Mr. Garba Ahmadu, Commander National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, Murtala Muhammed International Airport Lagos, MMIA, is leading the fight against drug traffickers and barons using the the airport as their transit route with determination.
Garba has never relented in this fight of ridding the society of the menace of drug trafficking which has adversely impacted the society.
In this recent interview with Aviation Journalists, Garba speaks on need for more manpower at the airport, statistics of impounded drugs between January till date, convictions, collaboration with other agencies, challenges and other issues.
Franklin Ihejirika reports
Statistics of impounded drugs between January till date
Between January 2021 to March, the command has seized 979.667kgs of illicit drugs. These include 63.217kg of cocaine, 0.950grams of heroine, 13.3kg of cannabis sativa and over 500kgs of khat leaves.
We also arrested 14 suspects within the period. Again, we have been able to secure 14 prosecutions in the court. These are out of the numbers that were taken and successfully prosecuted and get convictions for 12 people.
I think what I want to stress is that this year, we are able to have the largest single seizure of 26.850kg of cocaine. This is very interesting because it was brought in by a lady. If you look at, this is more than half a bag of rice and if you look at how she did it, she just checked it in as a check-in luggage and passed it through. That is a very serious seizure. I think our officers should be commended for this.
We have huge seizure of cocaine this year. This is a little different from what is obtained in previous years. In the first quarter of 2020, we had some huge seizures, but not the same for 2018 and 2019.
Collaboration with other agencies
There are so many stakeholders at the airport and my relationship with them has been fantastic, starting with FAAN. FAAN has been a good partner in enabling us do our work. The scanners at the entry and exit points of the airport belong to FAAN and that is what we use to scan luggage. Aside from that we have instances where we do a lot of follow-up and the only thing we can rely on is the CCTV cameras of FAAN. So, they have been up and doing in helping us to win the war against illicit drugs.
Again, other security agencies have been supporting us positively to make sure we actualize our mandate. By and large, I will say we have all the supports we can get.
Our international partners have been fantastic. Some of the equipment we have now are equipment that are rated the best in any part of the world. I can say we are getting there, but we are not there yet, but everyone is playing its bit.
We also have access to international training and they have gone a long way in boosting the efficiency of our colleagues. Our officers are getting better capacity and we have more and better equipment to make sure we do a lot and actually, results are coming in and I hope we can do better.
There is no agency of government that will say it doesn’t have one challenge or the other. Definitely, every agency is Oliver Twist. We need more manpower, if we can get more manpower to work at the airport, that will be a good thing. We can still do with more funds, equipment, better baggage scanners. There are lots of equipment that we have now that are faster and use to check if there is a particular drug in a luggage. The procedure is so fast. It has a library of so many drugs that are inbuilt. It can detect so much within a little time.
It can reduce the delay passengers go through at the airport and that will add to the ease-of-doing-business policy of the federal government.
Quick convictions within the year
It is not fast. I don’t think any of these convictions was among the 14 we have had so far. We have so many backlog. Even though, the 14 people have been charged and arraigned, I don’t think any of the ones we arrested this year is among the convictions.
You should already know that drug issue is a bailable offence in Nigeria. That is at the discretion of the court. If a judge decides to give a suspect bail, it is at the discretion of the judge.
I don’t think the sentencing is light. The Act has stipulated penalties for each offence. Somehow, it has been the discretion of the judges to decide on what to do.
But, again, inasmuch as it is within the discretion of the judges, NDLEA as an agency too, has the right to appeal a judgment, which they feel is not fair enough. However, there are lots of things that will make a judge to take a certain decision and I am sure they are well-informed too.
We have instances like that in the system, but we are very hopeful that the sentencing will be heavier this time around. The fact is no system is perfect. People can take the advantage of the gaps in the system and exploit it.
If you are convicted normally, your passport is seized and you are arraigned and tried, but like I said earlier, it is a bailable offence. So, they find a way to get bail.
I want to make postulation. It is possible they get police report that their international passport is stolen or missing or anything like that. After they do that they can swear to an affidavit and go to the passport office to get a new one. But, when they are arrested again, you will now discover that such suspect had an ongoing case. These are the gaps in the system.
However, one of the gaps we discuss in one of our trainings recently is how to cover these gaps. If you are not convicted yet, you have some rights, but with collaboration with other security agencies, that can be curbed.
But, I can assure you that anyone that is arrested and arrested again, once the judge gets to know, I think the penalty is a bit heavier, but it depends on the circumstances.
Controversies trailing the arrest of an actor, can it happen again?
Yes and no. right now, we have a case recently that cost us almost a million naira to prosecute. For some of these cases, I have funding. I may not have the cash, but some organizations partner with us on this.
Now, we have more improved equipment that can detect such cases. If we have such a case now, we will not stop at body scan, we will do CT Scan and endorsed copy, which we fit camera into the suspect’s system. Now, we are in a better place than in the past.