By Gernot Klantschnig – International Journal of Drug Policy.
International agencies have viewed West Africa as a major player in the global trade in cocaine and heroin and in efforts to control that trade, as there have been reports of escalating arrests of drug smugglers, large-scale drug seizures and ‘narco-states’ in the subregion. It is claimed that a substantial share of the drugs available in Western markets transit through West Africa today and are increasingly used there as well. Notwithstanding this growing alarm, there is little serious scholarship addressing the issue of drugs and drug policy in West Africa.
The article assesses and challenges some of the existing depictions of drugs and drug policy in West Africa through an empirical case study of drug control in Nigeria–one of West Africa’s most notorious ‘drug hubs’ and recently hailed as a policy model by international experts. Based on previously inaccessible government documents, interviews with key officials in Nigeria, as well as ethnographic work at Nigeria’s key drug agency, the article provides a unique insight into the politics of drug policy-making and implementation in West Africa.
After describing the dominant official narratives of Nigeria’s drug control, the article shows how the key political dynamics underlying drug policy remain obscured by these narratives. Nigerian drug policy has been characterised by a highly exclusive policy-making process, repression as the sole means of implementation and a strong bond with international drug agencies. This policy emerged in the 1980s and 1990s and has remained the unchallenged norm until today. The political processes underlying Nigerian drug policy also explain why policy reform has been and will be difficult to accomplish.
These domestic political processes have largely been ignored in the existing depictions of drugs in West Africa, as they have mainly focused on externally driven drug threats and foreign policy responses. Most importantly, they have ignored the role played by the state. Rather than being too weak, the Nigerian state has shown a clear tendency towards repressive and coercive drug policy, which has received little popular support.