A hostess working with Arik Air, a Nigerian based airline named Ms Chinwendu Uwakaonyenma Ogbonnaya, was arrested at Heathrow Airport on Sunday 18th December, 2011 over an allegation of smuggling four kilogrammes of cocaine into the United Kingdom. The airline promptly promised to support the British police and the Magistrate in the matter even as it regrets that the incident is the first involving its crew. A statement by the British High Commission in Abuja yesterday explained that the drug was discovered in an item of luggage conveyed by 30-year-old Ogbonnaya.
“She had arrived at Heathrow Terminal 4 having traveled on an Arik flight from Lagos in Nigeria to the United Kingdom,” the statement said, adding that she was charged with attempting to import a class A substance, and appeared before Uxbridge Magistrate court yesterday.
The British High Commission quoted the Director of UK Border Agency operations at Heathrow, Marc Owen, as saying: “UK Border Agency officers are on constant alert, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to keep class A drug and other banned substances out of the UK”.
According to him, the agency is determined to prevent this terrible trade which can have “such a destructive impact on the lives of so many people”.
The spokesman of Arik, Mr. Ola Adebanji, in an emailed statement to a Nigerian Newspaper called THISDAY, said that the airline carries out very stringent checks on all members of staff ahead of international flights.“This is the first unfortunate case that we have had involving one of our crews being accused of drug smuggling. We fully support and will cooperate with the Police and Magistrates on this matter,” the airline stated. Arik Air resumed flight operations between Abuja and London last week after six weeks of suspending its operations on the route following alleged slot denial. During the resumption, the airline’s Regional Manager, Northern Operations, Mr. Hamza Bukar, described it as a victory for Nigerian travelers, noting that the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) was not all about Arik Air but right of Nigerians.
As far back as 2005, UK Home Office had warned that the drug runners might be targeting Nigerian women as “moles” when it discovered that the number of Nigerian women on drug charges in UK jails has risen almost six fold in three years.
On 30th June of the same year, 85 of the 151 Nigerian women in custody in the UK were being held for drugs offences. In 2002, there were just 15 out of 29.