The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) has accused four Mexicans and five Nigerians standing trial over illegal running of a super methamphetamine production laboratory at Asaba, Delta State of frustrating trial through delay tactics. The Chairman/Chief Executive of the Agency, Col. Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah (retd) has directed the prosecuting team to be resilient and steadfast in ensuring total victory at the end of the day.
At the resumed sitting on Thursday October 20, 2016, six out of nine new defence counsels failed to show up in court. All nine defendants changed their first counsel, Chief Benson Ndakara without any reason and prior notice at the last sitting on October 10, 2016. On that day, B. O. Okoji appeared with Blackman for the 1st and 9th defendant. D. O. Oche appeared for the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th defendant. Also, G. O Onyeka announced his appearance for the 2nd defendant while G.A.I. Mowah and O.G. Okoloh appeared for the 3rd and 8th defendants.
The new counsels pleaded for time to study the case before the commencement of trial, stating that they had not been properly briefed. Meanwhile, NDLEA counsel, Barrister Lambert Nor was in court with four witnesses and an interpreter but trial was hampered by the change of counsels. Lambert argued under section 253 of the administration of criminal justice act for the defendant to bear the cost of producing witnesses and an interpreter from Abuja and Lagos, since there was no prior notice of the change. Justice A.O. Faji of the Federal High Court, Asaba declined to award any cost but rather imposed dates on the counsels for speedy trial commencing October 20, 2016.
Again, the trial could not proceed today because only O.G. Okolh and G.O. Onyeka representing 2nd, 3rd and 8th defendant was in court. Trial continues October, 21, 25, 26, 27 and 28. NDLEA has described the development as a strategy to frustrate the trial. The Chairman/Chief Executive of the Agency, Col. Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah (retd) has directed the prosecuting team to be resilient and steadfast in ensuring total victory at the end of the day. In his words, "we are not oblivious of their antics in frustrating trial but we are not deterred. Every aspect of the case is painstakingly monitored and appropriate legal measures are being taken to counter their ploy".
NDLEA is prosecuting the defendants, four Mexicans and five Nigerians for allegedly operating a super laboratory for the illicit production of methamphetamine. They are facing a five count charge of conspiracy to form and operate a Drug Trafficking Organisation (DTO) to process and export methamphetamine. They have equally been charged for illegal extraction of ephedrine, preparation of methamphetamine and unlawful possession of 1.5kg of methamphetamine, a drug similar to cocaine, heroin, LSD contrary to NDLEA Act, Cap N30 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
The defendants are as follows; Anthony Chukwuemeka Umolu a.k.a. Onwa Obosi, Chief Chibi Aruh, Izuchukwu Anieto, William Ejike Agusi and Augustine Kosisochukwu Umolu. Others are Cervantes Madrid Jose Bruno, Rivas Ruiz Pasiano, Castillo Barraza Cristobal and Partida Gonzalez Pedro,
It will be recalled that a super laboratory for the illicit production of methamphetamine was detected by NDLEA at Asaba, Delta State. This super methamphetamine laboratory similar to the ones found in Mexico is the first to be discovered in the country. The laboratory has a capacity of producing between 3,000kg to 4,000kg of methamphetamine per production cycle. A significant feature of this laboratory is that the production process is more technical and sophisticated because it uses the synthesis method of methamphetamine production. All the principal actors linked to this illicit act were apprehended in a simultaneous raid on members of the drug syndicate in Lagos, Obosi in Anambra state and at the laboratory in Asaba, Delta state.
Abdallah described the operation as technical undercover assignment leading to the dismantling of a drug trafficking organization. “In a technical undercover operation, four Mexicans were arrested in active production exercise inside the super laboratory. The cartel first brought two Mexican methamphetamine experts, Cervantos Madrid Jose Bruno and Rivas Ruiz Pastiano to Nigeria but because of the size of the laboratory coupled with the volume of work, two additional Mexicans, Castillo Barraza Cristobal and Partida Gonzalez Pedro were added. Our investigation revealed that a successful test production was done at the laboratory in February 2016”.
The laboratory was raided while the second production cycle was ongoing. Items recovered at the laboratory include 1.5kg of finished methamphetamine and 750 litres of liquid methamphetamine. Other items found in the laboratory include industrial pressure pots, gas cylinders, gas burners, facial masks and numerous chemicals. Also recovered in this operation are Toyota Tundra, Mercedes Benz Jeep ML and a Toyota Corolla car.
The Agency warned that unless drastic measures are taken against this trend; the rise of super laboratories will put Nigeria on the global spotlight in methamphetamine production. “This is because the laboratory operates at an industrial scale with a high yield of 3,000kg to 4,000kgs of methamphetamine per production cycle. Nigeria methamphetamine is now competing with others in Asia and South Africa markets. The super laboratory does not need ephedrine because it uses the synthesis method. Drug cartels are now shifting from simple method of methamphetamine production to a more complex process. The discovery calls for celebration because the operation demonstrates the capacity and preparedness of the agency to track down drug cartels irrespective of their covert mode of operation” he stated.
The threat posed by this laboratory is disturbing because mass production will make the drug easily available thereby increasing the rate of abuse. More citizens will equally be targeted by drug cartels that are searching for drug mules to smuggle drugs outside the country. This has the tendency to increase the number of Nigerians in foreign prisons thereby affecting the image of our country.
Methamphetamine laboratories pose a serious threat to humanity because of the toxic nature of chemicals used. Methamphetamine dump pollutes the environment. This is because for every one pound of methamphetamine produced, about three to six pounds of toxic waste is created. This can contaminate the water table within 500 meters radius from the laboratory. Even plants close to the dump were found to be dead. The laboratory contains highly poisonous solvents and gases. Some are pyrophoric in nature capable of explosion; other chemicals are carcinogenic, capable of causing cancer while some are highly combustible and corrosive.
The NDLEA boss noted that adequate funds are required to detect laboratories, provide protective kits and also to decontaminate the production site. Major body organs can be damaged through exposure to poisonous gases and chemicals. The estimated cost of cleaning this laboratory is about thirty-five million (N35,000,000) naira. Money is also needed to carry out public enlightenment. This will create awareness and provide information to help people make informed decisions. Protective measures must be taken to safeguard the lives of officers and that of innocent Nigerians.
Members of the public were advised to be vigilant and report suspicious factories to the NDLEA. A methamphetamine laboratory can be identified by their secret operations. It can be detected by irritation caused by chemicals, smell of chemicals and coloured water on sewage. The Agency cautioned that houses used for methamphetamine production should be avoided while chemical containers must not be used for domestic purposes. The NDLEA reiterated its commitment to work with the relevant Agencies like the ministry of health and environmental protection in enhancing public health and safety.