By Friday Nwosu
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), and the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIM), have both joined foremost travel expert and organizer Akwaaba African Travel Market, to debunk the allegation put forth by the Chief Executive Officer of Centurion Security and Safety Consult, Group Captain John Ojikutu.
The Group Captain recently alleged that the Akanu Ibiam Airport, Enugu records the highest drug trafficking in the country. Ojikutu also alleged that most of the airlines that airlift drug traffickers are African airlines, including Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and others.
The Centurion Security and safety Consult boss was reacting to the incident where Emirates flight from Brazil made an emergency landing in Lagos because suspected drug traffickers were in serious health distress and were de-boarded and taken to hospital under the control of NDLEA in Lagos.
Reacting to Ojikutu’s piece, travel expert and organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market, Ikechi Uko said: “The art of propaganda the tactics of switch and spin has been applied in full dose by Captain Ojikutu . Emirate Airlines was the airline in focus but Ojikutu switched the object of attention and directed us to focus on African competitors of Emirates. That is a master class in spin doctoring at play.
“Let’s address the allegations by Capt Ojikutu. They are mostly false and unfounded. He said and I quote “The NDLEA search light on cocaine traffickers should not be on Emirate flights alone or on passengers coming from Brazil; focus should be on all flights from Middle and Far East, East and South Africa, especially, Middle East, Egypt, Ethiopian, Kenyan Airlines, etc. Proper attention must be given to those on Ethiopian Airlines especially the flights to Enugu.”
Uko, who is also the team leader for TeamAfrica, an organisation that promotes African airlines to increase market share in the continent, said that it was wrong for Ojikutu to have said that the NDLEA should focus on African airlines.
“He also gave another wrong expert advice. He claimed that they should focus on African carriers but statistics available to any body shows that these African carriers carry only a small number of passengers out of Nigeria. Most of the passengers are carried by Emirates, Qatar, Turkish, BA, Etihad and other European carriers. So how do you focus on the small carriers and ignore the big players in the market. Outside Ethiopian and South African Airways the other African carriers use Boeing B737 for their flights while the other non-African carriers use huge airplanes. How does one justify his expert advice?
“He also claimed that ‘In Nigerian, it should not be difficult to identify the passengers as the trends has always been from a particular geographical area. I knew this way back in 1987 on my way to Kenya and 1990/94when l was the Military Airport Commandant for MMIA’.
This one is difficult to Justify because in 1987 and 1994 he was quoting as his years of observations none of the African carriers were flying through Nigeria to the Far East. Ethiopian Airlines though have been in Nigeria since 1960 but started the Bangkok route only in the last 20 years, Kenya Airways started flying to Nigeria in 1998, South African Airways was under the Apartheid Regime and started flying to Nigeria after 1999. If one can recall the era he mentioned was the height of the drug trade by Nigerians. These African carriers were not major players at the time of the drug trade,” Uko said.
The travel expert slammed Ojikutu for alleging that Enugu was made international airport so that it would be used for drug trafficking.
Joining Mr Uko to debunk the allegation by Ojikutu, the spokesman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Mitchell Ofoyeju who spoke to Thisday Newspaper, on the frequency of drug arrests on the Enugu airport, said that international flight at the airport is very low because it is only one international airline that operates at the airport.
He said there have not been many arrests of drug traffickers at the airport and that because relatively, few people travel through the airport, the arrests have not been so much as to raise eyebrow. He put the arrests made at only about one per cent of traffickers that are arrested regularly at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
Also, the spokesman of Nigerian Immigration Service, Ekpedeme King said the initial heavy screening and deployment of Immigration officials at the airport have significantly reduced because there is nothing unusual about the passenger movement at the airport.
Incidentally, since the airport was designated as international airport in 2013, it is only Ethiopian Airlines that operates into it as international carrier.
Although, Ojikutu’s statement has continued to elicit more reactions from concerned stakeholders and industry expert, the most important thing is that the Enugu airport has been exonerated as drug route by government agencies, who actually have the records of drug trafficking at various airports in Nigeria.