In this concluding part of the series on the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Assistant Editor ADEKUNLE YUSUF, who has watched the agency for more than two years, examines how light sentences, poor funding and others have contributed to robbing operatives of the teeth to properly bite drug barons and couriers

In February, last year, Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Lagos,  was livid with rage. Reason: men who are supposed to ensure drug couriers and barons get maximum punishment now conspire to help them escape with light sentences.

 The judge openly accused Abu Mohammed, an NDLEA prosecutor, of conspiring with the defence lawyer, Benson Ndakara,  to frustrate a drug case. The accused in the matter, Emmanuel Obiora, was eventually sentenced to five years imprisonment for importing 8.270kg of cocaine from Pakistan and for offering same for sale in Nigeria.

  A furious Justice Abang indicted both Mohammed and Ndakara of conspiring to conceal vital evidence to help the convict to escape justice. While delivering his judgment, the judge said his court would never be part of such unwholesome conduct. He then convicted and sentenced Obiora to five years imprisonment for dealing in prohibited drugs and concealing the genuine origin of the N14 million proceeds of the alleged crime, ordering that the five-year jail terms for each of the four counts should run concurrently. He also ordered that the N14 million proceeds of the crime be forfeited to the government.

The judge, who relied on circumstantial evidence to convict Obiora, accused both the prosecuting and defence lawyers of colluding to help the convict to escape justice by withholding vital evidence in the case.

According to Abang, the prosecuting counsel “for the reason best known to him” refused to tender the full voluntary statement in which the convict was said to have confessed to the crime, adding that: “The written address filed by the learned prosecuting counsel was of no help to the court. If I order investigation into this matter, heads will roll.”

He said in addition to the refusal of the prosecuting counsel to tender the full statement of the accused, the lawyer also refused to corroborate the evidence of the fifth prosecution witness, Idris Zakari. According to him, Zakari had testified that the convict confessed to him and also wrote a statement to that effect on June 29, 2009, the day after he was arrested.

“Learned counsel for the prosecution kept mute in his written address that the accused made a confessional statement. Whose interest is the learned counsel for the prosecution serving? Is he serving the interest of the prosecution, or justice? Or is he serving the interest of the accused person to escape justice? The attitude of the learned counsel for the prosecution is most unfair to the court and to the administration of criminal justice system,” he said.

 He was also bitter that Ndakara, also in his written address, pretended as if his client had not confessed to the crime.

The judge said: “Is it that the learned counsel for the prosecution and the learned counsel for the accused colluded to frustrate justice? Is it that they colluded so that the accused can go away to enjoy the N14 million which he illegally procured? With regard to the unchallenged evidence of PW5 and the evidence contained in Exhibit E1 (a portion of the accused person’s statement tendered by the prosecution), it is my humble view that the accused person conspired with Sam Egunibe to import 8.270kg of cocaine from Pakistan to Nigeria.”

The judge’s anger makes more sense when put in a wider context. For the records, part II (fourth schedule) of NDLEA Act, which specifies offences and punishments, says anyone who “imports, manufactures, produces, processes, plants or grows the drugs popularly known as cocaine, LSD, heroin or any other similar drugs shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to be sentenced to an imprisonment for life.”

The same imprisonment term applies if anyone “exports, transports or otherwise traffics in the drugs otherwise known as cocaine, LSD, heroin or any other similar drugs”.

A life sentence equally awaits any suspect who”sells, buys, exposes or offers for sale or otherwise deals in or with drugs popularly known as cocaine, LSD, heroin or any other similar drugs.”

It is only those who knowingly possess or use the drugs mentioned earlier by smoking, inhaling or injecting that are liable on conviction to an imprisonment term not less than 15 years but not exceeding 25 years. However, as shown in Obiora’s case, most of the convictions secured by NDLEA hardly follow stipulated punishments.

This is possible because some prosecutors do help the accused to doctor confessional statements for a fee. If a deal is struck, an incriminating statement can be swapped for a less indicting one, ranging from N200,000 to N300,000, depending on the weight of the issues involved and desperation exhibited by the defence team. It is said to be a cartel existing within the NDLEA, courts and the prison system. That is what made it possible for 197 convicts to refuse to serve their jail terms – 101 in 2005 and 96 in 2006 (see tables on convicts that evaded jail terms). Justice Gilbert Obayan panel report, which detailed how the cartel works and suggested how the agency can be reformed, was frustrated by the same cartel. The report was submitted to the government in 2007, leaving it to gather dust while the agency stinks in malfeasance.   Giade, in a past interview with this newspaper, said events had overtaken the report.

Of 123 convictions NDLEA secured at the Federal High Court Lagos in 2014, made up of 117 men and 9 women, sentences ranged from one day to 15 years for various drug offences. Justice Musa Kurya sentenced a pregnant woman, Kudirat Bello, to one day imprisonment for possessing 33.3kg of cannabis, while 38-year-old Obinna Okeke was sentenced to 15 years with hard labour by Justice M. D. Idris for possession of 3kg of cannabis. Lanre Salami, who was arrested at Oshodi, lied to the court that he was 15 years old. The court later discovered that he was actually 17 years old. He was sentenced to 10 years for unlawful dealing in 400 grammes of cannabis. Salisu Usman, 42, was apprehended at Iddo Motor Park on his way to Zamfara, his home State with 47kg of diazepam. He was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment with hard labour.

 Besides the evil of light sentences, there are ways that NDLEA operatives have devised to make life easy for drug suspects by helping them to get away with their heinous crimes. It is a cartel that operates within the agency and the courts, sometimes involving the prisons. It works using the power of bribe, blackmail and barefaced threats.

In 2012, it became so irritating at a point that Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos, had to voice out his frustration. The learned judge was incensed that hundreds of accused drug criminals granted bail on liberal terms had jumped bail, a situation that cut across several other courts. The judge, clearly frustrated with the situation, scolded the NDLEA in court, sometimes having to issue several orders to the agency to re-arrest suspects.

One tactics is to advise drug dealers to contract special defence lawyers, since big names among lawyers know the judges who are favourable and those that are tough, using some court officials to manipulate and make sure that their client’s case is assigned to a court that can play ball. That is why some judges grant bail to the suspects on liberal terms, with the stipulation that the NDLEA must verify the sureties.

Yet the job of verifying sureties is done by the same set of people who will endorse any arrangement made by the defence lawyers – all done within the NDLEA. Unknown to the unsuspecting public, this seemingly harmless arrangement facilitates drug business in country. Having realised that Justice Buba’s no-nonsense stance is frustrating their unholy deals, drug suspects do everything they can to avoid his court.

Poor funding, logistics undermine operations

For a federal agency that is saddled with a mandate that touches on overall national security and public health, it is the shame of a nation that NDLEA is lacking in operational tools, logistics and equipment to discharge its functions effectively and efficiently. In most of its commands, the agency does not have operational vehicles, with only lucky commands that get the state governments to donate one or two vehicles to cover several local government areas. And if it is unacceptable that many state commands of this all-important national agency exist only in names, the zonal commands do not fare any better. As a matter of fact, only fortunate state commands occupy unfurnished edifices left behind by the defunct Social Democratic Party or National Republican Party, built during the ill-fated transition programme of Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida regime. Not only is it regrettable that the agency that was established over twenty years ago still remains ad hoc without any permanent structure at any of its state commands, the national headquarters of the agency in Lagos is sheltered in a place abandoned by the Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA). Other sister paramilitary agencies established around the same time or even after NDLEA have since put up permanent office headquarters in Abuja.

But the problems go beyond lack of suitable office and residential accommodation, a luxury enjoyed by other paramilitary agencies in the country. For a fact, NDLEA, an agency that is expected to police and apprehend moneyed criminals, cannot afford official vehicles for most of its state commanders, who are equivalent of Commissioners of Police. What that means is that any state commander who cannot afford a personal car has to go on official duties on motorcycles, or find other avenues to make ends meet. Some senior officers also told The Nation that the agency denies them of common logistics such as chemicals to fumigate cannabis plantations whenever they embark on destruction operations of cannabis farmlands in densely packed forests. That is why it is not uncommon for NDLEA operatives to carry ordinary cutlasses and walk several kilometers in the forests to locate illegal farms, as most activities in the agency are being done manually in today’s increasingly modern world. It is also lacking life jackets, helmets, hand and leg cuffs, as well as firearms superior to the ones being used by barons – thus exposing the operatives to dangers that regularly claim their lives.

Also, at the state commands, operations are hamstrung by paucity of funds, forcing some state commanders to depend on handouts from all sources. According to some state commanders, what goes to each state command on a monthly basis is in the neighbourhood of N100, 000.00 (one hundred thousand naira) for the running of the entire command, which is said to be irregular. From this meager imprest, vehicles, buildings and other operational activities are maintained, including fuelling of vehicles and generators. And to make matters worse, some senior officers confided in The Nation that any state commander that wants to remain in the good book of Giade must make substantial returns on arrests, drug seizures and prosecution, failing which the commander is punished with either removal or being sidelined or both. Ofoyeju vehemently denied this allegation against his boss, saying incorruptibility is one of Giade’s selling points.

But the management may not be directly responsible for the dearth of fund crisis that has been hitting the agency over the years. As if Nigeria is oblivious of the national security and public health implications of the war against illicit drugs, it hardly provides enough capital to prosecute the gargantuan responsibility of drug policing and control, putting severe pressure on operational and capital projects in the agency.

“Funding of the agency, especially for operations and capital projects, has not been encouraging over the years and indeed a far cry from what the agency requires to carry its functions effectively and efficiently, as well as to sustain its modest achievements. With the perpetual dearth of funds, the management of the agency continually contends with serious challenges of prompt payment of expenses incurred by the personnel for official assignments. The continued accumulation of these claims has remained one of the most serious challenges to the agency’s operations,” said the 2014 NDLEA Annual Report.

In more specific terms, with a staff strength of 5,150 in 2013, NDLEA was given a paltry N65,608,787 as capital expenditure, N536,293,912 as overhead cost and N6,067,598,587 as personnel cost to run its 49 formations across the country. But a worse financial quagmire handcuffed the agency in 2014, for out of N562,483,887 appropriated for NDLEA’s day-to-day operational activities, only 67.11 per cent was released. That same year, out of N183,399,762 appropriated for capital projects, a mere 37.8 per cent was released, thus crashing expectations on several contracts awarded that could not be backed with cash. In fact, it was so bad that by the time government was constrained to give N1billion lifeline called intervention fund to the agency in 2014, the chunk of it was gulped by payment of accumulated burial expenses for deceased officers, duty tour allowances, medical allowances for officers, and other staff claims. Even in 2012, funding for the agency did not fare any better. It took N100,000,000 for capital expenditure, N630,228503 for overhead cost, and 8,880,969,451 for personnel cost; just as it was given N61,282,731 for capital expenditure, N633,008,502 for overhead cost and 7,096,260,039 for personnel cost in 2011. By the 2010 when the agency’s overall staff strength was 3,332, it received N361,058,277 for capital expenses, N523,300,000 for overhead cost, and N5,828,168,363 for personnel cost. And with a workforce of 3,405 in 2009, NDLEA got   N160,000,000 for capital expenses, N343,000,000 as overhead cost and N4,117,358,361 as personnel cost. As one officer put it last week, the agency is not the only loser; it is the war on narcotics whose proliferation is killing the country.

One drug agent to over 30,000 Nigerians 

Unless more hands are urgently engaged, it is sheer mirage to expect wonders from NDLEA as it is currently staffed and constituted. Perhaps as a result of lack of foresight on the part of successive leadership of the agency, the war against illicit drug has been hampered by grossly inadequate manpower, which is not unknown to those at its helm of affairs. With a staff strength of slightly over 5,000, NDLEA is left with the precariousness of one drug agent to more than 34,000 Nigerians (using 173million estimate). According Femi Ajayi, former NDLEA DG, the agency needs at least 15,000 more hands to be able to do its work effectively.

Unfortunately, the last time the agency recruited about 2,000 people four years ago, it was allegedly mired in fraud. Each of 450,000 unemployed Nigerians was made to pay N1,500, amounting to N675,000,000 to write the test. However, by the time recruitment was carried out, most of the lucky applicants were chosen without any recourse to merit or federal character principle. In a memo sent to the Senate committee on narcotics in February 2013, it was alleged that more than 20 per cent of those given the job did not apply at all, with more successful candidates from Bauchi where Giade hails from. For upward of three years, NDLEA deploy these recruits without training and arm them, blaming it on lack of fund. The petitioners asked, “Why were they not trained with the huge money expropriated from the over 450,000 applicants? How much does Ahmadu Giade actually need to train these men? What has he done with the over half a Billion naira that he made? Where is it? Did he pay the money into the federation account or such similar account of government? Is the Federal Government now taxing unemployed youths of Nigeria rather than give them job?”

One agency, two political appointees

For inexplicable reasons, the law setting up the agency has saddled it with a multiplicity of albatross right from inception. By its structure, the National Chairman of NDLEA is the Chief Executive and also Chairman of its board – an anomaly which insiders say has been breeding mediocrity, ineptitude, high-handedness, lack of respect for rules and regulations and absence of transparency in the agency over the years. In essence, the NDLEA Chief Executive who directs affairs is also the one who supervises the activities of the agency. As one senior officer recently mocked the agency, not only does every holder of the office run the place like his personal fiefdom, sycophancy walks on all fours in the agency, prompting serving officers to continue to write petitions against the leadership after the system has failed to address their grievances adequately.

That is just a tip of the iceberg. Unlike all other paramilitary organizations in the country, NDLEA is piloted by two political appointees – a queer arrangement that is money-guzzling. Apart from Chairman/Chief Executive who exercises executive powers, the government is also empowered to appoint somebody as Director General who is expected to head the secretariat where there is none. Yet NDLEA, as an organisation, has its own senior officer who is a Director in charge of Administrations. What this means is that public fund is expended on two political appointees in one agency, since both the Chairman who is the chief accounting officer of the agency and the Director General who heads a nonexistent secretariat are on consolidated salaries. Even in the Nigerian Army where there is an Army secretary, it is an Army officer who is appointed, not a political appointee from outside. “Whenever any DG comes, he or she usually keeps quiet and makes his or her money because they are outsiders who know nothing about the agency. How can you be paying two political appointees in one agency? It is wrong? The law was badly drafted to squander public resources, which currently realities can hardly accommodate. Scrap either the office of DG or Chief executive and stick with one as it is done in all other paramilitary organisations in the country. The head of the place is supposed to be a DG or Narcotics General of NDLEA, being an enforcement agency.  If you appoint from within, the person will certainly be desirous of leaving a legacy, unlike outsiders who just come in after retiring from their original callings,” one senior officer said.

Is NDLEA jinxed with leadership?

On July 16, when it was announced that all the boards of federal parastatals and agencies had been dissolved, some top NDLEA officers told The Nation that they were instantly locked in an upbeat mood. In their estimation, the dissolution directive would sweep Giade, who they see as the biggest problem from the seat he has occupied since November 2005. Since the retired deputy commissioner of police is both the Chief Executive of NDLEA and board Chairman, the disbanding of the board would terminate his 10-year reign, they reasoned. They were dead wrong, as these aggrieved officers were shocked to their marrow when Giade resumed his seat the following day, having been advised that he was not affected by the presidential directive, being the Chief Executive of the agency.

Although Giade’s seat is spared by the recent presidential order, his adversaries believe that he may not be lucky to wriggle out of an ongoing suit seeking to sack him from the plum job. At the moment, Giade is embroiled in a legal tussle at the National Industrial Court in Abuja over an alleged “tenure fraud.” In a suit filed by Emmanuel Maji, a lawyer in Festus Keyamo Chambers, Giade, who has had four Directors-General of the Agency – Dave Ashang, Lanre Ipinmisho, Femi Ajayi and Roli Bode George  – serve out their tenure under him, is accused of remaining in office even though his tenure had expired on November 24, 2009. In an affidavit sworn to support the originating summons, Maji avowed that the NDLEA’s boss continued stay in office without any evidence of renewal of tenure is only a “local and unlawful arrangement” between him and the then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke. The plaintiff wanted the court to among others, direct that Giade be replaced by appointing a new person, while also praying for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the NDLEA boss from “further parading and conducting himself as NDLEA Chairman forthwith; an order compelling him to vacate office having exhausted his tenure, and an order compelling him to refund all his earnings since November 24, 2013 when attained eight years in office.” He equally wanted the court to declare unlawful all duties or acts he has performed after November 24, 2013 when his tenure (if he was reappointed) ought to lapse. The case is yet to be decided.

Whichever way the pendulum swings, it is obvious the agency is in dire need of a total reorganisation as well as new direction. And whenever that is going to happen, some senior NDLEA officers insist that it will do the agency a lot of good if the person is recruited from within. This, they added, will help correct an anomaly of “trial and error’ that is often the case in the first one year or more anytime an outsider is foisted on the agency.

“When outsiders come and fail, the public usually heaps the blame on the agency and we the officers,” lamented one officer.

But he may not be far from the truth. A survey of the history of NDLEA leadership in the last twenty-five years shows that only the late Musa Bamaiyi (1994-1998) was chosen from the army, while Bello Lafiaji (2000-2005) was tipped to head the agency based on his background in the state security service. All other past chairmen of the agency – Fidelis Oyakhilome (1990-1991), Fulani Kwajafa (1991-1993), Bappah Jama’re (1993-1994), Ogbonnaya Onovo (1998-2000), Illya Lokadang (2000) – emerged from the police, including the incumbent Giade (since 2005), who was picked from retirement after serving the police for 37 years. Citing the example of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), which was a ragtag group of volunteers until 2003, top NDLEA operatives said NSCDC has left NDLEA behind because the paramilitary force started on a good note by recruiting its first Commandant General from within.  After twenty-five years, not a few believe that NDLEA is ripe for leadership under a career officer with evidence of sound experience in drug control and integrity track record that is backed with capacity and depth of knowledge.

But for NDLEA spokesperson Mitchell Ofoyeju, Giade is the best thing that has ever happened to the agency.  He dismissed all the allegations against him, adding that the chairman had done all possible to deal with corruption.

As shown clearly in his interview published in the first two parts of the series, Ofoyeju believes that “if you conduct an opinion poll among officers, you will appreciate the fact that those writing (petitions) are either non-existent or at best insignificant. Let me say this, nobody that loves the country will write against this leadership.”

Source: The Nation Newspaper