BENIN: Screening out morally unfit crime fighters
COTONOU, 29 October 2008 (IRIN) - One year after the country’s top anti-drug officials were sacked for alleged corruption, Benin’s new drug control boss has promised to revive the government’s fight against traffickers.
Bertin Adanlè, director of Benin’s Office for the Control of Illicit Traffic of Drugs (OCERTID), told IRIN one of his first projects since taking over is to improve the quality of the country’s crime fighters. “To work in this field, you have to be demanding about the morality of the staff and to make that a key hiring criterion.”
Two months into his new role, Adanlè said he intends to change how employees are recruited, evaluated and hired to ensure their “moral fitness”.
“No matter your position, if you become involved in drug trafficking, you will be submitted to the same judiciary proceedings [as any other accused],” warned Adanlè.
The agency’s former director and the country’s top police chief were accused of cooperating with traffickers, and are currently being held on corruption charges, along with 12 other lower-ranking former OCERTID officials.
In 2007 Benin seized 423kg of cocaine – 20 times as much as the previous year, according to OCERTID. Current director Adanlè told IRIN drug seizures are slightly down in 2008, currently less than 400kg. “It is down, but this is not to say drugs are not circulating.”
A new UN report on drug trafficking in West Africa says Benin, Togo and Gambia accounted for 20 percent of cocaine air traffic seizures from January 2006 to May 2008. Authors of the report, “Drug Trafficking as a Security Threat in West Africa”, wrote that this amount was “surprising for such small and under-serviced [low air traffic] areas…Few large seizures have been associated with these countries, so the reason for their use requires further research.”
Drug crime investigators have reported drug traffickers packing a flight with several smugglers, knowing airports can only detain so many. Isolated
Benin is part of a drug trafficking route from West Africa to Europe that also cuts through neighbouring Togo and Nigeria, according to the UN.
The West Africa branch of UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which oversees Benin, is located 3,000km away in the Senegalese capital Dakar.
UNODC West Africa Director, Antonio Mazzitelli, told IRIN with current resources the office can handle only so much territory. “Benin is far for us. There is much more we want to do to support Benin’s government, but we simply do not have the resources to send staff.” Deterrent at airports
OCERTID officials told IRIN that up to now, drug traffickers tended to move drugs through the airport rather than by sea or land. But arrests are forcing them to change their routes.
Commissioner Adanlè said on 31 August a man arrested in Cotonou while en route from Guinea to Nigeria had swallowed 1,610 grams of cocaine pellets. In January a man flying to Amsterdam was arrested in Cotonou with 690 grams, according to OCERTID. Adanlè said the government has intercepted express mail packages that contain buttons stuffed with cocaine intended to be sewn onto couriers’ clothing.
According to Benin's police inspector in OCERTID, Christophe Aklénon, airport arrests in Benin are simply pushing smugglers to take land routes: “Before they used the airport to transfer their merchandise, but with our heightened airport presence, they have changed their agenda and are starting to take land routes.”
Aklénon told IRIN the agency has heightened drug surveillance along the 100-kilometre Atlantic coastline from Benin’s economic capital Cotonou to Grand Popo. He said there have been no cocaine seizures thus far in October.
Police director Alassane Boukari-Yabara said there is still much ground for OCERTID to cover. “What slips through our fingers is enormous, which is why it is so difficult to say drug trafficking has declined. For me, the situation is still the same; granted, our challenge is not as serious as that facing other countries in the [West African] region.”
Drug commissioner Adanlè said Benin is far from becoming a narco-state: “Our position as a transit country with free movement of people and goods has made some arbitrarily declare us to be a drug transit country. We are not a country of drug traffickers. We are doing all we can to fight it.”