WHEN LIBERIA LAW ENFORCEMENT authorities recently announced the burning of nearly 300 kilograms of marijuana said to be worth US$4 million, many raised concerns at the speed at which government investigators rushed to burn the "Fruit of Crime" before the case even saw the inside of a courtroom.
THE DRUGS in question were smuggled into the country from neighboring Sierra Leone by a member of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's motorcade staff. The presidential aide, Perry Dolo, used an official vehicle to transport the marijuana. He and at least three other men with whom he was traveling were arrested shortly after crossing the border.
THE PATTERN in all of these cases remain the same: A high or low level official makes contact with an foreigner in an outside country and work the ground to ensure safe entry and trafficking of drugs.
AS USUAL, the government through its spokesman, Information Minister, Lewis Brown, ranted that the burning was to show that there will be no tolerance for drug-related crimes. "You can be in the center of a convoy, but if you break the law, there will be no hiding place for you," he said. "That convoy will not hide you. We will arrest you, we will properly investigate you, and, as has been done, we will prosecute you in keeping with our laws. This crackdown will continue. It's a nationwide crackdown."
IN REALITY, and the most recent United Nations Panel of Experts Report have shown that the government is once again playing lip-service and showboating the flaws of lower-level officers while the big fishes return to life in the sea.
THE UN PANEL OF EXPERTS in its November 2013 report to the UN Security Council indicated that there is increase in trade in narcotics through Liberia, noting that this can also increase demand for illicit weapons. According to the Panel's sources, senior officials of the Government of Liberia have prevented the arrests of heroin couriers on at least two occasions in 2013. "Although the deputy director of the Drug Enforcement Agency was dismissed on 2 August 2013 for violations of the policies and ethics of the Government of Liberia, the Panel remains concerned that networks of higher-level Liberian government officials continue to be influenced by criminal networks smuggling narcotics", the Panel stated in its report.
SUCH INFLUENCE, the UN Panel noted can weaken the state further and increase corruption and infighting; in particular as ranking government officials can obtain significant payments for facilitating or protecting the operations of such criminal groups.
A FRONTPAGEAFRICA INVESTIGATION uncovered even more troubling reports of drug arrests that have not been highlighted by authorities. At least two other incidents went unannounced in the past month in which a Nigerian man, Uzochukwu Francis Madunagu, was intercepted at the Roberts International Airport with 8.5 KG of Heroin on December 9, 2013. and a Ugandan woman, Shirat Nalwadda, 24, was intercepted with 2.5KG of Heroin by joint security officers on another Kenyan Airway flight last month.
THE FACT that arrests like these did not come to the public eye until our investigation raises a couple of questions: Why would a nation with a long history of drug problems, fail to announce interceptions as they happen? What has government been doing with the drugs it has intercepted over the years? The ones the public did not have the opportunity being burn.
WE FEEL STRONGLY that the penalties for drug offenders are too minimal and have rarely been enforced. Furthermore these incidents which are going unnoticed daily are becoming a contributing factor to Liberia slowly becoming a narcotic state.
IT IS NO SECRET that farmers throughout the country continue to produce and distribute marijuana, and the smuggling of drugs from Sierra Leone remains a problem.
THE FACT THAT Law Enforcement authorities are conniving with foreign drug traffickers to import millions of dollars worth of narcotics into the country, thereby pointing to the likelihood of trade in illicit weapons, suggests that it is time to push the panic button.
A GOVERNMENT that refuses to listen and act on issues of drugs and corruption is a disgrace to its people. The Sirleaf administration must begin to seriously take action against all those bad apples within its midst engaging in the trafficking and distributing of poisonous substances likely to endanger the welfare of a generation of Liberians vulnerable in what is rapidly emerging into a narcotic state.