Nigerian law enforcement officials said they have seized more than six metric tons of illegal drugs, including cocaine and marijuana, in the northeastern state of Borno this year. Authorities are expressing concern that drug trafficking and a growth in local drug use now threaten the area, even as the nation continues to battle radical Islamist militants there.
In addition to the drugs seizure, as many as 61 people have been arrested over the past six months, according to a special task force. Authorities showed reporters two rooms full of seized drugs valued in the millions of dollars.
Borno state's attorney general and commissioner for justice, Barrister Kaka Shehu Lawan, said the job of rooting out these "drug barons" is far from done. "The illegal routes are not even known to the authorities themselves," noted Lawan. "We have plan A when the barons have plans A, B, C. They always think ahead of the authorities."
He said checkpoints and raids in the state capital, Maiduguri, have been instrumental and that authorities are working to develop an informant network.
He said in one large bust, authorities intercepted two men transporting 2,900 kg of marijuana in a lorry truck outside Maiduguri and then raided the traffickers' warehouse apartment.
Authorities in Nigeria's Borno state said not all of the drugs are just passing through. Abuse of over-the-counter medicines like cough syrup is an emerging problem among young people in Maiduguri, but use of illicit drugs appears to be on the rise as well.
Experts said West Africa remains a key supply route for organized crime organizations moving these drugs to Europe.
The U.N. Security Council called for greater regional cooperation against traffickers this week, saying that as much as $1.2 billion worth of cocaine passes through the region's porous borders each year.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said the dynamic is also shifting, so that West Africa is no longer just a transit point but is a "growing destination, with more than a million users of illicit drugs."
Abdulkareem Haruna reported from Maiduguri, Nigeria.