By Sahil Makkar
New Delhi : The high number of Nigerians at the sprawling Tihar Jail – 17 percent of over 450 foreign inmates – is giving headaches to police and prison authorities who point to their increasing role in drug peddling.
According to prison officials, a total of 75 Nigerian nationals, including a female, are housed in the jail primarily on charges of drug abuse and peddling. While 65 of them are under trial, 10 have been convicted.
"They (Nigerians) are mainly brought here in connection with drug trafficking but some of them are also booked for cheating and fraud," Tihar spokesman Sunil Gupta told IANS.
The role of Nigerian drug peddlers came to the spotlight after Delhi Police arrested two of them – Abdul Lateef Ashola and Egbedokun James Taiwo – last year for allegedly supplying drugs to a party attended by Rahul Mahajan, the son of late Bharatiya Janata Party leader Pramod Mahajan. Rahul was also arrested, but released on bail.
According to data available with the city police, 11 Nigerians were caught in 2006 as compared to just five in 2005. This year the police have arrested seven Nigerians so far – all on drug charges.
These arrests come even as Nigerian nationals in India often complain that they are harassed and picked up by police for no reason.
Delhi Police sleuths and jail authorities on the other hand say interrogating Nigerian prisoners is difficult.
"Don't talk about Nigerian drug peddlers with me, they are a nuisance. No police official wants to interrogate them," a senior Delhi Police official told IANS on condition of anonymity.
"It is very difficult to extract information from them and their links in the drug trade. These peddlers mislead the investigators with vague information."
The official said the interrogation of woman drug peddlers is even more challenging. "They strip and start screaming, putting our officials on the back foot. We can't do much in such a situation.
"It's a general notion among policemen that these peddlers suffer from AIDS and during interrogation, they threaten to bite constables and transmit the disease," the official explained.
He added that the Nigerians are usually well aware of the law – "if we use harsh methods to interrogate them, they are quick to complain to a magistrate about torture".
Said Deputy Commissioner of Police A.S. Cheema: "Nigerians involved in the drug trade are professionals. Some of them have been at it for decades and have been apprehended by police across the world.
"They naturally know how to deal with cops and their methods of questioning."
Jail authorities also feel the heat, as the Nigerians are known to stay close to each other and don't mix with other inmates.
"It's very difficult to manage them. Firstly, the other inmates are afraid to go near them, as they are well built and intimidating. Communication could be the second possible reason," Deputy Inspector General (Prison) C.R. Garg said.
"We segregate them and generally don't allow them to form unions in their cells. Even members of the underworld prefer to maintain a safe distance from Nigerians," Garg told IANS.
Bangladeshi and Nepali inmates – at 104 and 115 respectively – are the two other groups dominant among the nationals of 29 other countries lodged in Tihar. While the Bangladeshis have mostly been caught on terrorism and theft charges, the Nepali inmates have mostly been booked for murders and thefts.
The number of foreign nationals held under various charges in Tihar is as follows:
Nepal (115), Bangladesh (104), Pakistan (81), Nigeria (75), Afghanistan (11), Britain (5), Zambia (4), France, Israel, Iran and Sri Lanka (3 each), Canada, Germany, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Uganda (2 each), and Hong Kong, Tibet/China, Jordan, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Tanzania, Thailand and the US (1 each).
(Sahil Makkar can be contacted at [email protected])