A Nigerian pastor who preached in Tanzania under auspices of his Lord Chosen Church has been handed a 30-year jail sentence after being convicted of smuggling cocaine worth Sh3.1 billion.
Mr Chukwudi Okechukwu was jailed along with compatriot Paul Ikechukwu, South African Stan Hycent and Pakistani Shoaib Mohammad Ayazi over the same offence. High Court Judge Amir Mruma has also ordered the accused to pay Sh9 billion in fines.
Anti-narcotics police believe that the preacher is one of the top members of a drug syndicate operating in Tanzania, Nigeria and South Africa.
He and his three accomplices were hiding in a mansion in Dar es Salaam’s Kuduchi Mtongani suburbs when the police surrounded the house and arrested them.
Anti-narcotics police had received information about foreigners who were planning to smuggle into the country a huge quantity of cocaine and store it in a house in Kunduchi Mtongani.
A surveillance team was deployed to keep an eye on the mansion that the the preacher and his accomplices had rented.
Led by head of Anti-Drugs Unit (ADU) Godfrey Nzowa, the police knocked on the front gate in their bid to arrest the suspected drug dealers.
Their arrest was dramatic. Soon after the police knocked on the gate and introduced themselves, the four suspects started running around the house in apparent fear and panic.
There was a cat-and-mouse chase drama inside the compound as the police tried to get hold of one of the suspects as he was attempting to jump over the fence. Three suspects were arrested inside the house.
Pastor Okechukwu was the only suspect who managed to jump over the wall but was arrested after a dramatic chase by the police.
Upon searching the house, anti-drugs police seized 81 packets of drugs which were later confirmed by the chief government chemist to be cocaine hydrochloride.
Pastor Okechukwu first came to Tanzania in January 2011, two months before his arrest, on an evangelical mission under the umbrella of his Lord Chosen Church of Nigeria.
However, intelligence report show he had came to Tanzania some years back and had made a name for himself as a pastor at his Kinondoni Biafra church and won many followers.
Yesterday, Mr Nzowa described their jailing as “another great achievement” in Tanzania’s efforts to fight drug trafficking.
“Unlike a gun or pistol which kills people instantly, drugs are killing the young generation slowly. If we are not aggressive in fighting the illicit trade we may find ourselves losing the young generation,” he said, adding that drug business was a threat to national security
especially when foreigners are left to operate in the country.
The jailing of the Nigerian pastor and his accomplices brought to three the number of high profile drug cases that have ben heard and determined by the High Court in the space of three months. Early in September, the same court sentenced to 20 years a young Tanzanian Fred William Chonde to 20 years in jail after it found him guilty of possessing 180kg worth Sh 5.2 billion and ordered him to pay a Sh 15 billion fine.
Again, last month the court sentenced businessman Kadiria Saidi Kimaro who attempted to smuggle 91 heroin capsules that he had swallowed, through Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA), to 20 years in jail. He was also ordered to pay Sh122 million in fine.
The speed with which the Judiciary hears and determined the drug cases has renewed hopes by anti-drugs campaigners who had accused courts of mishandling drug cases. There has been a concern that the way court handled drug trafficking cases might make it easy for the covicts to later secure freedom or bail in what could be viewed as disregard of the law.
Corruption and influence peddling by highly placed individuals have been cited as one factor that frustrates the war against traffickers.
However, the judiciary has repeatedly defended itself over the accusations, saying shoddy police investigations and poor prosecution was highly to blame for the situation.