expensive and flashy cars by barons who claim to be important personnel conveying cannabis is a common practice. The trade is ever growing.

By Shehu Abubakar


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