Alhaji Bello Lafiaji, the former Chairman of the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency, has been sent to jail for 16 years, the climax of a long-drawn legal tussle between the Independent and Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and Lafiaj. His former Special Assistant, Usman Amali, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment.
For those who lauded the achievements of the former NDLEA boss in his hey day, what has befallen him is nothing short of a major disaster. None of them ever have thought someone of Lafiaji’s caliber would be involved in corrupt enrichment and abuse of office. Many are also wondering whether the office of the NDLEA Chairman is a jinxed one, judging from the ignominious exit of Fidelis Oyakhilome from the same seat before Lafiaji’s.
Although nobody can say precisely the point at what the former anti-drug agency chairman’s careeer derailed, the Federal Government must have smelled a rat when he was removed from office unceremoniously just after his tenure had been renewed for five years.
When Alhaji Lafiaji assumed duties as the Chairman of the NDLEA in October 2000, the general belief was that drug lords in Nigeria were in for a tough time. Lafiaji had the status of a veteran intelligence officer who has been everything in the Nigerian intelligence hemisphere. He had served as a policeman and a pioneer of the National Intelligence Agency and the State Security Service before he was enlisted in the drug war.
He hails from Kankia Local Government Area of Katsina State and he was born on the 2nd of February 1952. In his much younger days, Lafiaji was a great sportsman as he represented his state in events like hockey, basketball and cross country running, in which he was the North Central State champion. He joined the Nigeria Police Force at the Police College, Ikeja while he had his security intelligence training at the SSS Training School, Lagos. That he was well trained as an officer is evident in the fact that he is a product of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Cairo, Egypt, where he trained in 1975. He also trained at the National Intelligence Academy, Fort Lauderdale, USA in 1978 and at Nigeria’s famous National War College.
The dedicated officer in him saw him becoming the Deputy Officer in Charge, Abuja SSS Command after which he became the Director of the State Security Service for the Katsina, Kano, Borno commands, as well as the National Director of Operations and later training.
With many years of service in intelligence behind him, many saw him as the man that could surpass the achievements of General Musa Bamaiyi in his days as the Chairman of the NDLEA. It was also said then that he would restore the respect commanded by the NDLEA and he lived up to that billing when he assumed office. Six months after his appointment as Chairman, Lafiaji reversed the 7 year de-certification of Nigeria by the United States. It was therefore not surprising to many when the former NDLEA chairman emerged the Secretary General, and later, the first African President of the European Working Group of the International Drug Enforcement Conference in May, 2004.
His achievements then did not go unnoticed: he received honours both at home and abroad on account of his streak of successes at the agency. They include two National honours of the Order of the Niger and the Officer of the Federal Republic. The belief is still held in some quarters that Alhaji Lafiaji was the one that professionalized the NDLEA. He also commanded respect for the way he refocused and restructured the organization in order to redeem Nigeria’s image in the international community.
One of his major achievements in office was the interception of a huge quantity of pure cocaine weighing as much as 60 kilogrammes and with a street value of about N1 billion at the Tin Can Island Ports years ago. NDLEA officials reportedly turned down a N50 million bribe to effect the seizure. Many officers of the NDLEA would remember that Lafiaji gave the drug war a human face: in December, 2002, he organized a merit award ceremony where past Chairmen of the Agency and deserving officers and stakeholders in the drug war were honoured.
HOW HE GOT INTO TROUBLE: The Deals That Nailed Him
The Independent and Corrupt Practices Commission arraigned Alhaji Lafiaji and his Special Assistant, Usman Amali on a seven count charge of abuse of office and conspiracy in 2008. One of the allegations against them was that the sum of € 164,300 seized from one Ikenna Onochie, a drug suspect was diverted by Lafiaji and his aide. A new twist emerged when the suspect claimed that it was € 165,000 that was missing. The purpose of the said money was part of the exhibits seized from Onochie’s house in his Maryland, Lagos when he was arrested for being in possession of 3.2 kg of cocaine and heroin in 2005.
One of the many factors that nailed the former NDLEA boss was the testimony of one of his officers, Samuel Gadzama. According to Gadzama, Lafiaji instructed him to release Onochie and his confiscated property the same day he was arrested while he was also instructed not to document the arrest and seizure on the ground that the suspect was a friend of the NDLEA. The ICPC conducted a painstaking investigation and discovered that Ikenna Onochie was arrested and released on the 3rd of December, 2005, which was a public holiday. It was found out in the course of the investigation that the release did not follow due process.
Another nail on the coffin was an MTN call list that was tendered in evidence. The call log showed that Usman Amali had conversations with Onochie altthough the former denied ever talking with the suspected drug baron. And as if that was not enough, Lafiaji’s hitherto respectable image suffered a devastating blow when it was discovered that he collected the sum of N 450,000 from Samuel Gadzama, who would later became a prosecution witness in the case. Alhaji Lafiaji however insisted in court that the money was not part of the exhibit seized from a suspect but from a fund earmarked for joint police task force operation of drug trafficking.
Defending the action, Lafiaji explained in court that sometime in 2005, an informant walked into his office with information that some people were planning to import drugs from Benin Republic into Nigeria and he demanded N 500,000 out of the fund meant for the operation of the joint task force from Gadzama in order to give the informantion but Gadzama brought only N 450,000 which was handed over to the informant.
Street Journal gathered that the raid on Ikenna Onochie’s residence was allegedly led by Samuel Gadzama and it was gathered that the € 164,300 was not tendered by the search team. To make matters worse, when Onochie was arraigned, he raised alarm that the money seized from him was not tendered as exhibit in court.
Things seemed normal until Alhaji Ahmadu Giade took over as the Chairman of the NDLEA. He ordered the investigation of Ikenna Onochie’s allegation and part of the findings was that the officer that led the operation was said to have disclosed that the € 164,300 was recovered and given to Alhaji Lafiaji. Based on the facts before the agency, the case was referred to the ICPC and that was the beginning of the former Chairman’s disgraceful road to jail.
Speaking on the irregularities in the Onochie matter, Giade said: “When a senior officer has to effect arrest or seizure, he fills a search endorsement form, listing all the potential exhibits they are seizing and other operatives and a suspect sign as witnesses. In the search endorsement form filled by Gadzama when they effected Onochie’s arrest, there were lists on three pages. The petitions that kept coming from the suspect and others made me call for the case file on the matter. Surprisingly, there was nowhere in the case file where the €164,000 was mentioned. The petitions were persistent so I decided to conduct internal investigations. Later, Gadzama himself confirmed that three days after it was recovered, he was directed by the former Chairman, Alhaji Lafiaji, to hand it over to his (Lafiaji’s) Special Assistant and he did so.”
Speaking further, Alhaji Ahmadu Giade disclosed that when he asked why the money was not reflected in the case file, he was told that it was a directive given by the management of the NDLEA before he became the chairman. He went further: “I discovered that the form’s serial numbering of recovered items and even the date had been altered. The discrepancies made me suspend Gadzama pending the outcome of all investigations. His allegations against the former management of the NDLEA made me bring in the ICPC. ”