Tuesday, January 24, 2012

SA and Nigeria Police Need to Fight Drugs Together

Gift Ngobeni

After several stories of South African women arrested overseas for trafficking drugs and the implication of some Nigerians in South Africa in drug manufacturing and the State security minister’s wife with a Nigerian counterpart found guilty after recruiting girls to work as drug mules maybe it’s time the South African and Nigerian police started working together to curb this crime. Nationals of both countries being implicated in the international trade of illegal drugs cannot be good for both nations and authorities from both countries working together will probably help improve how both countries are viewed. I will start with a long reminder of recent drug cases that have involved South Africans and others that have involved Nigerians in South Africa to show how important this is.

Thailand probably gets a lot of rich and beautiful young things taking advantage of cheap holidays there. The website www.socialreview.org.uk estimates that over 600 thousand Britons visit Thailand each year. So authorities probably welcome people from new territories too and see it as a good sign of the treatment they give to visitors. They probably didn’t mind much when they saw a phly African princess carrying simple luggage with beautiful, big and long dreadlocks. Normally we praise such people because they would have had the patience many don’t have to maintain their hair properly and make sure it grows without breakage. But not this time as Nobabalo Nobanda’s dreadlocks were fake with something illegal hidden inside. 

Thai police say she has confessed to trafficking 1.5 kilograms of cocaine from Brazil in December. Friends then told the media she had been taking them out before the Brazil trip and they were aware she had gone to Brazil, but didn’t know what she was doing there. After her arrest it also emerged her South African friend Sulezi Rwanqa who had been communicating with Nolubabalo was suddenly stranded in Thailand and Sulezi’s mother said she was unaware her daughter was there but the South African embassy was assisting in her case.

Many South Africans would know Nolubabalo’s name by now as her story has been discussed thoroughly in the media, university students would be heard gossiping about her with some in Johannesburg trying to figure out whether they’d met her anywhere at all and at times Nobabalo’s name is a conversation starter when people have little to say to each other.

Nobabalo was caught in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport by customs officials who noticed a “suspicious white substance in her hair”. Her arrest came a day after it was revealed that another South African, Janice Linden, had been executed in China for bringing drugs into the country. Janice had been arrested in 2009 when she arrived in China allegedly carrying three kilograms of crystal methamphetamine or tik as it is commonly known in the streets of South Africa. Reports say despite the death sentence she maintained her innocence. Her family has told the media that she was under the impression that she was undergoing an appeal and wasn’t aware that it was her last day alive on the day of the execution.  Barely two weeks after Janice’s execution three more South African women were arrested for allegedly trafficking drugs. This time it was in Nigeria, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Several women who had served sentences overseas and some later transferred to South Africa have since emerged. Some blame their boyfriends or fathers of their children for tricking them into doing it. Former Miss South Africa contestant, Vanessa Goosen, who has served a 16 year sentence in Thailand after pleading guilty says she only admitted to the crime to avoid the death penalty as she didn’t know the drugs were in her luggage and suspects they were planted by the father of her child. Goosen was pregnant at the time of arrest. Anyone who watched the news in South Africa last year would know Sheryl Cwele, the ex-wife of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, was found guilty of drug trafficking after it emerged that she and her Nigerian counterpart, Frank Nabolisa, were recruiting young women to work as drug mules.

While South African women are getting arrested for such crimes overseas police seem to be doing their bit here at home as well. In October 2011 there were reports that South African police had arrested fourNigerian nationals suspected of manufacturing cocaine and R5 million worth ofdrugs were seized from them. Nigerian website Jongola reported that Nigerian drug lord, Ndudim Agoha, was sentenced by the Special Drug Court in Durban to 20 years, four of which were suspended meaning he’ll only spend 16 behind bars. 

There are also stories of women who say they were tricked into drug trafficking with promises of jobs that offered international travel. Recently Times Live reported of a Durban woman who responded to an advertisement that appeared in a Durban newspaper. When she was hired she was going to be trained for the job in Brazil where she says she was locked in a room, repeatedly raped, forced to swallow carrots preparing her to swallow cocaine bullets and managed to escape when she was at the airport about to traffic drugs. 

Another article appearing on IOL has a story of a woman whowith a similar story. She had responded to an Isolezwe advertisement and says her interviewers were two Nigerian men and a Zulu speaking South African woman. She made a U-Turn in Turkey as she was connecting to Bangladesh and the woman is currently under police protection. She said her training to swallow carrots was in Nepal and there was another Nigerian there who told the nine women they “would have to be kidding” to think they can be taken all the way to Asia just for shoes. 

While on the streets it’s clear that a lot of judgment is being passed against those who traffic drugs – but each person’s circumstances appear to be different. The one common thread that appears is poverty as drug lords appear to be predominantly Nigerian and probably would have fled poverty in Nigeria and seems their only means to make money is to produce drugs.

The women who unwillingly participate would often think they are going to sell shoes overseas and would receive training in this as a result, only to find that they would be mules. Again poverty would have brought them to that point. They would be taking any job available and it seems these jobs don’t require much as all that would be needed is a passport. Someone with no post high school qualification and has been in need for some cash with a family to feed would be easily tempted into taking any job that offers money and international travel.

While the judgment would be on women who would know about their involvement in drug trafficking, they too would be drawn to it by poverty. The woman arrested in Nigeria mentioned she had a child to feed in South Africa. Drug mule, Tina, interviewed by the Star in December said she willingly does this and feels that as a 44-year-old unemployed white woman there aren’t that many options for her and has two children to feed.

Some people would do anything when poverty stricken. It is then up to the police of the two countries, Nigeria and South Africa, to work together and try to fight the crime. By doing so they would also be protecting those who might end up being trapped as unwilling participants. Borders of both countries need to be tightened while they probably need to frequent areas known to be drug havens in both countries. Certain countries in Europe and the Middle East often thoroughly question individuals who fit profiles of certain crimes. This might be seen as racist in certain parts of the world but it reduces the number of illegal immigrants that make it through and limits the number of criminals that might be bringing illegal material. 

Maybe South Africa needs to start this scrutinisation process as well. By reducing the number of people who would stay longer than their visas allow them to would also reduce the number of crimes committed as many would end up in criminal activities if they are undetected and if they left their countries as a result of poverty.

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