The Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the National Drug Law and Enforcement Agency, Alhaji Ahmadu Giade, speaks with Punch about the war against drug trafficking and sundry matters
More drug traffickers on the prowl
The demand for illicit drugs in Western countries and in some African countries is high. Although Nigeria is not a consumer country, we have people who are involved in trafficking of drugs because of its high returns. Drug trafficking was started in the 1960s by some musicians who were trafficking cannabis. They hid the drugs in their drums and sold them to users in other parts of the world and came back rich. When cocaine and heroin started flooding the market, they shifted to cocaine and heroin because they were very easy to move. Traffickers could ingest the drugs. And the money they were making from cocaine and heroin was huge compared to the insignificant returns generated from the trade in cannabis. So, these traditional traffickers of cannabis are the ones who later graduated to cocaine barons. They are recruiting other people to sell the drugs all over the world. They have succeeded in planting couriers all over the world, especially in Latin America, India and Pakistan.
Arrest of drug barons
The barons are more professional in their dealings. You can hardly reach them. The fact is that the traffickers are more in number than the barons and we have arrested many of them. Actually we know who the barons are, but you have to follow due process before arresting them. You cannot arrest somebody because you suspect him to be a baron. You must connect him to something. You need concrete evidence to link him to drug trafficking or you will end up making a fool of yourself before the court. In most cases, there are five to 10 people between them and the traffickers. If you arrest a trafficker, the best he can tell you is that he met the person who gave the drug to him and his name is so and so person. At the end of it, you may get only two people relating to the drug. At the end, this suspect will eventually not link you to the real baron. The way they operate this racket, it will be extremely difficult to get the barons because they provide the money that is used in buying the drugs and they live outside Nigeria. Immediately the drug arrives, you won’t see traces of the baron again. The deal would have been handed over to another person who knows only the person that gave him the drugs. The barons give to the operational man, who in turn calls another person to pick the drug from another person that has no fixed address.
Investigation of people without viable means of livelihood
We have been doing that. The law is on our side in that regard. Around 1994, only the NDLEA was operating the Money Laundering Law. Later, after the Sept. 9, 2011 terrorist attacks in the US, most of the powers were given to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. We only retained the powers that are related to the drugs. If we investigate and we cannot connect the person you are investigating to drug business, we will transfer the person to EFCC, which has a broader scope to cover.
Cooperating with the public
The repercussion of drug trafficking is general and devastating. So, we need the cooperation of the general public. These traffickers are people that live among us. So, we need information from the members of the public who live with them. Honestly speaking, we have been getting information from the public, but very insignificant.
Penalty for drug offenders
A bill that seeks stiffer punishment for drug offenders is pending in the National Assembly. Quite frankly, if the law as it is today is strictly enforced, it can still serve the purpose. The minimum sentence for drug trafficking is 15 years imprisonment and the maximum is life imprisonment. There is no provision for an option of fine, yet you see the people convicted on the streets a few hours after conviction. It is not the law but the implementation of it that matters.
Sub-standard scanners and other equipment
There is equipment, but I will agree with you that they are not enough. We have four functional international airports in the country. We have equipment in all of them. They were donated by the United States of America. The Murtala Muhammed International Airport has scanners and sniffer dogs. We are intending to get more of these sniffer dogs and put them in other international airports. The seizures recorded have to do with how seriously the operatives in the airports take their job. They have been trained by our collaborators. About six months ago, the American government gave us some modern equipment. They are currently in the MMIA. The government will soon grant our request and we will have more of the equipment. More international airports are now springing up. We have one in Ilorin and another one in Akwa Ibom State.
Low staff strength
We are working hard to overcome that hurdle. Our intention is to recruit more committed officers. We are targeting 30,000 staff strength by 2015. We are trying to get approval from the government to recruit 5,000 annually.
Poor welfare package
What we are getting is applicable to other security agencies like the police and Armed Forces. We have the same salary structure, except allowances. I know that there was stagnation in the promotion of the staff, but we are tackling that now.
Nigeria and the global drug war
I leave the judgement to members of the public. But in 1994, the American government rated us as one of the drug trafficking nations in the world and we were subjected to annual certification. We have been on it for quite some time. Many of our collaborators were not willing to assist. But in 2010, the American government removed Nigeria from the list of trafficking nations. Today, there is free flow of intelligence between the agency and our international collaborators. This means that information does not come to me alone. It gets to the operatives, too. So you can see the level of trust.
Hazards of the job
Nobody that you prevent from making quick and big money will see you as his friend. For example, the owners of about 14.2 tonnes of drugs seized by the agency are still outside the country. They have not returned. They are losing a lot of money each day. I don’t think they will regard me or my operatives as potential friends.
It is a very serious and worrisome issue. The first place we discovered it was Monkey Village, near Kirikiri, in Lagos. They were operating in a densely populated area. They dug a hole where they dumped toxic waste and inside the room was also where they manufactured the drug. When we found the place, we took the sample to our collaborators in the USA for analysis. What they told me after their analysis was very disturbing. They said that even those manufacturing it would develop cancer in the future. The same thing might happen to those who lived within the area because the toxic waste would spill into boreholes within the vicinity and anyone who used the water for drinking, bathing or laundry would equally be affected. Any family that moved into the house would be affected.
If our citizens are being infected by cancer because of a few individuals, it is wrong. The devastating effect of this drug is enormous. We will lose many people and the economy will suffer. For your information, we have many Nigerians who are involved in the activity of this drug. Methamphetamine is more dangerous than any other drugs because of the health hazard.