Mr Odilibe, a 40-year-old cosmetics importer, was reportedly released on 21 July after the magistrate, Samuel Adelana, turned down the extradition request on 17 July, saying the accused would not get a fair trial in the United States. 'It is clear from the affidavit deposed by a US prosecutor Mr Odilibe has been adjudged guilty even before being charged,' he said.
The US embassy in Lagos reacted by saying it took 'great exception' to the ruling and termed the fear that Mr Odilibe would not be given a fair trial an 'unfounded notion'. The Nigerian Attorney-General's office was expected to appeal against the ruling to a higher court. Extradition proceedings also began last Friday against three other suspected traffickers, including Mr Odilibe's younger brother, Sonny.
US Drug Enforcement Administration sources had said previously that several Nigerian couriers jailed in the US were prepared to testify to Mr Odilibe's involvement in heroin smuggling. They said they regarded the extradition of Mr Odilibe as a 'test case' in demonstrating Nigeria's commitment to battle international narcotics trafficking.
Nigerian drug syndicates now rank second only to the Chinese as the leading importers of heroin into the US, according to US drug enforcement officials, and account for one-third of all the heroin brought into North America.
Anti-drug experts say that at least six highly sophisticated drug-trafficking syndicates operate in Nigeria, all based in the Lagos area. They obtain heroin mostly from Thailand and cocaine from Brazil, and smuggle it into Europe and the US.
The favoured method of smuggling is for couriers to consume 500 to 900g of heroin or cocaine in balloons or condoms, washed down with thick okra soup. Thus, Nigerian couriers have been dubbed 'swallowers' in Western drug enforcement circles.
Nigerian officials have been sharply critical of Western media reports which they say portray Nigeria as a nation of drug smugglers. Last month, Ike Nwachukwu, the Nigerian Foreign Minister, summoned the representatives of several Western countries, including the British High Commissioner, Christopher MaCrae, and complained about Nigeria's treatment in the Western press.
The US government based its request on Section 5 of the Nigerian Extradition Decree of 1966. Gregory Odilibe, his brother Sonny, Chris Okpala and John Okpala were indicted on 5 December 1991 in a US District Court in Maryland on charges of conspiracy to import and to distribute a controlled substance in the US. Benson Legg, a US magistrate of the District Court, issued a warrant for Mr Odilibe's arrest on 6 December 1991.
Mr Odilibe's name is linked to a similarly explosive case last year which involved a Lagos socialite, 37-year-old Jennifer Madike, and led to the suspension of her long- time close friend, the chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Fidelis Oyakhilome.