Drug trafficking has been a lucrative business for some people for centuries. The business stretches from Far East Asia to Oceania, Americas, Europe to Africa. The increase in the demand and use of drugs and the proliferation of international organised syndicates have only further intensified the global spotlight on the business, particularly the questions asked by various authorities across the world on the legality or illegality of the business.
Countries worldwide frown at drug trafficking and attempt to make it as unmarketable as possible with the severity of various sanctions, yet the business continues to blossom, albeit clandestinely. So, what is drug trafficking? Why are the majority of countries in the world against it? What are the consequences of this business, and how can the chaos associated with it be effectively remedied?
Meaning of drug trafficking
Drug trafficking, according to the United Nations, is a global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of substances subject to drug prohibition laws. Drug trafficking also refers to the illegal selling or transportation of prescription drugs, which has become an increasing problem in recent years. These substances or drugs are grown and prepared secretly and then moved from one place to another and sold discretely. These drugs in question are prohibited drugs, known by law in many countries as controlled drugs.
This international trade involves growers, producers, couriers, suppliers, and dealers. These mentioned people are interconnected worldwide and operate in a chain globally referred to as a cartel. The cartel devises ever-more creative ways of disguising illegal drugs during their transportation to avoid entering the web of law enforcement agents.
The major prohibited drugs cultivated, sold, and distributed by this cartel are cannabis, heroin, and methamphetamine. Other controlled drugs that are illicitly used in this drug trafficking business include:
- Stimulants: lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse), methylphenidate (Ritalin), and amphetamine (Adderall)
- Anabolic steroids: danazol, fluoxymesterone, mesterolone, and testosterone
- Depressants: anti-anxiety tranquillizers (e.g., Valium), sleeping pills (barbiturates), and Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol)
- Hallucinogens: ecstasy (MDMA), mescaline, LSD, peyote, and psilocybin
- Narcotics: codeine, fentanyl, oxycodone, and hydrocodone
- Dissociative anaesthetics: dextromethorphan and phencyclidine (PCP)
For an individual to be pinned down as having played a role in the drug trafficking syndicate, such a person must have been involved in the sale, transport, or importation of such drugs or intended to sell or deliver the drugs. Alternatively, people found wanting to have been involved in this illicit trade should naturally have a large amount of cash traced to the business or keep business records detailing their sales and purchases of these controlled drugs.
As of 2014, the global illicit drug market was worth between US$426 and US$652 billion, according to Transnational Crime and the Developing World, a report prepared by the renowned think tank Global Financial Integrity. This indicates that despite efforts by governments to stem the tide, the business continues to flourish for the people involved.
Drug trafficking in Nigeria
The history of drug trafficking in Nigeria is linked to the period just after the Second World War when Nigerian soldiers, who had served in Burma, India, came back with seeds of the Cannabis Sativa plant and planted them. They subsequently discovered that the plant grows well in some parts of Nigeria, and this led to an increase in the cultivation of the plant.
Drug trafficking was relatively on a low scale in the 1960s and 1970s. It, however, dramatically increased in the 1980s, partly due to the political instability in the country. A whole market involving supplies of raw materials and a distribution network for the finished product has emerged, operating clandestinely.
According to the United Nations, Nigeria is a transit point for heroin, cocaine, morphine, cannabis, and methamphetamine intended for European, East Asian, and North American markets. The country, alongside its West African counterparts, has been a conduit for smuggling large amounts of cocaine from South America into Europe and North America since 2004. This drug trafficking business in Nigeria is further aided by the relatively high rate of drug abuse in the country due to the continued availability of illicitly manufactured and diverted pharmaceutical products containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
Substantiating this point, a 2018 National Drug Use Survey conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) revealed that the drug use prevalence in Nigeria is 14.4 per cent. This is far higher than the annual global average of 5.5 per cent.
To stem the tide, the Nigerian government established the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) under Decree Number 48 of 1989. The agency, which formally began operations in 1990, is charged with eliminating the growing, processing, manufacturing, selling, exporting, and trafficking of hard drugs in the country.
Causes of drug trafficking
Drug abuse occurs due to several factors. They are:
Poverty and unemployment
For persons who do not have any meaningful source of income, the drug trafficking business is, for them, a good source to earn money. A huge number of people lack the financial resources and essentials for a minimum standard of living across the world, especially due to the high unemployment status and failure of the government to provide a conducive environment for its citizens.
It is, therefore, not surprising when some of them agree to indulge in the business and collect whatever amount the cartel offers them. To such persons, they are not mortgaging their future, despite the risks and consequences of their actions. Instead, these people state that they are only looking for the means to survive.
Increase in demand for purchase and use of drugs
Across the world, there is an uneasy demand by the final consumers for the purchase and use of drugs. Some people demand drugs for recreational purposes (which are then abused), while others want substances to get a higher level of ecstasy for creative purposes or to cope with painful feelings, such as anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Due to this increase, drug cultivators are spurred to continue to grow the crops on their farms, while the wholesalers, distributors, and middlemen handle the distribution and sale aspect of this business. Since it is extremely difficult for law enforcement agents to grab hold of some of these persons, they and the business largely go undetected.
Peer pressure is also a (negative) cause of drug abuse. Due to the issues of unemployment and poverty, people who are not strong-willed and are yet to develop a mind of their own can be easily influenced by their friends, who may have abused these drugs and distributed them and encourage them to engage in the business to make money, as well as get some reserves of the drugs for themselves.
Greed and get-rich-quickly syndrome
The need to fulfil their selfish desire for wealth is the reason why some persons continue to engage in drug trafficking. Despite knowing the inherent dangers of the business and the security implications, members of the cartel simply want to get more money and damn the perils associated with this trade. They want to quickly get rich without engaging in legitimate business, and they believe drug trafficking is the best way to get money. Sometimes, the drug trafficking business gets passed down from generation to generation.
Lack of or poor education
Nearly 70 per cent of drugs are primarily trafficked over the land borders of various countries. This is partly due to the help rendered by the uneducated persons, especially individuals living in border towns, to the cartels/syndicates. With the help of the poor uneducated people living on the borders, traffickers can move these illegal drugs with ease. However, these border residents and uneducated people get involved in this business without knowing the consequence of what they are getting into.
Porous borders and corruption
Probably due to their poor remuneration or avarice, some members of law enforcement agencies who are supposed to ensure a near-to-total eradication of drug trafficking, instead collude with drug traffickers to facilitate the movement of these prohibited drugs clandestinely. The complicit security officials who facilitate the movement of these illegal drugs are aided by the porous land borders of their countries, and since they know the unsecured areas of the borders, they discreetly advance the movement of these drugs through such areas. The security officials get “rewarded” by these drug traffickers to get the task done.
Also, due to poor borders, traffickers use violence and threats to make sure that they get their commodities over the borders.
Dangers of drug trafficking
The effects of drug trafficking, as earlier mentioned, majorly has negative consequences. These consequences
Festers drug abuse
Drug trafficking festers the problem of drug abuse. The abuse of drugs weakens and destroys an individual’s physical body. The excessive usage of drugs gradually weakens and incapacitates the brains of addicted persons. It subsequently alters the brain and affects individuals’ ability to make proper decisions, sound judgment, and learn and memorise. In addition, it also makes affected persons look haggard (especially if they do not eat properly), slurs their speech, causes either sudden weight loss or gain, and leads to slowed breathing.
Higher doses of medicine may alter or disfigure internal components in people’s bodies, affecting the function of their lungs and kidneys and effectively destroying it. This causes all manner of illness and renders the body ineffective, leading to mental ailment or even death.
ALSO READ: Revenge porn: How to prevent and combat it
Legal troubles and severe punishment
Drug trafficking is widely regarded as a serious offence around the world. This may result in legal problems for affected persons, such as arrest for the distribution, sale, and possession of banned substances. These arrests may lead to criminal penalties such as imprisonment, payment of fines, or even the death penalty in countries where drug possession and abuse laws are very strict such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. If the drugs are sold to underage people, then the penalties for trafficking may be harsher than in other circumstances.
Forfeiture of assets
Following their conviction, persons associated with drug trafficking can be mandated by the courts to forfeit all assets related to the drug trafficking business, such as bank accounts, cars, or properties used in the crime. The seizure of assets is ordered by the courts based on the severity of the crime committed.
Escalation of violent crimes
Drug trafficking is thought to be directly linked to violent crimes such as murder and gun violence. It is a major source of revenue for organised crime groups. In a bid to sustain their illegal trade, drug traffickers are involved in other forms of serious crime such as firearms, modern slavery, gang knife attacks, and immigration crime.
Asides from the crimes perpetuated by drug traffickers, these drugs that are distributed and sold by traffickers have long-term consequences on individuals as they are a particular driver of violence across the world. There is an increased level of violence, and weapons-related crimes resulting from illegal drugs trafficked and eventually possessed by individuals. This has a devastating impact on countries in terms of violence, exploitation of vulnerable and indigenous people, and environmental destruction, and it constitutes a real threat to the national security of counties.
Violence associated with drug trafficking often leads to the loss of lives or the sustenance of varying degrees of injuries, including permanent disability, by people. Asides from the loss of lives, the livelihood of millions of citizens in the affected areas where the violence occurred are decimated due to the destruction of their homes and properties.
Affects international image and reputation
Countries that indulge in or encourage any form of drug trafficking are censured by the comity of nations for the act. In some cases, the international community distances itself from the affected countries or even ostracizes such nations completely from global affairs. The affected countries are further pummelled with heavy-hitting sanctions, which ultimately affect their economies and the standard of living of their people.
How to stop drug trafficking
- Adequate sensitisation and education by the family, schools, health agencies of government, religious institutions, civil societies, and the media on the dangers of drug trafficking
- Effective implementation, review, and strengthening of laws, especially provisions that deal with drug trafficking
- Arrest and prosecution of members of cartels/syndicates and their principals who engage in drug trafficking by agencies mandated to tackle this menace
- Strengthen and make improved funding available for the main agencies in charge of tackling drug trafficking (e.g., NDLEA in Nigeria) and other related agencies such as the police.
- Stronger collaboration between countries to tackle drug trafficking, especially as it is an international crime
- National governments should reinforce and ensure effective security at their national borders
- The need for drug addicts to get professional help (medical, psychological, and counselling) and make lifestyle changes to withdraw from drug abuse and, ultimately, lessen their demand for drug supply
- Strengthen and improve the economy by governments at all levels to empower their citizens through legal means and reduce the level of poverty