The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has released its Global Cocaine Report for 2023, which, without mincing words, is immensely worrying for Nigerians. 

The 184-page report disclosed the trends in cocaine trafficking worldwide and noted that Nigeria played a “significant role in smuggling activities across West and North Africa.” 

We went through the report and highlighted the big talking points from it. Here’s what you should know.

[Nigeria as a coke hub / SBM Intelligence]

Nigerians trafficked cocaine to 20 countries between 2018 and 2021

Based on the UNODC’s aggregated report, between 2018 and 2021, Nigeria was a primary origin of cocaine trafficking to 20 territories. The countries within West Africa were Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mali, Ghana, Niger and Liberia. 

Transit countries in Africa were Morocco, Ethiopia and Algeria. In the Asian-Pacific region, destination territories were Australia, China, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, India and Malaysia. The Middle East and South-West Asian destinations were Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The UK and Turkiye were the European destinations for cocaine from Nigeria.

The most common means of cocaine trafficking is through mules via a widespread trafficking network

Data on 52 specific cocaine seizures from 2019 showed that Nigeria also trafficked cocaine to neighbouring countries besides the primary destination. These include Benin, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Cyprus, Italy and Spain. In April 2020, Saudi Arabia authorities disclosed that cocaine trafficked by air from Nigeria was “on the rise.”

Out of the 52 seizures, those outside Nigeria were trafficked by air using drug mules. Nigeria’s seizures were trafficked by mail, express parcel or commercial flights—a small number of these used vehicles.

In Brazil, in each year between 2018-2020 and the first four months of 2021, Nigerians were the most frequently occurring foreign nationals arrested at Brazilian airports for being drug mules. 

The report notes, “The most prominent departure country for cocaine reaching Nigeria is Brazil. Thus, despite the established and well-connected presence of Nigerian traffickers within an international network of actors and counterparts trafficking cocaine (and other drugs), notably concerning trafficking by air, given the available seizure data, it is plausible that the volume of cocaine transiting Nigerian territory is a relatively modest share of the quantities reaching West and Central Africa.”

Cocaine comes into Nigeria via popular routes

According to the report, cocaine comes in virtually through all major airports, land borders, and seaports.

Cocaine arrives in Nigeria via various channels, including bulk carrier vessels arriving at seaports such as Apapa, Tincan Island, and Onne. 

They also come in via passenger flights into airports such as Lagos, Abuja, Enugu, and Kano. They travel across land borders at various locations. These include Seme (border with Benin) and llela (border with Niger). Courier companies and postal services also delivered drug parcels.

Nigeria dominates the cocaine trafficking trade in Africa especially at dealer and mid-level

Nigeria leads in drug trafficking in Africa, followed by Morocco in North Africa, with a sizable presence of Nigerians involved in cocaine trafficking. However, the analysis by the UNODC suggests that the role of Nigerians is relatively vital at mid-level and dealer levels rather than large-scale trafficking.

[Source: UNODC]

Nigerian trafficking gangs have an established presence outside the country

Cabo Verde is a Lusophone country in Africa. It’s a stopover point for maritime vessels moving across the Atlantic Ocean towards North Africa or Europe. A 2021 report by the Dublin Group assessing the scale of the drug problem in West Africa said, “Nigerian criminal gangs are well established in Praia (the capital), Mindelo, and the island of Sal.” 

Take Côte d’Ivoire as another example. Lebanese, Brazilian, Italian and Nigerian criminal groups control cocaine trafficking. The report warned about the spread of Nigerian cult groups involved in the trafficking trade in Europe and South America. 

Addressing the trafficking problem

Ghada Waly, the UNODC executive director, warned that the potential for the cocaine market to expand in Africa is a “dangerous reality”. She asked governments to look into the report’s findings and provide solutions to these threats.

According to The Cable, in September 2022, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) seized 1.8 tonnes of cocaine said to be worth ₦194 billion in Lagos state. The confiscated drugs were suspected of belonging to members of an international crime syndicate. 

While this is laudable, there’s still a long way to go. The UNODC report highlights a few challenges that still need to be addressed by the government. They include the porous borders through which drugs still pass. There’s also the problem of cultism which has not only exported itself but has now become entwined with the drug problem. 

The connivance with security agencies, as has been alleged, needs to be addressed. Shipping lines that abet drug trafficking, as the NDLEA alleges, need to be identified and dealt with. High unemployment is a pressing concern as this drives young Nigerians to a life of crime.

Ultimately, the war against drugs is a long and arduous one. There are no quick fixes. To reverse this trend of Nigeria’s worrying dominance in drug trafficking, the government must proactively tackle the listed challenges head-on.


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