n spite of mammoth arrests, seizures and convictions of drug peddlers, the battle against illicit drugs is far from being won, as the criminal market continues to grow, drawing profit and impetus for organised crime. After keeping a close tab on the agency for more than two years, Assistant Editor ADEKUNLE YUSUF reports that the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) requires an overhaul if it is to regain  its teeth to fight the drug war.

It was in the wee hours – a time many residents were still asleep in an upscale housing estate in Akure, capital of Ondo State. Suddenly, a mild commotion erupted like an angry volcano, disrupting the tranquil sweetness of the night. In a gestapo-like manner, officials of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), apparently acting on a tip-off, swooped on a secret cannabis warehouse inside Shagari Housing Estate, spewing a shocking discovery that literally stole headlines. Many residents – who had their sleep abruptly cut short by the whoop of invading ‘warriors’ in 12  trucks – were shocked, as NDLEA operatives evacuated a staggering 34,030kg of cannabis with an estimated street value of N364 million from the criminal stockroom. Starting before the break of the dawn, the successful raid, which resulted in the single largest seizure of the illicit drug ever recorded in the state, lasted for more than eight hours that fateful Thursday, April 9, 2015.

Basking in the euphoria of the exploits of his officials’ exploits, Ibrahim Abdul, NDLEA commander in Ondo State, boasted that his men would never rest on their oars until the state is rid of prohibited drugs. He named two arrested suspects, who he also paraded: God-day Chibuzor, 27, and Collins Nmor, 35, who are said to be cooling their heels in an NDLEA holding cell, assisting investigators in getting to the roots of the criminal network.

“We began evacuation of the drug since 4 a.m. with 12 vehicles and the operation lasted over 12 hours. As we speak, three sensitive operations involving the destruction of cannabis plantation are going on simultaneously,” Abdul said.

But that commendable feat was not an isolated case, as daily news reports are always awash with exploits of various states – drug seizures, arrests of suspected couriers, etc. More often than not, NDLEA officials in the various commands across the country risk their lives as they cross rivers, walk through valleys and ascend unwieldy mountains to access cannabis plantations. Because cannabis farmlands are usually tucked away in the far-flung corners of Nigeria’s vast forest reserves to escape the eagle eyes of ever-ready anti-narcotic operatives, their destruction operations are said to be quite cumbersome and hazardous – with dangers of predatory animals that populate the largely impenetrable jungles.

That perhaps explains why NDLEA hardly raises eyebrows anytime the agency boasts that it has a superlative record in drug supply suppression index – in terms of size of drug farmlands destroyed, persons arrested and the quantity of drugs seized from couriers. As a matter of fact, in the last three and a half years, NDLEA has destroyed unprecedented hectares of cannabis farms and intercepted kilogrammes of narcotics, including cannabis, psychotropic substances, ephedrine, heroine, amphetamine, cocaine and methamphetamine. And with a staggering conviction statistics of 8,637 persons in five years – 1,509 in 2010; 1,491 in 2011; 1,718 in 2012; 1,865 in 2013 and 2,054 in 2014 – it will be difficult for any doubting Thomas to distrust NDLEA’s scorecard. “NDLEA has one of the highest criminal conviction scorecards among security agencies in the country. In line with our prosecution policy, all arrested drug traffickers are diligently prosecuted. Conviction is a top priority to us because it serves as a punishment to offenders while it also deters many from indulging in drug trafficking,” Ahmadu Giade, national chairman of the agency, bragged recently.

Drugs, drugs everywhere!

As alluring as the statistics on arrests, seizures and convictions are, they lie about the drug conundrum afflicting the country. Behind the façade of regular self-glorification headlines that cannot be tethered to reality is a country reeling under the pangs of a roaring drug business. From the north to the south, east to the west, there is proliferation of illegal drugs in all the dark and dank places in the country, as more and more people are losing their souls to destructive drugs, ranging from cannabis to heroin and cocaine etc. Although Nigeria used to be referred to as a drug transit nation, it is now fast becoming a haven for illicit drug manufacturers and consumers, with visible effects in major cities such as Kano, Lagos, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Port Harcourt, Onitsha, Owerri, Ibadan, among others, as people openly consume cannabis sativa (otherwise known locally as Indian Hemp), which is now commonly cultivated and consumed publicly in many parts of the country.

Nigerians with criminal intents  regularly walk into the waiting arms of security operatives in many countries, with many drug barons and couriers alike falling for the guillotines, especially in nations where peddling in illicit substances attracts capital sentences.

Last April, the world was jolted when Indonesia executed eight drug convicts, including four Nigerians – Jaminu Abashin, 41; Martin Anderson, 50; Okwudili Oyatanze, 41; and Sylvester Obiekwe, 42. The others were two Australians, one Brazilian and one Indonesian. Earlier in January, Indonesia also executed two Nigerians for similar offences, while eleven others are said to be on death row for drug offences. In China, Malaysia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Singapore and other countries where drug peddling attracts death verdict, hundreds of Nigerians have been reportedly executed in the last five years. A staggering number is said to be awaiting the hangmen for indulging in illegal drug businesses.

Of course, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) used to label Nigeria in the 80s and 90s as a mere transit point for heroin and cocaine intended for markets in Europe, East Asia and North America, among other places. Besides Nigeria, other West African countries have also become veritable routes for smuggling large amounts of illicit drugs from South America into Europe and North America. Sadly, experts are worried lately that the new stark reality is that Nigeria is fast becoming a production ground for psychotropic substances, worsened by a drastic increase in the rate of drug abuse among the young segments of the population, since there is still large availability of these illicitly manufactured products despite enormous efforts by narcotics operatives to frustrate the drug market. Topping the chart of most drugs most abused in the country is cannabis, which is not only consumed massively in various forms, but is also widely grown distributed in many parts of Nigeria. Although the NDLEA flayed the report for not being scientific in its method of arriving at its conclusions, a recent UNODC World report fingered Nigeria as one of the countries with the highest use of illicit drugs in Africa. The same report also rated the country high, lauding it for having the highest seizure of cannabis in Africa.

Operatives collude with barons, aid couriers

 As many homes are forced to wear the mourning clothes whenever their kith and kin play into the hands of public executioners in foreign lands, it hardly occurs to them that it is as a result of institutional failures in the country.

Unknown to many Nigerians, friends and family relations who get caught abroad for indulging in criminal acts of drug trafficking are individuals who are at their wit’s end after the initial déjà vu for beating the security checks in the home country. Although NDLEA is always quick to deny it, discreet investigations have shown that it is increasingly common at the agency’s several commands for some bad eggs to collude with the criminals they are being paid to hunt and bring to book, giving them access to traffic in illicit drugs for a fee. As if the NDLEA is primed to be a house of scandals, some of unscrupulous operatives at the various ports of entry and exit have inculcated the treacherous habit of working in cahoots with drug criminals, seeking the merchants of death the same way a salesman looks out for customers to buy his wares because of the love for filthy lucre.

Even if it is not a business that is transacted in the open, compromising narcotics control and policing is prevalent at the nation’s international airports and seat ports where officers that have been found most worthy by the agency leadership are expected to be posted. In fact, for every three arrests or seizures, it is disheartening that no fewer than ten will have been criminally aided to beat the security apparatus at most of Nigeria’s airports and seaports. Because the drug barons have evolved into a cartel with huge resources to grease the palms of willing operatives, the gates are easily flung open for easy passage, with each smart drug passenger parting with at least N1.5 million. As some corrupt operatives sometimes look the other way at the country’s entry and exit points to ensure safe passage for their partners in crime, some of their colleagues that man the various NDLEA commands in many states are not saints too, for it is becoming increasingly disturbing for the operatives to connive with criminals they are being paid to hound.

But this is not unknown to NDLEA, as a few instances will suffice. In January last year, Ogun State command of the agency was alleged to be enmeshed in a scandal involving its commander. For allegedly tampering with exhibit money recovered from a drug baron in the state, Mohammed M. Mohammed was reportedly queried by the agency. As one of those in possession of one of the keys to the exhibit room, the commander allegedly broke into the room of the agency and stole exhibit money which were retrieved from drug barons and kept in the exhibit room. The amount he was alleged to have stolen was said to be in six digits. To forestall fraud and corruption, NDLEA encourages that the keys to the exhibit rooms are separately kept by three different personnel so that no single officer would have access to the room at any time. But Mohammed was said to be under intense financial pressure occasioned by the burial of his deceased mother. He was said to have needed money desperately and his relief was to break the exhibit room with his personal carpenter and made away with money recovered from drug barons in the state. The commander  fled to his country home for the burial of his mother. When the scam was leaked, Mohammed was contacted on phone concerning the fraud. In order to cover up, he allegedly sourced for funds immediately and deposited it in the account of another officer, identified as Saminu Sanni, who  withdrew the money at his Abeokuta bank and handed same to the exhibit keeper, Chuwang Bulus.

Also last year, specifically in early August, many major national dailies feasted on acts of malfeasance involving some commanding officers of NDLEA in Ondo State who were alleged to be providing paid protection for drug barons in the state. When the dust raised by the scandal in Ondo was yet to settle, news of a bigger show of shame broke weeks later, as another set of drug cartel was unmasked in the agency’s command in Kaduna State. At the heart of this scandalous compromise were Mohammed Kaka Jibrin, the state commander, and Goddy Obainoke, assistant state commander in charge of operations and intelligence, as well as a coterie of other senior officers in the command who were alleged to be hobnobbing with drug barons for monetary gains. While it is widely believed even within the agency that mindboggling unprofessional practices are entrenched in the command, sources said luck ran out of these unpatriotic officers following a disagreement over the sharing of the loot and proceeds from recycled drugs after parties in the cartel felt cheated by the commander. Besides this, it was also discovered that the command was entangled in several unwholesome cases bordering on recycling of seized drugs and extortion of huge sums of money from arrested drug dealers in exchange for freedom. Scores of cases of arrests with considerable drug seizures, which were later compromised for huge monetary returns, were uncovered when the national headquarters of the agency beamed its searchlight into the scam.

The ugly discoveries were said to be so overwhelming that Ahmadu Giade, NDLEA Chairman/Chief Executive, who visited the command immediately, ordered the immediate detention of Suleiman El-Gandau, Isa Hayatou, Ikumelo Segun, and Alao Sulaimon Dawodu. He also directed the allegedly compromising commander and his deputy to hand over to Alabe Azinge Samuel, presumably to restore normalcy in the command and mitigate the condemnation that the incident might engender. Sadly for  Giade, some of the affected officers were alleged to be some of his favourites who had enjoyed unmerited special treatment under him.

Another operative of the NDLEA who specialised in passing drug traffickers at the airport was arrested for abetting and aiding drug traffickers in June last year. Ibidayin Godwin, an operative attached to the command in Anambra State, was arrested at MMIA by fellow NDLEA officials. He allegedly abandoned his duty post in Anambra and flew to Lagos to pass a drug trafficker who was to use the MMIA to his destination. He was quickly picked up for allegedly aiding and abetting Adetoye Taiwo, a suspected drug trafficker, in smuggling 3kg of methamphetamine to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. But Ibidayin was not alone in the scam, for he reportedly fingered three others in his clandestine drug cartel: Taiwo Ososanya, Fatai Olawale Akera and Yusuf Olayemi Bankole. It was learnt some other senior colleagues were involved.

To be continued.

Source: The Nation Newspaper