The Federal Government says it will henceforth penalise any airline whose staff collude with baggage handlers to tag names of innocent travellers on bags containing illicit drugs on outbound flights.
Brig.- Gen. Buba Marwa (rtd), Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Drug Abuse (PASEDA), issued the warning on Thursday during a stakeholder meeting at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
Marwa said preliminary investigations had revealed that some innocent passengers have had luggage that does not belong to them tagged by airlines in their names leading to their arrest by security agencies on arrival at their destinations.
He said: “What I said is real that some airline staff and some persons collude to check in and tag passengers name on baggage that they are unaware of and does not belong to them.
“We have a recent incident at the Kano Airport where a passenger was arrested in Saudi Arabia and he denied ownership of the bag.
“Through the Closed Circuit Television Camera at the Kano airport, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) officials discovered that he was innocent as the bag was checked in and tagged in his name by airline staff.
“Henceforth, such airlines will be penalised once we discover that such a thing happened on their flight.”
According to him, the move is necessitated by the high number of Nigerians languishing in foreign jails as well as the recent execution of a Nigerian woman for drug trafficking in Saudi Arabia.
Marwa said the committee was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari to bring up recommendations that were implementable and sustainable for government to implement towards addressing the scourge of drug abuse in Nigeria.
He said though the drug abuse crisis was a huge challenge, it was, however, surmountable especially with the right political will being demonstrated by the present administration in bringing it to an end.
Marwa commended the various security agencies at the MMIA for their vigilance in preventing the importation and exportation of drugs by traffickers.
He said the government was ready to provide all forms of assistance to them that would aid detection of illicit drugs and arrest of traffickers at the airport.
Earlier, Mr Garba Ahmadu, Commander, NDLEA, MMIA Command, said the airport was the busiest in West Africa with 10 million passengers and over 100 tonnes of cargo annually.
“In 2018, 93 people were arrested for drug trafficking at the airport and 5,377 kilogrammes of illicit drugs were seized. The command also secured 25 convictions.
“From January 2019 to date, 26 people have been arrested for drug trafficking and a total of 94 kilogrammes of illicit drugs were seized. A total of five convictions have been recorded so far.
“The major drugs were cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and ephedrine. These statistics show the reality and the enormity of the drug trafficking challenge in MMIA,” Garba said.
The security stakeholders at the forum identified the challenges being faced at the MMIA to include lack of high technology scanners, Advanced Passenger Information (API) System for profiling of passengers as well as sniffer dogs.
Other challenges identified were the inadequate deployment of Information Communication Technology gadgets, poor remuneration of ad-hoc staff such as cleaners and bag handlers, inadequate vetting and revetting of personnel and reward system for diligent officials.