Molly Kilete, Abuja
For a long time, the use of hard drugs by personnel of the Nigerian armed forces has been a subject of speculations, even in clear cases of disturbing patterns of behaviours–such as the inexplicable cases of soldiers who killed colleagues and superior officers and ended up killing themselves.
According to one popular speculation, when posted to operational areas, some military personnel carry along with them a huge supply of hard drugs that would last them for some time. The most damning of the speculations claim such illicit substances are sourced right in their barracks across the country.
All these claims were in the realm of speculation until recently when a memo from the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major Gen. Babagana Monguno (retd) dated June, 10, 2019, addressed to both the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin and the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Tukur Buratai, explicitly directed military authorities to rid the barracks of the problem which it says portrays the services in bad light.
In the letter titled “Sales of Cannabis and other Psychoactive Drugs in Military and Police Barracks in Nigeria”, the NSA specifically warned that if nothing was done urgently to address the situation, it may have an adverse effect on the health and operations effectiveness of personnel and urged the service chiefs to employ intelligence and provost to rid the barracks of these hard substances.
That memo put to rest the question about whether or not trade and traffic in hard drugs exist across the military barracks. The development raised some pertinent questions: What is the nature or magnitude of the drug malaise in military barracks? How is the supply pipeline structured? Who are the peddlers?
These and other questions were the focus of a Saturday Sun investigation conducted across the barracks in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The major findings indicate that hard drugs are not only sold in the barracks, but the peddlers are also members of the service who conduct their illicit trade, in most cases with impunity, from their residential quarters in the barracks. Their modus operandi includes operating a beer joint as a front where the innocuous business of beer and pepper soup acts as a camouflage for the brisk sales of drugs as the case may be.
Findings by Saturday Sun pin- pointed major supply centres for hard drugs, namely the FCT Polo ground, CBA Quarters (near the river), OVA (around the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA)), Shehu Musa Yar’adua barracks and the Lungi barracks.
The polo ground, located along Kubwa expressway, is the ‘depot’ from where drugs flow into all the military barracks. Aside from supplying the barracks community, the polo ground drug enterprise also serves members of the public who come in their large numbers to pick their stuff. Patrons of this illicit drugs market include foreigners, top government functionaries, offspring of well-to-do parents, security agents and wayward students amongst others.
The reporter conducted a reconnaissance of the polo ground and discovered a mushroom of shanties and makeshift accommodation that provide cover for shady transactions. Different kinds of businesses take place, sustained by a steady stream of people that troop in from every nook and cranny of the city. During weekdays, business on the ground is at its peak between 4 pm and 6 pm. At the weekend, the polo ground is a beehive and its business goes on seamlessly for 24 hours.
A very reliable source who re- sides in one of the barracks avowed that most dealers bring in their products from outside Abuja to the polo ground.
“This polo ground is the headquarters where barracks in Abuja get their drugs because they sell all manner of drugs here, people come from every place, including white men, to buy drugs here,” the source asserted.
“There is no kind of drug you will not find here. This has been going on for years and I don’t think it can be stopped now; even if you report to the Chief of Army Staff, he cannot do anything because the kind of people that come here can remove him from his job if he tries to fight them.”
Another source claimed the au- thorities are aware of the going-on on the polo ground. He said: “The most annoying aspect of this is the way our young boys and girls have taken to hard drugs, especially students. If you come here during school hours, especially when they are on break or at closing time, you will see for yourself what these youths have turned themselves into because of drugs. They are not poor people’s children. They are from very rich homes because some of them come with big cars and they mingle with soldiers to take drugs. If you come here on weekends, you will see how they bring very expensive things in exchange for drugs.” Majority of the customers are “soldiers, children of Generals and other big men in Abuja,” he asserted.
At the Nigerian Air Force Base, located along the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Road, Sat- urday Sun found a booming il- licit substance racket. There is a catch, however: peddlers sell only to known customers. An attempt by the reporter to purchase some proved abortive until she went through a regular member who pur- chased it with ease. Strangely, those who sell these drugs are not strang- ers, but personnel of the service and are well known.
Sources in the barracks affirmed that these “barons” are above the law because those who should ar- rest them also patronize them.
At Mambilla barracks, formally known as Gowon barracks, transac- tions in hard drugs within and outside the perimeter of the barracks went on unhindered. Alarmingly, the peddlers are patronized not only by soldiers but also by school chil- dren. The peak hour for the drug business is between 4 pm and 6:30 pm, Saturday Sun gathered. Some of the peddlers use their accommodation as their shops. This is a stark contrast to the situation at Lungi barracks, where personnel who engage in the business do so discreetly.
At Mogadishu Cantonment, also known as Abacha barracks, which is home to personnel of the Nigerian Army, Navy and Air Force, the racket is in full bloom, operated like a family venture whereby service personnel and their children and relatives are actively involved. In the absence of their parents, children and relatives attend to customers. However, because they have been trained, they sell only to known customers, and most times, they sell to strangers only after they get a call from their parents.
A source confided: “These wards, some of whom are students, have become expert in the business as they sometimes sell above the usual price and pocket the extra profit for their personal use.” The consequence, he lamented, has come home to roost. “Now, the barrack is filled with youths who have become addicted to drugs and engage in theft; they break into people’s home and cart away generating sets, mobile telephones, electronic gadgets, motorcycles and other valuables when such persons have gone for duty.”
He continued: “Because the use of burglary proof is not allowed in the barracks, they get easy access into apartments by tearing the window net. Several cases of theft have been reported to both the intelligence unit and the military police, but they have not been able to curb the menace, which in recent months have become rampant.”
At Navy barracks, Kpegi, located after Kuje, Saturday Sun spoke with some naval personnel, all of whom confirmed the existence of drugs business in the barrack. One of the respondents attested that users usually procure their ration from dealers in the neighbouring village whenever the barrack supply runs out.
A naval rating who preferred to be anonymous said: “I don’t take hard drugs but my friends who take it say it makes them strong and I used to see it because they can work from morning till night and don’t get tired.”
The irony of the hard drug racket is glaring at Garki Police barrack. The operators of the racket are policemen, the supposed epitome of the law; they sell not only to their colleagues but also to customers from outside the barracks, a situation that encourages a steady trickle of non-police customers into the barrack from various parts of the FCT. What was worse, the drugs, Saturday Sun learnt, are most often confiscated from peddlers during police raids.
Unlike the military barracks where drug transactions thrive at particular hours of the day, the racket is a 24/7 com- merce in police barracks. “All you need to do if you need it in the middle of the night, is place a call or better still knock on the door of the dealer and you get your package,” a source claimed.
At MD Abubakar Police barracks, located at Dei-Dei, purveyors of narcotics and other controlled or banned sub- stances carry on their trade openly. Residents who spoke with Saturday Sun vented their frustra- tion at a vice that has grown to become a Frankenstein to the barrack.
“We have made several reports to the provost which had not yielded any result, so we stopped complaining,” said a po- lice Inspector.
Another police officer corroborated this position: “Selling of hard drugs here in our barracks is not a new thing. It has been here a long time and the sellers operate without fear. They boast that nothing will happen, and truly nothing will happen, because we have complained and nothing really happened. These people have a way of settling those in authority who are supposed to stop them from this bad business.”
Another source who also does not want to be mentioned, said: “We are tired of complaining. The vice is beginning to affect some of our children, some of them are now into drugs.” He added: “These teenagers steal money and other valuables just to go and buy drugs. As a result, some families are beginning to send their grown-up children, both boys and girls, to live with their relatives out- side the barracks so they won’t join their mates to take drugs”.
As it is in the military barracks, the peddlers in Police barracks operate beer/pepper soup joints from their apartment.
Saturday Sun contacted the Defence Headquarters on its actions to tackle the menace. The Director, Defence Information, Colonel Onyema Nwa- chuku said: “Though I am not privy to the memo reportedly raised by the office of the NSA, I must state without ambiguity that psychoactive drugs are outrightly banned in our military cantonments and barracks. No individual or group of persons is allowed to ingest, use, peddle or trade in such highly controlled sub- stances within military premises. Possession of hard drugs is illegitimate and anyone caught in pos- session of such drugs is promptly apprehended and handed over to the appropriate regulatory agency for prosecution. We positively engage our youth and personnel in the barracks with training exercises and empowerment programmes as well as sports to keep away from such indulgence”.
When contacted, Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Colonel Saghir Musa said: “I cannot comment on this, please bear with me.”
Contacted via Whatsapp chat, the director of Naval Information simply responded thus: “Who is this please?” The director of Public Relations and Information of the Nigerian Air Force did not respond.
Police Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, promised to comment on the matter. He was yet to respond at the time of filing this report.