By Enemona Johnson Okpanachi
Chairman and Chief Executive, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, Col. Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah (rtd.), has been unequivocal in decrying the persistent influx of illicit Tramadol into the country in the last two years.
According to the Chairman/Chief Executive during his June 26, 2018 anti-drug day media parley, “this unfortunate influx is an indication that Nigeria has become a country of choice for the illicit tramadol merchants.”
Many Nigerians were shocked that NDLEA had seized a total of 102, 90.48 kilograms of tramadol between January 2017 and March 2018, compared to 58,804.67 kilograms of the same drug seized in 2016.
It is within this background that the seizure of 581 million tablets of tramadol yet again by NDLEA in an ongoing search operation at Apapa Sea Port in Lagos came as a shocking and cheering news to all Nigerians. Without sounding alarming, it appeared that by the time the Agency is through with the search operation, almost a billion tablets of the deadly Tramadol would have been intercepted.
This operational success by the Agency is a product of a painstaking intelligence drive. Following the Tramadol crisis in the country and the entire West African sub-region, the Agency has been gathering intelligence on the shipment of illicit Tramadol into the country.
It was learnt that the intelligence available to the Agency was passed to the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS in the spirit of inter-agency cooperation. Two of the suspected containers first arrived at the Apapa Port late last year, followed by another twelve (12) until a total of 62 of them later berthed. The Agency’s vigilance made it difficult for the importers to divert the deadly consignments.
On November 10, 2017, NCS positioned 12 of the containers out of which six of the containers were found to contain 160 million tablets of tramadol of 220 and 250 milligrams dosage. The remaining containers were not positioned for search until last week Wednesday November 14, 2018 when NCS positioned 23 of the containers from which a total of 581 million tablets of tramadol were seized. As at press time, 39 of the containers are still outstanding, with NDLEA having strong suspicion that several more tramadol tablets would be found from them.
The NDLEA’s crackdown on the importation of illicit Tramadol was as a result of the pervasive abuse of the drug by the populace. It was learnt that NDLEA had in 2017 reached out to National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC for an appropriate template for the suppression of the worrisome supply and abuse of Tramadol.
There was a consensus between the two drug control agencies that the only authorized oral dosage strengths for the market are 50 mg and 100 mg and that any higher dosage is not approved for use in Nigeria and should not be in circulation in the country. This makes any Tramadol tablet in excess of 100 mg an illicit drug over which only NDLEA has the statutory mandate to seize. NDLEA also has the mandate to investigate and prosecute the offenders.
The Tramadol tablets discovered so far are purely illicit, in various dosages ranging from 120 to 250 milligrams are above the permissible threshold of 50 and 100 milligrams. The drug consignments are with all the trappings of illicit drug trafficking. They were imported from India using false documents in the name of an unregistered company.
Tramadol is a narcotic-like pain reliever used to treat moderate to severe pain and comes in approved threshold of 50-100 milligrams. Tramadol which is a derivative of Opiate is essentially for post-surgery application. Curiously, the ones intercepted by the Agency are from 120-250 milligrams making it obvious that the current influx of tramadol is not for legitimate use. The seizures in recent times far outweigh the legitimate needs in the country. It only suggests massive illicit use in the country.
The preponderance of abuse of psychotropic substances such as cough syrup with Codeine, Tramadol and Diazepam is sad development. There is hardly any family in Nigeria today that is not contending with the challenges of a drug dependent person. It is in the same vein that the entire society is battling with the litany of social vices and extreme violence, aggravated by substance abuse.
Another issue of national concern is the linkage between drugs and violent activities in some parts of the country. Consignments of Tramadol and other psychoactive substances are discovered in virtually all terrorist camps that the military has taken over. This attests to the fact that drugs act as intensifiers of violent extremism.
Illicit Tramadol trafficking also comes with economic implications. It is a multi billion naira business capable of distorting the financial system and consequently ruining the economy as the money accruing from the illicit trade is not captured in the national budgeted. Such ill-gotten wealth can only be used to fuel inflation, crimes and criminalities.
As the crack-down on Tramadol continues, it is only expected that all stakeholders will ensure cooperation without any rivalry so as not to undermine the need to bring this illicit drug criminals to book in the overall interest of the nation.