Worried by the spate of arrests and execution of Nigerians abroad, a Presidential Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Drug Abuse chaired by Brigadier-General Buba Marwa (Rtd), recently undertook a tour of the nation’s international airports to ascertain what could have gone wrong to create so much gaps for drug traffickers to enjoy a free reign in movement to foreign countries through these airports.
Marwa, who led the team to visit the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano (MAKIA) and the Murtala Muhammed Inter- national Airport (MMIA) Lagos said it was important to hold discussions with stakeholders responsible for regulating the entry and exit of persons at the airports to ascertain what could have gone wrong to allow the easy passage of Nigerians with drugs through the air- ports.
Present at the meeting were top officials of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Nigeria Customs Service, Department of State Security, Immigration, Police, and Aviation Security officials from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
Marwa said the Federal Government was commit- ted to finding ways to curb the menace of drug abuse and trafficking by Nigerians, hence the need to seek the opinions of aviation stakeholders.
Why rise in drug traffickers
At the meeting, it was not- ed that a distressed Nigerian economy with unemployment and massive job losses to citizens is creating a new market for recruits from Nigeria who are find in drug trafficking a new means of livelihood.
But these traffickers are not just trading the commodities in the lucrative offshore markets of Asia Europe, America, and Mid- dle-East. In recent years, a huge market for consumers of tramadol and cocaine has equally been created in Nigeria for citizens to import these banned substance into the country. And the Kano and Lagos international airports have served as the transit hubs for these traffickers.
According to the NDLEA Commandant for the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, Mr. Garba Ahmadu, majority of those arrested at the airport are usually very quick to cite being lured by friends or family members into trafficking in drugs as a means of escaping the harsh economic situation in the country.
Ahmadu listed the follow- ing substance as drugs that passengers cannot carry on them through Nigerian airports without breaching the law on trade on illegal or illicit drugs trafficking: cocaine, heroin, cannabis sativa, methamphetamine, ephedrine, tramadol, rohyp- nol, and swinol.
When Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, launched the Ease of Doing Business policy at the nation’s air- ports, it was with the view to eliminate time wastage in checking in luggage and the facilitation of passengers through Immigration and Customs checks. For this reason, the various desks mounted by Customs, Immigration, DSS, NDLEA, to manually checks the luggage and frisk passengers were dismantled, and in its place, a single screening point was established with scanners deployed. Sadly, while honest Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief with the elimination of all the screening desks which eased their travelling experience, in the camp of drug barons it was an opening for easy trafficking of drugs, no thanks to the obsolete scanners brought in to replace the manual checks.
“The scanners are not working at our airports and drug traffickers know this very well,” a top Immigration officer told Daily Sun.
“What they do is to take advantage of these obsolete scanning machines to escape arrest; and the majority of them have succeed in passing through the machine without being detected. That’s the major challenge we have,” added the official.
It is the failure to invest in state-of-the-art scanners that can detect all the banned substances tucked into travellers luggage as well as those passengers car- ry on themselves to board aircraft that has seen the increase in the number of Nigerians arrested abroad for drug related crimes in recent months. Drug law enforcement officers are now left with the option of manual checks on passengers randomly selected for such exercises.
It is a very tasking job that often entails the physical evaluation of a passengers passing through scanning points, his body language on sighting security officials, and response when stopped to produce his travel documents.
However, Ahmadu the Lagos NDLEA Commandant said, “officers are well trained by our foreign partners to detect very fast per- sons who are most likely engaged in drug trafficking.”
“We have away of profiling them; for instance, we know their age brackets, there is a way they dress, and we also get tips on their movements. We look at their final destinations (countries) to know if it is a place drugs are in high demand. We look at their previous travel destinations. And we look at the airlines they are flying too. I tell you, our officers have made tremendous success in arresting them-both those leaving or com- ing into Nigeria with drugs. In 2018 at the Lagos airport, 93 people were arrested with 5, 377.125kilogrammes of illicit drugs seized.
From January 2019 till date 26 persons have been arrested with 94.120kilogramme of illicit drugs seized. About 30 persons have been convicted between 2018 and April 2019. These statistics show the enormity of the drug challenge at the MMIA, Lagos.
“We know very well that once we cannot stop them at our airports, it means we have failed to stop the arrest and execution of Nigerians abroad,” Ahmadu added. He said some of Nigerians who escaped being arrested at Nigerian airports usually ended up being caught and either jailed or executed, particularly in China, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Singapore. At present, about 23 Nigerians are on death row in Saudi Arabia for drug related offences, while one Kudirat Afolabi was executed recently in that country.
Drug barons and their couriers don’t just operate in isolation; they work as a cartel. At Nigeria’s inter- national airports, findings have revealed a existence of a network that involves airlines and airport workers aiding drug traffickers.