By Bukar Bolori
Operatives of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) have arrested five kingpins of trans-border drug cartel.
The spokesman of the anti-narcotics agency, Femi Babafemi in a statement on Sunday, said the men of the agency have successfully dismantled a trans-border drug cartel and arrested five leaders of the syndicates operating in parts of the world in a special operation that lasted weeks during which different quantities of skunk, methamphetamine and ephedrine as well as air compressors used to conceal and distribute them globally were recovered.
He disclosed that the special operation came on the heels of a warning by the Chairman/Chief Executive of the agency, Brig. Gen. Buba Marwa (Retd) that drug barons and cartels will have it rough in 2023 if they fail to back out of the criminal business.
He said the arrested leaders of the cartels have spreads across Dubai, UAE; Cotonou, Benin Republic; Togo; Oman, Thailand and Europe as well as Lagos, Imo and Onitsha in Anambra state, and why during the last Christmas and New Year holidays running the cartels from their villages in Nigeria and coordinating efforts to send their illicit consignments to Dubai and other parts of the world.
According to him, their lid was blown open on December 29, 2022 when their freight agent, Onyeisue Chukwudi was arrested by NDLEA officers at the SAHCO export shed of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos for attempting to export three big automobile air compressors to Dubai. He said a quick follow up operation led to the recovery of additional five compressors at his home at 24 Legacy road, Ayobo area of Lagos.
Babafemi said total of 27.5 kilogrammes of skunk were taken out of the air compressors after welding equipment were used to cut them open.
He said further investigations revealed that the freight agent was working for a bigger organized criminal group. As a result, extensive operational tools were deployed to track the first kingpin, Onuoha Obioma who lives in Benin Republic and Togo but comes occasionally to do business in Lagos.
He noted that the efforts paid off on January 7, 2023 when Obioma walked into the waiting arms of NDLEA operatives with a bag containing additional air compressors used to conceal 15.7 kilogrammes skunk and a crystalline substance that later tested positive to methamphetamine after the afency’s sniffer dogs identified compressors with drug concealment.
He said Obioma’s statement led to the unraveling of two other leaders of the cartel: Dubai-based Ugo Alex (aka KC) and Iwueke Ugochukwu (aka Odugwu), an Onitsha, Anambra based businessman, who were at that point still enjoying the Christmas and New Year holidays in their village in Imo state, adding that a well-coordinated operation was thereafter carried out on 10th January at their ancestral homes in Umuobi village, Igbejere community, Ihitti-Uboma local government area, Imo State, while the arrow head of the cartel identified as Ezenwekwe Nicodemus, an automobile parts dealer at Alaba International market, Lagos was put under surveillance.
He disclosed that a Lexus SUV and a Toyota jeep were immediately recovered from Kelechi and Iwueke, and after so many dramatic bids to evade arrest, NDLEA operatives eventually pinned Obinna down at a bar in Mazamaza, Mile 2 area of Lagos on 14th January. A search of his home led to the recovery of 607 grammes of ephedrine, a handful of cannabis weighing 20 grammes as well as other paraphernalia, including 271 grammes of dimethyl sulfone used as a cutting agent for ephedrine, a chemical precursor and an active ingredient for the production of methamphetamine. A weighing scale and an International passport were equally recovered from his house.
Meanwhile, no fewer than 2,601.5 kilogrammes of cannabis and 102,500 pills of pharmaceutical opioids were seized during interdiction operations across Plateau, Edo, Delta, Taraba, Kogi, Kano, Lagos and Adamawa state in the past week. While 309kgs of cannabis were recovered from a Bauchi-bound Toyota Camry car marked KUJ 218 BS driven by a suspect, Godwin Ojo, 37, on Saturday 28th Jan. along Bauchi road, Jos, Plateau state, 718 kilogrammes of the same substance were seized in an uncompleted building in Sabongida-Ora, Owan West local government area of Edo state.
In Delta state, at least 250.3 kilogrammes of cannabis sativa were recovered from three suspects: Wilson Ejougo, 43; Okpor Chuks, 33; and Grace Isaiah, 51, in raids across Abbi town, Ndokwa West local government area, and Asaba, the state capital. A suspect, Umar Halidu, 35, was arrested with 18 kilogrammes of cannabis at Mutum Biyu, Gassol local government area, Taraba State, while the trio of Ali Abdulwahab, 48; Bashir Musa, 31, and Ibrahim Abdullahi, 38, were nabbed with 532 kilogrammes of the psychoactive substance in their truck in Kogi state.
Not less than 189 blocks of C/S weighing 131 kilogrammes were seized from a suspect, Shafi’u Abubakar, 29, in Mariri area of Kano and a total of 119.4 kilogrammes of the same substance recovered from four suspects in parts of Lagos state, while additional 523.8 kilogrammes were seized in a bus heading to Port Harcourt along Lagos-Ibadan expressway in the early hours of Sunday 22nd January. Four suspects: Okechukwu Umen; Lanre Ismaila, 47; Adeshina Fatai, 50; and Emmanuel Omijeh, 42, have been arrested in connection with the seizure and N3,000,000 offered as bribe kept as part of the exhibits for their prosecution. In Adamawa, 102,500 pills of opioids were recovered from the store of a mobile dealer at old park, Mubi in a joint operation with military personnel.
In his reaction to the special operation that led to the dismantling of the trans-border cartel, Marwa commended all the officers involved in the effort, stating that the feat is a confirmation that his warning to drug barons at a media briefing on 18th January is no fluke but a work plan well-grounded on determination and commitment of the officers and men of the agency to rid Nigeria of substance abuse and illicit drug trafficking.
He charged personnel of the MMIA Command, and those of Plateau, Edo, Delta, Taraba, Kogi, Kano, Lagos and Adamawa state as well as their compatriots across the country to remain steadfast and focused on the corporate goal of the agency.