Obasanjo warns: Methamphetamine will destroy Nigeria

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Former Nigerian leader, Olusegun Obasanjo has handed over a timely warning to the authorities: growing methamphetamine drug production, smuggling and export ‘business’, will destroy the country and its politics.

Obasanjo who now heads the West African Commission on Drugs said the production of meth in the region was raising the threat of drug-fuelled instability and urged leaders not just in Nigeria, but the entire West Africa, to wake up to its dangers.

“It is now affecting our politics because money earned from drugs is going into politics,” he said.

“You have drug barons who are now sponsoring politicians, or who (are) in fact going into politics themselves,” Obasanjo told the Reuters news agency in an interview.

Indeed Obasanjo is not crying wolf.

Nigeria’s National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA has discovered 10 methamphetamine labs since 2010.

“They are not just mom and pop labs, they are big labs,” said Rusty Payne, a spokesman of the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

The Nigerian labs, called Clan Labs, are being set up, with the help of Mexicans,Payne said, adding that the labs must be big to be worth the Mexican’s efforts. Mexican drug gangs likewise play a central role in the meth industry in North America.

Reuters in a major report highlighting the methamphetamine crisis in West Africa cites the growing seizures of the drug in countries such as Senegal.

In one instance in Senegalese town of Koumpentoum, customs officers who impounded a stash of pill discovered in a bus coming from Mali, thought the haul was fake or counterfeit drugs.

Days later, according to two officials involved in the seizure, a top officer from regional headquarters took a closer look at the trove and identified it as the drug methamphetamine. The 81 kg (179 pounds) stash was worth an estimated $12 million or more based on the street price for the drug in Tokyo, where much of it ends up.

 

The seizure was one of three in Senegal so far this year. It highlights the new and fast-growing role West Africa is playing in the global drug trade, not just as a transit point for drugs but also as a producer of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS).

Smugglers of Moroccan hashish have long crossed West Africa on their way to Europe or Asia. Over the past decade, the region has also become a major transit point for Latin American cocaine headed to Europe. But local and international officials say West African criminal groups are now producing and exporting hundreds of millions of dollars worth of methamphetamine – or meth – every year, most of it shipped to Asia.

Climate dictates where cocaine, heroin or hashish are produced, but there are no such constraints on meth. The synthetic drug is derived from ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, two medicines that are used to treat ailments from nasal decongestion to asthma. As anyone who has seen the television series “Breaking Bad” knows, meth can be manufactured even with basic equipment and a simple understanding of chemistry. The potential profits are huge: One kilo of meth costs around $1,500 to make in West Africa but sells for around $150,000 in Japan.

The powerful stimulant is smoked, swallowed, snorted or injected by hundreds of thousands of users there, in the United States and elsewhere. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says meth is increasingly popular in East and Southeast Asia. Meth gives users an intense rush, heightens attention and curbs appetite. It is highly addictive. Over time, addicts usually suffer anxiety, weight loss and tooth decay.

One reason West Africa is a good production zone, according to law enforcement officials, is the region’s weak controls on imports of meth ingredients. Imported legally for use in products such as cold medicine, they can easily be diverted and transformed into meth by boiling, filtering and then combining them with other chemicals.

 

Pierre Lapaque, head of UNODC in West and Central Africa, puts production of the drug in West Africa at around 1.5 tonnes per year. That’s small by world standards – just a little over one percent of the 107 tonnes that was seized around the globe in 2012. But it is up from zero in the region just five years ago.

“It is pretty alarming,” Lapaque said.

Africa’s place in the synthetic drug market was, until recent years, limited to South Africa, which has a domestic market and feeds the global supply chain.

The surge in production elsewhere on the continent is part of a broader boom in the global amphetamine-type market. UNODC says annual methamphetamine seizures more than doubled between 2010 and 2012.

The first sign that synthetic drugs were being produced in West Africa came in 2009 when chemicals including MDP-2-P, used to make ecstasy, were found at a lab raided in Guinea. UNODC estimates some $100 million of ecstasy could have been produced from the precursors found there.

The same year, a Nigerian expelled from China was arrested with a manual on how to cook meth, said Ahmadu Giade, head of Nigeria’s National Drug Law Enforcement Agency.

“Nigeria at that time wasn’t prepared for that type of drug because we knew nothing about it,” said Giade. He sent a team to South Africa to investigate how police there handled meth labs.

In 2010, Nigerian agents stumbled across a meth lab in a place called Monkey Village. Sunday Drambi Ziramgey, commander of a National Drug Law Enforcement Agency team, was one of the first on the scene. He described a bungalow where each of the four rooms housed a different stage of the cooking process. In the kitchen, they found cooking pots, burners and compressing machines. A web of light bulbs had been strung up to dry the meth.

A 2010 U.S. investigation into cocaine smuggling in Liberia also uncovered plans to produce meth in the country for shipment to the United States and Japan.

A 2011 report by Nigerian law enforcement officials, seen by Reuters, details a step-by-step guide for meth production and distribution which was taken from a Nigerian deported from China. The guide included contacts in Ghana, Iran, Thailand and China who would help find couriers and buyers for meth.

A senior DEA official listed Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana and Guinea-Bissau as possible locations for meth labs.

Mame Seydou Ndour, Senegal’s anti-drug tsar, said making meth across the region had multiple advantages. “The transport cost is reduced. There is less risk in Africa. Labour is cheaper here too – with poverty there are plenty of people who are ready to get involved,” he said.

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