The rot within the NDLEA – Thisday

By The Citizen

Belated as it may be, it is time to implement the Obayan Report if only to sanitise the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency. The House of Representatives recently opened discussion on the cases of some 197 convicted drug traffickers who were successfully prosecuted by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) between 2005 and 2006. In another classical Nigerian story, these high profile convicts reportedly walked away to the comfort of their homes or were simply allowed to escape without serving prison terms. The unfortunate development has not only undermined the nation's criminal justice system, it has emboldened those involved in illicit drug trade to continue with their crimes. The larger implication is that it has also exposed our country to international ridicule. Llittle wonder that the 2013 report of the International Narcotics Control Strategy by the United States government described Nigeria as 'a major drug transshipment point and a significant centre for criminal financial activity'.

It is perhaps for this reason that human rights activist and lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has called for the implementation of the report of the National Committee for the Reform of the NDLEA which was set up by the Olusegun Obasanjo Administration nearly seven years ago. The committee, established on October 17, 2006, and headed by Justice Gilbert Obayan (rtd), concluded its work in record time and submitted its report to the Federal Government in February 2007. But six years on, the government has not found it necessary to consider and implement the recommendations contained in that report. Yet no one knows what is behind the lethargy on the part of government regarding the implementation of the Obayan report.

Falana's petition observed that several years after the report was submitted, many of the officials indicted for thwarting the Agency's successful execution of the war on drugs were still occupying their seats at the NDLEA. Most of these people were said to be responsible for ensuring that convicted drug offenders never saw the four walls of the prison as they were illegally freed by a syndicate comprising some NDLEA prosecutors, defence counsel and prison officials.

The report particularly noted that 'out of the 143 drug convicts for the year 2006, 96 of them were never brought to prison. Similarly, another 101 drug convicts for the year 2005 were never brought to the prison, bringing the total convicts evading jail to 197 within the period.' The situation could have degenerated since 2006. Furthermore, the committee singled out for mention the NDLEA Directorate of Prosecutions as then constituted for working against the interest of the Agency and the nation.

According to the report, the directorate 'operates at the mercy of the Defence Counsel who offer mouth watering amounts to the Directorate for them (sic) to soften ground leading to walk away sentences including the disturbing trend of option of fines, which are preferred by drug convicts. Committee's finding show some linkages between the Directorate, some officers of the Directorate of Operations and General Investigation, and those of prison wardens in the on-going case of drug convicts not found in prisons'.

It is instructive to note that while the federal government has dragged its feet over the implementation of the Obayan report, the NDLEA leadership also appears disinterested  as recently demonstrated by the Agency's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Alhaji Ahmadu Giade. He had claimed that there was no need implementing the report because 'all the issues that warranted the setting up of the panel have become non-issues,' adding, that 'they have been overtaken by events.'

However, we do not think it is up to Mr. Giade to decide whether or not the report should be implemented. As an interested party, we consider his disguised rejection of the report as pre-emptive and unnecessary. We therefore call on the federal government to revisit the report with a view to implementing its recommendations and sanitising the NDLEA.