Importation of illicit and hard drugs into Nigeria through the seaports 

Recently, at the swearing-in ceremony of executives of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col Hameed Ali (rtd) spoke the minds of many Nigerians when he acknowledged that there is an unprecedented importation of hard and regulated drugs into the country.

The Customs boss who was represented by the Coordinator Zone 'A' of Customs, ACG Dahiru Aminu urged ANLCA members to stop rendering their services to importers of Tramadol drugs,  saying that many young Nigerians are being destroyed by its consumption and addiction.

Neither the Nigeria Customs Service nor the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control) NAFDAC) has come out with comprehensive statistics of the huge importation of fake, banned, regulated medicaments, including Indian hemp. 

As recent as last week, the Controller, Federal Operation Unit Zone ‘B’ of Nigeria Customs Service; Usman Dakingari said that the unit had seized hard drugs including Tramadol and Viagra. The seized drugs were handed over to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

In February this year also, Comptroller Jubrin Musa of the Apapa Area command of the Nigeria Customs Service disclosed that the command seized N110m worth of controlled and prohibited pharmaceutical products imported from India. 

The seized drugs include cartons of Tramadol Hydrochloride tablet, Tramadol capsules of different milligrams, Collstop Chlorpheniramine Maleate Capsules and Dobumol Anagestic. Others included:  Col-Cap capsules, Ibramol, Chest and Lungs tablets, and Rally Extra.

In October  2017, the Federal Operations Unit Zone ‘A’ of the Customs told journalists that, three container loads of fake Acicep, Lemdafil, and Ciprogyl drugs have been intercepted by officers of the Nigerian Customs Federal Operation Unit in Lagos. The same unit, on April 10, 2018 said it had seized 98 bags and 570 parcels of Indian hemp.

We have taken the pains to itemize the above few seizures to underscore the fact that drugs come into the country through land border and seaports.

 It is however a fact that at the seaports, there has been intense battle between the Nigerian Ports Authourity (NPA) Nigeria Customs Service and the NAFDAC over the latter’s presence at the ports to be a part of examination of imported drugs. 

A few years ago, the NPA had announced the ‘sack’of NAFADAC and some other agencies from the port, in what it claimed would enhance efficient cargo clearance. Officials of the agencies were accused of corruption and hindering efficient cargo clearance at the port.

But, following renewed illegal importation of sensitive chemical substances, food, drug and others, the federal government recently ordered that NAFDAC should return to the nation’s sea ports.

Recently and sadly too, the Apapa command of the Customs affirmed that NAFDAC can not be part of cargo examination, and that it can not be in the port. It said, whenever NAFDAC’s presence is required in the case of examination of imported drugs, NAFDAC would be invited. This is unacceptable! 

By its enabling Act, NAFDAC is empowered to statutorily operate at the ports. So why should either the NPA or Customs attach conditions to this.

NAFDAC and others, including Customs, NPA get advance copies of manifests of ships to know what is onboard and enroute Nigeria. This statutorily means that NAFDAC has as much information and more on these drugs than both NPA and Customs. 

We agree with those who have argued that, the clearance of regulated products outside of the current legal framework as enshrined in the NAFDAC Act poses immediate and life threatening risks to the public. 

Non-adherence to the statutes is largely responsible for the mass injection of dangerous drugs into the society as unregistered, spurious and falsified products exit the ports without recourse to the agency’s approval for such products to be in the market.

 We are inclined to agree with the Director General of NAFDAC, Professor Christianah Adeyeye who said that the return of the agency to the ports will restore its key responsibility of monitoring imports of sensitive chemical substances, food, drug and other regulated products.

It is our hope that, NAFDAC’s return to ports will effectively control the importation of narcotic drugs and chemical substances identified to be grossly abused and posing public health and security threats to the nation

Having stated the above, NAFDAC is also present at the various land borders, and there is a higher influx of these drugs from this entry points. This is attested to by the various seizures from the Federal Operation units of the Customs.

It is sad that Nigeria has jettisoned the use of scanners at our ports. When the Destination Inspection Agents were in charge, the scanners were installed and were working, the moment they were sacked and they handed over these scanners to Customs, they packed up. Physical examination is not the way to go, its shortcomings are overwhelming; one of being the failure to capture all drugs that are coming into the country. 

One fact is certain, and that is that there is need for collaboration and mutual respect between Customs and NAFDAC to ensure that these drugs don’t have unhindered access into Nigeria.