Contrary to popular belief, cocaine and heroin are no longer out of the reach of the common man, writes Chux Ohai.
One afternoon in March, our correspondent set off in search of joints where hard drugs were sold and consumed in parts of Lagos. Along the line, the search led to a narrow street, just off the busy Olowu Street and adjacent to the popular Ipodo Market. Known as Ilo Street, it is lined on both sides with crowded shops on most days of the week.
On this particular afternoon, a number of people, idle men from the look of it, sat at the back of a wooden kioks in front of a storey building. One of the men occasionally passed tiny wraps to the others in exchange for money.
Our correspondent observed the transactions for a while and then, without being noticed by the others, beckoned to one of the men – a gaunt and wrinkled fellow whose bloodshot eyes darted a quick and suspicious glance.
The man gave his name as Yakubu Mohammed. Obviously guessing that our correspondent desired some of the stuff wrapped in paper, he offered to help him get it.
“If you want Charlie or Thailand, I can assist you to get some. Alaye won’t sell to you because you are new here,” Yakubu said in Pidgin English.
Alaye was the fellow who had been passing the wraps to the other men. As it turned out, he was a dealer in hard drugs and the words ‘Charlie’ and ‘Thailand’ stood for the street names of cocaine and heroin.
Our correspondent was able to buy two tiny wraps of cocaine and heroin at N100, but not without attracting curious stares from the other drug users.
“They suspect you may be a policeman or NDLEA official,” Yakubu explained. He cut the picture of a young man whose whole existence revolved around hard drugs. He had just had a fix that afternoon and was clearly a shade too excited.
After combing the area for a while, our correspondent discovered more addicted drug users and not less than six dinghy drug joints between Ilo Street and Ipodo Road, obviously the hub of a thriving illicit trade in narcotics in Ikeja.
Further investigation showed that most of the joints were located in filthy surroundings, often near crowded and busy streets, especially in densely parts of Lagos, such as Ikeja, Ogba, Agege, Mushin and Somolu.
Young men and women, some barely in their teens, often loiter around such places, eager to grab an opportunity for a quick fix. In a particular joint on Akala Street, Mushin, a nursing mother sitting on a mat quietly sniffed from a substance in a piece of paper, while her baby yelled for her attention.
“Some of these people you see here have no homes. This place is their home. Day and night, you will find them here. This is where they always hang out. The only time they leave here is when they need money desperately for another fix,” a resident of the street said, on condition of anonymity.
When asked why he had not bothered to report to the police or NDLEA, the man said, “It is risky. Some law enforcement agents are practically on the pay roll of these people. Some come here in disguise to buy drugs, too. What if I go to a police station to report and somebody leaks my identity to them? That will be too risky. Most drug addicts are criminals. They are capable of anything. They could kill or maim if they suspect that you are a threat to them.”
Also, in the Mushin area, Igbarere, Anifowoshe, Umoru, Akinbiyi and Alhaji Lasisi Streets, among others, are dreaded and avoided by many law-abiding Lagosians because of their collective role in the wider trade in hard drugs.
A resident once described the area as the “unofficial hard drugs market. Illicit transactions between drug pushers and their customers take place in many of the shops found on the streets. You can easily tell a drug joint by the filthy curtain hanging at the entrance. When our correspondent visited there, a few young men could be seen openly smoking Indian hemp, now a common ‘food’ in many parts of the city, as it is in many others in the country.
Normally, influential Nigerians are associated with cocaine, heroin and other related narcotics. While children of the rich, for instance, flaunt the drugs in schools, it is said that some wealthy people go as far as sharing cocaine and heroine to their guests at some social functions. But most of the addicts encountered on the streets of Lagos were clearly from poor backgrounds.
The three major drugs in popular demand among drug users in Lagos are cocaine (known as ‘Charlie’), heroin (‘Thailand’) and Methamphetamine ( ‘Meth’ or ‘Fast-track’).
Sometime in January, Governor Babtunde Fashola expressed concern over the discovery of illegal methamphetamine production plants in parts of the state. This added another dimension to the general awareness of a looming drug crisis.
“Meth is relatively new in Nigeria. But it is the most powerful, addictive and dangerous. It is three times as potent as cocaine. That is why those who are addicted to it are always hyperactive and restless,” says Pastor Ade Adeleye, the founder of the Word of Life Rehabilitation Centre.
Often referred to as the ‘poor man’s cocained’ Meth is a whitish, odourless and bitter substance that easily dissolves in water or alcohol. It can be taken orally, intravenously or by smoking and snorting.
In 2010, the drug became central to the Federal Government’s campaign to rid the country of narcotics after eagle-eyed NDLEA officials observed an outward flow of the drug from Nigeria to Western and Asian countries. This was the warning bell that foretold the possibility of illegal meth factories flourishing within the country.
Before then, Meth became popular for its capacity to enhance s*xual performance and for its medical property as a pain killer.
For some time, it was imported into the country by drug barons perpetually on the lookout for quick profits.
Our correspondent tried in vain to obtain the drug, which sells for N50 per capsule. He was informed that it could only be purchased over the counter. Even then, most retailers will not sell to a buyer they hardly know, not until he is identified by a regular and trusted customer.
But a tip-off from a former drug addict compelled an unsuccessful search for an unidentified meth production plant in Oregun.
“I heard the plant is run by some Oriental people and they are very discreet,” the source said.
In terms of street value, meth is cheaper to buy than cocaine or heroin. But sources say drug barons are prepared to invest a lot of money on it because of the high profit margin. Perhaps this explains why it is relatively easily available.
Other drugs often abused by users in this part of the world include Indian hemp (also known as marijuana or cannabis), amphetamines, glues and hallucinogens, such as LSD.