Tuesday, 9 June 2009

My Ordeal In NDLEA

As a young journalist I was overwhelmed with joy when I received a mail from the Unione Catholique Internationale De Press (UCIP) informing me of my nomination as one of the Young Catholic Journalists of the Year. I was nominated as a result of my article on Nigeria Police titled, "The Nigerian Police: A Bunch of Disgrace to the Nation".

I was faced with a dual problem of how to get both the British and Thai Visa but because I did my one year National Youth Service Corps Programme with the Connecting Futures Project of the British Council as an attaché to the Guardian Newspapers, the British Council got my British Visa within two days and also gave me an additional assignment that will take me to some part of the United Kingdom to meet with some young journalists like myself. I was then faced with a big problem of how to convince the Thai Embassy in London to issue me Thai Visa.

Before then and because of the fact that am a Nigerian am required to get a certificate of clearance from the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). Going through the process that will qualify me for the Drug Clearance was a big blow to humanity and double tragedy to me. This is as a result of the type of corruption I saw in NDLEA. I thought I was being very patriotic when I denied myself youthful enjoyments and had to undergo some sleepless nights in the higher institution to get a good result and subsequently use it to contribute my quota to the national development.

NDLEA proved me wrong. Part of the requirements for Nigerians going to Thailand include a bank draft of Three Thousand Naira, an application letter, two letters of commitment from two guarantors, evidence of business/official trip in Thailand, six passport photographs, letter of introduction from the employers of the two guarantors, photocopy of your international passport and a file jacket. All these requirements are clearly written down in paper containing the requirements. And this is where some unscrupulous staff of the Agency milk money corruptly out of the pockets of unsuspecting Nigerians and even issue clearance to those known to be hardened and unrepentant drug barons after they must have grease their hands.

Not knowing that I could apply for the clearance from the NDLEA office in Abuja, I went to Lagos where I picked the form containing the requirements and was also advised to go back to Abuja for it will be easier for me there.

The whole story took a new dimension in the NDLEA office in Abuja. A young man I met there told me that one of the forms I will be given will cost me N500 and that I will also pay an extra Two Thousand, Five Hundred Naira courier fee for sending the requirements to Lagos for processing. From the questions I asked the young man and his uncomfortable replies, I was able to pick some loopholes and incoherencies in his answers. So I gave him the Five Hundred Naira, picked the form and rushed back to the office.

As a patriotic and moral Nigerian who believes in transparency and fight against corruption, I picked my phone and made a call to the Director in charge of the office. When I got him, he told me in black and white that nothing is being charged for any form except the Three Thousand Naira which must be in bank draft. I thanked him and could not say for sure what transpired between him and his staff thereafter. But what happened the day I came to submit the form gave me a clue to what the phone call caused in the office.

But before narrating what transpired that morning, I think it will be wise for me to give reasons for making the phone call. As a journalist and a young vibrant journalist, my profession naturally demands that I be inquisitive. So I made the call to know exactly the situation because I may write something on that later as am doing now.

Another reason for the call was because am convinced that the staff wanted to play a dirty trick on me. In fact everything was done out of disappointment, shock and surprise because I expected a body like NDLEA to be above the aboard and have high level of integrity when compared with other Government agencies. Meanwhile my award winning article was on corruption, bribery and extortion being perpetrated by Nigerian Police, therefore it will be a moral failure and epilepsy on my part if I condone what the staff was arriving at and what am preaching against either by omission or commission.

Now back to what happened that Monday morning. When I came back to submit the form, a female staff I met vowed not to accept the file from me and directed me to the male staff that wanted to play the fast game on me, but I politely refused, giving her reasons why I could not go to the man again.

When I pressurized her to accept the forms from me on the ground that we should not allow personal matter to interfere with Government work, she asked me to bring the file. What happened next was a great shock to me. In fact the greatest shock of my life. The lady staff in question just opened the file and collected the guarantor’s form which has passports and signatures of my two guarantors and tore it into pieces and put them in the trash bin.

When I called her attention to the implication of tearing the form, she cursed me and asked me to walk out of her office. But before leaving the office I called her attention to the fact that the form she tore into pieces has signatures and passports of two Senior Guardian staff viz Madu Onuorah, State House Correspondent and Oghogho Obayuwana, Diplomatic Correspondent. I also told her that as a civil servant she committed a big offence tantamount to treasonable felony by tearing a form containing the logo of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency and the Coat of Arm of the Government and People of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. My explanation never bothered her, she just kept shouting walk out of this office.

Not knowing what to do and in fact out of frustration, I ran to inform the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Budget Matters and Due Process, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili of what happened. She went mad on hearing the ugly incident because just same day, to be precise one hour later the President, Olusegun Obasanjo will close a retreat of all the Permanent Secretaries on Corruption in the Civil Service.

There and then, she called Bello Lafiaji, the Chairman of the NDLEA and complained bitterly of what transpired between me and her staff. She also directed Orji Ogbonnya Orji, a Deputy Director in the Presidency to follow me to the NDLEA office to find out exactly what happened and parties to the incident. That was done but I could not say exactly what happened after the whole incident. I left for the United Kingdom few days after, though I was not able to make it to Thailand to receive my award because the whole incident led to my late arrival into the United Kingdom and therefore no time for the Embassy of the Kingdom of Thailand to process my Visa within less than 72 hours I have to travel.

Meanwhile the NDLEA later issued me a new form, refunded me my five hundred naira and took no courier few for posting of the forms to Lagos. It is not out of compensation. That money was not supposed to be collected. Similar episode also played itself out in Lagos office where I was asked to pay Six Thousand Naira courier fee for the original of the certificate to be posted to the Thai Embassy in London.

It is really quite unfortunate that such an ugly and dirty incident will take place in NDLEA. My own case is not the first or will it be the last. Am sure it has been happening. The reason my own is different is because am educated on my rights and know where to go for redress. How about thousands of other people who are being duped and cheated on daily basis because they have no person to complain to?

In fact am forced to believe what I was told by a young Nigerian business man I met in Thai Embassy in London. He wondered why I was complaining about what he called a very small case compared with what they undergo in the hands of the men of NDLEA. They are too dirty to be narrated here but one thing he said which I will like Nigerians to know is the fact that at least 70% of Nigerians held in Thailand and similar countries were either duped, cheated or had large amount of their money extorted by the some unscrupulous staff of the NDLEA. This, according to him led most of them to end into drug pushing out of frustration.

It is against this backdrop that I call on the Government and well meaning Nigerians to take a second look at the NDLEA. In my humble opinion, I think they are corrupt more than the corruption they claim to be fighting. They capitalize on the Drug Clearance Certificate to be extorting money from unsuspecting Nigerians and this is a sin with capital a 'S'.

What I expected from the NDLEA is an encouragement that at the young age of 25 I was able to be listed by UCIP as one of the Young Catholic Journalists of the Year and not playing fast game on me. If they can do this to me, I wonder what they must have done to others and will still do to unsuspecting ones. I appreciate the fact that things are very difficult in Nigeria but I doubt our poverty will be halved by duping our brothers and sisters. I think what will solve our problem is honesty and sincerity. We have everything to lose if we continue like this and everything to gain if we stop this. We cannot because the weather is very cold enter the fire.

I think am also convinced that some top officers of the Agency are very much aware of what is happening there. It is just like what is happening in the Nigeria Police, where the junior officers go out in the night to extort money from the motorists to come back and do account for their senior officers.

Government should as a matter of urgency take a closer look at the NDLEA before it is too late. They are on the way of becoming another big disgrace to the nation just like the Nigerian Police. Our youths are rusting in various prisons in Asia partly because of the conditions they were put into by some unscrupulous staff NDLEA to be issued drug certificate.

4 comments:

  1. This write up is indeed educative ...But what happens to people who also know their rights but have no way or means of contacting the people in high offices as you did ?? By and large I agree with you and will sure be following your blog

    Omotayo-Johnson

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is quite interesting. I as an MD of a company here in Lagos scheduled to travel to Thailand for an important training have just faced this same problem. In fact the list of requirements on the NDLEA form is more than that required to get a US, Canada, UK Visa all joined together. If I could I would have scanned a copy here. Now the Charge on Bank draft is N10,000.00 as at 26th of April 2012. I felt as a widely travelled citizen of Nigeria, I would just walk in to NDLEA office with my Passport and let them check with their records (if any) to confirm I am a NO NO NO to anything Drugs simple. But to my surprise the Rot in NDLEA is horrible. DRUG CLEARANCE for VISA? This is actually my first time of hearing this. PLEASE CHUKWUNWIKEZARRAMU YOU HAVE TO TAKE THIS CORRUPTION ISSUE UP WITH MORE WRITE UPs AS A JOURNALIST. THANK YOU

    ReplyDelete
  3. i'm facing similar thing and still waiting to get the clearance, hope i will get it. i'm almost late for my purpose in Thailand. God bless Nigeria but guess what? Nigeria can never be good to the poor and to the under-privillege. i hope they can just reduce all this requirements for the clearance because those who are doing the drug buz are not the poor, the poor doesn't have money to buy drug neither do they have the connection to get it so why should we be making things difficult for the poor? hope they can make the requirement easier for the poor that's my point of contention. Thank you

    ReplyDelete
  4. Can some one tell me the amount of money that should be in a sponsor account before he the apply for the ndlea visa clearance and how many months of bank account statement do they need? Thank you

    ReplyDelete