24th June, 2010
The conviction on Monday ofÂ former Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Mr. Bello Lafiaji is a step in the right direction in the war against drug trafficking and abuse in the country.
Lafiaji and his personal assistant, Usman Amali, were sentenced to 16 years imprisonment by a Lagos High Court for corrupt enrichment while in office. The court said that Lafiaji must spend the next four years behind bars while Amali will spend three years as the sentences are to run concurrently.
The two convicts were arraigned in 2008 on a seven-count charge of conspiracy and for using their positions to corruptly enrich themselves.
In his judgement, presiding Justice Olusola Williams said it was established that money was recovered from the house of a drug suspect, Ikenna Onochie, and taken to NDLEA office in Lagos State, Southwest Nigeria. However, the money got missing while Lafiaji was still the agencyâ€™s chairman.
Lafiaji was appointed chairman of NDLEA by former president,Â Olusegun Obasanjo in October 2001. He remained in that position until November 2005 when the scandal blew open.
While he was the agencyâ€™s helmsman, Lafiaji pretended in public to be fighting drug trafficking and abuse, but in secret, he was enriching himself and his cronies. In fact, the number of drug suspects arrested in the country dropped drastically between 2003 and 2005 while he was in charge.
NDLEA officials who were aware of the corruption at the top took advantage of the situation and let many suspects off the hook. Suspects who were ready to circumvent the law offered money in exchange for their freedom while some NDLEA officers smiled to the banks.
Exhibits such as cocaine or heroin recovered from drug traffickers were resold and replaced with flour. To barons and their couriers, the entire drug war became a huge joke. The situation was so bad that some NDLEA officers worked for barons. Foreign donors such as the United States withheld aid to Nigeria because investing in a corrupt agency was a waste of money and resources.
The entire drug war was further undermined by the courts that gave drug convicts light sentences. According to the NDLEA act, drug traffickers can be sentenced for between three months and 15 years. But, most convicts were only given a couple of months. Many were released on bail and when they were eventually sentenced, they had already served their sentence outside of the prison. It was a big deception.
Drug trafficking and abuse is a serious business. In Mexico for example, several people are killed daily due to clashes between rival drug gangs. It is innocent people that are usually caught in the crossfire. Recently an American couple was gunned down while taking a walk in the streets of Mexico.
Armed robbers who kill innocent people after dispossessing them of their valuables are most times under the influence of drugs. Drug barons who make illegal money come back into the country and send genuine businessmen who cannot compete with them out of the market. Most drug traffickers go to Europe with drugs and come back to Nigeria with goods. They resell those goods at cheaper prices just to convert it into cash and by so doing, send many genuine traders out of business. This is unacceptable.
The likes of Lafiaji are traitors who deserve to be punished. Their punishment should serve as deterrent to other public officials who use their positions to enrich themselves at the expense of the people they were appointed to serve.