Government must get serious about containing the trafficking in hard drugs

Three Nigerians were among the four convicted drug traffickers recently executed in Indonesia. The execution of 10 others was reportedly delayed to “avoid any mistake”. While we do not know the identities of those 10 given temporary reprieve, it is important for the Nigerian authorities to find out if our nationals are among them and to offer help, especially since doubts have already been created about their culpability by the Indonesian authorities.

However, this latest execution came against the backdrop that the Senate, only recently, debated a motion entitled: “Nigerians’ involvement in illicit global drugs trade and increase in domestic drug abuse by Nigerian youth.” According to Senator Gbenga Ashafa, some 153 Nigerians would soon be executed in some Asian countries for trafficking in illicit drugs. 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”.

It is indeed noteworthy that late last year, a human rights organisation, Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), announced that about 300 Nigerians were on death row in prisons across Asian countries. According to LEPAD, about 16,500 Nigerians were being held abroad while most of those on death row were convicted of drug-related crimes.

Even if there are discrepancies in the figures, the revelations highlighted the increasing desperation of some Nigerians in the narcotic trade. In spite of frequent arrests and stiff punishment as well as sophistication in technology to combat the illegal business, many Nigerians are still not willing to let go. It has been revealed that many of these Nigerians usually paraded themselves as university students to undermine the visa system in the bid to enter 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 an enormous image problem for the country. In many countries, especially in Asia, it is public knowledge that trafficking in hard drugs 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 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 a lot 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 drugs 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 staff 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.