NDLEA: When the hunter becomes hunted

 By Chukwudi Nweje / Acting Features Editor

The problems of illicit drugs in Nigeria have continued to pose major challenges to the economic development and image of the country both locally and internationally. As a matter of fact, available statistics from the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) suggests that an estimated 230 million people in Nigeria use illicit drugs.

The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) was established in 1990 and charged with the responsibility of fighting the scourge of illicit drugs in the country. Twenty-four years down the line, how well the agency has fared in its assignment may have become an issue of debate.

As the world was marking the World Drug Day, celebrated on June 26 of every year as mapped out by the United Nations through resolution 42/112 in furtherance of the world body’s commitment to fighting global scourge of drug abuse and trafficking, the Chairman Chief Executive of the NDLEA, Ahmadu Giade has come under a barrage of attacks. Specifically, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) has accused him of corruption and turning back the wheels of progress at the agency.

On June 26 at a colourful ceremony held at the NDLEA Headquarters in Lagos and attended by Giade and the new Director General, NDLEA, Mrs Roli Bode George as well as representatives of the UNODC, US Ambassador among others, the NDLEA chairman had reeled out a scorecard of achievements, noting that “Nigeria has recorded impressive results in the fight to eliminate illicit drugs from the country. The NDLEA between 1990 and 2013 made a total drug seizure of 3,582,563.072kg with the apprehension of 87,813 suspected drug traffickers. Out of this number, 82,295 are males while 5,518 are females. Cannabis has the largest chunk with 3,403,041.41kg. Psychotropic substances are next with 155,626.207kg, cocaine 20,601.123kg and heroin 3,294.462kg.  A total of 23,733 cases were also won for the period under review”.

He had added that the commemoration of the 2014, International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking under the theme ‘A Message of Hope: Drug Use Disorders are Preventable and Treatable’ is symbolic as there is hope for drug abuse patients because their case is treatable.

He had added: “I present to you today; ‘A Message of Hope that Drug Use Disorders are Preventable and Treatable’.  NDLEA has drug abuse prevention experts who carry out enlightenment programmes in schools, markets and work places. There are also counsellors who assist drug dependent persons to overcome drug use and addiction. Counselling services are available in all NDLEA 36 State offices and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja.

However, where the NDLEA chairman sees hope, CACOL said there is “monumental cover-ups” masterminded by the Chairman/Chief Executive himself,   “who has continued to orchestrate the false impression that Nigeria is on course with its war against drug.”

Debo Adeniran, Executive Chairman of the coalition consisting of about 21 civil society groups committed to accountability and good governance said that “not less than 12 petitions have been forwarded to the Presidency, National Security Adviser, NSA, Secretary to the Federal Government of the Federation, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Stakeholders and to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against the alleged ineptitude and unbridled corruption by the NDLEA boss.”

According to Adeniran; “It is on record that within only one year, between 2005 and 2006, when Alhaji Giade assumed the rein of power at the Agency, a whooping 197 drug convicts are known to have been helped to evade the four walls of the prison, even after jail sentences were duly passed on them by various courts of competent jurisdiction.”


Offenders getting mere slap on the wrist 

Contrary to Sections 11, 14, 19, 20 and 21 of the NDLEA Act which explicitly specify minimum of 15 to 25 years imprisonment for anyone found guilty of unlawful possession of, or trafficking in illicit drugs, without any provision for plea-bargaining or fine, CACOL said its investigations reveal that NDLEA now plea bargain with “drug offenders who are ready to pay the price, get lighter sentence with options of fine.”

For instance, Adeniran cited the 2006 arrest of Akinwande Taiwo aka Yetunde Wunmi, an actress who was arrested with 1.2kg of cocaine at Murtala Muhammed International Airport.

He argued that it was as a result of what he called “NDLEA’s shoddy prosecution” that Taiwo got out with a mere three (3) years jail term with an option of N1 million fine, which he said Taiwo “gladly paid and walked out of the courtroom a free citizen. This indicates that punishments meted out to drug convicts do not commensurate with offences committed, which in turn have not deterred others from going into the trade going by the rise in drug-related cases in our airports and seaports and, of course, victims of drug abuses that are increasing in geometrical progression, which could have in turn occasioned the increase in violent crimes in, otherwise, peace-loving Nigeria. No thanks to the Giade-led NDLEA.”


Allegations of witch-hunt and victimisation 

CACOL alleges that officers of the NDLEA who are determined to make a difference are being victimized by the agency’s chairman. He cited a petition Witten by one Mr. Paul Audu, NDLEA’s Chief Superintendent of Narcotics, Taraba/Adamawa State Commands to President Goodluck Jonathan. In the said petition a copy of which was sent to CACOL by Malachy Ugwumadu, lawyer to Audu and made available to Daily Independent, Audu alleged that Giade has been running the NDLEA like a family business. CACOL further alleged that since the arrest of one Akindele Ikumoluyi popularly known as Ile Eru 1, an internationally wanted drug baron in2005 and in which Audu played very prominent role, Audu had been a marked man.

Adeniran enthused: “Mr. Audu was instrumental to the arrest and prosecution of the suspect and even to the tracking down of Ikumoluyi’s assets. But it was later discovered that Giade wasn’t happy about the arrest of the suspect as events thereafter began to show that Alhaji Giade did not take the arrest of Akindele kindly with Audu. And because further arrests of other drug barons may jeopardize his pecuniary interest, hence, Giade’s lack of interest and zeal in pursuing the arrest of the other barons waned despite the fact that Mr. Ikumoluyi was ready to assist the Agency with information that could lead to their arrest.

“It is on record that Akindele whose arrest was masterminded by Officer Audu remains the only drug baron to be arrested in almost nine years of Alhaji Ahmadu Giade’s headship of the Agency as the Chairman/Chief Executive. It has been revealed that many of the so-called arrests and prosecutions by the NDLEA are only those of the small fries (couriers) who are usually just victims of economic hardship.”

According to him, the situation in the agency “has become so bad that there has been a somewhat accord between Alhaji Ahmadu Giade and his boys on the one hand and the barons who are willing to sacrifice a few of their couriers to be show-cased on the other”

He argued: “It must be emphasized that drug control paradigm globally has long shifted from quantitative to qualitative arrest. The arrest of a single notable baron is worth the arrest of two thousand couriers, but for the past eight years, Giade-led NDLEA cannot boast of the arrest and prosecution of any drug baron, apart from Akindele Ikumoluyi’s  whom Mr. Paul Audu masterminded,  at the very embryo of his (Alhaji Ahmadu Giade’s) administration”.

According to Adeniran, whereas the NDLEA regulations require operatives to be moved around regularly for security reasons, “for the past seven years, Officer Audu has been stuck in Adamawa/Taraba and above all, Mallam Giade has ensured the promotion of this officer is perpetually put in abeyance.”


Stalled reforms  

Adeniran expressed dismay that several years after the report of Justice Gilbert Obayan was submitted, the federal government has yet to act on it. The former President Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration had set up the Justice Obayan (rtd) National Committee for the Reform of the NDLEA on October 17, 2006 to look in to how to make the agency more efficient.

The committee concluded its work in record time and submitted its report to the Federal Government in February 2007.  Unfortunately, like the reports of most other committees, the government has not found it necessary to consider and implement the recommendations contained in that report.

The perceived rot in the NDLEA is not new. In fact, the former Chairman of the agency Alhaji Bello Lafiaji and his Personal Assistant, Usman Amali, were in June 2010 sentenced to a cumulative jail term of 16 and seven years respectively by a Lagos High Court, presided over by Justice Olusola Williams, having found them guilty of using their offices to confer corrupt advantage upon themselves.

The CACOL Executive Chairman further argued that “It is disheartening that Drug Barons are all over Nigeria swimming in the opulence of their illicit wealth, which is wreaking great havoc to the economy and man-power development, health and security conditions of this country as well as those of other countries with which they merchandise their goods of mass destruction, destroying human capitals that are sine-qua-non to positive national development.”

He wondered why the NDLEA leadership “is looking away from real drug criminals but preventing dedicated officers from performing their constitutional roles.”

He concluded that “such ignoble act is highly retrogressive, destructive, reprehensible and condemnable by all right-thinking Nigerians. It is unheard of that those that are paid from taxpayers’ sweat to fight the war against drugs are the very ones aiding and abetting the nefarious and destructive activities of the drug barons.”


On new director General for NDLEA

Reacting to the recent appointment of Mrs Roli Bode George as Director General of the NDLEA, Adeniran said the Coalition was not interested in who occupies the office but in how the holder of the office discharges the responsibilities and expectations of the office.

Call on the Presidency

He said that it was it was unthinkable that several years after the report of Justice Obayan recommended the disengagement of some officials of the NDLEA, many of them are still in the workforce of the Agency.

The coalition called on President Goodluck Jonathan to exhume the report of the Justice Obayan Committee on the Reform of NDLEA and ensures the implementation of its recommendations. They also suggest the set up of another panel to look into the petition sent to the president by Audu and called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to invoke Section 7 subsection (1) (a) and (b) of its establishment Act and investigate the NDLEA Chairman and the other top officials of the Agency to see “whether their lifestyles and extent of the properties are justified by their sources of income.”

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