Lagos – A Nigerian court on Tuesday ordered narcotics agents to release a prominent politician wanted in the United States on trafficking charges, in an apparent reprieve for the accused heroin kingpin.
Buruji Kashamu, elected in March to represent southwest Ogun state in Nigeria’s Senate, was placed under house arrest on Saturday before a planned extradition hearing.
But Federal High Court judge Ibrahim Buba, sitting in Lagos, ordered agents of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) to “vacate the house of the applicant”.
He further ordered that extradition hearings should be suspended until Nigeria’s Attorney General Mohammed Adoke appears to answer a contempt complaint filed by Kashamu’s lawyers.
The NDLEA said it had not received an order to end the house arrest and indicated it did not intend to comply.
“The NDLEA does not believe that any court will issue an order preventing a government agency from performing its statutory responsibilities in a lawful manner,” a statement said.
“The Agency has therefore refused to be distracted and will continue to maintain presence at the residence.”
Kashamu was indicted in an Illinois court in 1998 over conspiracy to distribute heroin.
He was arrested in Britain that December but ultimately convinced British authorities the drug trafficking evidence in fact related to his brother and that US investigators had confused the two men.
A British court approved his release in 2003 and Kashamu returned to Nigeria, where he became a major funder of the powerful Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The PDP’s 16-year grip on power will end on Friday, when president-elect Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress will be sworn in.
The United States has sought Kashamu’s extradition for two decades and it was not clear if Nigeria’s decision to act now was linked to political shifts.
Kashamu has repeatedly denied any involvement in drug smuggling, consistently throwing blame on his deceased brother, whom he reportedly resembles.
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