Nigeria risks being designated a state sponsor of narcotics trafficking by the United States due to the past drug crimes of its incoming president Bola Tinubu, according to a lawyer familiar with American laws.
The Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, also known as the Kingpin Act, allows the US government to impose sanctions on foreign persons or entities involved in significant drug trafficking activities. While the Act does not recognise a nation or state as a foreign entity, a clause in Section 1904 could implicate Nigeria if its sitting president is cited for “blocking and prohibition sanctions” as a foreign person with immunity. Such a move could have serious diplomatic implications for the West African nation, which already faces an image problem on the global stage.
In 1993, Tinubu, who is due to be sworn in as Nigeria’s leader on May 29, forfeited $460,000 to the US government over drug trafficking and money laundering charges. Last year, documents released by the Northern District Court of Illinois detailed Tinubu’s legal battles with American authorities. His allies have sought to fend off attacks from critics and citizens who question his suitability for the presidency.
The Kingpin Act, which was passed in 1999, aims to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organizations by targeting their finances. It allows the US government to impose sanctions such as asset freezes and visa bans on individuals and entities designated as significant foreign narcotics traffickers. While the Act does not directly apply to national states, the US government can use it to pressure foreign governments to take action against drug traffickers.
Abdul Mahmud, a lawyer knowledgeable about US laws, explained that the Act defines foreign entity as including companies, enterprises, businesses, partnerships, and joint ventures, but not foreign states. However, Section 1904 of the Act gives the US government the right to impose sanctions on a foreign person or entity cited for blocking and prohibition sanctions. While a sitting president enjoys immunity and cannot be sanctioned, Mahmud warned that Nigeria could still be labelled a narcos state if it takes steps to forestall the implementation of the Act with regard to its president.
Nigeria has been grappling with drug trafficking and abuse for years. In 2019, the US government designated Nigeria as a country of primary concern for money laundering and terrorist financing due to its high levels of financial crimes. If Nigeria were to be labelled a state sponsor of narcotics trafficking, it could face more severe sanctions and further damage its reputation on the international stage. The Tinubu case highlights the importance of combating drug trafficking, a scourge that undermines security, social welfare, and economic growth.