By Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA- THE Senate, yesterday, decried the flexible penalties imposed on drug offenders by judges in the country. This came on a day the bill to amend the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, Act passed second reading.
According to the Senate, with the final passage of the bill, there will be stiffer penalties for drug offenders in the country. It added that whereas the NDLEA Act prescribed 15 years to life imprisonment for culprits in narcotic cases, some judges had formed the habit of reducing sentences to lower terms and in some cases, option of fines.
The bill, titled “A bill for an Act to amend the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) Act Cap N30 Laws of the federation of Nigeria, 2004,” was sponsored by Senator Gbenga Ashafa (APC Lagos East).
In his lead debate, Senator Ashafa said: “Whereas the NDLEA Act prescribed 15 years to life imprisonment for culprits in narcotic cases, some judges have formed the habit of reducing sentences to lower terms and in some cases option of fines. However, rather than a minimum term of imprisonment of 15 years or maximum term of imprisonment for life, as stipulated in the Act; for some unknown reasons, some judges of the Federal High Court have continued to pass varied/discretionary sentences short of what is prescribed by the NDLEA Act”.
Ashafa, who cited instances of such reduced sentences, recalled the case of one Shola Adeitan, 32, who was sentenced to five years for dealing in cocaine, while another convict, Bello Adam, 37, was sentenced to two years for marijuana. He buttressed his argument with a case of 19-year-old Pakistani, Iftikhar Arslan, who was in 2015 sentenced to 18 months in prison by a Federal High Court in Lagos for importing 25.4kg of heroin into Nigeria.
He also cited the case of a 38-year-old businessman, Chibueze Onedigbo, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2015 by a Federal High Court in Lagos for drug trafficking. Senator Ashafa, who argued in favour of increasing the N20,000 fines for obstruction in drug related cases to N100,000, in line with the realities of the times, said: “Worse still, is the fact that when some of the judges pass these light terms of imprisonment, the convicts, in some cases, are further given options of fines.”