Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

Lagos — Customs officials in Nigeria on Tuesday said they had seized banned drugs, including the powerful pain killer tramadol, which is popular with jihadists such as Boko Haram.

Nigeria Customs Service spokesman Joseph Attah said four containers of controlled and prohibited pharmaceuticals arrived in Lagos from India.

Head of customs at the port Jubrin Musa said the drugs were not certified by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control as they exceeded required limits.

"Tramadol is not under trade prohibition but it is controlled and regulated," he said. "Where you import milligrams over and above the control limit, that is where the law is infringed on."

Boko Haram fighters are known to have used tramadol during their quest to establish a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria.

In December 2017, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime issued a warning about the non-medical use of the synthetic opioid across West Africa and its use by jihadists.

Yearly seizures of tramadol in sub-Saharan Africa have risen from 300kg to more than 3-tonnes since 2013, according to the UN agency in a 2017 report.

The report said the drug was mainly manufactured in South Asia and smuggled through the Gulf of Guinea by international criminal gangs into areas where Islamist extremists operate.

In September last year, more than 3-million tablets were discovered in Nigeria in boxes marked with the UN logo packed on a truck driving from Nigeria to northern Mali, it said.

Nigeria is currently battling a number of security challenges, including Boko Haram’s insurgency.

Jubrin said the drug "could have further aggravated the already tense situation in the country" had it found its way into wider circulation.

One suspect has been arrested over the imports, he added.