By Kayode Olarewaju
The Federal Government has castigated ground handling companies and airline operators, especially those on international routes, of conspiring with drug couriers to import and export drugs in and out of the country.
This is as the government said that efforts were being made to introduce stiffer penalties against drug trafficking, stressing that this would deter others from venturing into the illicit business venture.
Brig.-Gen. Buba Marwa (rtd), the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Drug Abuse, revealed this on Thursday at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, during the tour of security facilities at the airport.
According to Marwa, investigation by the committee had revealed that some staff of the airlines and ground handling companies connived with barons to wrongly tag luggage of innocent travellers and lace them with drugs.
He emphasised that investigations by the committee revealed that such act happened in Kano Airport recently and the culprit was arrested through the aid of the Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras mounted at strategic areas of the airport.
He also disclosed that findings by the committee indicated that some Nigerians who were recently killed in Saudi Arabia was as a result of wrongful tag of their names against other passengers’ luggage by staff of airlines and ground handling companies, warning that such unscrupulous act by the agents must stop.
Marwa further noted that some of the reports received by the committee indicated that the scanning machines at most airports could not capture some of the drugs in its image, saying that efforts must be geared towards improving on the equipment to ensure that drugs were not imported or exported through the airport.
He said: “First of all, we have to be very clear that if there are no drugs, there won’t be drug abuse. MMIA is a key entry and exit points. It is important for our committee to visit to know some of the challenges the security agencies are facing and how to tackle them. One of the recent events, is the handling companies and airline staff who tagged somebody’s luggage on another person’s name and sent it out and at the other end, some of these countries like Saudi Arabia for instance, one of the laws there in a case of drug abuse, is death sentence. Many innocent people have been killed through this.
“We know there are those who carry for others for a fee and those ones will face the music. For those honest and innocent people, it is wrong for the airlines or the ground handling companies to tag them for what they did not carry and then, they get arrested at the other end. Then, we have to get to the bottom of it. We recorded some successes in Kano on this. The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) has worked well on that; we are talking to them to find a solution to it.”
In order to deter drug trafficking, he explained that the committee was working to stipulate stiffer penalties to drug traffickers, hoping that this would reduce the menace in the society.
“We are also looking at the laws, too. One aspect of it has been passed by the National Assembly and waiting for assent of the President. That has some stiff penalties as far as regulations are concerned by the regulatory agencies and also the pharmacy themselves; patent medicine stores that are not licensed, we have over a million in Nigeria that are operating illegally.
“In the process, we have also been talking about the penalty. Sometime ago, under the Military President of Muhammadu Buhari, there was death penalty. Of course, that doesn’t exist anymore, but that doesn’t mean there is no clamour for it. In our interactive session today (yesterday), we heard that in Kano, it was the same thing. However, it is not for us to decide, but we will collate these clamours.
“Another issue we are looking at is that of fine, but, these people are rich, the drug barons. So, we need to look at these things in a comprehensive manner.”
Besides, Ahmadu Garba, NDLEA Commandant, MMIA Command, revealed that 15 staff of ground handling companies and airlines are currently undergoing investigation for aiding and abetting drug trafficking at the airport.
He told the committee that the NDLEA was having challenges properly screening the luggage of passengers, as the scanning machines could not detect 100 per cent drugs packed by couriers.
He further maintained that the NDLEA did not have access to the CCTV camera room, but acknowledged that Aviation Security (AVSEC), a department under the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), at times intimates them whenever arrests were made.
He pointed out that in 2018, 93 suspects were arrested for drug trafficking at the Lagos Airport alone, while 5,377.125kg of illicit drugs were seized.
The Command, he said, also secured 25 convictions within the period.
For 2019, he explained 26 people have been arrested for drug trafficking and a total of 94.120kg of illicit drugs were seized.
So far, the command had secured a total of five convictions in 2019.