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AK47, Tramadol and Boxer – The triad ingredients of Nigeria’s insecurity

As it happened, what I wished to say followed naturally from the points that had been made by the other speakers. Mallam Bala’s conceptualisation of…

I attended an event on Sunday as a member of the audience, only to be forcefully turned into a surprise panelist. The virtual event hosted by the London chapter of the Nigerian Muslim Forum, UK, was the first in a series planned for this blessed month. The series is intended to leverage the enhanced consciousness and community that Ramadhan brings, in order to hold honest conversations on the multifarious issues bedevilling Nigeria, especially the North. Sunday’s event discussed the mutual evils of poverty and insecurity that have conspired to generate our country’s great quagmire. Our own Mallam Bala Muhammad, whose 15-year career as a columnist for this paper ended radiantly last February, was the speaker, with three highly experienced individuals as panelists.

As I savoured Dr Hadiza Kere’s interesting perspective, which followed Senator Kashim Shettima’s characteristically frank review of the issues at hand, I received an unexpected call from the head of the forum, Amir Abdul Razak Ibrahim, who informed me that the third panelist, Inspector General of Police Hafiz Ringim (rtd), was indisposed. Why was he telling me by phone instead of announcing it to everyone on Zoom and Facebook? “Because I want you to speak in his place”. When I tried to resist on ground of want of notice and thus of preparation, he insisted saying these are issues I write and talk about every day. “Mallam Sulaiman Ibrahim (the moderator) will invite you next.” Rather than thinking what I might say, I spent the few minutes I had on changing out of my casual wear and running a comb through my four-month-long hair, thanks to the UK’s third (hopefully final) national lockdown.

As it happened, what I wished to say followed naturally from the points that had been made by the other speakers. Mallam Bala’s conceptualisation of insecurity was simple and straightforward. He broke the scourge into five components that he called the “five pillars” of insecurity that must be confronted: guns, drugs, motorcycles, forests and impunity. Mallam Bala is right; these are some of the biggest factors driving insecurity in Nigeria. I have written on impunity in these pages before, and will do so on the forests in the future. For the moment, let us turn our attention to the lethal triad: as if the AK47 rifle was not dangerous enough, its combination with Tramadol and Boxer creates a self-feeding fire-storm.

Mainly on account of the Libya crisis, now in its 11th year, and our hopelessly porous borders, guns of all calibres have become endemic across our country. Auwal Daudawa, the kidnap kingpin who orchestrated the abduction of the 344 Kankara boys last December, was not exaggerating when he told this paper a few months ago that getting a gun today in Nigeria is “just like you going to buy bread”. With former president and current chairman of the National Peace Committee, Abdulsalami Abubakar’s revelation last week that there are currently over six million weapons circulating in Nigeria, one may be justified to wonder if guns aren’t more common than bread. Criminals across the country are brandishing AK47s like toys while more than half of our population is literally struggling to put bread on the table.

Even more staggering are the statistics given by General Buba Marwa, the chair of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), two months ago. He said there are an estimated 15 million people involved in one or more aspects of illicit drug dealing in Nigeria. He further stated that there are over one million patent medicine stores in Nigeria, of which only 58,000 are registered. That is to say about 95 per cent of the shops selling medicines to Nigerians do so outside the purview of the law or any regulatory oversight. Most of those trading these medicines are unqualified and many are devious. Consequently, fake, substandard and expired pills are sold to unsuspecting patients and prescription-only and illegal drugs are traded freely.

At the top of the list of these is Tramadol, a drug that has come to be the main opioid abused in Nigeria and across West Africa. Evidence shows its massive use by Nigerian criminals. The relationship between violence and opioids is well-established in copious literature. Tramadol and its allies are originally painkillers but when taken in excess they serve as energiser. Its abusers say it makes them forget everything and feel as strong as a bulldozer. It makes armed criminals even more merciless, dangerous and fearless. During my study at Operation Safe Corridor in 2018, I found that 70 per cent of former Boko Haram fighters in the programme have become dependent on Tramadol. They take it before embarking on their horror trips in the name of God.

When offenders finish massacring and destroying, the third of the trio in this catastrophic combination comes handy. Boxer, the Chinese motorbike that first became popular with commercial cyclists and farmers for its strength, speed and durability, has for years been weaponised by criminals. They were conveniently deployed by Boko Haram attackers in the early 2010s, culminating in the banning of motorcycles in Borno, Yobe and across the North East. In the North West, repeated eyewitness accounts tell of how bandits move in a convoy of 100 – 150 Boxers, each carrying three passengers. The same motorbikes have begun to be used by secessionist snipers in the South West. Terrorists and criminals high on drugs deploy powerful weapons to unleash terror and then use their high-speed motorbikes to escape. Taking any out of this mortal equation will go a long way in reducing the destructiveness of the formula.

But neither the AK47, nor Tramadol nor Boxer is manufactured in Nigeria. They don’t grow out of our soil nor drop from our skies. They are imported by human beings and most of these humans are Nigerians or have Nigerian collaborators. The AK47 is already illegal, as is Tramadol without a prescription, while Boxer is banned by many states. Yet, for the blind love of money, unscrupulous elements among us collaborate and conspire with lawbreakers to supply them with these items. They disguise the products, bribe their way and use every method in their cunning playbook to smuggle them in. The fight against these smugglers must be integrated into the very core of the fight against terrorism and criminality. It is as important as combating the principal offenders. Customs and NDLEA officials must work more closely with the military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies to identify supply routes and block them.

But, most importantly, every single one of us has a big role to play. Those aiding and abetting terrorists and criminals by serving as their suppliers live among us – sometimes as respected members of our communities. And in many cases, we know exactly what they are up to. But we don’t report them on the flimsy excuse that smuggling motorbikes and medicines isn’t outwardly criminal. While these people may not see the violence they unleash, they have as much blood on their hands as those who pull the triggers. Those who aid, abet and procure crimes are criminal themselves. We must, therefore, contact the authorities with any information at our disposal. If we do, we are not only helping others, but ourselves too, for any one of us can fall victim.