Nigeria's booming marijuana trade is more than the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) can handle, the agency's commander in Edo state, a center of the trade, told a major newspaper last week. An undermanned, under-equipped, and under-budgeted anti-drug agency can't compete with rising domestic and international demand and few other economic options for northern farmers, he said.
But the narc is making the best of it by claiming that Nigerian bud is now "the best in the world." That claim is open to heated debate, but "Indian hemp," as the locals call it, is now showing up in European markets, where it competes with the best the rest of the world has to offer.
In its 2006 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the US State Department noted that "marijuana/cannabis is grown all over Nigeria, but mainly in central and northern states. Cultivation is generally on small fields in remote areas. Its market is concentrated in West Africa and Europe; none is known to have found its way to the United States. However, domestic use is becoming more widespread. The NDLEA has destroyed marijuana fields, but has no regular, organized eradication program in place. There are no reliable figures to determine crop size and yields."
"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," state NDLEA commander Okey Ihebom told the Abuja Daily Trust. "They plant Indian hemp in large quantity in this state. 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 peddlers are therefore willing to take any type of risk to produce and export the drugs."
The state only has one vehicle for marijuana law enforcement and no good jail, Ihebom complained, and farmers have been known to fight back. "You cannot 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 kilometers away from the farm and trek to the place," he explained. "At the farms, the farmers are mostly armed. They know the area better than us. After an exchange of fire, when we overpower 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 regroup and fight us back with sophisticated weapons. That was how the command lost two of its men recently."
It also lacks an effective prevention campaign. "People smoke cannabis out of ignorance," Ihebom said. "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."
Smoking pot was a bad idea, Iheobom told the Daily Trust. "The ordinary smoker is also very dangerous to the society," he claimed. "The moment one smokes and starts 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.
While Ihebom emphasized violence linked to the marijuana trade, he conceded that wasn't always the case, but he worried that the inflow of money to the impoverished region would be harmful. "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," he said. "But when you consider the inflow of cash from both within and abroad into cannabis producing communities, you realize 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."
Ihebom implicity recognized he was fighting a losing battle, but the tide could surely be turned with some more resources, darn it! "You see, drug war is not a war that should be left for the NDLEA alone to fight," he said. "America, with all its sophistication, cannot be able to stop drug peddling. If you look at the volume of drug that enters America daily, you will be surprised. It is true that with better funding and equipping, we will do more in our struggle with these people."