The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime UNODC has lamented the massive influx of illicit drugs and narcotics through the sea routes of the Gulf of Guinea region.

Programme officer of the UNDOC, Sernia Giuseppe, who spoke in an interview on the sidelines of the ongoing three-day Global Maritime Security Conference GMSC in Abuja, regretted that the increasing volumes of these illicit drugs is further worsened by the extremely fragmented legal frameworks among member states of the Gulf of Guinea.

The theme of the conference organised by the Federal Ministry of Transport through the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA in partnership with the Nigerian Navy is: “Managing and Securing Our Waters”.

According to him, apart from violent maritime crimes in the region, one of the biggest issues is the massive inflow of drugs by sea, citing the 2014 seizure by the Nigerian authorities of over eight tonnes of tramadol being smuggled into the country through the seaports and another 150 tonnes in 2018, which he described as massive in terms of the quantity being smuggled into West Africa through the seaports.

He also cited the recent seizure of over 10 tonnes of cocaine by the authorities in Cape Verde, which is very huge in terms of its street value and another large quantity in Guinea Bissau recently, noting that the region has been a soft target for these illegal drug imports.

On the way forward, representative of the UNODC Country Office Nigeria, Oliver Stolpe, said there was urgent need for member nations of the Gulf of Guinea to synergise and evolve legal frameworks, which would be included in their national frameworks that facilitate the fight against illicit drugs and other maritime crimes in the region.

“We need coastal countries to evolve legal frameworks domesticating the relevant international conventions and protocols and include same into their national legal frameworks. These member countries should domesticate Article 17 of the Vienna Convention, which authorises coastal countries to board vessels of foreign flags suspected to be carrying illicit drugs and narcotics to seize them before they come into the country.

“But one of the challenges is that the legal frameworks of these member nations are extremely fragmented. There has to be international, regional and even sub-regional collaborations among West African states to bridge the gap”, he said.

He also disclosed that the UN on its part has been doing a lot in terms of helping member nation’s evolve legal frameworks, build capacity for the judiciary officers, prosecutors and security agencies in terms of prosecution for these maritime crimes.

He however commended Nigeria for undertaking some initiatives, which are in line with the UN assistant programmes, one of such being the recent passage of the Piracy Suppression Bill by the National Assembly and its subsequent  assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari in May this year.

Stolpe noted that the passage of the Piracy Suppression Act by the Nigerian authorities represents the first comprehensive legal framework to tackle maritime crimes in the country, which constitutes a large portion of the Gulf of Guinea.

He also acknowledged the efforts of Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Justice for creating a dedicated maritime crime unit in the ministry charged with the responsibility of prosecuting maritime crimes, assuring that the agency will continue to assist and partner member states of the Gulf of Guinea to curb massive smuggling of illicit drugs and narcotics.