Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The jail evasion scandal in NDLEA

The report of the National Committee for the Reform of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), underscored the rot in the nation’s anti-narcotic agency as well as exposed the inherent abuses in our criminal justice system.

The seven-man committee led by retired Justice Gilbert Obayan uncovered the existence of a cartel that specializes in releasing convicted drug barons and couriers, even before they could be brought to prison.

Other highlights of the panel’s report is that the racketeering syndicate is made up of 11 top prosecutors of the agency, 14 lawyers and 11 prison officials. It revealed that it is this cartel that was responsible for the illegal release of 197 drug barons and couriers convicted by the courts and sentenced to various jail terms between 2005 and 2006.

It was also discovered that the report of the committee set up by former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and submitted to the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mike Aondoakaa, in February 2007, is yet to be acted upon by government.

Some of the startling details of the report showed that 101 drug convicts in 2005 were not brought to the prison while 96 convicts disappeared between the courts and the prisons in 2006. The report also laid bare the fact that all the cases in the jail evasion saga were handled by the same set of counsels and prosecutors. Besides this, a large-scale fraud in the agency totalling N10 million was exposed.

The panel, among others, recommended the prosecution of the accused prison officials and advised the government to transfer the case of the defence counsels to the Nigerian Bar Association for appropriate sanctions.

But the NDLEA Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, Ahmadu Giade, absolved his officials from any involvement in the jail evasion racket. Giade had explained that he was the one that directed that all drug suspects sentenced between 2005 and 2006 be investigated with a view to confirming if they had served their full jail terms.

Similarly, the Chairman of the panel, Justice Obayan had insisted on the thoroughness of the committee’s job and the veracity of its findings. Obayan maintained that the NDLEA chairman’s statement on the issue was not correct. In other words, it is an attempt to cover up the report. He, therefore, urged the government to act on the panel’s report instead of the present silence on the matter.

The mind-boggling and sordid revelation of the panel is scandalous and condemnable. It is, indeed, strange that such misdeeds could occur in the NDLEA. It casts a slur on our justice system and has smeared our image in the comity of nations. It has also made nonsense of the government’s spirited effort to stamp out narcotic drugs in the country.

The Obayan panel’s report is too weighty to be swept under the carpet. Regardless of the denial by the NDLEA boss of the involvement of his officials in the saga, the committee’s report should not be brushed aside. We decry government’s inaction on the report. Since governance is a continuum, the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua administration ought to have acted on the panel’s report, taking into cognizance that it emanated from a government that preceded his. Government’s continued silence on the matter is deplorable and unacceptable. It is not in consonance with the tenets of the rule of law and due process.

In view of the seriousness of the matter, we urge that all the indicted officials in the jail evasion saga be prosecuted so that the law would take its full course. And all those found culpable in the criminality should be adequately punished to deter others from toeing the ignoble path. There should be no sacred cows in the handling of this matter. The malfeasance calls for an overhaul of the NDLEA, the prisons and the nation’s criminal justice system with the objective of making them more efficient and effective.