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‘Writing energises me, it’s like blood flowing in my vein’

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Kofo Olugbesan is a lawyer, who was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1993. She obtained a certificate in tax administration from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA. She was an officer of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the first female officer to attain the position of Assistant Comptroller General. She spoke with GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR on her book, Smuggling: The Crime, The Law?

How did you find yourself in writing?
I enjoyed reading as a child and then developed my interest in writing. One of my favourite subjects then in junior school was ‘Composition’.

When were you born and for how long have you been writing?
I am 72 years old, born on June 22 and have been writing since early 90s.

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Who introduced you to writing?
My elder sister, Mrs. Dotun Enwezor. In my growing stage, my sister had a tremendous impact on me being a mother figure. I remembered when she went to further her education in Dublin, she got me a pen pal with whom I exchanged letters to enable me understand the culture of another country and also he (my Pen pal) understood African childhood. She developed the avid reader in me by sending British fairy tale books for me to read.

Why did you come up with the book, Smuggling: The Crime, The Law?
Whilst in service, I championed the drug interdiction after an in service course on tax administration in the United States. In the course of the training, I came about drug smuggling, which was alien to Nigeria. I brought back the experience of the training and was able to make the first drug seizure in the earlier 80s. Now realising that we have identified drug smuggling in Nigeria, I wrote a memo, which led to the setting up of the drug unit in Nigeria Customs Service, which later metamorphosed into NDLEA. Throughout the period, the unit headed by me handled over 314 drug cases with a few losses due to lacuna in the law of smuggling. I decided to put my experience and thoughts down in a book examining the crime itself, i.e. sociological and legal aspects of it and proffering solutions.

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Were there incidences that made you cry when the book was still in the cooking stage?
Yes, of course. I was quite emotional about some cases. Out of the 314 drug cases, the one that made me cry was one of a young lady in her early 20s, starry eyed about being married and her fiancé took advantage of her. The story is; during the outward clearance of a flight to London, a young lady who was a student nurse approached the final customs desk at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA) where eagle eyed drug unit officers were stationed. As she was being asked questions, the officer could sense some uneasiness in her and she was pulled aside for further questioning.

As she was being questioned, she subconsciously dropped the name ‘’Kelvin’’. When further asked about who Kelvin was, the young lady started crying. Further investigation revealed that she was traveling with Kelvin who was four steps behind her and who had boarded the plane. On further examination, some substance was found on her. Immediately, field tests of the substance revealed it to be heroin. She was now questioned about the relationship with Kelvin and herself.

She said Kelvin was her fiancé and they were travelling together with a promise to marry her when they get to London. She cried profusely and confessed that the drug belonged to Kelvin she was traveling together with. Upon examination of the manifest, it was discovered that there was no information about Kelvin and all the information she furnished about her fiancé was all false. But the lady gave a physical description of him and included what he was wearing on that day.

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Immediately after her confession, I set about recalling the aircraft, but unfortunately, it had left Nigeria air space. We contacted our counterpart at Heathrow Airport who examined Kelvin and found nothing with him. However, surveillance was placed on him and within 24 hours, British Customs raided his apartment and drugs were found similar to the substance found on the young lady. He was arrested by the British Customs and prosecuted.

At the same time, the young lady was also prosecuted in Nigeria. We examined the possibility of a plea-bargaining. However, that could not be explored because our laws did not make provision for such at that time. The young lady was prosecuted and jailed. That was when I cried because she was just a mule to be discarded in London by her “fiancé” and all she wanted was just to get married due to family pressures (sociological problems).

Is this your first book and how many books have you written so far?
This is my first book and presently working assiduously on my second book. The first book was published in 1993. Due to the lockdown; I had ample time to work on the digital copy of the book, which is now available on Amazon. I see this as one of the gains of COVID -19.

This book is basically a legal and sociological examination of the crime of smuggling divided into two parts. What were the noticeable common traps that as a writer, you tried to watch out for, especially considering that the characters are real and the scenes are true?
I try to remove myself from the scenes so that my personality does not reflect on the characters and also not losing out on originality, ensuring that I write with an authentic voice and also carrying out sufficient research on the subject matter.

Was there anything like writer’s block when you were penning the book?
Yes, I had writer’s block due to exhaustion in the course of my research. However, once that happens, I simply go for a ride or listen to music to enable me to refresh my brain.

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Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
No, reason being that I do not want to be beleaguered with multiple identities. Moreso, hiding my identity makes it really hard to get the word out about my book. Today, publishing in the marketplace has simply become too highly dependent on personality and author-reader rapport-building for me to expect to sell copies of my book without putting my face, my voice, my ideas and stories, to be on the public glare.

Have you read anything in the book that made you think differently about it now?
No, the cases I referred to in my book are true facts and not fiction, which happened when I was in service.

What literary pilgrimages did you undergo to come out with such an explosive book that contains facts and not fiction?
One of the good fallout of the book is that the government was able to look at Nigeria Customs Service and improve the remuneration and welfare of the officers; and also put some policies in place, which I believe should have strong expectations of the officers and men of the Nigeria Customs Service. The book is about my experience.

What are the ethics of writing that you picked up as a legal person that has helped your book?
The ethics I picked up, as a legal person that has helped my book, is to avoid plagiarism and also give credit to people’s work.

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What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry that you have noticed as a writer and considering your background as a lawyer?
Plagiarism. Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own, with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement. There are many types of plagiarism, although no degree of plagiarism is acceptable, it can range from complete plagiarism, as the most egregious act of fraud, to accidental plagiarism. In Nigeria, some lawyers have described plagiarism simply as an academic crime with no legal or criminal liability as there are no specific legal documents that safeguard against the same. I hope that the government will come up with a legal document (such as the copyright law) that makes plagiarism a criminal and civil offence with appropriate punishments.

I ensure that I give credit to people’s work, thoughts etc. by acknowledging contributors role. A robust reference table is displayed as footnote on each page of my book.

Does writing energise or exhaust you?
Writing energises me particularly doing research. It’s a treat I look forward to and enjoy doing. It is like the blood flowing in my vein. My experiences are shared in my book; and I believe, the Educational Sector/Ministry of Education could use it as part of the material to imbibe the culture of not going after ill-gotten wealth through involvement in crime by young people.

What literary pilgrimages did you undergo to come out with such an explosive book that contains facts and not fiction?
One of the good fallout of the book is that the government was able to look at Nigeria Customs Service and improve the remuneration and welfare of the officers; and also put some policies in place, which I believe should have strong expectations of the officers and men of the Nigeria Customs Service. The book is about my experience.

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