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Actress Wunmi’s case fallout: Stiffer penalties await drug couriers in Nigeria

Posted by By MIKAIL MUMUNI ( on 2007/02/20 | Views: 1999 |

Actress Wunmi’s case fallout: Stiffer penalties await drug couriers in Nigeria

Nothing amplifies the stark reality that Nigerian laws are too slack to have any meaningful impact on the fight against the peddling in hard drugs than the recent contrasting fortunes of two Nigerians, Tochi Amara Iwuchukwu and Mrs. Hassanat Akinwande.

Nothing amplifies the stark reality that Nigerian laws are too slack to have any meaningful impact on the fight against the peddling in hard drugs than the recent contrasting fortunes of two Nigerians, Tochi Amara Iwuchukwu and Mrs. Hassanat Akinwande.

While Tochi, a teenage footballer was hanged in Singapore for possession of cocaine, Akinwande alias Wumi, a prominent actress was sentenced to a three-year jail term with an option of fine by a Nigerian court for a similar offence.

Most Nigerians, however, do not subscribe to the death penalty, but many were outraged by the sentence handed out to Wumi. Those who criticized it said it was too light and, therefore, capable of encouraging others to join the drug trade.

But Mr. Ahmadu Giade, chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency [ NDLEA ] in an interview with Sunday Sun disclosed that government was in the process of amending the laws to give it more bite. He also spoke on other issues relating to the operations of the agency. Excerpts:

How easy or tough has it been fighting the war against drug trafficking since you came on board as NDLEA chairman?
To fight drug is not an easy task because the drug barons take the trafficking as a means of livelihood. And the moment you want to stop them, they can go to any extent, even to the extent of attempting to maim or kill you.
So, it is not an easy task and I was fully aware of this right from my day of appointment.

Political parties have submitted names of their candidates to the Independent National Electoral Commission [ INEC ] for verification. What role is the NDLEA playing in the screening exercise to ensure that drug barons are not elected into offices?
Well, screening is INEC’s problem but my agency has responsibility to the nation, on request to give relevant information to INEC.

So, has any request been made?
I really would not want to make that public. But we are doing the best we can. We are cooperating with the government.

Your men on the field are no doubt exposed to danger and temptations from drug barons and traffickers. What measures do you have in place, first to ensure their safety as well as shield them from being compromised?
Before a person is sent to the field, you must ensure that he is well trained. He must be skilled and adept at the use of the weapons given to him. From time to time also, there is what we call the operation order. That is if a person or a team goes out on operation, they come back and study the operational report. If there are lapses, we draw the attention of the people to such and amends are made for subsequent operations. Again, hardly do we send out a single individual to the field. It has to be a group and they usually do a surveillance of the places before they move in. All these measures ensure safety of the men and your second question?

How do you ensure that they are not compromised?
That is the biggest problem we are facing. As you know, the barons have the money, they are ready to give it to any greedy person. But we have tried as much as we can and I think we have succeeded in doing a lot in reducing the areas of compromise. And with the recent salary increase by the Federal Government, that will help us a lot to take the minds of our operatives from the money of the drug barons.

That apart, we have a vetting section that always put the operatives on surveillance to ascertain whether they live above their income and all that. In addition to that, I have teams that always go to the remotest parts of the country to see how the operatives there are going about their duties. For example, only last week, I had to send a team to as far as Hadeija in Jigawa State to go and arrest a person. He is now in custody and we sent another team to Kano where on their own they operated and got some people arrested. So, with this kind of arrangement, no body who is on the field will feel that he is a law onto himself.

Are those people arrested your men or what?
No, no, no. They were people we got information on that they were dealing in drugs but were not being arrested. This was why we sent teams after them.

That suggests your men there know them but were looking the other way?
That was the allegation and we are investigating the degree of involvement of our men.

How do you treat operatives that betray and run foul of your standards?
NDLEA operatives are part of the larger Nigerian society. They are bound to be reflective of what obtains in that larger society. We have bad eggs; there is no doubt about that. But when I came in, I tried to ensure that there is some level of honesty in the agency. All cases pertaining to corruption were investigated and the culprits punished. There is an internal disciplinary committee for both senior and junior staff. That committee has been re-organized. They are made to sit from time to time. Just recently, the committee sat and decided the fate of some officers. We have some of them that have been dismissed, some of them lost seniority.

Can we have the break down?
The dismissal is what I have. The losing of ranks and seniorities are very many. From 2001 and 2005 before I took over, 130 were dismissed. But when I took over, from January last year to December last year, about 31 senior staff were dismissed and about 32 junior ones, making a total of 53 and we have more pending.

Your men operate in dangerous terrains, which occasionally would result in casualties. So, how many lives have been lost say in the past 5 years?
Drug war is a dangerous war as I said earlier on and as I sit here, we have lost about a hundred of our men within this period that you asked. We are doing our best to assist the families, we have an insurance scheme for our men and the claims go to the families when they lose their loved ones. Very recently, a body in the United States offered to give scholarships to children of some our officers who died in the course of their jobs. There is a lot that we are doing.

Where are the main danger points in the country that your men are mostly exposed to attacks?
I will say every part of the country. Honestly, it is all over the country. By nature, most of these people that deal in drugs are violent.

How far have you gone in assuring the international community that we are serious about fighting the drug war?
European countries and America have their drug attaches here and we are always in touch with them, we discuss with them. We cooperate in investigations and in attending international conferences. Last year, the Americans threatened to decertify Nigeria if we do not improve on our enforcement of job. I am happy to inform you the US has certified us, that means we have improved on our efforts.

There are some points of entry and exit in Nigeria that we hardly hear of arrests being made. Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport for example in Kano. Does that suggest that all the people traveling through such places are saints?
They are not all saints. You see, Mallam Aminu Kano Airport has just 3 international flights in a week and it is only one KLM airline that flies the route. You might be correct to say that you have not been hearing of arrests at that place. Since the time the airport was operating international flights till December 2005, there was no single arrest. But between January 2006 to December same year, the command there was able to record 15 arrests and all of them have been convicted. And for your information, this January, somebody was arrested there with 6 kilograms of cocaine. So, they are alive to their responsibilities.

If they were alive to their responsibilities, why were arrests not made in the past?
I can only account for the period that I started here. . But the truth is that when I assumed the reins, the Kano International Airport as well as Port-Harcourt International Airport was left to be managed by the respective state commands. I felt that was too much for them. Those places were supposed to be special areas. So, I carved them out and gave them a sort of autonomy and posted commanders there. That is why we are getting this type of encouragement.

Apart from these two, are there other places that you were not making arrests in the past that the situation has changed now?
Of course, yes. As busy as the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport is, with 3 international flights daily, there was no arrest until when I took in December 2005. So, I made some postings, changed the commander there. And by last year, we made about 20 arrests there .All of them have been convicted. And this year too, he has made arrests. The same thing is happening at the Port Harcourt airport.
The seaports also. The Tin can Island for example, the last arrest before I came was in year 2001 when they intercepted 60 kilograms of cocaine. But last year, we were able to record 14.2 tons. So, we are no more dealing in kilograms but in tons.

Is it possible that your men were colluding with the barons in all those years of non- arrests?
I cannot say yes because it all depends on the leadership. If you want result, you will get it, if you are not interested you won’t. So, I cannot give reasons for the past. But I can account for my tenure.

Big time barons are hardly arrested in Nigeria. Those usually arrested are the hungry couriers. Why is this so?
That was the same questions the Americans asked when they threatened to decertify us. But things are changing.

Would you say the agency is getting enough encouragement from the judiciary?
We are getting encouragement.

Do you agree with those who say the recent 3 years sentence with an option of fine of one million Naira handed down on Wunmi, the actress was light in comparison with the hanging of Tochi, the Nigerian in Singapore for similar offence?
People are saying all this because the convict is a popular figure. What Nigerians should realize is that the laws of the country give the judges discretion. It is not the year. It is not the amount of money imposed that matter, but the conviction and the fact that the family name has been tarnished.

But those who engage in drug are hardly bothered about family name. The allure of the money they would make from successful transactions appears greater?
It depends on the way a person sees it. If you have a family that values its name, no amount of money will make you want to soil it.

But beyond that, should our laws not attempt to discourage crimes?
The government is in the process of amending the NDLEA Act. The Senate has already passed it and the House of Representatives too is working on it. I think if the two houses approve it and is assented to by the President, it will make drastic changes. At least, it will reduce what I can call the judges’ discretion.

Does it mean we are going to have stiffer sanctions?
Yes, but not up to death sentence.

Is it that you don’t approve of death sentencing?
I would not say yes or no. It depends more on the society. Remember that when some persons were killed for drug offences, the society was opposed to it and government had to listen and reduce it. It would be difficult to say that death sentence would curb the crime because people knew there was death sentence in some countries yet they take drugs there.

How did you feel when that young Nigerian was hanged in Singapore in spite of appeals from our government that he is spared?
It was unfortunate that the plea made by Nigeria was not listened to by the other country, (but) they have there own laws, we have our own laws. They know why they have death penalties and we know why we kicked against it.

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