The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency seized no fewer than 286 assets and 600 bank accounts of drug barons between January 2021 and August 2022.
NDLEA spokesman, Femi Babafemi, who disclosed this in a document made available to one of our correspondents on Tuesday, said the assets consisted of 249 exotic cars and 37 mansions.
The agency’s seizures came against the backdrop of the categorisation of Nigeria by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as the transit point for “heroin and cocaine intended for European, East Asian, and North American markets.”
According to the UN agency, since 2004 “drug traffickers have been increasingly using West African countries, including Nigeria for smuggling large amounts of cocaine from South America into Europe and North America. The country has a relatively high rate of drug abuse due to the continued availability of illicitly manufactured and diverted pharmaceutical products containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.”
The NDLEA, in the document made to The PUNCH, said it was faced with the “overwhelming task of drug control in a country with an exceptionally high prevalence of drug use of 14.4 per cent.”
Explaining the seizures by the agency in the last 20 months, Babafemi said 286 assets were confiscated and 600 bank accounts were frozen.
He stated that the assets of drug barons consisted of “249 exotic vehicles seized and 37 properties forfeited, all scattered across the country.”
The NDLEA also indicated that it seized N871.53m worth of illegal drug funds between January 2021 and August 2022.
It explained that N619.12m was recorded as final illegal drug funds forfeiture and N252.41m as interim forfeiture. The agency grouped this under its drug supply reduction effort where it revealed that it arrested 18,940 suspected drug traffickers from January 2021 to July 2022.
Under its drug supply reduction efforts, it stated, “Assets and financial investigation: Illicit drug funds that were investigated and seized include Final Forfeiture―(i.) One million, three hundred and nineteen thousand, four hundred dollars ($1,319,400) (ii.) One hundred and two thousand pounds (£102,000) (iii.) Fourteen million CFA Francs (CFA 14, 000, 000) ― and Interim forfeiture―Two hundred and fifty-two million, forty hundred and seven thousand, seven hundred and twenty-six-naira, twenty Kobo, (N252,407,726.20).”
The currencies were converted at the Central Bank of Nigeria’s official rate of September 2, 2022. At the time, one dollar was N424.55; one pound was N490.78, and one CFA was N0.64.
The NDLEA explained, “The Agency’s drug supply reduction efforts recorded the following: the arrest of 18,940 suspected drug traffickers (comprising 17,444 males and 1,496 females and including 12 barons) from January 2021 to July 2022; conviction of 2,904 offenders to various jail terms in court; seizure of 3. 6 million kilograms of narcotic and psychotropic substances; cannabis farm destruction: 691 hectares of cannabis farms were detected and destroyed across six states.”
It revealed that it dismantled clandestine meth laboratories following the outbreak of abuse of crystal methamphetamine, popularly called Mkpuru Mmiri in 2021.
It explained that its operational assets were able to locate and dismantle illicit meth laboratories across the country with recent discoveries in Victoria Garden City, Ajah, Lagos and Nise Community, Anambra State.
According to the agency, drug use in the nation was 14.4 per cent 20 months ago. It stated that since then, 12,326 drug-dependent people had been counselled, treated, and rehabilitated in its facilities.
The NDLEA revealed it commissioned a Drug Abuse Call Centre in July of 2021 to enable drug-dependent individuals or families and employers of people suffering from drug use disorder to seek help.
Meanwhile, the agency has secured an interim seizure of 25 properties belonging to billionaire businessman, Mallinson Ukatu, who is on trial for allegedly importing tramadol valued at N3bn into the country.
Ukatu and his accomplice, Sunday Ibekwute, were remanded at the Ikoyi custodial Centre on the orders of Justice Peter Lifu of the Federal High Court, Lagos, in July.
The judge remanded the two defendants, following their plea of not guilty to the charges of conspiracy, trafficking in 322 kilograms of tramadol, unlawful dealing, and possession of the said banned drug made against them by the NDLEA.
Ukatu, who is Chairman of Mallinson group of companies, came under watch last year after five cartons of tramadol 225mg were seized from his staff on May 4, 2021, when he sold them to undercover police officers allegedly led by a former Commander, Intelligence Response Unit, Abba Kyari, a Deputy Commissioner of Police.
Kyari and his deputy, Sunday Ubua, who were subsequently arrested for drug dealing are currently being held in Kuje Custodial Centre, Abuja.
Justice Emeka Nwite of the Federal High Court, Abuja, in an order dated August 29, 2022, restrained Ukatu or any other person from dealing with the properties listed as exhibit NDLEA III.
A certified true copy of the order in charge number, FHC/ABJ/CS/320/2022, between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Ukatu, obtained by The PUNCH on Tuesday read, ‘’Upon the motion ex-parte dated the 19th day of August, 2022, but filed on 23rd day of August, 2022, coming up today, the 29th day of August, 2022, before this honourable court praying for the following orders:
“An order of this honourable court preserving and restraining the respondent or any person or persons from dealing in any manner whatsoever with the properties listed as exhibit NDLEA III belonging to Ukatu Mallinson reasonably believed to have been derived from unlawful activities pending the conclusion of the investigation and trial of the respondent.
“That an order is hereby made preserving and restraining the respondent or any person or persons from dealing in any manner whatsoever with the properties listed as exhibit NDLEA III below belonging to Ukatu Mallinson reasonably believed to have been derived from unlawful activities pending the conclusion of the investigation and trial of the respondent.
“That an order is hereby made preserving and restraining the applicant or privies, agents and servants from dissipating, interfering or tampering with the properties listed as NDLEA III below belonging to Ukatu Mallinson reasonably believed to have been derived from unlawful activities pending the conclusion of the investigation and trial of the respondent.’’
The properties temporary confiscated by the court include an office building at Ilupeju; building mart at Dopemu; a pharmaceutical factory inside Nigeria Air Force base, Ikeja; Nelo’s Place Event Centre, Ikeja; a personal house at Ikeja and a warehouse at Okota, Amuwo, Lagos.
Also seized were two big warehouses; an office shop; a Toyota car; Volvo SUV; a Range Rover SUV; Bulk Enclave SUV; NISPO factory; a proposed warehouse; a proposed office complex and warehouses in Igboko village, Ado-Ado Ota, Ogun State, Central Business District, Abuja; including a parcel of land at Maryland, Ikeja, Oshodi, Festac Town, Oregun, Ikeja and Nike in Enugu.
Others are a manufacturing plant in Igbesa, Agbara, Ogun State; a property at Yomi Oshikoya Drive, Ikeja and another property in Asaba, Delta State.
Commenting on the feat recorded by the NDLEA, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, charged the Federal Government to adopt a holistic approach in seizing properties linked to drug barons, stating that it should be extended to corrupt civil servants and politicians.
He said, “The aggregate of all the accounts frozen and all luxury cars and items taken cannot compare with what politicians pocket or what civil servants embezzle in the example of the accountant-general of the federation.
“So, if there is a war against corruption either by way of drugs, embezzlement and misappropriation of funds, the government should be holistic in that regard.”
He also posited that seized items should not be allowed to deteriorate but used to impact the economy positively.
“When you seize an item, you don’t allow it to disintegrate. So many houses and cars seized are no longer usable. The government should be proactive by seeking productive use of the seized items and not grind the economy further. We should be able to get positive effects from the seizures.”
Speaking on the implication of the seizures, a legal practitioner, Abdullahi Gayam said that drug barons may end up looking for another means to continue their crime.
“Nobody wants his or her properties to be seized. Naturally, these seizures by the FG will make drug barons rethink or adopt an entirely different way to acquire more properties,’’ he surmised.
The Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, Idayat Hassan described it as a welcome development, adding that there had never been a concerted effort in the fight against drugs, in the last decade, like there was now.
She, however, tasked the NDLEA to ensure effective management of the seized assets, stating that it would help to cover for past shortfalls of the agency.
The Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, Ariyo-Dare Atoye commended the NDLEA for its fight against drugs, describing it as the only agency of government under the Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) regime that has genuinely and sincerely earned the commendation of Nigerians.
He added that the seizure by the agency implied that traffickers had identified Nigeria as a profitable destination if it were not for the agency’s intervention.
The Coordinator, Advocate for Peoples Rights and Justice, Victor Giwa noted that the best way to combat drug trafficking was to fully equip the NDLEA and strengthen its operations against traffickers.
He called for the legalisation of Indian hemp, arguing that other countries have found that the more they campaign against it, the higher the consumption rate.
Meanwhile, the agency has warned politicians and their supporters against the use of drugs in the campaigns for the 2023 elections, which would begin on September 28.
Babafemi said the NDLEA would work with the Independent National Electoral Commission and other stakeholders to prevent the use of drugs at campaign rallies.
He stated, “More officers and assets have been deployed on the roads and other strategic locations to make the movement of these illicit drugs difficult and our recent arrests and seizures attest to this.
“Anyone found in possession of illicit drugs violates the law and definitely risks arrest for investigation and possible prosecution.”
Advising candidates against buying drugs for youths, he stated, “They need to have a rethink because such has adverse effects not only for the thugs and the youths but their families, communities, the process and the country. The politicians doing this may end up being victims themselves
“The agency works with an enabling Act and the provisions are clear on possession, production, distribution and peddling of illicit substances.”- Punch