Officials in Nigeria have arrested four Mexican nationals who allegedly helped create a "super lab" for producing large amounts of synthetic methamphetamine, potentially signaling a new level of drug trafficking sophistication in West Africa.
Mitchell Ofoyeju, spokesman for Nigeria's National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), confirmed authorities had arrested eight men -- four of whom were Mexican -- allegedly responsible for running the meth lab in Nigeria's southern Delta state, reported the Associated Press (AP).
According to the AP, the lab was capable of producing 4,000 kilograms of methamphetamine a week, with Ofoyeju saying it was the first industrial-scale production of meth found in West Africa, possibly even the African continent. (Methamphetamine labs were first discovered in Nigeria in 2011, and several small-scale labs have been dismantled since.)
The lab was designed to produce a type of synthetic methamphetamine that does not require ephedrine, a common precursor chemical typically found in cough medicine, reported YNaija, a local news source. This style of the drug requires a more complicated and sophisticated production process, with Ofoyeju saying the "Nigerians invited the Mexicans in to leverage their expertise in these industrial-scale, high-yield productions."
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The arrests were the result of undercover work that led to simultaneous raids in three cities, including Lagos, Nigeria's largest city.
At the time of the raid, the lab was producing its second batch of methamphetamine, and 1.5 kilograms of meth and 750 liters of liquid methamphetamine were seized, reported the AP. Investigations indicated the lab had a successful test production in February.
The drugs produced at the lab were reportedly destined for Asia, mainly Singapore and Malaysia, where the drugs sell for as much as $300,000 a kilogram (compared to $6,000 in Nigeria).
InSight Crime Analysis
Perhaps most notable about the discovery of the "super lab" in Nigeria is the direct involvement of alleged drug production experts from Mexico.
Indeed, the hiring of Latin American methamphetamine "consultants," and the lab's industrial-scale production capability, may signify a notable shift in West Africa's role in transnational drug trafficking.
Previously, the region has been an important transit hub for Latin American cocaine destined for Europe.
Now, however, it appears homegrown West African criminal networks are looking to dramatically increase their involvement not just in drug smuggling, but in drug production as well. Following the raid, NDLEA spokesmen Ofoyeju said Nigerian-produced methamphetamine is becoming increasingly competitive in Asian and South African drug markets, and that local drug networks are shifting to more complex production processes.
Signs of the increasing sophistication of local drug organizations ring alarm bells in a region that has struggled to contain the corrupting influence of drug trafficking, with Guinea-Bissau perhaps the most emblematic case of the threat drug traffickers pose to West African nations.