SINCE the beginning of this year, drug traffickers in Nigeria have used Ethiopian Airlines flights for their operations more than other carriers operating in the country, records of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency’s (NDLEA) have shown.
Nigerian drug dealers work mainly through cartels and ply their trade across the United States (US), Cyprus, Australia, Ghana, China, Morocco, UK, Brazil, Australia, Dubai, Madagascar, India, among others.
Taking a deeper look into this newspaper’s report on how the NDLEA arrested suspected drug dealers on Ethiopian Airlines in the country on five occasions within six weeks, this year, The ICIR examined over 40 press releases posted by the NDLEA on its website between September 26, 2021, and March 12 this year.
The statements contained arrests of suspected drug kingpins, traffickers of other contrabands and the agency’s general activities.
They also contain details of the accusation against the embattled former head of the Police Intelligence Response Team Abba Kyari, who the NDLEA declared wanted for allegedly being a member of a drug cartel.
Another compelling part of the statements was how the NDLEA arrested the General Overseer of Christ Living Hope Church Ugochukwu Emmanuel for carrying 54 sticks of drugs at the Lagos Airport on March 14.
Pastor Emmanuel was on his way to a crusade in Nairobi, Kenya, according to the agency.
Appraisal of the agency’s press releases revealed that the NDLEA made more arrests of suspected drug dealers on Ethiopian Airlines within the six weeks period that this newspaper reported.
On February 4, the NDLEA arrested an intending male passenger heading for Brazil on the airline during the outward clearance of passengers at Gate ‘C’ departure hall of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos.
The passenger, Onyeaghala Chidi, was intercepted with 500 grams of Meth concealed inside three plastic hair relaxer containers.
The ICIR did not capture the arrest in its earlier report, which focused on arrests made by the NDLEA of passengers having a link with Ethiopian Airlines between January ending and early March.
Checks by this newspaper showed that the agency arrested drug dealers three times on the airline between September 26, 2021, and the first week of January.
Statements issued by the NDLEA showed that the agency arrested one Nwajindo Ndubuisi Emmanuel during inward clearance of the airline at the airport’s E-arrival hall on September 21.
Operatives recovered some bottles of Codeine weighing 5.65kg from him.
On November 13, the agency apprehended one Okafor who arrived at the Lagos airport from Brazil via an Ethiopian Airlines flight.
He was said to be the owner of drugs dumped in one of the airport’s toilets by his alleged accomplice a day earlier.
Similarly, on November 24, operatives of the agency arrested a 32-year-old suspected drug trafficker based in Liberia, Maduabuchi Chinedu, on an Ethiopian Airlines flight at the Abuja Airport.
The agency arrested him at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, with 9.30 kilograms of cocaine worth over N2.7 billion in street value.
The suspect hails from Obaha Okigwe village, Okigwe Local Government Area of Imo State, and lives in Liberia, where he works as a miner.
Meanwhile, the agency also arrested passengers on other airlines, namely Air Maroc, RwandAir and Kenya Airways cargo flight.
On February 8, the NDLEA arrested one Felix Rotimi Eshemokhai with 1.75kg heroin while trying to board Royal Air Maroc to Casablanca, Morocco. Another trafficker, Okafor Emmanuel Onuzuruike, was nabbed on the same day during his bid to travel on RwandAir to Dubai with 2.2kg of cannabis concealed in foodstuff.
Some of the drugs the traffickers deal in are opioids, cocaine, tapentadol, carisoprodol, loud cannabis, heroin, methamphetamine, khat and tramadol.
The statements also revealed that drug barons use the Lagos Airport and the Apapa Sea Port to run their businesses more than other Nigerian exit and entry points.
It is not immediately clear why drug dealers prefer Ethiopian Airlines to other international operators.
NDLEA’s Visa Clearance fails to stop syndicates
The ICIR observed that despite the NDLEA’s issuance of Visa Clearance for travellers into gateway nations for illicit drugs, transborder trade in illegal drugs is pervasive in Nigeria.
The agency’s Visa Clearance system serves as a strong deterrent for aspiring drug dealers from obtaining visas from countries that have subscribed to the scheme.
Some subscriber countries to the scheme are Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, India, Singapore and Thailand.
These countries are sources or gateway nations for illicit drugs.
Information provided by the NDLEA on suspects it arrested shows the cartel largely conduct their businesses in these countries.
According to the NDLEA, the visa programme draws voluntary participation from foreign missions in Nigeria with the consent of their home countries. The participating missions make the certificate an additional requirement for Nigerian visa applicants who wish to obtain entry visas from the subscriber nations.
Don’t blame airline for crime, arrests – Manager
General Manager of the airline in Nigeria Shimeles Arage absolved his organisation of any blame.
Arage said: “This can happen to any airline and (has) nothing to do with the airline. Rather we are working hand in hand with (the) authorities to curb such activities. Security and bag screening is not controlled by airlines. The security and scanning of passengers are not done by the airline.
“The airline does not own the scanning machines and only passengers that have been screened are allowed to board the airline. The airline only carries passengers that have been screened and cleared by other agencies.
“Ethiopian Airlines flies to four airports in Nigeria and over 55 Airports in Africa. It has been flying to Nigeria since 1960 so it is well patronised by Nigerians.”