Trafficking of Opioid Pills Used by Boko Haram Suicide Bombers Soars in Sahel

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Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri with agency report

The United Nations has warned of a rise in trafficking of the synthetic opioid tramadol across West Africa, as one official revealed it is being found in the pockets of suicide bombers.

The warning came as suicide attack on an internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp in Pulka village, in Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno State has left three persons dead and seven others injured, an aid worker, Bukar Amin told THISDAY.
Seizures of the drug have skyrocketed since 2013, from 300kg (660lb) to more than three tonnes a year, the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said.

In September, three million pills in UN-logoed boxes were found in Niger.
The opioid is known to be popular with Islamist militants Boko Haram.
The pills – which can be legally prescribed as painkillers – are thought to be used to calm the would-be attackers, with The Guardian previously reporting that the terrorist group stuff it into dates which they then feed to children before sending them to their deaths.

Some 600,000 pills bound for the group were seized on the Nigeria-Cameroon border in August.
Pierre Lapaque, the UNODC’s West and Central Africa representative, warned the situation could not be allowed to “get any further out of control”, as it continues to undermine global security.
“Tramadol is regularly found in the pockets of suspects arrested for terrorism in the Sahel, or who have committed suicidal attack,” Lapaque said.

“This raises the question of who provides the tablets to fighters from Boko Haram and al-Qaeda, including young boys and girls, preparing to commit suicide bombings.”
The UNODC said the abuse of the drug – usually smuggled from Asia through the Gulf by criminal gangs – is escalating into a major health crisis in the Sahel, particularly in northern Mali and Niger, with sub-Saharan Africa’s young population potentially providing traffickers with an even larger market.

One woman in northern Mali told the agency she regularly saw children little older than 10 walking around “after taking or being given pills in their tea in order to help reduce their feeling of hunger.”

People taking the drug illegally are thought use a dose up to five times higher than usual medical prescriptions, the UNODC added. Three Killed, Seven Injured in Suicide Attack on IDPs Camp
Meanwhile, suicide attack on an IDP camp in Pulka village, in Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno State has left three persons dead and seven others injured.

According to an aid worker, Bukar Amin, he said: “A suicide bomber came to the entrance of Camp 4 around 11a.m. on Monday morning and detonated the explosives strapped to her body and at the last count, we have three deaths and seven injured persons.”

Another official, Bunu Bukar who spoke with THISDAY from Maiduguri on phone, said: “Yes, there was a suicide attack on a camp in Pulka on Monday, three persons died and seven other persons were injured.”

Bukar, who is the Secretary of the Hunters Association in Borno State, added: “Our fear is that, the insurgents would want to use the festive period to create problems in order to seek relevance therefore, people should be extra careful and support security personnel with information at all times.”

A military officer, who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media, said the clusters of camps in Pulka and Gwoza have created a new security challenge.
He said: “We have clusters of camps spread across, all within Pulka town and this is due largely to the growing population of IDPs especially, those recently brought in from Cameroon.
“This has created a challenge both in terms of security surveillance and service delivery especially, as the town has no telecommunications network to ensure ease of monitoring and control.”

Attempts to get official confirmation from both National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and Borno State Emergency Management Agency (BOSEMA) were unsuccessful
Phone calls to both Abdulkadir Ibrahim (Information Officer, NEMA) and Engr. Ahmed Satomi (Chairman, BOSEMA) were not picked at the time of filing this report.
Pulka, is 16 kilometres from Gwoza town, 135 kilometres away from Maiduguri, Borno State capital, North-east

The attack came barely a day after Sunday’s attack where six soldiers lost their lives with a dozen others injured and heavy fighting equipment reportedly carted away when a military convoy was ambushed by suspected Boko Haram insurgents in Sandiya village, around Konduga town on the Damboa /Konduga border, which is 76 kilometres away from Pulka town in Borno State.
Pulka was liberated from the hands of Boko Haram insurgents by the military in early 2016 after been held for close to two years.