We have willpower to tackle illicit drugs, by Buba Marwa

June was a month of strategic developments at the NDLEA. Significant developments include the launch of the War Against Drug Abuse (WADA) initiative, the unveiling of the National Drug Control Master Plan (NDCMP 2021-2025) and the release of the Standard Policy And Practice Guidelines (SPPG) for the Agency’s counselling centres. These are in addition to the Agency’s continuing blistering performance in terms of record arrest and conviction of drug traffickers and unprecedented seizures of consignments of assorted illicit substances.

Notwithstanding, it is not yet ‘Uhuru’ according to Chairman/ CEO, Brig. Gen. Mohamed Buba Marwa (retd), who insisted: “The drug prevalence in Nigeria is worrisome, especially when compared with the global average. From the last UNODC/Ministry of Health survey in 2018, we now know that 14.3 million Nigerians, between the ages of 15 and 64, abuse drugs. The World Drug Report ranked Nigeria as the leading country in the abuse of cannabis. These statistics should worry Nigerians.” Nonetheless, Gen. Marwa is confident that NDLEA now hold all the aces and stands a good chance of curbing the drug menace.

“The good thing though is that at the end of the day we are going to bring it (drug prevalence figure) down,” he avowed. His optimism is founded on solid premises: “We are now an intelligence-based organization, and the purpose of our strategies is to exterminate illicit drug supply or, at least, control it; while at the same time, we are ramping up our drug demand reduction efforts. With UNODC, we have launched a standard policy guideline for counselling for NDLEA counsellors. So, our strategies encapsulate prevention, treatment and aftercare.”

In this interview, Gen Marwa reflects on some of the key issues that are presently central to the activities of the Agency. Excerpts:

Rationale for Offensive Action

Offensive Action is the second of the 10 Principles of War. You never win a war sitting and waiting to be attacked or in this case, for a drug cartel to present themselves. You have to take full advantage of intelligence and your capabilities, training, personnel and get on with it. So far, Offensive Action is working. We will continue relentlessly pursuing this because each kilogram of drug seized is one kilogram less on the street. We have mopped over two million kilograms of assorted illicit substances in the last six months.

We are going to do more. The task assigned to us by the President is to clear illicit substances from Nigeria’s streets and to deal with traffickers and their barons. We are getting more sophisticated equipment which will enable us to go after the barons because that’s the bottomline. That is why we are targeting their assets. The NDLEA Act empowers us to go after any Nigerian, whoever he may be, if we have reasons to suspect reasonably that his assets are results of drug trades. So, we have the power to seize assets, including monies in bank accounts.

Some of these steps will have to get authorization from the Attorney-General of the Federation. We are targeting the assets of the barons because that is really where it pinches. The whole drug business is about money. It is no longer business as usual, whereby a baron is arrested, convicted and sent to jail only to come out some few years later to enjoy his ill-gotten wealth. If we discover huge quantities of drugs that we know are clearly for sales purposes, we will arrest the culprit, seize whatever assets he has, get a forfeiture order from the court and see that he is jailed to the best of our abilities. And our conviction rate is 90%. We convict 90% of our cases. Those we caught don’t go free.

Regulating activities in the pharmacies space

At the moment, Nigeria has about 58,000 licensed patent medicine stores and over one million unlicensed others. While we work with their association, some of the patent medicine stores, however, undermine our effort. Unfortunately, the problem has a legal dimension. The law as of now says the only qualification required to open a patent medicine store is the ability to read and write. You don’t even need a primary school leaving certificate to open one. So, we have some stark illiterates running patent medicine stores. Some of them are doing abortions, minor surgeries, selling hard drugs and lots more.

Over one million of them pretend to be pharmacists and they are not. We are probably the only country where this happens. Patients, with no respect for doctors’ prescriptions, go to pharmacies and tell pharmacists what they should give them. The solution does not lie solely in the efforts of the NDLEA, but also in changing the extant act. The Pharmacy Council of Nigeria Bill, which has been in the National Assembly now for about three years, needs to be passed into law.

As for roadside sellers of pharmaceutical drugs, NDLEA is calling for the establishment of country-wide Drug Control Committees across communities. Small communities know what’s going on in their domains. They know their children that are consuming drugs. They know those selling drugs to them. The communities are veritable sources of information. While it is NDLEA’s duty to clear the streets of these drugs, we, however, need information from the communities.

Our Position on Cannabis

We are aware that cannabis is not only grown in Ondo, Edo, Delta and other known states. It’s grown in Taraba also. Some weeks ago, we located two local governments in Kano where cannabis is being cultivated. Whenever we discover any place cannabis is cultivated, we will go out, clear and burn the farm, and as much as possible get the culprits convicted. In December 2019, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs voted to delete Cannabis from Schedule 4.

The Commission has 53 members; Out of the 11 members from Africa, nine, including Nigeria, voted for cannabis to be retained, and it is still retained under Schedule 1. So cannabis is still under strict international control. Even after the voting, WHO declared that “cannabis remains harmful and has risks of mental health disorder, depression, anxiety, psychosis etc.” With 10.6 million Nigerians using cannabis, our country is the world’s leading abuser of cannabis.

The NDLEA remains firm in its stance against the growing and cultivation of Cannabis in Nigeria. In any case, it is still the law. The NDLEA does not support legalisation and we know exactly what we mean. Yes, there’s a lot of money to be made. But studies on people who have been using cannabis found black patches in their brain and strong indications that such a vital organ and other parts of their bodies are affected. If you do the cannabis business, there’s money in it, but you are also destroying the nation. It is a life-versus-money issue.

(This article is an excerpt from the latest edition of NDLEA TODAY Magazine)

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