By Lawrence Enyoghasu
They are fishermen, but they were recently caught while engaged in some fishy business, in a matter that had absolutely nothing to do with fishing.
Moses Sottie, 52, Stephen Sottie, 25, and Kabu Natte, 34, are among nine Ghanaian fishermen recently arrested by the Marine Squad of the Lagos State Command of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). Their offence? They were allegedly conveying about 201 bags of Indian hemp (cannabis sativa) into the country.
According to the state commandant, Edenabu Okoro Eweka, the suspects smuggled the goods through the Nigerian shores with the aid of their Nigerian counterparts but were spotted when they ran short of fuel. It was then that the Marine unit of NSCDC, which said it had been working on intelligence for two weeks, moved in and apprehended the suspects.
“The suspects loaded a ship with all of the product with the hope of smuggling it into the country but they didn’t know that our Ghanaian counterparts had informed us and we followed up. From our investigation, the hemp is worth N200 million in the market.
“The suspects were traced with the aid of two of the 17 boats that were recently donated to us. They were caught when they ran out of fuel and one of them strolled into the country to get fuel for their boat. It was then our officers descended on them,” he stated.
Eweka continued said although it was not within the jurisdiction of the agency to prosecute drug matters, “the interwoven connectivity between drug addiction and government’s critical infrastructure necessitated the arrest.”
Explaining how they were caught, Moses, the oldest of the team, said they were having a bad day as fishermen in the coast of Accra when one Mr Peter approached them to deliver some goods to his Nigerian business counterpart, Robert.
“Mr Peter brought the business to us some days ago that we should only deliver to his friend in Nigeria. We just provided transportation service to Peter; we didn’t know what was inside the bags,” Moses said.
With pity on his face, Moses said that Peter, who he claimed stuffed the goods in the boats, was the mastermind behind the operation.
“Peter said that he would be with us while we deliver the goods. When I tried to make an inquiry, I was first told that it was materials for farming and at other times, I was told that it was natural herbs for local gins. I don’t think if I were told that it was a drug, I would have allowed my brother and in-law to be involved in the matter. They are my fishing partners and family members. It is bad that one is caught in a crime; it is unspeakable that a family is involved,” he stated.
Moses said they were set up by both Mr Peter and Robert. “We can’t even reach any of them. Peter escaped when the officers came but we are yet to hear from Robert who we were supposed to deliver to when we reach here,” he stated.
Stephen, Moses’ younger brother, seems to be the youngest in the group. He said he was in the group merely to follow orders since he works with his elder brother and in-law, Natte who are professional fishermen. He said he joined the business some years ago after his high school but the family was so poor that they could not afford his advancement into university.
“I joined my brother and Natte; they were respected fishermen in our community and in Ghana generally. They are also known in other countries, including Cameroon, and Benin Republic. When the business came, they initially didn’t want to do it but changed their minds when they thought it was safe.
Pointing out flaws that showed that they were set up, Natte, who is married to Moses’s sister, Gertrude, said on the day of the incident, there was not much to do, and the fish were scarce.
“All would have gone well according to plan if we had not needed to buy fuel. Most times we go into the town to get fuel without any problem. It was the same mentality that we had, thinking we were on a legal job. We found out that it was a crime. If we knew it was a crime we would have bought enough fuel that would take us to and from our destination. I think it was a set up. We know him face to face. But we don’t know anything about him,” he stated.
He also noted that Robert and Peter provided a boat without a name for them for the trip.
“That was a red flag but he was with people who we have done successful business with and that provided some level of trust. Peter didn’t disclose the amount he was going to pay us or how much the job was worth. He just promised to get us extra fuel that we would have on our way back and an opportunity to do more business,” he stated.
Natte said the business did not offer much financial profit, saying he makes as 10 cedes on a two-hour job in Ghana. “I mostly stay in Ada but fish in Sukar. It was our first time to come to Nigeria. When we were not told that it was a drug that we were conveying. Most coast officers know our team and they know that we are not criminals. I don’t know that there were drugs inside the boat,” he stated.
Victor Musa, who claimed that his late parents were pastors, said his parents taught him not to get nvolved in crime or anything that would tarnish their image. “I don’t do drugs. I have never smoked in my life. I don’t know how I am going to tell this story to my brothers. They had already labelled me as the black sheep of the family but this is shooting myself in the foot. I am missing my wife and children. The officers have taken our phones. We are innocent. I regret ever doing this job,”