By Romanus Okoye
Every day, the media space is flooded with reports of incredible tactics adopted by drug traffickers to outsmart officers of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and other security agents. Despite the traffickers’ daring approach, the agency has, within four months, seized 2,050,766.33 kilogrammes of assorted illicit drugs worth over N85 billion, arrested 2,175 traffickers, filed over 2,000 cases in court and got more than 400 convictions, while 1,500 are pending.
On May 28, the Naval Patrol Team at Idemili Junction, Onitsha, Anambra State, arrested 29-year-old Obodoekwe Christian for alleged possession of cannabis sativa. The suspect allegedly wrapped the drugs, weighing 26kg, with a street value of N108,550, in 43 parcels.
On May 24, a dispatch rider abandoned a courier company’s motorcycle in Wuse Zone 4, Abuja, upon sighting NDLEA’s outpost in the area. The motorcycle was later found to contain several pinches of crack cocaine, known as charlie, and some envelopes of ‘arizona’ meant for delivery. An alleged online drug trafficker, Peter Nkejika, was arrested with some quantity of drug known as ‘loud’, a highly psychoactive variant of cannabis. Each portion of loud costs N30,000 and the rider was caught with 17 portions meant for delivery.
Within the same period, reports said NDLEA operatives intercepted two online drug transactions and arrested a lady, Dolapo Benjamin, who owned the motorcycles “involved in door-to-door distribution of drugs and drug-based edibles, cakes and brownies. Also seized from them were assorted drugs: cocaine, crack, charlie, molly, ecstasy, skunk, brownies and loud, an expensive psychoactive variant of cannabis in town.”
On May 21, the anti-drug agency arrested 10 suspected online drug traffickers, seized 11 dispatch motorcycles used to distribute drugs and recovered assorted drugs from them. The arrest followed raids on online drug traffickers in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
According to the agency, one suspect, 28-year-old Ese Patrick, sold illicit substances through Instagram account, Ese’sOvenSecret. She was tracked and arrested with some pieces of brownies ordered online by NDLEA’s undercover agents when she and her boyfriend came to deliver it in a Mercedes Benz car; 400g of arizona weed, which she used in baking the brownies, was also seized in a follow-up operation at her residence. Further investigation led to the arrest of Iyama Patrick with 450g of arizona weed. He allegedly supplied Ese the cannabis she used.
On Friday, May 7, around 9.40pm, the agency arrested an alleged drug baron, Asekun Kehinde Sakiru, at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Ikeja, Lagos, with a kilogramme of cocaine concealed in five pairs of pam slippers neatly packed inside his suitcase. Asekun had been on the wanted list of the agency following the arrest of some traffickers and drug seizures linked to him. The long arm of the law finally caught up with him on his way to London, United Kingdom, while boarding a Virgin Atlantic flight.
In the course of tracking the suspect, N131 million was seized from his account and another N14 million blocked in the account of one of his accomplices, Azeez Adeniyi Ibrahim, bringing the total sum recovered from him to N145 million. Asekun, who was the vice chairman of Lagos Island East Local Council Development Authority (LCDA) between 2004 and 2014, claimed to be an international businessman dealing in automobiles, but investigation is yet to confirm the source of his wealth.
In April, undercover narcotics agents in two courier companies intercepted 140g of methamphetamine concealed in a statue of Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, and 500g of heroin concealed in auto spare parts to be dispatched to Canada and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
On Monday, April 26, the Kogi State command of the NDLEA arrested 43-year-old Christian Godwin with 157.5kg of skunk concealed in false panels in a Peugeot J5 bus with registration number Lagos AGL 641. According to Adewunmi Alfred, the suspect and his consignment were intercepted at a patrol point in Lokoja, the state capital.
“The skunk was sourced from Ikire in Osun State, heading to Masaka in Nasarawa State,” Alfred said.
Also in April, a trans-border trafficker, Emeka Okoro, and another drug dealer, Ibrahim Bello, were arrested in Abuja with cocaine weighing 1.1kg, which had a street value of N264m. While Okoro was intercepted in possession of 900g of cocaine in a commercial bus along the Abuja-Gwagwalada road based on intelligence, Bello was nabbed with 200g of the illicit drug in the Zuba area of the FCT the same day through a controlled delivery operation.
According to the commander of the FCT command, Mohammed Malami Sokoto, Okoro was an intending traveller to Libya through Kano and Agadez in Niger Republic: “The wraps of cocaine were not to be swallowed as has always been the case, but to be concealed in jerry cans of palm oil and transported through the border in Kano to Agadez and Libya. The suspect, Emeka Okoro, revealed that this has been the trend in the past months.”
At the Apapa seaport in Lagos, NDLEA intercepted a containerload of tramadol and also arrested 90 persons, including an Indian, during raids on some drug cartels in parts of Lagos, in which a total of 614.396kg of various hard drugs were seized. The two million capsules of tramadol, precisely, 1,994,400 capsules, tucked in 554 cartons, were intercepted in a container falsely declared to contain ceramic tiles. During the raids in Agege, Ikorodu, Lekki, Okokomaiko and other parts of the state, the agency dismantled major drug syndicates and seized large quantities of hard drugs.
One of the syndicates busted was coordinated by Samuel Ebenezer in Lekki, whose cartel imported special, sophisticated drugs baked in cakes, biscuits and cookies from the United States, which he sold to the rich and affluent in Lekki and Lagos Island. The second syndicate was coordinated by Indian Inderpreet Singh, aka Bobby, who imported tramadol from India and sold it in Nigeria from his Osy Agomo Close, Apple Estate, Amuwo Odofin, Lagos. Mr. Singh was also a dealer in tricycle parts. Arrested along with him was a Nigerian, Sylvester Omoredien.
Also in March, the NDLEA arrested a suspect with illicit drugs worth over N2 billion at the MMIA. He had in his possession 7.1kg of methamphetamine carefully concealed in food spices and packed in a Swiss Polo suitcase. The illicit substance with a street value of over N2b was said to be Spain-bound.
“Unarguably, the closure of borders caused by COVID-19 pandemic is responsible for the surge in the price of these drugs. For instance, the price of methamphetamine in Australia had increased from $200 to $600 per gramme due to supply cuts, hence the desperation by the traffickers and barons alike,’’ the agency’s MMIA’s special commander, Ahmadu Garba, said.
In February, the agency arrested Ukaegbu Bright Onyekachi, an alleged cocaine trafficker, with 3.30kg of the illicit drug during the inward clearance of passengers on Ethiopian Airlines at the ‘E’ arrival hall of the MMIA.
“The hard drug was cleverly concealed in T-shirts stickers but he couldn’t escape the eagle eyes of our detectives,” Ahmadu Garba said.
Still in February, NDLEA intercepted 40 parcels of cocaine weighing 43.11kg, with an estimated street value of over N32 billion at the Tin Can Port, Lagos. Commander of the NDLEA, Tin Can Port command, Mr. Sumaila Ethan, said the consignment containing the illicit drug was put under surveillance by NDLEA for some days until two clearing agents showed up on February 8, to clear it. Ethan said the clearing agents were promptly arrested and the consignment, which was brought into Nigeria from Brazil on board a vessel, marked MV Spar Scorpio, was properly searchedP: “After a thorough search, we discovered 40 compressed parcels, which after laboratory investigations tested positive to cocaine.”
On January 31, 33-year-old Onyejegbu Ifesinachi Jennifer, a hairdresser, was arrested for smuggling cocaine worth N21 billion into Nigeria. The cocaine, weighing 26.84kg, was concealed in 16 duvets that she brought into the country from Sao Paulo, Brazil. It was the biggest single seizure from an individual in the past 15 years.
According to the agency, “As a standard operating procedure, all passengers to and from high-risk countries are always profiled using passengers’ manifest. It happened that the above-named suspect was targeted. Consequently, she was taken to the NDLEA office at the airport, where her bags were searched thoroughly, and in the process, whitish powdery substances were found concealed inside 16 pieces of duvet contained in her two travel bags. Field test was conducted on the recovered substances, which proved positive to cocaine and weighed 26.850kg. The suspect confessed to having smuggled the hard drug for N2m only. She refused to disclose the names of her associates.”
Yet in January, the agency seized 21.9kg of cocaine concealed in two suitcases at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. It was the largest single seizure by the airport command of the agency. The two unaccompanied and unclaimed suitcases were discovered after the arrival of an Ethiopian Airline flight in Abuja from Addis Ababa. The NDLEA airport commander said operatives, during the inward clearance of the flight, became suspicious upon noticing that the two briefcases were abandoned on the conveyor belt without any of the passengers claiming them. The first unclaimed suitcase was searched and found to have in them three blankets out of which two contained parcels of transparent packs, which held whitish substances suspected to be hard drugs. The second unclaimed suitcase contained 22 shirts, and one parcel of the drug was concealed in each of the shirts and covered with a blue carbon paper containing transparent nylon.
When NDLEA raided some drug spots at Wuse Zone 4 and 5, by Banex Plaza, and Garki by Torabora, Area 1 by Gwagwalada Park, Dagwa village and Abattoir in Karu, all in Abuja, three persons arrested with about 34.8kg cannabis sativa and other quantities of cocaine, codeine and rohypnols were in military camouflage. They are still being profiled but are suspected to be fake soldiers.
In Ondo State, NDLEA arrested 31 suspects, including seven females, with assorted drugs, including 74.285kg of Indian hemp, 267g of other psychotropic substances, 201kg of skoochies, a combination of Indian hemp, tramadol, ethanol and zobo.
In an exclusive interview with Daily Sun on the development, the NDLEA’s director of media and advocacy, Femi Babafemi, said–, with the coming of Gen. Buba Marwa (retd.) as chairman/CEO of the NDLEA in January this year, the brilliant officers and men of the agency who had suffered low morale got encouraged to give their best. Beyond that, when Marwa also assumed the leadership of the agency, he gathered all the commanders and charged them to go all out with his new maxim of offensive action, and the result is daily successes in terms of raids, interceptions, arrests, seizures, prosecutions and convictions.
“The figures above are less than what could have been on the streets destroying the lives of innocent youths, our women and men. With the support of every stakeholder, we’ll be able to save millions of Nigerians from being afflicted with the menace of drug abuse,” he said.
On whether the recent development could be attributed to increase in drug trafficking and consumption, Babafemi said: “Not necessarily. I would rather say that the daily efforts of NDLEA have brought to the fore a problem that had eaten deep and permeated every community in the country. With the renewed fight now, the reality is just being highlighted by the volume of activities of the agency.”
He also agreed that, apart from new and better ways of tracking the users and traffickers, Marwa’s coming has boosted the integrity of the agency so much so that many international partners that had gone cold returned to the partnership with keen interest and support in terms of donating equipment and intelligence-sharing, among others. He equally attributed the sterling performance of the agency to the deployment of more body and cargo scanners, sniffer dogs and other intelligence-gathering assets.
On the common reasons often adduced by suspect as push factor, Babafemi stated that, much as there is really no excuse to justify such a criminal act, most of them blame it on ignorance and deceit.