The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency could do more to curb trafficking in illicit drugs

The Senate was recently upset by the huge numbers of Nigerians on death row in Malaysia and China. This was sequel to a motion tabled by Senator Gbenga Ashafa entitled: “Nigerians involvement in illicit global drugs trade and increase in domestic drug abuse by Nigerian youth.” According to Ashafa, some 153 Nigerians would soon be executed in these Asian countries for trafficking in illicit drugs. Besides the image problem created for our country, the senator representing Lagos East rightly observed that “our nationals are viewed with suspicion and subjected to demeaning treatment at airports across the world as a result of this negative perception.”

However, the information from the upper chamber of parliament was a bit dated. Late last year, a human rights organisation by the name Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) said almost 300 Nigerians were currently on death row in prisons across Asian countries. According to Mr. Chinonye Obiagwu, the data independently collected by LEPAD revealed that 120 Nigerians faced the prospects of death in Chinese prisons, and over 170 in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and five in Qatar, United Arab Emirate and Saudi Arabia. He estimated that about 16,500 Nigerians were being held abroad while most of those on death row were convicted of drug-related crimes.

Even so, the figures from the parliament once again highlight the increasing desperation of Nigerians in the narcotic trade. In spite of frequent arrests and stiff punishment, and the increasing sophistication in technology to combat the illegal business, many desperate Nigerians are still not willing to let go. Indeed, Ashafa noted that many of these Nigerians paraded themselves as university students to undermine the visa system and gained entrance into Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and other drug traffic routes. Over 30 out of 80 foreign students arrested in Malaysia in 2015 were reportedly Nigerians.

That perhaps explains why across the world today, several Nigerians are on death row or serving prison terms and creating enormous image problem for the country. Those in prison serving terms are even the lucky ones. In many countries, especially in Asia, it is public knowledge that trafficking in hard drug carries the ultimate sentence. In June 2008, two Nigerians were executed in Indonesia for trafficking in illegal drugs. The same fate befell one Chibuzor Vituz in China in 2009.

In a well sensational outing in April 2015, four Nigerians convicted of drug trafficking were executed along with other nationals by Indonesian authorities via firing squad. The Public Communications Division of the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave the names of the executed Nigerians as Martin Anderson, Okwudili Oyatanze, Jaminu Abashin and Sylvester Obiekwe. Pleas for leniency by Nigeria, the United Nations and Amnesty International were reportedly downplayed by the Indonesian government partly because “at that point, seven fresh cases of drug trafficking involving Nigerians had just emerged in Indonesia”.

Yet the huge numbers of drug mules still jetting out of the country means the enforcement agencies still have much work on their hands. This is in addition to the fact that Nigeria is increasingly becoming a destination for narcotics in its own right. In the past few years, the use of illicit drug use has been widespread and many of our young citizens are increasingly getting addicted.

The Senate specifically has called for the restructuring and repositioning of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the agency saddled with curbing the crime, to be more effective. Indeed, some of its staffers were reportedly compromised in the past while the agency has long argued that it is understaffed and ill-equipped. But the scale of the problem and the consequences for our image, national security and public health are so severe that something must be done urgently.