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Not many people understand the reason for the frenzy that attended the recent seizure of a large quantity of Captagon, a brand of Amphetamine shipped from a Middle East country to the Apapa Port, in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria.
The drug, hidden inside a container, had passed through three countries, including a North African country before it arrived in Lagos and its eventual discovery on September 1, 2020, tucked away inside the rotors of three marble polishing machines. A consignment of 451, 807 tablets, weighing 74.119 kilograms, was discovered. At $25 per tablet, the drugs’ worth was $11.3million, equivalent to N5.8 billion.
Captagon has a turbulent history tied to the war-torn Middle East country of Syria where various militant groups, particularly fighters of the Islamic State group reportedly used it to increase their strength and prowess in battle.
While the seizure by the NDLEA was the first time that Captagon was recorded to have been trafficked to a country South of Sahara, it has for years now achieved notoriety as the drug of choice in the Middle East, especially in the Arabian Gulf where it is known As Abu Hilalain, meaning “Father of Two Half-moons”, in reference to the two-letter “c”s (for Captagon) on the pills. Captagon, a member of the amphetamine family, is similar to Viagra in effect, being a stimulant that keeps the user awake and alert for a long time.
By and large, Captagon is tied to Syria, where the prolonged civil war has made its production by various militant groups uncontrollable, becoming the country’s illegal export that even surpasses Syria’s known export of olive oil.
There have been numerous seizures of the drugs, especially in Europe and the Middle East in the past three years. All the seizures were invariably smuggled from Syria (or in some cases, nearby Lebanon) including the 35 million Captagon pills found inside a shipment of electricity cables in the UAE in February 2020; 44.7 million of the tablets seized by Saudi Arabia authorities two months later in April; 14 tonnes of the pill impounded in Italy on July 1, 2020; and 13 million tablets found in Egypt later in November. A month later, in December 2020, Italian authorities, again, intercepted and confiscated 14 tonnes of the drug.
Since the beginning of 2021, seizures of Captagon have been recorded every other month, starting with the January seizure by Egyptian authorities of eight tons of the pill; the February discovery by Lebanese customs of a shipment of 5 million Captagon pills at Beirut port, hidden in a tile-making machine, heading to Greece and Saudi Arabia; the April Saudi bust of 5.3 million Captagon pills hidden inside fruits imported from Lebanon; and the June busts of 14 million Captagon tablets inside a shipment of iron plates coming from Lebanon and a shipment of 4.5 million of the pills hidden inside orange cartons.
In July, manufacturers of Captagon were still trying to get a big shipment of the illicit drug into the Saudi Arabian kingdom but their effort was foiled by Saudi customs when it was discovered that 2.1 million Captagon pills were hidden inside a tomato paste shipment.
What should give any discerning Nigerian a nightmare concerning the latest discovery of the drug on our shores is the fact that its production and sale is controlled by militias and large criminal groups in the Middle East. Captagon has been identified as a factor in the escalation of the Syrian Civil War. The prevalent theory is that ISIS and other warring factions in the Syrian civil war are behind the production and sale of Captagon as a means of generating funds for weapons and combatants, and for use as a stimulant to keep them fighting. It is also cold comfort to know that Captagon was the name of the drug found on the phone of the French-Tunisian terrorist who killed 84 civilians in France on Bastille Day in 2016.
Given the dark and dangerous background of Captagon, it’s not difficult to guess correctly that the destination for the seized drug is none other than the camps of insurgents and bandits running amok across Nigeria.
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