The authorities could do more to curb the boom in drug trafficking

Barely one year ago, Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), a human rights organisation, alerted the nation that about 300 Nigerians were on death row in prisons across Asian countries. During the World Day Against the Use of the Death Penalty last week, LEPAD once again drew the country’s attention to the rising number of Nigerians awaiting execution in different parts of the world. Within this period, the number of offenders has doubled as more than 600 Nigerians in South- East Asia countries are awaiting the hangman, most of them on drug-related offences.

The revelations highlight the increasing desperation of some Nigerians in the narcotic trade. More Nigerians are pouring across the borders with hard drugs in spite of the sophistication in technology as well as the stiff punishment mapped out to curb the illegal business. The boom in the illegal trade perhaps speaks to the fact that the country’s law enforcement agencies still have much work on their hands. Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia are evidently among the active drug routes, judging by the number of traffickers caught regularly. Incidentally, these are countries where it is public knowledge that trafficking in hard drug carries the mandatory death sentence.
Indeed, many convicted drug traffickers had been executed in Asia, from Singapore to Vietnam. Some 120 Nigerians were reportedly on death row in Chinese prisons, due mainly to peddling in narcotics.

According to reports, about 16,500 Nigerians are pinning away in various prisons across the world, most of them on drug–related cases. But Indonesia seems an exceptional destination as many Nigerians have been caught, tried and executed there in the recent past. The gravity of the problem was underscored recently when the federal government led by Geoffrey Onyeama, Minister of Foreign Affairs, pleaded with the government of Indonesia to commute the death penalty passed on Nigerians to life imprisonment. But Indonesia was non-committal.

In 2016, three convicted drug peddlers were killed in Indonesia while some 153 others were placed on death row. In one particular sensational outing which captured the attention of the world in April 2015, four Nigerians convicted of drug trafficking were executed along with other nationals by Indonesian authorities via firing squad. 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”.

Unfortunately, that execution came shortly after the upper house of parliament, the Senate, debated a motion entitled: “Nigerians involvement in illicit global drugs trade and increase in domestic drug abuse by Nigerian youth.” The Senate noted rightly that our nationals were viewed with suspicion and subjected to demeaning treatment at airports across the world as a result of this negative perception. Indeed, they inflict grave damage on the country’s image across the world.

Yet LEPAD also raised other concerns: that Nigeria has often greeted these reports with no more than a shrug. In effect, the country is not doing much to get some of those who had conflict with the law out of trouble. According to Mr. Chino Obiagwu, National Coordinator of LEPAD, the government “has not shown reasonable interest in the plight of these Nigerians in foreign land.” He said many of the convicts were subjected to summary trials and convicted without the benefit of legal counsel.

While we agree that the authority could do more to get Nigerians out of trouble in foreign land, we have also emphasised that Nigerians should live within the laws of the country they chose to reside or do business. 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.