By BARTHOLOMEW MADUKWE
Mr. Femi Oloruntoba is the Director of Prosecution and Legal services of National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). His several legal battles in the agency since 1995 as the Assistant Chief Legal Officer, no doubt, contributed to his upliftment to the position of Acting Director in 2001.
Oloruntoba, who has 29 years experience in the Legal Profession later became the Substantive Director of legal services of the agency.
In this interview, he spoke on why some Nigerian Drug traffickers are still languishing in foreign jails, the agency’s efforts in tackling the menace and foreign collaborations from other countries. Excerpts.
457 Nigerians in Brazilian jails for drug trafficking offences, what is your reaction to that?
My reaction to it is that it has every chance to be true, though the statistics is not available to me as I speak to you. This is why it is possible; Brazil and the surrounding countries are drug source countries for cocaine. That is where cocaine is grown and produced.
So the chances are that those persons who are in prisons in Brazil, they have traveled to Brazil to purchase cocaine, to be brought to Nigeria or any West Africa countries and in the process they were arrested at the Airport on their way coming. That is why it is possible.
Don’t forget that from Lagos, just travel across the Atlantic before you know it you are already in Sao Paulo and that is Brazil. So when you look at the travelling distance also and now most people go through South Africa Airline, from there they travel to Brazil all in a bid to transit cocaine into Africa and eventually to Europe and America.
One Fausat Abosede 72, said she was arrested by NDLEA at the airport when hard drugs were discovered in a bag given to her for delivery to a certain Pastor, while returning from abroad where she has gone for treatment. In such a case, what does NDLEA do to track down the baron?
First and foremost, I have heard that kind of story more than a hundred times on this table. It is a cock and bull story! If you are at the Airport travelling and you see a person you don’t know or you don’t know very well, a person you cannot pin down when it becomes necessary, now giving you a bag to give somebody in Nigeria, does common sense not tell you that you will refuse such an offer? I don’t believe her story.
And then talking about what NDLEA is doing to arrest people like the mentioned Pastor, the beginning and end of all this thing is in Brazil. So our jurisdiction does not extend to offences that are committed in Brazil. We cannot go to Brazil to arrest the person who gave Abosede the bag..
What is the agency doing in order to enlighten people on the dangers and other effects of drug trafficking?
The NDLEA is made up of three major departments: Investigation, we call it Directorate of Operations and General Investigation. Another one is the supply reduction, and then we have what is called the demand reduction, Directorate of Drug Demand Reduction. The third one is the is the prosecution.
Now let us go back to your question, there is a whole directorate in charge of enlightenment and education. And that directorate also has units in all the thirty-six states of the federation and with the inclusion of Abuja it becomes thirty-seven states.
In each of the states that make up Nigeria, there is enlightenment programme at one point or the other going on about the ill effects of drugs. Two, we try to go to schools and set up what we call “Drug Abuse Club” or “Drug Free Club”. At that level, the students also are advocates for NDLEA, speaking to themselves why they should become drug free.
Of recent also, the issue of drug is being developed to a curricular level whereby it will be taught to both the primary and the secondary school. This is so that at the earliest opportunity the children will be aware of the ineffect of drugs, so they don’t need even get near it at all. It is better never to get near it than to be removed from it.
So NDLEA has a very robust programme but most often we are armstrong by fund in carrying out all the lofty programme that we have set to carry out. Don’t forget that it is a very capital intensive programme where we go out to organize talks, debates, seminar, symposia, talk show, advertisement to the papers, advertisement on the media both print and electronic. It is very cost demanding. So if you are not seeing enough we are doing it in accordance to the fund that is available to us.
Once we have more funds, we will be able to expand. This is why we are actually looking for sponsors, people who can help us to bring fund for the purpose of enlightening the public on the ineffect of drug trafficking.
The United States Congressional staff members, Gregory Simpkins and Algne Sajery, led by the United States Consul-General, Mr. Joseph Stafford, on a visit to NDLEA’s Director General had said the US was collaborating with Nigeria in dislodging drug cartels operating in the African continent and the areas of cooperation being considered include training, legal framework, exchange of intelligence and logistics. Can you shed more light on that?
They have been partnering with NDLEA in all those areas. But if you look at all of these, they don’t translate to fund. An example is that on training, I went to the United States at their own expense. They did not give the money to us but they expended money on me. On logistics, the scanners at the airport was provided by the United States. I remember that at a time they bought vehicles for operations usage at the airport area.
Talking about intelligence, of course we have been sharing intelligence and intelligence has been reciprocal. What they mean by intelligence is that if they have information that maybe somebody has taken drugs to America and they have been able to pin him or her down and the person has mentioned somebody here in Nigeria. Then they will revert back to us and see how we can arrest that person who is either the baron or an accomplice.
And such is vice versa and we reciprocate. We have been getting collaboration in all these areas from the United States.
Against the backdrop of 457 Nigerians lavishing in various prisons in Brazil, what is NDLEA doing to curb the increase of such menace?
One of the things NDLEA is doing is that, there is an arrangement whereby the agency usually go into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or an agreement with drug source countries whereby anybody who wants to travel to such countries will come to NDLEA for vetting before a visa is issued to such a person.
For a long time such an arrangement did not exist between Nigeria and Brazil. I think it is even of recent that we are working more closely. So on occasions, persons who want to go to Brazil are referred to NDLEA for vetting but that was a very recent development.
If you find out the details of those who are in Brazilian jails now, it is likely that they have been there for long and not that they travelled recently. Or if they travelled recently, they did not travel through Nigeria. Don’t forget that there are so many Nigerians in the West Africa sub region.
They are in Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Gambia and other countries. And if such Nigerians travel through those places, of course they will still be regarded as Nigerians, which does not stop their nationality. And you know with the free movement of persons within the Ecowas, if you see somebody who is passing through Seme/Idi Iroko going to Benue Republic, you may be surprise that he or she is going there to fly to another country.
The bottom line or the summary is that gradually we are trying to cooperate with Brazil to ensure that any person who is going to Brazil will take an NDLEA clearance and once we clear the person that one will also make us to know those who actually do not have anything to do in Brazil but who are going there for the purpose of drug trafficking.
This type of cooperation has worked between NDLEA and many other countries, like Thailand and Pakistan.
What is the possibility of having those 457 Nigerians in various Brazil jails be brought to Nigeria in order for them to continue their jail term in Nigeria, instead of Brazil?
For now, to the best of my knowledge, there is no Brazilian that is in Nigeria jail for drug related offences. So if you talk of 457 Nigerians in Brazil jails and no Brazilian in Nigeria jails for drug trafficking.
It is not impossible because there is what is called transfer of convicts agreement, which two countries can enter into. For example, for about four or five years ago, we have that arrangement with Thailand. There were over 600 Nigerians in Thailand jails for drug related offences. But during the period of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, we entered into an agreement with Thailand, whereby we were systematically bringing them to come and complete their jail term in Nigeria. And I remember that over 500 Nigerians were brought in such circumstance.
That means that it is possible, through MoU to bring those 457 Nigerians in various Brazil jails to come to Nigeria and continue their jail terms. We have to reach that understanding and agreement first with the Brazilian government.
What will be your advice to drug traffickers?
They should quit the business. It is a business that does not pay, it is a business that is not good and it is a business that will ultimately destroy them. The reason is that when they don’t go to jail, anyhow, even the riches they have acquired they will loose.