Friday, May 7, 2021

SPECIAL: Behind Abuja notorious SARS office, an illicit drug market thrives

The hilly drug market that links in Guzape District has been operating for over a decade. Always ready for any eventuality, drug dealers are armed with dangerous weapons.

• February 24, 2021
A section of young men gathered to trade and use illicit drugs, including tranquillisers diazepam and tramadol, in Abuja. February 12, 2021. Photo: Idris Ibrahim for Peoples Gazette.
A section of young men gathered to trade and use illicit drugs, including tranquillisers diazepam and tramadol, in Abuja. February 12, 2021. Photo: Idris Ibrahim for Peoples Gazette.

A few metres away from the disbanded Special-Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)’s headquarters lies a hill drug market for illicit varieties drugs and substances in Abuja Peoples Gazette investigation revealed.

The illegal drug business at the hill is thriving under the nose of police and other relevant security agencies who could not end it over the years.

The hill, popularly called ‘Torobola,’ is located opposite Apo roundabout that links Asokoro and the highly developed Guzape District within the capital city metropolis.

Despite its proximity to the disbanded SARS’ office, the high ground serves as a drug haven for dealers and users of illicit drugs.

Torobola drug market in Abuja
Torobola drug market in Abuja

After several visits, the Gazette gathered that hard drug users enjoy a certain level of immunity and little or no harassment from security agencies.

In its 2018 report, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that the prevalence of drug abuse in the country’s North-Central, including the Federal Capital Territory, is 10 percent, recording over 1.5 million users. UNODC noted that illicit drug abuse often disrupts family lives, loss in productivity, and other insidious issues in society.

Torobola drug market in Abuja
Torobola drug market in Abuja

The hilly drug market that links Cadestral Zone AO9 in Guzape District has been operating for over a decade. Always ready for any eventuality, drug dealers are armed with dangerous weapons.

“Give me one card of diazepam with one bag of ‘Arizona,'” the Gazette reporter posing as a buyer said.

“Your money is N1,250,” the drug dealer announced, stressing that a bag of ‘Arizona’ (synthesised marijuana) goes for N1,000 while one card of diazepam that contains 10 pieces sells for N250.

Prices agreed. The dealer mentioned that he had other substances for sale: heroin, pentazocine, tramadol and diazepam injections. Marijuana, crack opium (pipe smoke), exol, codeine, D5, and ecstasy pills were also on display at the market. Though the federal government has banned tramadol and other syrups containing codeine, the drugs are readily available under the police’s nose.

Torobola drug market in Abuja

A drug dealer known as ‘Baba T’ told the Gazette that law enforcement agencies are aware of the drugs market’s existence.

“They constantly raid this place to extort money from drug dealers and users. The dealers usually give the police ‘returns.’ But I can’t specifically tell how much they give them,” a scrap trader claimed.

Force Headquarters
Force headquarters, Louis Edet house Abuja

“Most times, we do see their patrol vans in front of the mountain at night whenever they arrest a drug user that comes down from the mountain. One has to pay at least N10,000 to bail yourself depending on the kind of illicit drug you’re caught with.”

However, the scrap trader was more upset with the police and the FCT task force operatives who destroyed the scrap yard and are now looking away from an illicit thriving drug market in ‘Torobola.’

“It’s pathetic that the government destroyed a legal business and recognised in this country while they leave an unlawful business,” he complained.

The Gazette had reported how police and the Abuja Environmental Protection Board operatives razed a scrap yard market in the ‘Torobola’ axis, destroying goods reportedly worth millions of naira.

A Lagos-based criminologist, Victor Okhai, said it’s a big embarrassment that such an illicit drug market operates under the watch of the police. 

“There are drug cartels everywhere and every force has good and bad elements globally, it may not be too different from what is happening in Nigeria,” Mr. Okhai said. “Now that the police command is aware of the uphill drug market in Abuja is a big embarrassment and they need to act swiftly to ensure that the illicit drug market is closed permanently.” 

“Also, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) need to revoke the land or property from the owner where they sale these illicit drugs,” he said.

NDLEA Officers
NDLEA Officers (Credit: Nigeria Guardian)

The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, saddled with tackling drug trafficking and pushing in the country, told the Gazette that illicit markets are raided regularly, but the dealers and buyers find it easy to regroup and continue their outlawed activities.

“These spots become an easy attraction for the illicit trade because the relevant authorities have not made use of these spaces for what they were designated or allocated for,” spokesman Femi Babafemi said in a statement to the Gazette. “The NDLEA will continue to raid these areas until we rid the capital city and indeed every part of Nigeria of the criminals.”

Since assuming office last month, NDLEA new chief Buba Marwa has launched a nationwide campaign against illicit drugs trade and use. Dozens of arrests have been made and drugs estimated in billions have been uncovered and marked for destruction. Yet, the nation’s capital still harbours pockets of hard drugs corners, especially in Wuse Zone 4, Garki 2 and Guzape District.

Buba Marwa
Buba Marwa

Abuja police’s spokeswoman Mariam Yusuf also acknowledged that the ‘Torobola’ illicit drug market exists.

“Yes, the command is aware of the area you mentioned in Apo. The police have been carrying out raids (there) constantly,” explained Ms. Yusuf.

When probed further on the number of persons prosecuted following the raids, the police spokeswoman told the Gazette to speak with the NDLEA.

“The command has made countless arrests. You may wish to approach the NDLEA too for more details,” she said. 

But Abuja-based public affairs analyst Majeed Dahiru said authorities have not done enough to curb the drugs crises around the nation’s capital.

“While it is commendable for law enforcement agents to raid and clear up an area notorious for being the headquarters of drug peddling in Abuja,” Mr. Dahiru said. “It is pertinent to ensure that this den of drug dealers and addicts is permanently dislodged.”

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