By Stephen Ubanna
In spite of the fact that there are two major seports in the south west state of Lagos, Drug barons appear to be using mostly the Lagos port of Apapa, fueling speculations making the rounds that there were moles within the Nigerian Customs service, NCS, and other security agencies working closely with the barons to give them protection on arrival with their drug at the port in the past.
Between 2021 and now, the drug barons were said to have become more courageous to ship tramadol, Condeine syrup and tablets Concealed in Containers through the Lagos port of Apapa believing that their sponsors are their there to use their contacts at the port to facilitate the release and exit of the cargo to their warehouse.
Many had expected that with the arrest and prosecution of Afam Mallinson Ukatu, a multi-billion drug baron, allegedly involved in trafficking 322 kg, tramadol, through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, MMIA, and N3 billion deal to exit the drugs from the airport, after jumping in 2021, should have made others still involved in the illegitimate trade to quit.
Recall that based on the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, uder the close watch of Buba marwa, a retired Army Brigadier-General and former Nigerian Ambassador to South Africa, investigations on the activities of Ukatu, the multi-billionare drug baron, he was said to have made a single importof two Containers containing 1,284 cartons of tramadol through the Apapa port with market value of N22 billion , in October, 2019.
Informed sources told Value News that he and his agents have been a major importer of large Consignments of different brands and dosages s of tramadol Hydrocholoride, ranging from 120mg, 200mg, 225mg and 250all of which are illicit drugs.These alleged agents who may still have had their contacts at the seaports may have formed a new drug syndicate at the Lagos port of Apapa.
Signs that the premier port which has APM, terminal, popular, APMT, as the major Container terminal inside the port and other bonded terminals outside the port including SIFAX would experience much trafficking on Drugs became manifest in 2021, when a ‘’40’’ Container with registration number TEMU 614202 which was transtered from APMT to the SIFX 2, bonded terminal , in Lagos, was intercepted based on intelligence by the Command Enforcement officers. 124 cartons of tramadol were said to have been found in the Container during examination.
Comptroller Ibrahim Yusuf Malanta , the Apapa Command , Area Controller who was said to be upbeat with the illicit drugs found at the SIFAX terminal may have known that the drug syndicate may want to devise new strategies of smuggling the illicit drugs into the country through the Apapa port. This may have encouraged him to tighten up security at terminals and exit gate, which may have informed why they are working closely with the NDLEA, personnel at the port to frustrate the drug barons.
Last July, the Command had impounded a Container load of tramadol that was said to have been imported from the Asian country of Pakistan. The Apapa Command Area Controller had said that the illicit drugs were concealed carefully with towels but the deployment of what he had described as ‘’Forensic Manifest Management System’’, the drugs were uncovered.
Details of the imported tramadol drugs that was said to have been concealed in a ‘20’’ Container with registration number PCIU 0183241 with towels shows that it was laden with 81 cartons of 250 mg each of tramadol and an additional 69 cartons of tramadol tablets of 225 mg each.
The seizure of the illicit drugs by the Apapa Customs Command Agile Enforcement officers may have forced, Marwa, the NDLEA boss, who could not hide his feelings to have given kudos to Comptroller Malanta, the Apapa , Area Controller, as he described as ‘’a great feat’’.
Note that the street market value of the drugs was put at about N6 billion by the Valuation officers, meaning that if the drug baron had succeeded in pushing the various milligrams of the tramadol import into the Nigerian market, he would have become a billionaire overnight, to be in the class of Ukatu, who is currently being detained in Ikoyi prison.
Again, less than a week after the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, at the instance of Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel led Management Team, had ordered the destruction of 48 Containers of tramadol, codeine and other PSschotropic drugs, precisely on Thursday, , August 4, 2022, the Apapa Customs Command intercepted a ‘’20’’ Container with registration number SUDU -7538656 manifested as 272 cartons of stainless steel hot pots. It was said to have been captured and declared as cooking appliances, measuring/checking instrument and furnace burners to escape arrest by the Command Enforcement officers by the alleged importer.
The suspected Container was said to have been positioned , opened and jointly examined by all the relevant agencies including the NDLEA , personnel, and found to contain 55 cartons of tramadol concealed in food flasks worth about N1.4 billion.
The Apapa Command Area Controller who was said to have given a matching order to the officers at the APMT and bonded terminals under the control of the Command to ensure that no illicit drug or other Contraband Pharmaceutical drugs leaves their terminal to enter the Nigerian market may have blocked all loopholes that had been exploited by the drug barons to smuggle drug into the country through the port. This may have informed why, the Command Enforcement officers, are much concerned at what is being released and exited at the Apapa port and bonded terminal serviced by it in the recent time.
The 2022 Fiscal Policy Measures, approved by President by President Muhammadu Buhari, for implementation by the NCS, which was said to have been based on the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Common External Tariff, CET, 2022-2026, which had had been retained from the country’s Import Prohibition list of the ECOWAS, CET, such as Pharmaceutical products as tramadol, Codeine and other dangerous drugs may have encouraged the Command Enforcement officers to thorouly search all Containers released for delivery to the importers with their agents at the port.
A senior Customs officer who spoke to the Magazine on condition of anonymity disclosed no officer wants to play into the hands of Comptroller Malanta, if he hears that one tramadol, a bottle Codeine Syrup or tablet imported through the port found their way into the Nigerian market.
The drug barons who may have tried in the recent time to do what Ukatu, the multi-billionaire, drug baron did in 2019, to exit two Containers of drugs from the Apapa port would never forget their experience in a hurry as they have forfeited both the money and illicit drugs to the government.
Maritime analysts had said that it is not enough for Comptroller Malanta to always announce of seizure of Containers Concealed with tramadol at the Appapa port, without going a step further to arrest one of the drug barons giving the port and the Command a bad name as the NDLEA, did by arresting Ukatu, a drug baron at the MMIA, in May 2022, after jumping bail in 2021. This is the only Nigerians would take him serious in the war against illicit drugs at the Apapa port.
The question on the lips of most people was why Apapa port had remained the only port being used by drug barons since 2019, to bring tramadol into the country within the axis, when there are other ports and terminals. They were said to have cited the Tin-can Island port, Port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PTML, and KiriKiri Lighter Terminal, Phases 1 and II.
Many believe that the drug barons who may have been succeeding in the past to exit tramadol and codeine syrup and tablets out of the Tin can Island port, it may not have it possible now that Comptroller Adekunle Oloyede, described as a digital guru, in Customs circles and the Tin can Island Command Area comptroller without being tracked.
Even the syndicate who were used to Machine Outside, MO, to take delivery of their Consignments at the port in the past andwho have resorted to forging his signature to take delivery of their cargoes may have discovered that they are threading on dangerous path as they have failed in their attempt.