Pubdate: Sat, 23 May 2009
Source: Punch (Nigeria)
Copyright: 2009 The Punch
Author: John Ameh
Bookmark: (Corruption - Outside U.S.)


There are fresh indications that the authorities of the Nigeria Drug
Law Enforcement Agency may have shielded the members of a powerful
jail-evasion cartel in the agency from punishment, contrary to the
recommendations of the Justice Gilbert Obayan (rtd) National Committee
for Reform of the NDLEA.

Rather than retire the original 71 officials of the agency indicted by
the committee, investigations by Saturday Punch showed that only nine
had been retired while the NDLEA sacrificed the career of 62 other
innocent officers to make up the number, thereby shielding members of
the cartel.

The cover-up was said to have been done to stop the powerful cartel
from executing its alleged threat to expose some former and serving
top-level management personnel who had aided its illegal activities.

The immediate-past Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the
Federation, Chief Bayo Ojo, had set up the committee in October 2006
to examine the administrative and operational machinery of the agency
and make recommendations for improvement.

It submitted its report in February 2007, about four months to the
expiration of the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Among the panel's five terms of reference were to "identify officials
and other personnel of the NDLEA who have engaged in any inappropriate
conduct and make recommendations for appropriate sanctions" and to
"examine the circumstances leading to the evasion of jail terms by
offenders prosecuted by NDLEA, who were convicted but were never found
in prison; and to identify officials of the agency and any of the
public services found to have connived with the convicts."

Saturday Punch had reported exclusively last April that the cartel,
with the connivance of 14 lawyers and 11 prison wardens, had aided 197
drug barons and convicts to escape serving jail sentences. The Obayan
committee had also indicted some members of the cartel for alleged
corrupt practices, including contract inflation and diversion of funds
running into several millions of naira. Saturday Punch gathered that
among the officers sacrificed in 2007 to keep their 62 indicted
colleagues in service were some state commanders who were not told the
nature of their offence.

Their letters were signed by the current Director-General of the
agency, Mr. Lanre Ipinmisho, who was the Secretary of the board.

However, the official list of the 71 officers retired by the agency to
pre-empt the outcome of the Obayan committee's findings, showed that
only nine members were on the committee's list while the remaining 62
were included by the authorities of the agency to cover up the cartel.

Following a petition by the affected officers, the House of
Representatives Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes had
summoned Ipinmisho two times this year, but on both occasions, he was
reportedly unable to provide evidence of any wrongdoing to justify the
mass retirement.

A source close to the committee told Saturday Punch that "during his
last meeting with the committee in April 2009, Ipinmisho had stated
that the American Drug Enforcement Agency applauded the decision of
the board to retire the officers.

"He went back and promised to come with more evidence, but he has not
kept his promise."

But a letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr.
Dimeji Bankole, by the President of the Alabama-Africa Trade and
Economic Cooperation Forum and former Head of the DEA in Nigeria , Mr.
Gorge Williams, disproved Ipinmisho's claims.

In the letter, dated May 8, 2009, Williams expressed shock that the
name of the American agency was being linked with the unjustifiable
retirement of officers by the NDLEA.

Part of the letter read, "I would like to express my concern over the
use of the DEA Office in Lagos and that of other similar foreign law
enforcement agencies in Nigeria by the present head of the NDLEA, Mr.
Giade, to justify his mass sack of 71 NDLEA employees.

"I am most concerned with the name-dropping of our embassy in Lagos by
the NDLEA to justify this action.

"I am very much encouraged to draw your attention to this matter for
your intervention because several other top US officials and diplomats
who have worked in Nigeria as well as eminent Nigerians have equally
expressed same concern and the need for this injustice to be reviewed.

"I have also been informed that the then Minister of Justice, Mr. Bayo
Ojo, the supervisor of the NDLEA, confirmed that he never endorsed
such an action especially when persons who had earlier voluntarily
retired and someone who had died two years before the retirement
exercise were all included in the list."

However, reacting on Friday, Ipinmisho defended the action of the
authorities saying that the retired officers "have no case" because
the NDLEA no longer required their service.

He said, "We did reorganisation in the agency as approved by Mr.
President; NDLEA is a government agency and works according to laid
down rules."

When reminded of the allegation that most of the principal officers
indicted by the committee were still in service, he replied that the
reorganisation was still "open; any of them found will be shown the
way out." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake