The attempt to murder Colonel (Rtd) Sim Turay exposed (2)June 10, 2017
1. The Agency before I took over as Executive Director
The continued violations of several provisions of the National Drugs Control Act, 2008, which is the Agency’s Parliamentary mandate by the Sierra Leone Police and the Transnational Organised Crime Unit include, but not limited to:
(a) illegal drug law enforcement operations with regard to suspected drug and drug-related offences nationwide. These operations have also violated the fundamental human rights of peaceful and law-abiding citizens all over the country as enshrined in the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone.
(b) failure to inform the Agency of the arrests of drug and drug-related suspects within the jurisdiction of Sierra Leone
(c) the illegal investigation of drug and drug-related cases within the jurisdiction of Sierra Leone
(d) the illegal prosecution of drug and drug-related cases in the courts of this country
(e) the illegal resale of drug exhibits, namely, cocaine, cannabis, etc. to drug dealers once drug cases are concluded in the courts of this country.
(f) the facilitation of illegal drugs in Sierra Leone, including the cultivation, use, export and trans-shipment of such drugs
In the light of the above, I shall endeavour to give a brief narrative to the background of the Agency’s case in order to put the matter into perspective so we could have a clear understanding of the issues involved, thereby enabling us make an informed judgment.
As a result of the country’s 11-year tribal rebel war between 1991 and 2002, the domestic cultivation, use and export of illegal drugs, particularly cannabis sativa increased exponentially in Sierra Leone, mainly due to the general break down of law and order throughout the country. Tens of thousands of RUF rebels and members of the security forces were engaged in the use of cannabis, and the illegal export of huge quantities of the drug with the help of law enforcement officers to neighbouring countries, the Middle East, Western Europe and the United States. The illicit trafficking of cocaine from South America through Sierra Leone to the Middle East, Western Europe and the United States, which started since the early 1970s also increased dramatically during this period. This is an incontestable fact of history which is substantiated by empirical evidence. Thus, Sierra Leone experienced a devastating drugs problem that continued unabated even after the end of the tribal rebel war in early 2002.
In order to ameliorate the country’s drugs problem which was, undoubtedly, out of control, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency was established by government in January 2003. Disturbingly, the Agency was not granted a Parliamentary mandate and was also not made operational by the ruling SLPP government . As a result, a serious vacuum was created with regard to the enforcement of the law on illegal drugs and drug–related issues, especially in the case of the two prevalent drugs then, namely, the illicit trafficking of cocaine, and the illegal cultivation, use and export of cannabis.
As there were only around a dozen administrative personnel in a non-operational and ineffective National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, several highly established and sophisticated networks of cocaine traffickers and cannabis drug dealers grabbed the opportunity with both hands. These networks comprised Colombians, Nigerians, Guineans, Malians, and Lebanese, and other nationals from Western Europe, the United States and Russia. Sierra Leoneans, among them intellectuals, were also deeply involved in the illicit trafficking of cocaine and the cannabis trade. The serious lapse in the law only came to light in 2007, following the country’s infamous cocaine scandal when a light plane-load of cocaine from South America was intercepted at the Freetown International Airport, Lungi.
The above incident triggered the granting of a Parliamentary mandate, the National Drugs Control Act, 2008, to the Agency on 7th August 2008 under a ‘certificate of emergency’. However, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency was still not provided with the relevant resources to address the illegal drugs trade in Sierra Leone, so the Agency was never able to deliver on its Parliamentary mandate. The total lack of the Agency’s operational capacity was allowed to go on indefinitely even though law enforcement agencies were weak and corrupt as certain law enforcement officers continued to facilitate the illegal drugs trade.
The fact of the matter was that a weak and ineffective National Drug Law Enforcement Agency meant that the Agency’s Parliamentary mandate was usurped by the Sierra Leone Police and the Transnational Organised Crime Unit (TOCU), as these institutions were knowingly and unlawfully violating several provisions of the National Drugs Control Act, 2008, with impunity as already highlighted. The Agency was simply starved of operational resources by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development by design rather than omission, resulting in the exacerbation of the illegal drugs trade in Sierra Leone. It was this intolerable situation, which was exacerbated by a culture of impunity perpetuated by the Sierra Leone Police and the Transnational Organised Crime Unit with regard to addressing the country’s deteriorating drugs problem that I took over as Executive Director of the Agency on 20th December 2010.
Upon my appointment, it did not take long for me to realise that the illegal drugs trade in Sierra Leone was seriously out of control and that the Sierra Leone Police and the Transnational Organised Crime Unit had over the years fully exploited the non-operational status of the Agency. It was also apparent to me that the aforesaid institutions had usurped the Parliamentary mandate of the Agency and were determined to maintain the prevailing status quo at all cost because of the massive financial reward they were getting from the illegal drugs trade. These institutions had also organised and were running an “illegal drug protection ring”, with the full cooperation of the Customs and Excise Department, the purpose of which is to protect illegal drug dealers engaged in the cocaine and cannabis trade, in particular, in return for protection money.
I was fully convinced the country’s illegal drugs trade had to be addressed by government as a matter of urgency, so I made the position of the Agency known to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, appealing for sufficient government funds to make the Agency operational and for the Sierra Leone Police and the Transnational Organised Crime Unit to respect the National Drugs Control Act, 2008.
Subsequently, I also made the deteriorating situation and its devastating consequences known to the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Internal Affairs and State House. These are reflected in the Agency’s yearly status reports to State House and Parliament which have been detailed and comprehensive. As the situation remained unchanged, the matter was eventually brought to the attention of the media and the general public. No doubt, my unequivocal stance has been for good measure as it serves the best interest of the state and the people of Sierra Leone.
Furthermore, apart from the damaging political ramifications associated with the country’s worsening drugs problem as there is a consensus across the political divide for government to effectively address the drugs issue, the approach adopted by the Sierra Leone Police and the Transnational Organised Crime Unit to tackle the drugs menace is morally and ethically reprehensible. This is why it should now be recognised that the brazen violations of the National Drugs Control Act, 2008, with impunity by the aforesaid institutions is a key reason for the continued escalation of the illegal drugs trade in Sierra Leone.
Moreover, the Executive Director has reiterated time and time again that the resource problems of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency are not of its own making and do not in any way whatsoever warrant the Sierra Leone Police and TOCU to take it upon themselves to treat the Agency with contempt and openly violate that National Drugs Control Act, 2008.
What is fundamental here is that the will of Parliament must remain supreme at all times and must, therefore, not be fettered by the role or actions of the Sierra Leone Police and TOCU. In other words, the provisions of the said Act have legal supremacy over the agenda or unlawful acts of the aforesaid institutions, in so far as drug and drug-related matters are concerned and must, therefore, be judiciously and unquestionably respected by these institutions. In this regard, the Executive Director holds the view that both institutions are not the solution to the country’s drugs problem but rather the problem to the solution of the drugs issue.
The fact of the matter is that the Executive Director has a Parliamentary responsibility to uphold the said Act at all times and to ensure that it works in the best interest of the government and people of this country. Thus, it is the considered view of the Executive Director that the role and actions of the Sierra Leone Police and TOCU with regard to drug and drug-related matters within the jurisdiction of Sierra Leone not only demonstrate their total disregard and disrespect for the Agency’s Parliamentary statute, but tantamount to an affront to Parliament which must not be allowed to avail.
2. The illegal drugs trade in Sierra Leone and the Agency’s role.
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) was established by government in January 2003. It is the only institution in the country with the Parliamentary mandate to combat the illegal drugs trade in Sierra Leone. Unfortunately, the Agency was never provided with a basic operational infrastructure, in terms of personnel, vehicles, motor cycles, drug detection equipment, uniforms, and a range of other equipment and facilities necessary to conduct its operations. This lack of operational resources has, sadly, been allowed to drag on indefinitely, resulting in the Agency experiencing zero growth and development throughout its existence, and is the fundamental reason the Agency has never been able to function as a drug law enforcement institution.
As a result of the above, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency has found it impossible to deliver on its Parliamentary mandate, the National Drugs Control Act, 2008, which is a brilliantly written piece of legislation. The Agency has, therefore, never had the capacity to prosecute a single case on drug and drug-related offences in the courts of this country. Thus, the failure of the Agency to become operational is the underlying reason for the continued escalation of the illegal drugs trade in Sierra Leone.
Considering that the country is faced with a dangerous and mounting drugs culture, especially among the unemployed, youths and teenagers of school-going age, the problems associated with drug abuse pose real challenges to social security and are a barrier to economic development and democratic consolidation. Moreover, it is now an established fact that at both the domestic and international levels, there is a close connection not only between drugs and criminal activities generally, but also between drugs and organised crime, such as money laundering, child trafficking and terrorism for which this country is still to adopt a holistic approach.
It is quite evident that unless and until the resource problems of the Agency are properly addressed, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency will never be able to perform its statutory role of effectively tackling the illegal drugs problem in Sierra Leone, the purpose for which it was established by government.
It is of significance to point out that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission, and the European Union (EU), the major contributor to the ECOWAS Commission are very much concerned that Sierra Leone is the weakest link in the ECOWAS region in the fight against drug abuse and the illicit trafficking of drugs and precursor trafficking by land, sea and air. They are also very much aware of the fact that Sierra Leone is the only country in the sub-region whose national drug agency is not operational.
It is also important to stress that a very senior official representing the European Union Development Fund to implement the ECOWAS Drug Action Plan to Address Illicit Drug Trafficking, Organised Crime and Drug Abuse remarked to me in a recent conference in Abuja, Nigeria that: “Sierra Leone is a narcotic State”. This is a legacy of the 12-year tribal rebel war when narcotic drug became the most potent weapon used to embolden tens of thousands of our young population and transform them into ruthless killing machines with wanton abandon, which is a fact of history. So the international community needs to be convinced that visible efforts are being made on the ground to address the drugs problem in Sierra Leone in order to reverse the world’s perception of the country.
Foreign governments rendering financial and other forms of assistance to Third World and developing countries in the global fight against the illegal drugs trade are also concerned over the fact that the Agency does not have the capacity to function as a drug law enforcement agency. Disturbingly, Sierra Leone is also on record for not playing any part in international efforts to combat the global trade in illegal drugs. These are very serious concerns by the international community, which warrant appropriate steps by government to address the drugs problem at both the domestic and international levels.
3. The need to make the Agency fully operational
It of critical significance that appropriate steps are taken to provide the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency with the relevant resources to become fully operational to enable it deliver on its Parliamentary mandate. Thus, the Agency would have the capacity to combat the country’s serious drugs problem. In this regard, the Agency needs to be provided with the necessary operational infrastructure, in terms of the following:
(a) 482 personnel working early and late shifts – the Agency has only 22 (twenty two) administrative staff and cannot as such, deploy operational personnel.
(b) 81 vehicles – the Agency has no operational vehicle and cannot, therefore, conduct any drug law enforcement or drug demand reduction operations even in the capital, Freetown let alone upcountry .
(c) 33 motor cycles – the Agency has no motor cycles, the utilisation of which greatly enhances intelligence gathering and rapid deployment and investigations.
(d) 18 drug detection equipment and other relevant drug security equipment – the Agency has no drug detection equipment or drug security equipment of any sort and cannot detect illegal drugs in situ.
(e) Uniforms for 400 staff – the Agency is not provided with uniforms for staff, which would not only signify the Agency’s presence in various locations nationwide but also serve as a deterrent to established and potential drug dealers.
(f) 2 coastal patrol crafts – to deter illicit drug and precursor trafficking by sea. A new development is that by the use of GPS technology, illicit cocaine traffickers are presently employing light aircrafts to drop cocaine consignment out at sea along the city’s coastal areas.
(g) Construction of a new Headquarters Office complex in Freetown – the Agency is housed on a third-floor premises, which is unsuitable and inadequate, and does not even have secured parking facilities.
(h) Construction/provision of 14 new additional offices up-country, including 6 border locations – the agency has no facilities for the deployment of personnel upcountry.
(i) Formulation of the Agency’s long-term establishment – the Agency does not have a proper management structure supported by a decent workforce.
In order to put the Agency’s strength into perspective, the under-mentioned table shows the strength of some national drug agencies in the ECOWAS region. Needless to say, Sierra Leone’s position is most embarrassing.
No. Country Drug Agency’s Strength in 2016 Projected strength
(a) Nigeria 5,000 10,000
(b) Senegal 3,000
(c) Togo 2,000
(d) Ghana 535 Over 650
(e) The Gambia 450 Additional staff
(f) Liberia 400 Additional staff
(g) Sierra Leone 26 No additional Staff
4. The double murder of drug witnesses by the security forces and the disappearance of 1,600 ton of cannabis
The Agency has received reliable information from a highly respectable and influential Western diplomatic source that sometime in August last year, a consignment of 1,600 (one thousand six hundred) tons of cannabis was intercepted at the Gbalamuya border-crossing point in Kambia by the Police and the Army contingent in Kambia. The matter was taken to court but two months later in October, two of the three prosecution witnesses in the matter met their deaths in mysterious circumstances and were believed to have been murdered with the involvement of law enforcement officers in Kambia. The third witness refused to testify in court for fear of his life. The case was abandoned and the 1,600 tons of cannabis simply vanished.
In spite of the fact that this matter has been discussed in a number of security meetings involving government law enforcement institutions, no action has been taken to investigate the murders. The fact of the matter is that there has been an unholy cover-up championed by the Sierra Leone Police and ONS (Office of National Security).
It is essential to point out that we now not only dealing with the unlawful violations of the Agency’s Parliamentary by the Sierra Leone Police and the Transnational Organised Crime Unit, but have moved to the sinister territory of cold – blooded and calculated murders of drug witnesses by law enforcement officers.