The execution of four Nigerians in Indonesia in April 2015 for illegal drug trafficking, and the most recent execution of three more Nigerians in July 2016 also for drug offences in Indonesia have stirred debate in the public sphere over the growing involvement of our people in illegal drug trade in Southeast Asian countries. Why would some Nigerians travel all the way to Indonesia with their deadly cargo of illicit drugs just to make quick money, to live a momentary lifestyle of flamboyance, to surround themselves with wine and women, to become celebrities in the flash of an eyelid, and to lose all these and their lives in another moment. It is a senseless way to live.
Why on earth would people knowingly push their luck too far and endanger their lives? What factors could propel young and middle-aged Nigerian men and women to play deadly Russian roulette with their precious lives all in an attempt to become one day wonders? What do some people find exceptionally attractive in dealing in illegal but deadly drugs?
The latest execution of three Nigerians in Indonesia three weeks ago for drug trafficking offences has again blighted Nigeria’s image in the international community. The executions have also brought to the nation’s courtyard troubling questions about the kind of people we are, and what the Federal Government and security agencies are doing to stop citizens from committing suicide by another means in foreign countries.
Indonesia is thousands of kilometres away from Nigeria but that has not deterred some of our hardened drug couriers from travelling the long distance in search of illegal money. Why would anyone sacrifice their life so cheaply, so carelessly, so callously, so disgracefully, and so uncaringly? Life is a tragedy. Why some people do everything to prolong their lives, others seem so determined to shorten their lifetime on earth.
I am concerned the Nigerian government is doing little to stop the criminal trend. Here is an example. When four Nigerians were executed in Indonesia in April last year for drug trafficking, all the Federal Government did was to condemn Indonesia’s action. President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration issued a restrained public statement in which it merely said it “received with deep disappointment, news of the execution of four Nigerians…”. The government requested the return of the remains of the executed persons so they could be accorded decent burials in their communities. In condemning the executions, the government said Indonesia did not heed pleas for clemency by President Jonathan.
While it is standard practice for every country to defend its citizens, the government statement failed to acknowledge the executed Nigerians breached Indonesia’s anti-drug laws. Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia have tough, uncompromising laws against illegal drug trafficking. In these countries, the punishment for pushing drugs is death. At various airports, citizens and foreigners are warned about the dangers of bringing illicit drugs into the countries. So, no one — citizen or foreigner — could claim they didn’t know about the death penalty law for drug trafficking.
While the Jonathan administration asked for the release of the bodies of the executed Nigerians so they could be granted respectable interment by their communities, there was no reference to the fact that the executions were carried out under Indonesian laws.
The statement by the Federal Government was clumsy, inappropriate, and tactless. The government could have used the executions as a platform to warn other citizens about the dangers of carrying illegal drugs to Southeast Asia and indeed other countries in the world. Countries make laws and expect the laws to be respected by their own citizens and foreign nationals. Those who violate another country’s laws must be prepared to face the consequences of their temerity. That was the message the Jonathan administration should have conveyed to all Nigerians following the execution of four citizens last year. The Muhammadu Buhari government should have communicated a similar message after the recent execution of three Nigerians in Indonesia.
To be sure, Indonesia does not execute people who commit crimes in the country. Trafficking in illicit drugs is deemed a very serious offence in Indonesia. Our Federal Government should be advising Nigerian citizens to obey the laws of every country they visit.
The execution of seven Nigerians in Indonesia between April 2015 and July 2016 should have served as grounds for the Federal Government to toughen security at all international airports in the country and an opportunity to tighten the laws against drug pushing. We should be seeking answers to questions such as: What are the forces that are pushing Nigerians to flock to Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries just to trade in illegal drugs? Why is security at Nigeria’s international airports unable to catch these people before they travel to other countries with their consignment of illegal drugs? What could be done to change the mindset of our youths so they could realise there is no honour in serving as illegal drug couriers at home and overseas?
There is the notion that that people are pushed to commit crimes at home and abroad when they couldn’t find any other source of livelihood. The same argument holds that people generally turn to crime when all avenues to earn decent incomes are shut against them. When people scrounge for food, water, and shelter every year, when people are weighed down by social and economic obligations without any hope for salvation, when people wait in job queues for too long and see no prospects for employment, when there is no mechanism for the state to make some kind of social security (welfare) payments to people who suffer deprivations of sorts, the people become desperate and say to themselves: “What the heck! We would rather commit crime and use fraudulent means to survive than continue to live this way”.
While these arguments might appear unimpeachable on the surface, I am not persuaded by the principles on which they are based. First, Nigeria is not the only country with a large population of the underprivileged. While poverty is crippling the lives of many people in the country, we are not the worst in the global community. In essence, there are countries within Africa that are far worse off financially and economically and yet their citizens do not engage in unprecedented trade in illicit drugs in overseas countries. If many Nigerian citizens are living below the poverty line, perhaps we should be looking at the corrupt practices of politicians that have contributed to widen the gulf between the poor and the rich.
Some people also believe that neither poverty nor economic dispossession constitutes a reasonable ground to explain why Nigerians are involved in illicit drug trade. Some people also believe Nigerians who trade in illegal drugs do so because they are greedy. These are all possible explanations.
Many countries that regard trade in illegal drugs very seriously liken the practice to a cancer it destroys the physical and mental state of consumers, it ruins family harmony, and shatters the soul of a nation. This is perhaps why Southeast Asian nations and countries such as China, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle East countries have strict laws against illegal drug trafficking.
As I write, many more Nigerians in Indonesian jails are awaiting a date with Indonesian executioners. There are many Nigerians serving time in different parts of the world for drug offences. So, what is it about our people that drive them to perpetrate all manner of crimes, to trade in illicit drugs, to commit financial and economic crimes at home and overseas, to break the laws of their host countries with contempt, and to conspire to undermine the social fabric of the society in which they live? Why do our people top the list of criminals incarcerated in various parts of the world?
While it is true that every country values human lives, no country should tolerate the marketing of illegal drugs within its borders. Drug couriers do not care about the deleterious impact their business is having on human lives. Consumption of hard drugs has grave consequences on the health of citizens. When someone’s health is impaired as a result of hard drug consumption, the lives of an entire family and an entire generation are affected.
Death penalty or not, there are too many youths determined to carry illegal drugs into overseas countries. How do we stop them from their mission of self-destruction? Why has the death penalty law in Southeast Asia been ineffective in discouraging Nigerian citizens from travelling to those countries to market illegal drugs?
One problem that continues to mock law enforcement in Nigeria is the little regard we pay to breath-testing drivers for illegal drug and alcohol consumption. I cannot recall ever being stopped on a Nigerian road by police officers to undergo on-the-spot breath-testing. Perhaps this is because alcohol and illicit drug abuse is not considered as a serious offence that deserves priority attention. Illicit drug users operate vehicles without consideration for the lives of road users. If we can at least stop the drugs from being freely available on the streets, we might just discourage some citizens from trading in drugs.
The rising number of Nigerians being executed for drug trafficking in overseas countries should alert the Federal Government, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), and other agencies that are obligated to enforce anti-narcotic laws that it is time they rolled out tougher laws. Stricter laws are required to check growing illegal drug trade at home and overseas. The plan must be to stop the potential criminals at the airports before they travel overseas. The strategy should include sustained and strong information campaigns aimed to promote awareness about the dangers of travelling overseas to trade in hard drugs. Life has no duplicate, we must remind ourselves.