The Senator Representing Lagos East in the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly, Senator Olugbenga Ashafa’s Bill seeking to Amend the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act CAP N30 Today, came up for second reading.
The Act seeks firstly to curb the excesses of Judges who pass light, varied and discretionary sentences to convicts in clear disregard of the provisions of the NDLEA Act, which stipulates a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, or minimum sentence of fifteen years’ imprisonment for convicts.
While reading his lead debate, the Senator pointed out that the stiff punishment originally prescribed by the Act Is to deter people from engaging in drug related activities, but the actions of some judges in passing light sentences only makes a mockery of the deterrent nature of the Act thereby sending a wrong message to drug dealers and traffickers, their countries, our youths and the international community. his light sentences being imposed by judges contrary to the provisions of the Act.
The Bill seeks to amend Section 26 of the Act by including an additional Clause, which makes it mandatory for judges to impose the sentences stipulated in the Act for convicts, removing completely the discretion which the judges have arbitrarily exercised.
The said clause states that “The penalties provided for in this Act shall be adhered to, and notwithstanding any provision in any other law or rule of practice, a trial judge shall not have the power to vary such penalties either by imposing a lesser term of imprisonment or granting a convict an option of fine.”
Secondly the Act seeks to correct a minor but significant error in the principal Act which mis-spelt the word “heroin” as “heroine”.
The final amendment seeks to increase the option of fine of N20, 000 imposed as penalty for obstructing the Agency or authorized officers of the Agency in the exercise of any of their powers to N100, 000.00.
The Senator, pointed out to his Distinguished Colleagues that the economic-realty of Nigeria today has rendered the N20, 000.00 fine paltry and unrealistic which necessitates the increase to N100, 000.00.
While contributing to the well received debate on the Bill, Distinguished Senator, Shehu Sani from Kaduna Central, lent his support to the Bill by emphasissing on the need for the Drug Law to serve as a deterent and to be enforced as contemplated by the drafters of the Law. He commended the well detailed instances canvassed in the body of Ashafa’s lead debate and pointed out that drug dealers are making use of this lacuna in the Act, as it emboldens them to go about carrying out their drug activities.
He noted that it is essential that the Bill be passed quickly to avoid our dear country being destroyed by drugs, as is the case in Guinea-Bissau.
The Senate president, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki in closing the debate added that the NDLEA Amendment Bill is very important especially with the growing increase in drug use & trafficking and that the Nigerian Senate will support everything to bring down the illicit drug trade.
The Bill was then forwarded to the Drugs and Narcotics Committee of the Senate for Consideration.