Nigeria’s War against Drugs: Conversation with Garba Ahmadu

Mr. Garba Ahmadu is the Commander, National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), in charge of Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA). In this interview with Godwin Anyebe, he reels out several arrests made at the airport in the past three months, how the judiciary handles drug suspects, and how they are tackling new mode of concealment of drug barons and carriers.

Godwin Anyebe: Can you please avail us statistics of drugs impounded at the airport in Lagos between January till date?

Garba Ahmadu: Between January 2021 and March, the command has seized 979.667kgs of illicit drugs. These include 63.217kg of cocaine, 0.950grms 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 had 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, it is more than half a bag of rice. That is a very serious seizure. I think our officers should be commended for this.

Garba Ahmadu

We have huge seizures of cocaine this year. This is a little different from what was obtained in previous years. In the first quarter of 2020, we had some huge seizures, but not the same for 2018 and 2019.

Godwin Anyebe: How is your agency collaborating with other agencies in the fight against illicit drugs?

Garba Ahmadu: There are so many stakeholders at the airport and my relationship with them has been fantastic, starting with FAAN. FAAN has been good partners 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.

In addition, 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 can be rated as the best in any part of the world. I can say we are getting there, but we are not there yet, but everyone is doing their bit.

We also have access to international training and they have gone a long way in boosting the efficiency of our colleagues.

We equally 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.

Godwin Anyebe: The war against drug traffickers and barons is not an easy task. What have been your constraints?

Garba Ahmadu: 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 better with more funds, equipment, better baggage scanners. There are lots of equipments that we have now that work faster and we use them 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 in-built. It can detect so much within a little time.

It can reduce the delays passengers go through at the airport and that will add to the ease-of-doing-business policy of the Federal Government.

Godwin Anyebe: Talking about quick convictions of traffickers, are you satisfied with the legal procedures?

Garba Ahmadu: It is not really fast. I don’t think any of these convictions was among the 14 we have had so far. We have so many backlogs. 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 offenders in Nigeria can go home on bail. That is at the discretion of the court. If a judge decides to give a suspect bail, it is at his discretion.

Godwin Anyebe: How would you describe the light sentencing of suspects by courts?

Garba Ahmadu: 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, in as much 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.

Godwin Anyebe: What of repeat offenders. What should be meted out to them?

Garba Ahmadu: We have instances like that in the system, but we are very hopeful that the sentencing will be heavier the second time. 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, you can 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 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 discussed 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, such excesses can be curbed.

But, I can assure you that anyone that was arrested before and gets arrested again, the penalty is a lot heavier, but it depends on the circumstances.

Godwin Anyebe: There are some controversies trailing the arrest of an actor, and it has been lingering for so long?

Garba Ahmadu: Right now, we have a case recently that cost us almost a million naira to prosecute. So it can linger. For some of these cases, we have funding. We may not have the cash, but some organisations partner with us and provide funds for this.

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Now, we have more improved equipment that can detect hidden cases. If we have such a serious case now, we will not stop at body scan, we will do CT scan and endoscopy, which we fit a camera into the suspect’s anal system. Now, we are in a better place than we used to be against many who feel they can beat the system.

Godwin Anyebe: How do you handle your officers who compromise in the course of operations?

Garba Ahmadu: The laws are crystal clear on how to deal with any compromising officer. We don’t joke with such an offence in this agency. Any officer who is caught compromising our standard in the course of operation would be referred to the laws, and such a person would be dealt with accordingly.

Godwin Anyebe: What do you do to encourage collaboration with other agencies?

Garba Ahmadu: We appreciate them and in most cases, the agency write a letter of commendation to agencies that have assisted NDLEA in carrying out its duties and responsibilities. For example, in the past, we have commended Red Star Express Plc, one of Nigeria’s foremost logistics solutions providers, for its collaboration, professionalism, as well as the synergies with NDLEA officers posted to the establishment to ensure that every package passing through the system is without drugs or any counterfeit item.

For example, in a special message to the company in the past, the then Deputy Director, Operations and General Investigation, Ulo Okon, on behalf of the NDLEA, proclaimed that co-operation from Red Star Express Plc resulted, to a large extent, on the seizures of hard drugs. The support and assistance of the company in respect of the war against drug trafficking is very wonderful and has resulted to a great number of seizures of hard drugs, fake documents, passports, as well as fake travellers cheques; both in regular searches and controlled delivery process.

Godwin Anyebe: How would you measure your performance in this command?

Garba Ahmadu: Our performance in this command is open to public scrutiny. This is a very strategic command. Don’t forget, the Chairman/Chief Executive of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Brig. Mohamed Buba Marwa (Retd) was recently at this command and charged men and officers in the command to intensify the fight against drug abuse and trafficking so as to rid the country of hard drugs.

The chairman said he is aware of what is going on, both operationally and administratively, and he congratulated this command for its tenacity, efforts and aggressiveness. According to him, we cannot win this war against drugs by sitting down. He noted that we must go on the offensive on a daily basis, and take the war personal because we are Nigerians, and that those who are bringing in these drugs want to corrupt and destroy our own children. So, we are attacking the problem professionally with the agency. We are also doing it for ourselves, our families, as well as our communities.

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