NISS, UNODC Report: Organised Crime Main Drivers of Insecurity in Nigeria

Bennett Oghifo

A new report launched yesterday by the National Institute for Security Studies (NISS) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) finds that organised crime is one of the main drivers of insecurity in Nigeria, posing an acute threat to its people, economy and environment.

The report, Organized Crime in Nigeria: A Threat Assessment on the occasion of the annual conference of the Heads of Drugs Law Enforcement Agency Africa hosted this year by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency in Abuja.

According to a statement issued by UNODC, “The study aims to improve our collective understanding of illegal markets in Nigeria and the structures and modus operandi of criminal groups operating in and out of the country.

“By dedicating our collective talent, energy and resources to this task, we can defeat the scourge of organized crime and give Nigeria the prosperous future it deserves,” noted A.S. Adeleke, head of the National Institute of Security Studies, while presenting the report at the launch event.

“The report found organised crime to be one of the main drivers of insecurity in Nigeria, posing an acute threat to its people, economy and environment.

Organised crime, the statement said, “is a complex and diverse phenomenon.” The report contains seven thematic chapters which focus on different aspects of organised crime that are present in Nigeria: cultism, maritime crime, kidnapping, the manufacturing and trafficking of illicit drugs, wildlife and forestry crimes, the trafficking in persons, and the smuggling of migrants.

“Nigeria’s strategic location along global shipping routes between the Americas, Europe and Asia, its large-scale transport infrastructure and its porous borders make it an attractive target for criminal organisations that use the country as a base and transit point for their operations.

“Youth unemployment and widespread multidimensional poverty provide a large pool of potential recruits for criminal organizations.

“Governance gaps combined with an abundance of natural resources often located in remote areas offer strong incentives for engaging in criminal activities. On the other hand, overburdened law enforcement and security agencies pose limited risks to the operations and profits of criminal organsations,” the report said.

According to the report, “Over the last two decades, organised crime affecting Nigeria has evolved structurally, becoming both more violent and more sophisticated.

“Drug markets have undergone multiple changes, with Nigeria no longer being only a transit country for cocaine and heroin but having also become a major market for drugs, in particular pharmaceutical opioids, and a producer of cannabis and methamphetamine.

“Maritime criminals, often referred to as ‘pirates’, are adapting their tactics to evade law enforcement efforts and increase their illicit profits. From robberies of ship stores and crew’s property to the hijacking of oil tankers, they now attack ships with the purpose of kidnapping crew members for ransom. 

“Kidnapping, including both mass abductions and individual kidnapping, has become a serious driver of insecurity in Nigeria. The number of incidents doubled between 2019 and 2020, and doubled again between 2020 and 2021, with more than 400 documented incidents and 5200 victims.

“Over the span of just 10 years, Nigeria has become a hub and source for the illicit extraction and trafficking of wildlife and forestry products, in particular ivory, pangolin scales, and rosewood, mainly to Asian countries.”

Trafficking in persons, the report said, stands out for the physical and psychological toll it takes on its victims, most often Nigerian women and children. Today most victims are trafficked within Nigeria and the region for sexual exploitation, forced labour or domestic servitude. Victims of trafficking continue to be rescued in Europe and the Americas and, increasingly, the Middle East and Asia.

“Though the number of Nigerians migrating to Europe fell significantly between 2019 and 2021, those who decide to make the journey often see no alternative to using a smuggler, due to a lack of access to travel documents or legal migration pathways. Nigerian nationals are involved in migrant smuggling at every stage of the journey: as recruiters in Nigeria, as smugglers who accompany the migrants, and as “receivers” in destination countries.”

The report also explores in detail the nature of groups dominating these criminal markets. While organized crime groups operating in Nigeria were traditionally loosely constituted networks which formed for short periods of time around powerful individuals to exploit specific criminal opportunities, there is an increasing prevalence of hierarchically structured groups with clearly established membership that outlive individual leaders, most notably cult groups.

Most cults were originally established to pursue objectives of social justice, yet some have evolved over time into powerful mafia-type secret societies that control criminal markets and engage in various illegal enterprises, including extortion and all forms of trafficking. Today cults no longer limit their operations to Nigeria but have come under the radar of law enforcement in various other countries, notably in Europe.

Organised crime has dire consequences for the well-being of Nigerians. It fuels political instability, threatens economic activity, deters foreign and domestic investment, and diverts resources and attention away from key sectors such as education, health and infrastructure.

The report provides specific policy recommendations to help policymakers, practitioners and international partners alike in forging a coherent approach to preventing organized crime, protecting the victims, pursuing and prosecuting the actors, and promoting partnerships and collaboration.

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