Ganja Paradise: The Story Of Nigeria's Hemp Market


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Worldwide, cannabis is outlawed and effort is being made to rid the globe of the intoxicant but in Nigeria, the plant remains a consumer delight encouraging its cultivation both for consumption and export. Weekly Spectator takes you on a sojourn through Akerele in Surulere, Lagos, one of the country's thriving hemp markets and the dangers of failing to nip the cancer in the bud.

This is the dream of a hemp dealer; to see the sun rise daily in its innate rosy magic while officials go to work and market women hone their wit for the day's bargain. He cherishes the blessed deluge. Students, teenagers and adults, prostitutes, urchins, police officers and soldiers flock to his stall for their daily fix of spiff. And Tajudeen Sule is up to the task.

When duty calls, every other affair comes second. The brown and greenish grain of Asian flora has never failed him. Seventeen years on, he remains a consumer delight. He lives well too. "No salary earner can live like I live," the 32-year-old cannabis merchant boasts. "Here, we live like kings. We live loud. Not that we rob and steal. Business is just too good."
Welcome to the world of Sule, where heaven lies in the thick and heady fume of spiff and hell blazes in the glare of every marijuana-totting youth.

It is hot out there. It is very cold too. Bitter, noon time heat and piercing, steely, coldness of hemp peddlers who ply their trade in the slummy suburb of Akerele, Agege, Lagos. Here, all things merge into one, and a vileness runs through it all. Akerele is a constellation of hopefuls. A melting point of commerce where Igbos, Yorubas, Hausas, Ijaws and other ethnic nationalities jostle for their share from the much touted promises of Lagos.

Within and around the neighbourhood, the shrill blare of passing vehicles, the babble of the various cells of makeshift markets, noise from the music shops, the natters and wild altercation of passenger touts and commercial bus drivers and the heady aroma of marijuana present a gross and squalid picture. And within the chaos, a young secondary school dropout also makes a living. His name is Taiwo, and he is Sule's younger brother.

Like some heat-maddened summer fly, Taiwo bustles about the hemp market striking deals, selling hemp and puffing at his joint as an asthmatic, his inhaler. "I have nothing to say. My brother has said it all. I am very busy," says Taiwo as Weekly Spectator accosts him. Of course, the mad glint in his eyes emphasizes that he wishes to be left alone. However, it is unclear whether Taiwo expends his earnings on booze and easy girls like most of his ilk or he saves a substantial part to cater for his parents' needs like his sibling claims he does.

Ibrahim Atanda affects a slightly pleasant mien. The 31-year-old native of Lagos Mainland is eager to please. Unlike most of his colleagues, his desires are simple. "I enjoy myself too, but I don't like wasting money. I just seek to make enough to feed my wife and two kids," he says. Then, he shuts himself in silence. The kind of silence that speaks volumes, emphasizing his delirium and the futility of coaxing him further.
Wonder what Ibrahim Tajudeen, a.k.a chairman, would think. The godfather of the hemp dealers never admits to his involvement in the hemp business. "I am a businessman. I am also a movie producer among many other things," he says in a clipped drone. Then he reclines into his shell with a warning sneer in his face.

If only he knew that his boys would be less discreet about the exact nature of their business. Contrary to their code of conduct, Tajudeen's boys ease on their guard and warm up to the reporter. However, they refuse to call the object of their trade by its popular names; Indian Hemp, Eja, Pot, Hashish, Spiff, Marijuana, Obi, Cannabis or Igbo. Rather they refer to it as Oja (merchandise).

And worthy merchandise it is that lures Samuel Wright, an aspiring gospel musician and undergraduate of the University of South Africa, UNISA, South Africa, from his Iyana Ipaja neighbourhood to the crannies of Akerele. "Hemp inspires. It relieves me of stress," says Wright. For N30 or more, he gets his daily fix of spiff from Sule, his preferred dealer.
Although 19-year-old Tolani Shogade claims to be a non-smoker, her blackened, caked lips and bloodshot eyes suggests otherwise. "I just come here to see my friend," she drawls before sauntering into the heart of the market.

Despite the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA's efforts at ridding the nation's streets of the banned product, cannabis is still easily obtainable in the country's major cities and suburbs. On the street, a gram of marijuana is sold between N25 and N30. The cost, however, reduces as the quantity demanded increases. From Akerele, African Shrine, Agidingbi, and Oshodi, among the various purchase points in Lagos to Artillery Junction, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, and Owerri, Imo State, the trade in cannabis enjoys a sordid boom.

In Nigeria, cannabis is cultivated in the 36 states of the federation for consumption and export although the plant was introduced into the country in the wake of World War II. Ever since, the country has improved in its production of the intoxicant, recording the second largest cannabis seizure in Africa, after South Africa, in 2004 and coming fourth in the world with 683, 101 seizures; about 11 per cent of the total world seizure according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, 2006 World Drug Report, WDR. Rather than abate, the wave of cannabis cultivation has enjoyed a remarkable fillip within the country over the years while the plant finds its way into the country's major suburbs as well as the rural areas where it is predominantly farmed.

Farmers make thousands of Naira for every bale of cannabis grown and couriers make at least 400 per cent profit in dispatches. Also, international export of the product has increased as home- grown cannabis becomes more popular as "the best in the world", reveals Okey Ihebom, the Edo State commander of the NDLEA.

Raphael Okon, a courier based in Benin, Edo State, maintains that cannabis cultivation is a worthwhile venture that deserves government support. "Many people take cannabis as intoxicant. Others use it to cure various illnesses. It is also used in making cosmetics," he says.
Locally, a 25-kilogramme sack of cannabis is sold between N7, 000 and N9, 000. The price varies in each state. Packages meant for export are compressed. So doing, a five- kilogramme parcel that normally, could look bulky can be squashed and sealed with a tape. When it is compressed, it becomes impossible to perceive the aroma of the plant.

A bag of cannabis bought at N8, 000 from rural farmers could be sold in a city like Port Harcourt at N25, 000 or more. When the same bag crosses to Borno or any other northern state, the price could hit N35, 000 to N40, 000. If compacted for export, a dealer could make as much as $ 5,000 or more on each package.

Cannabis smugglers have devised various means of getting the banned plant to the points of purchase. For instance, three years ago, a medic and policeman were arrested after smugglers were found to be using an ambulance belonging to the Supreme Court to smuggle hemp into the market.
Also three mobile policemen in Afuze, Owan East local government area of Edo State were arrested recently for dealing in cannabis.

The police officers and the leader of a vigilante group in the area allegedly stormed Ikhin, a community about 30 kilometres from Afuze, where they arrested a cannabis farmer. It was reported that trouble started when the police officers allegedly extorted an N80, 000 pay-off and attempted to make away with bags of cannabis after beating their quarry to a pulp. The latter promptly reported to nearby Uzzeba Police Station thus enabling the arrest of the policemen.
Currently, there are five states that are leading in the production of cannabis in the country. They are Edo, Delta, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun States. But the cannabis being produced in Edo and Ondo States remain the best in the world. Hence, it is more expensive and there is a market for it anywhere in the world, discloses Ihebom.

The global demand for the country's cannabis makes the control of its production, consumption and exportation very cumbersome. The producers and peddlers are desperate to go to any length to produce and get the plant to the desired selling points. The drug peddlers operate in groups and they are swift to employ violence in the face of daunting legal confrontation.

Apparently, the government's NDLEA-led campaign against the cultivation and consumption of the banned substance deserves some push. And noble as its intention is, the government might need to broaden the sphere of its campaign beyond the canker of cannabis farming and trafficking. There are some related problems too. For instance, the Sule siblings, Atanda as well as their colleagues in Oshodi finger unemployment as the major reason for their involvement in the unlawful business. However, Wright claims that his love for marijuana stems from its exhilarating and therapeutic qualities.

For all its appeal, the dangers of smoking cannabis far outweigh its benefits. First are its health implications. Cannabis triggers rapid heart beat which in some users can increase by as much as 50 per cent. This causes strain for users with heart disorders and can, at times, develop it. It also causes lower sperm production in males, resulting in fewer normal sperm cells and, if not well managed, impotency. Cannabis tinkers with the balance of hormones that control menstrual cycles of females and it affects the brain reducing logical thinking and calculation skills. Hemp also impairs the user's brain, among many other defects, reveals Soji Akinrinmade, an Egbeda, Lagos-based medical practitioner.

Then, there are the social implications, notes Beulah Oginni, a Lantoro, Abeokuta, Ogun State-based social psychologist. "Among the many side effects of hemp is its capacity to make a deviant of its user. Cannabis tilts the balance of chemicals that regulate mood, energy, appetite and attention. As a result, users are likely to overreact or otherwise in situations demanding tact and rationality. So doing, hemp smokers are likely to commit acts of grave personal and social consequences. Over time, they become misfits and some of them just lose it," she warns.

It is possible for cannabis consumers to die of an overdose. "This is because it is relatively cheap in most markets. Nonetheless, in Nigeria, it requires as little as N25 upwards to get it on the street. Hence there is need for the government to further empower the NDLEA to comb the nooks and crannies of the country to fish out cannabis farmers and peddlers for prosecution suggests Dele Lawal, a secondary school guidance counselor.

Theresa Essiet, a self-employed single mum would like the NDLEA to clamp down on artistes and pop idols "who are grossly misguided and constitute bad influence to our youth. A good example is the late Fela Kuti. He was supposed to be a role model but he led most of the youth astray. He was a hemp addict and our youth respect and still see in him, a role model even in death. That's a disaster," she laments.

Perhaps, she is right on mark, perhaps not. But Augustine Ahmedu, a.k.a Blackface of the defunct Plantashun Boiz musical group fame, would be no fan of Essiet. Recently, in an interview with The Sun newspaper, he attributed his musical success to marijuana. "What is wrong with Indian hemp? I smoke it because it keeps me inspired and focused. Marijuana made me and my woman to reconcile. As long as I am not disturbing anyone with it, there should be no problem about it. I like smoking it and it is a part of me," says Blackface.

And to the latter's role model and Afro beat music legend, Kuti, cannabis was his "best friend because it is a gift of the creator to Africans. It is a spirit. Marijuana has five fingers of enhances all your five senses," he noted.

Kuti couldn't be more apt in his description of the intoxicant, at least to Atanda and Wright. However, Sule dreams of the day he would quit the sale and consumption of cannabis and take up a more respectable vocation. " I would love to get a better job. One that is more respectable. If not, my wife will never agree to bear kids for me. This is not the best I can do, but it's better than robbing people. The government should provide us good jobs and stable electricity. Then, the artisans among us can go back to their vocations. Because there is no work and electricity, most of us become bus conductors, agbero (passenger touts) and armed robbers. But those of us that cherish our pride do business (peddle cannabis)," he says.

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SOURCE: Sun News On Line
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