According to the 2022 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report, West Africa has become a hub for drug trafficking and production, with a significant increase in the production of synthetic drugs in recent years.The report also highlights that the region has become a transit point for drugs coming from South America and Asia, destined for Europe and other parts of the world.
The UNODC 2022 World Drug Report confirms that the production of synthetic drugs is on the rise in West Africa, with Nigeria being a major player in this illicit trade. Synthetic drugs, such as methamphetamine, and ecstasy (MDMA), which are highly addictive and have devastating effects on users, including psychosis, heart failure, and even death, are increasingly intercepted in the country. In the last quarter of 2021, Nigeria’s South East region was hit by an outbreak of abuse of methamphetamine, known locally as Mkpuru Mmiri. Twenty-one clandestine laboratories have been discovered by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in Nigeria since 2011, including two illicit methamphetamine laboratories in 2022. On 16 March, 11 days before the workshop, 59 kg of Methamphetamine intercepted in the Philippines was traced to an originating point in Guinea-Conakry, which further buttressed the possibility of a widespread of undiscovered clandestine laboratories across the West African region.
The increasing interception of illicit drugs originating from West African countries necessitates the need for law enforcement officers across the region to work together, to share knowledge and experience that will give frontline officers at interdiction points the exposure that aids easy identification of equipment, chemicals and other materials used in clandestine laboratories to produce illicit substances.Importantly, too, they need to learn safe practices and procedures required to dismantle clandestine laboratories.
From 27 to 29 March 2023, UNODC implemented the Workshop on the Dismantling of Clandestine Laboratories bringing together 25 participants from various law enforcement agencies of seven countries of the Economic Communities of West African States (ECOWAS) region including the Republic of Benin (Organized Crime Fighting Unit, Customs and the Central Narcotics Office), Côte d’Ivoire (Narcotics Squad from Judicial Police (DPSD), Customs, National Gendarmerie, Transnational Crime Unit, Forensic Police Laboratory, Joint Airport Interdiction Task Force), Ghana (Narcotics Control Commission), Liberia (Transnational Crime Unit), Sierra Leone (Serious Organized Crime and Counter Terrorism Coordination Directorate), The Gambia (Drug Law Enforcement Agency of The Gambia), Nigeria (National Drug Law Enforcement Agency and INTERPOL. The objective was to share the best practices in the dismantling of clandestine laboratories used in the production of illicit drugs, with Nigeria, through the NDLEA, as the lead facilitator of the workshop.Sharing her knowledge and experience, Mrs Margaret Ogundipe, Director, Forensic and Chemical Monitoring Directorate of the NDLEA, discussed the hazards associated with the dismantling of clandestine laboratories, impressing on the participants the importance of the correct usage of
Personal Protective Equipment in such tasks. Drawing examples from experience, she illustrated how strict adherence saves the lives of frontline officers and ways in which improper use of PPE could result in serious injuries and death. Participants were also schooled on tell-tale signs that indicate the existence of a clandestine laboratory in a location and subsequently taught how to safely dismantle a clandestine lab.
Mr Kouma Yao Ronsard, Secretary General of the Inter-ministerial Committee for the Fight against Drugs, who represented the Minister of Interior and Security for Côte d'Ivoire, General Vagondo Diomande, thanked UNODC for bringing together law enforcement officers using the platform of the Organized Crime: West African Response to Trafficking (OCWAR-T) project. He informed the organizers of the interest of the Minister in further building more capacities of law enforcement officers in this very specialized subject in the dismantling of clandestine laboratories.
Similarly, Nigeria Ambassador in Côte d’Ivoire, Mr Martin Adamu, represented by Mr Damilola Abikoye, Consular Officer at the Nigeria Embassy in Côte d’Ivoire, extolled the training as a crucial step in the development of regional initiatives to combat organized crime in West Africa.Dr. Amado de Andrés, UNODC Regional Representative for West and Central Africa, who addressed the participants at the conclusion of the workshop, said: “Over the next five years, we will have to work together, so that your combined expertise can be used to train other regions of the world.”
In conclusion, Nigeria, leading in the sharing of experience and knowledge with other member states in the ECOWAS region on the subject of dismantling clandestine laboratories used in the production of illicit drugs is a welcome development. This initiative will help to reduce the proliferation of illegal drugs in the region and its devastating consequences while increasing Police to Police cooperation between the ECOWAS Member States.
OCWAR–T is a project to support ECOWAS and its Member States in reducing Transnational Organized Crime. For this purpose, the project is strengthening structures, capacities and improving knowledge. Specifically, it supports efforts in criminal investigation and prosecution, improving small arms control and reducing human trafficking.
The project is commissioned by the German Federal Foreign Office (AA) and co-funded by the EU. The Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) jointly implements this project with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) and Mines Advisory Group (MAG), the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GI-TOC). The project covers all fifteen ECOWAS Member States and Mauritania.