•Identified labs decommissioned, dismantled
•As drug (Mkpuru Mmiri) goes for $500,000 per kilo in international market
By Kingsley Omonobi & Juliet Umeh
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, yesterday, gave gory details of how its operatives busted and dismantled two major clandestine laboratories in Lagos and Anambra states.
A dangerous illicit drug, crystal methamphetamine, called Mkpuru Mmiri, in local parlance, was being produced at the laboratories, at huge risks to the lives of Nigerians, for distribution across Nigeria and export.
Chairman/Chief Executive of NDLEA, Brig. Gen. Buba Marwa, (retd), while addressing the media on the development, disclosed that following the outbreak of crystal methamphetamine abuse in the last quarter of 2021, predominantly in the South-East, and the cry for help from many communities in the region because of the devastating effects the distribution and abuse of the dangerous stimulants were having on their youths and others, the agency deployed all available assets to find the primary source of manufacturing of the drug in Nigeria, and arrest the barons behind it.
Marwa said that efforts in the past seven months against the cartel behind the Methamphetamine scourge have led to the arrest of four kingpins and a cook.
Reads riot act to barons
“Now, we have added two barons and another cook. This, no doubt, is a loud statement to those involved in the criminal/illicit drug trade that it’s time for them to quit or risk losing it all; that is losing their freedom, investment and assets acquired through proceeds from the illegal business.
“The first one, located on Victoria Garden City, VGC, Estate of Lekki, Lagos, was owned by a baron, Chris Nzewi, while the second, in Nise Community of Awka South Local Government Area of Anambra State, was owned by Paul Ozoemenam.”
The owners of these two illicit meth laboratories were successfully arrested, alongside Sunday Ukah from Aba, Abia State, the cook or chemist that produced the drugs for them.
He added: “The laboratory in Lagos was set up inside the Boys’ Quarter building of a four-bedroom duplex. From there, we recovered a total of 258.74 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine and various precursor chemicals used for the production of the toxic drug. The complete paraphernalia of laboratory equipment, such as gas cylinders, giant gas burners, industrial face masks, industrial gloves, tubes and flat-bottomed conical flasks, among others were also found.”
The NDLEA boss said he decided to address the public about the weekend bursts to raise people’s awareness of the danger that meth production constitutes to public health and the modus operandi of the barons involved in the unwholesome activity.
He revealed: “The owner of the laboratory in VGC, for instance, was producing the highly unstable and toxic drug in a house where he lived with his family. This speaks volumes about his insensitivity to the consequences of exposing his family, which includes a three-month-old baby, to the danger of hazardous chemicals. If that is the case, that is an indication that public health was of no concern to him.
Hazardous wastes channeled into septic tanks
“In this particular case, aside from the laboratory being close to the kitchen of the main house, the waste from the laboratory was channelled into the septic tank and soaked away in the compound, with a high risk of contamination of the water table of the entire neighbourhood.
Drugs meant for export, local consumption
“On average, the lab produced 50 kilos of methamphetamine every week with plans underway to increase the capacity of production to at least 100kg per week. Where do these drugs end? From our preliminary interrogation, we now know the drugs from this lab were both for export and local consumption. We also know there is a supply chain of distributors and buyers for export and the domestic market.
“When you consider the fact that the price of this dangerous drug was going for as high as US500,000 per kilo in the international market in recent times, you will understand why Nzewi cared less to put the lives of his own family at risk by producing this in the same house where they live. Hence, taking these two labs out of operation is a major feat in our continuing effort to curb the meth problem.
Baron lives in hotel
In the meantime, he (baron) was living in a hotel at the Admiralty Way, Lekki Phase 1, while production was ongoing in his house. His vehicle was often parked in the compound to give the false impression that he was at home. “We knew this from our reconnaissance. He did not sleep at home on Friday, July 29, 2022, and did not come back to the house the next day.
But the operatives of the agency, who had been on his track for weeks picked him up at 2 pm from his hotel and brought him to the house to be present when the search was conducted on his compound.”
Similarly, the cook was also not resident in the building housing the lab. He, too was lodged in a hotel outside the estate, where Nzewi had deposited a huge amount of money for his accommodation for up to one month. The hotel was the haven that he retired to, after each day’s activity at the lab.
The NDLEA boss noted that the lab busts also exposed the interconnectivity among syndicates involved in meth production, adding that the cook was hired by both producers to produce for the VGC lab, as well as the lab in Anambra.
He urged members of the public to be sensitive to their environment, saying: “As we step up the offensive against drug traffickers, we want the public to be more vigilant and be aware of the fact that producers of methamphetamine always choose unsuspecting environments with tight security, like the VGC estate, in this case.”