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How NDLEA trapped $3 billion worth of cocaine

November 7, 2007
Nigeria Drug Law enforcement agency intercepted a large consignment of cocaine that was valued at N49.7 billion, the largest haul so far intercepted in Africa. In this interview, the Director, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Mr. DAN ISMAIL, his Director of Operations and General Investigation, ABIODUN ADESOLA and JONAH ACHEMA fielded questions from WOLE ARISEKOLA of THE STREET JOURNAL, especially on the activity of Nigerians alleged to be behind the supply of hard drugs into Ireland as well as being responsible for the influx of 30% of drugs consumed in Europe. It is revealing! There are some Nigerians who are declared wanted by Irish Government some years ago but here in Nigeria some of these same men are being escorted by the police. How do you react to this? Sometimes, there is need for us to appreciate that Nigerian is a sovereign state like any country across the world. What goes on in Ireland is the exclusive pressure and authority of the Irish Government. The same happens here in Nigeria. If a Nigerian is believed to have committed an offence, there are certain things in existence to know what to do. Do we have a bilateral agreement with the Irish Government? If we do, what are the terms of these bilateral agreements? Now if you know the terms of this bilateral agreement… even if it is not there, if the Irish Government had written to our government, informing our government that there is a Nigerian who had committed so and so offences in Ireland, Nigeria is not a safe haven for criminals of any hue, particularly drug offenders because if Nigeria is the 3rd signatory to the UN convention of 1988 and has gone ahead to establish the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) a year after and make it function and single-handedly funded it, that shows that the government of Nigeria is truly committed to the principles of UN convention of 1988. That goes to show that there are lots of efforts by NDLEA to curb the drug menace. So if there has been no request, there is no way we can know. What you are telling me now is news to me. There was a particular drug baron arrested sometimes ago by former NDLEA boss, Musa Bamayi, because I spoke with him some few weeks ago and he told me that immediately he left the agency, the man was released. Why did your organization release such person? Was it because most of these barons have enough money to throw around - to bribe their way out, that you let him go free? Let me first correct one impression; Rtd Major-General Bamayi was an individual; he fought the drug war with officers of the NDLEA. I happened to be one of such people and it is on record that for 4 years and 11 months in office, I was the only person he did not remove from office through out his term. You shouldn’t forget the fact that Gen. Bamayi functioned under military dictatorship. Soon after he left, if you would recall, by February 1999, American government gave Nigeria a waiver. Now what this represents is that during the almost five years tenure of General Musa Bamayi at the helm of affairs, Nigeria was decertified by the American government but soon after he left, Nigeria was placed on a waiver list. Before we were completely blacklisted- they do not want to have anything to do with the country, they were always all out to block any economic, social or other advantages that comes to us from the members of the OECD as well as members of the European Union of which I want to believe the Republic of Ireland is one of. Then, if that is the case, two months after Bamayi left Nigeria was now given a waiver. A waiver is to take us out of decertified countries’ list and placing us at an advantage to work harder and improve on the gains. And it would interest you to know that when that happened, the following year, Nigeria started enjoying certification. So, therefore, we have to appreciate one thing, if we arrest a suspect, we only have responsibility to arrest, investigate, and prosecute. NDLEA does not appoint the judges; NDLEA does not have the right to determine which direction judgment of the court would go. If at the whim and caprice of the court, they decided to grant such an individual bail, the fault should not be that of NDLEA. And the person you have just mentioned some years ago, our officers went all out for him….that was during the time of Dr. Bello Lafiaji, they shot at the man in question but one thing I want you to appreciate is that, we need information on these people, we never arrested this man with any exhibit. If we had information, even without any exhibit, we would work with it. We had the case that involved Alhaji Musa Alubankudi, I am sure you know Musa was never arrested with any exhibit but there were two British ladies that were ready to give information. NDLEA paid for their passing, their stay and return to England. They gave evidence against Musa Alubankudi and he was arrested, tried and convicted. All his assets; both movable and immovable were forfeited to the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and be that as it may, as I’m sitting here with you, before God and man, I have placed a number of drug barons on surveillance. Mr. Joe Clark of the American DEA at a narcotic meeting in USA recently accused Nigeria as haven of criminals and that we are the biggest suppliers of heroine, and are responsible for 30% of drugs in Europe. He specifically mentioned this name (with held). We confronted Bamayi in England recently and his reply was that he had done his best, leaving the rest to the organization. So now, EFCC is also echoing Ribadu that it’s the court that decides whether a suspect is convicted in court or not. Did your agency ever made any request to the government that things are not being properly done in the judiciary? As I am talking to you, the issue of that suspect and his friend supplying 30% of heroine in Europe- let me tell you straightway, there are certain things that are going on that many may not know. You are on the other side of the divide, I am here, it’s because I’ve been in this system long enough to know who and who are the black sheep that must be dealt with and like I told you, the prime suspect is very much on my wanted list. But I want to tell you, I am not indicting the judiciary, I am only raising an issue, NDLEA does not appoint judges and like I told you, all we need do is perfect our cases and present it to them. Judges are human beings too and I want to tell you, whether you like it or not, this government is doing a good job. For the first time you now have judges who are being punished for abusing their position on the bench. That is one fundamental fact I don’t want you to run away from, if there is a judge that is misbehaving and there is enough proof and evidence to that effect that he did what he was not supposed to do, then the matter would be brought before the National Judicial Commission which has the authority to sanction judges. Many of such judges have been removed but here, in our legal system, there is provision for judges to use their discretion. If a judge looks at a particular case and decides, “This is the way this case would go,” I want to tell you NDLEA does not have the authority to say judgment should not go the way the judge wants it. And I want to tell you… you kept on mentioning the tenure of Gen. Bamayi, like I said, he functioned under a military dictatorship. Everything Gen. Bamayi did that time, he can never, quote me; he can never do it now! Because by the time you go to court… let me tell you one thing, when Gen. Bamayi was here, we were using the Tribunal- the Tribunal has become moribund now as we now use the normal legal system through the Federal High Court. No court is designated to deal with drug matters alone and our cases are competing with others of interest in the land. So we have to take our queue like any other matter and you find out that cases are there in court for months, not listed for hearing. NDLEA continues to feed the suspect and a suspect is deemed to have been taken out of circulation on the first day he is arrested. That is the normal system all over the world. I stand to be corrected and if that be the case and a judge now decided that okay, for this offence you have committed, I’m sentencing you to two years imprisonment… and you know that the way the legal year is calculated is different from the normal 12 calendar sessions, so if you have a person who has been in custody upward of six to seven months and he is just sentenced to two or three years, you how many years it remains for the person to stay in custody? So you just find out that in no time, the person is out and once he is out, he walks into the society. The society is so impoverished- whether you like it or not. A few things might have been detected here and there regardless of the security put in place; people who have been tried, convicted, and deported have found their way back into the American system. How did it happen? Security is not absolute. It is never absolute anywhere in the world. That is why you can talk of 9-11 (September 11 bombing of the American Twin Tower), but for God’s divine intervention, we would have even been crying all over the world by now if not for timely intervention which helped a few things to leak, averting another calamity this month. So if you put all these into consideration, what matters most is the exchange of information. Those at the other end should avail Nigerian Government cooperation and the necessary information. They should give us necessary support because level of sophistication of some European countries is not the same with that at which we are operating here. The age of the counter narcotic bodies they have there is not the same with ours. The logistic support they have, we don’t have and yet, we are making achievement. And you can imagine, for a country and officers to have been monitoring a consignment which eventually landed in Nigeria for upward of five to six months that eventually landed in Nigeria even when they did trans shipment on the high seas...and for Nigeria government, through NAFDAC to have intercepted 14,200 kg of grade (A) cocaine, I mean for goodness sake people should know this government… this agency is doing a Yeo-man’s job without support from anywhere. What are you doing about the porous security arrangement at the International airport? Last week, a Nigerian was arrested in Cork, Ireland, with hard drugs found in his possession. He definitely wasn’t on the queue because none of the passengers remembered seeing him. We can only wonder how drug couriers manage to depart Nigeria without being detected. What is the agency doing about this? Well, I want to thank you very much as you raised an issue that somebody was not on the queue but was brought in through some unauthorized means. Some few months ago, this generated crisis between officers of NDLEA at the Murtala Mohammed Airport because some officials of the Federal Aviation Airport Authority (FAAN) had to maneuver, taking such individuals away from the prying eyes of the agency. You see, there are so many organizations at our national airport and we work in collaboration with one another. But as it is everywhere in the world, we have some bad eggs and they say if one hand brings oil, it soils others. One thing I want you to appreciate is the fact that, that guy would never pass through the normal channel. He was brought in through another place and the person who brought him through is definitely not an official of NDLEA. A similar something happened in February or March that led to the sacking of almost every security official of FAAN at the airport. It even led to the Federal Government inviting the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) to come in to access and screen officials of FAAN and that led to the sacking of 150 of their staff. So if one or two things happened, it has happened and we have to go back and tell our people and make them believe that a deterrent have been set by discovering what they did, bringing into the open- reporting them because the invitation to NIA emanated from the complaints of NDLEA to the Chairman and to FAAN. That this is what some of your men are doing, they probed into the matter, it was confirmed and some of the men were arrested but they were transferred to them so that they’d handle the disciplinary aspect of it and then return them to us, that was what happened. You’re mentioning the fact that you’ve been to many DE offices all over the world. As I told you, age is of paramount importance, they have been at this job longer than we have. Number two, the Nigerian level of richness in terms of economic buoyancy is not in anyway comparable with what you have as far as these other countries are concerned, that’s another issue. The third and the most important is that Nigeria as a developing country has a lot of competing national interests. Talk of education, heath sector, transport, power generation and a lot of things are competing for interest. However, our problem really is because a lot of organizations that are supposed to partner with the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency in extending the frontier of our counter-narcotics are somehow reluctant. And until government in its wisdom decides that a certain percentage of money released out of the proceeds of sale from properties of drug convicts forfeited to government, is paid into the consolidated revenue and given to NDLEA, the problem may still remain. We also need tremendous improvement in our level of funding- talking of the NDLEA, NAFDAC and NAPEP. You see, it was interesting that a few weeks ago, a consignment of parcels from Germany came into Nigeria; they did not detect it there. Our officers at the clearing point in the courier service searched through the entire parcel and they were able to identify 36 wraps of pure cocaine. I met the Chairman/Chief Executive; sought his permission- unlike what used to be that I want to handle this from the headquarters. He gave his blessings. I assigned an officer to go with the officials of the courier organization that was involved, they traveled together to Kaduna… this is what is called control delivery; they delivered the parcel to a top officer in the Armed Forces whose name was on it received the parcel. The consignment was put in his care and he was arrested. We grilled him and he confessed it does not belong to him but to another person in Gwagwalada. From there, our officers drove to Gwagwalada in Abuja, which is about a two and half hour drive. They met the real owner when they got there, and the man claimed ownership. So we picked him. For goodness sake, NDLEA officers are very intelligent; they are determined men and women of goodwill. We must see the need to appreciate and support the agency. If people sit back on the fence and behave as if, “I’m not involved, it’s not my business,” it would one day be their business when they are attacked by users of drug. Everything in this country is being left to the government. What stops an individual with money to donate 20 vehicles to NDLEA? Nobody has ever done that and I’ve been in this agency since its creation. You go to people cap in hand begging for support, nobody is ready to do anything, but we are still working because we know we do not have any other country except Nigeria. We are working towards redemption of our own corporate image, towards salvaging those trapped in this drug menace, so what we need is for people to appreciate that we are doing. We are ready to let people know what we are doing so that perhaps when they know, they would know that there is a new sense of urgency, commitment and drive towards sanitizing the mess in this country. But then, we need international collaborators to share with us; knowledge, information and logistic support. When we have all these, we are bound to get somewhere. Irish officials told me that the Nigerian Embassy has never ever been cooperative. They alleged that they’ve never received any letter from your office indicating your interest to work with them, how can we break this barrier? Like I said, I’m not in charge of our prosecution matters. We need to know if we have a bilateral agreement with Ireland. We don’t even have to wait for that bilateral agreement to come to Nigeria if the government of Ireland sees itself at the receiving end of an influx of drugs, they can initiate the move. There is nothing stopping them from allowing some of their officials to pay a working visit to our country. There is nothing also stopping them…with good people like, when you get back there why don’t you ask them, that can we bring some NDLEA officials over to see what is going on, or to invite the Chairman/Chief Executive of the agency and let him lead a delegation of three to four persons over? And by the time we get there, they’d show to us what Nigerians there are doing. I want you to know one thing, wherever there are people…and it is not just Nigerians that we’re looking at now, the conspiracy of the Irish people too is also a matter of importance- if they don’t work hand in gloves with the Nigeria criminal elements in that country, they’d definitely not be thriving because whatsoever consignment of drugs they are taking out of Nigeria or from any part of the world to Ireland is certainly not meant for the Nigerian community. It is meant for those who can pay for it and definitely the Irish government would have a crisis on her hand if this situation is not addressed at this early stage. Deputy Chairman In addition to that, you would recall that I discussed with you sometime ago that the Irish Gardia came to the office and they were sitting on these chairs (pointing to a set of leather cushion- visitor’s chairs) and I discussed with them, they came to ask for assistance to bring in deportees from Ireland to Nigeria and I asked them, how many drug deportees do you have in all? They said there is only one drug deportee; all the others were immigration and other criminal offences. So I said that drug deportee, is he a Nigerian or not? They said, when they took him from Ireland, he said he is a Nigerian but when they brought him to the Nigeria Airport, he said he is from Niger Republic but his name sounded like that of a River State-Nigerian. So I asked them, what other problems do we have with you? They replied that they are beginning to notice Nigerians selling crack cocaine on the streets of Dublin. I said these Nigerians selling crack cocaine, do they carry Nigerian passports? They said, no, that they are Nigerians who have British passports. The complication there is that, however brilliant we are in Nigeria, however much we love our own countrymen, we cannot go to Ireland and begin to arrest Nigerians with British passports. The British people, if they feel bad about it, they’d do something about it, but what we need is collaboration. Like I said, if we don’t collaborate, the last time I was informed about somebody who came through Brussels to Ireland and was arrested with a large quantity of cocaine, they said he left from Abuja here. I was told they had already shown it on TV, so I said, this is where our problem

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