Independence Day: Counter Narcotics Strategies

NDLEA Seizes 51.90kg Heroin, Nabs 3 Kingpins in Major Bust
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The Federal Government (FG) on Monday revealed plans to mark Nigeria’s 63rd independence anniversary, which is scheduled for October 1, 2023, in a low-key way.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), George Akume, said this during a press conference in Abuja, with the FG also not inviting any world leaders.

Akume further told journalists that the decision not to invite any world leaders for the 63rd independence anniversary was taken in line with the government’s option for a low-key celebration.

“Low-key celebration has nothing to do with whether we are not doing well. Economic times are hard; we are looking at it not just at the national level but also as a family,” he said.

“We have not invited world leaders. During the inauguration of the president, 53 world leaders were invited, so we have not invited any world leaders. The report of the investigator for CBN will soon be ready for the public.

“As you are aware, the President has given his approval for this 63rd anniversary to be low-key in line with the present economic realities. The theme of the anniversary is “Nigeria @ 63: Renewed Hope for Unity & Prosperity.”

Although the current Federal government has opted for a low-key celebration of the 63rd independence anniversary of Nigeria understandably, but there is certainly one key law enforcement Institution that has intensified strategic combat of narcotics and has massively made efforts to minimise the spread of illicit substances and this body is the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).

What is intriguing is that incidentally and historically, on the eve of the commemoration of the Independence Day anniversary, NDLEA is hosting the high profile meeting of the Heads of counter-n- narcotics Institutions all around Africa.

The significance of hosting the thirty-first meeting of heads of national law enforcement Agencies in Africa cannot be lost to the low-profile nature of the celebration of the sixty-third Independence Day by the Nigerian government.

If for nothing, the Independence Day solemnity ought to be used to reflect on the phenomenal efforts and milestones that the NDLEA under Brigadier- general Mohammed Buba-Marwa has achieved in less than two years and indeed in the first one hundred days of the new president Tinubu’s administration in the area of enforcement of the relevant laws against hard drugs trafficking and addiction. That exactly was what we in the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) did as we marked our 16th year anniversary of post-registration with a lecture in which important academics and public sector leaders attended to lecture the audiences on diverse thematic areas relating to nation building which obviously included efforts by the NDLEA to combat drug trafficking and abuse.

Still reflecting on what being a sixty-three-year-old nation, we need to also note that in only one hundred days, so much has been achieved in the key area of drug use reduction by the NDLEA.

But we will narrate the commitment of President Tinubu’s administration in counter-narcotics as presented from the horse’s mouth if you like.

After that, we will also revisit what NDLEA has achieved in the area of hard drug use reduction in Nigeria which from all ramifications is so impressive and worthy of massive commendation on the solemn occasion of its 63rd Independence anniversary.

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu had expressed his administration’s commitment to the country’s fight against substance abuse and illicit drug trafficking as part of efforts to curtail the global drug problem, even as he assured he’ll continue to provide necessary support and tools for the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, to fulfill its mandate.

The President gave the assurances while declaring open the 31st meeting of Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies, Africa, HONLAF, at the Abuja Continental Hotel, Abuja on Tuesday 26th September 2023. Represented by Vice President Kashim Shettima, the President said: “This administration will continue to provide the necessary support, motivation, and tools for the NDLEA to fulfill its mandate. We understand the connection between the success of the fight against substance abuse and illicit drug trafficking and the attainment of a number of goals on our socio-economic and security agenda.”

According to him, “For us, the commitment to the fight against drug trafficking and substance abuse is not just a matter of policy; it is a moral imperative. We recognize that a population at war with drugs is not a dividend but a liability. We believe that the future of our youth, the strength of our institutions, and the well-being of our communities depend on our ability to eradicate this threat. So, I must appeal to you to see this gathering as an avenue for the exchange of novel ideas and the development of practical strategies. We must consolidate established contacts, operational partnerships, and cooperation to ensure that the outcomes of this four-day deliberation advance public safety and the emergence of drug-free African communities.

“Our strength has always been our proactive actions to prevent any individual or group from turning our countries into a minefield of drug trafficking. So, we must prioritize prevention, education, and rehabilitation to empower our youth with knowledge and opportunities. We must steer them away from the treacherous path of drug abuse and trafficking and protect our economy from the consequences of their actions.”

Conversely, while citing the details of the 2023 world drug report as a challenge for Africa, Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of NDLEA, Brig. Gen. Mohamed Buba Marwa (Retd) charged his counterparts across the continent to strengthen operational networks and raise the bar in the drug war. “Drug use disorders are harming health, including mental health, safety and well-being, while the harms caused by drug trafficking and illicit drug economies are contributing to many of these threats, from instability and violence to environmental devastation. Young people are using more drugs than previous generations, and the majority of people being treated for drug use disorders in Africa are under the age of 35. What is worse, the availability of treatment and other services has not kept pace with these developments, and women in particular are suffering from treatment gaps.

“The world drug problem, in all its forms and manifestations, affects all of us. The stakes are especially high for Africa. No one country can tackle a problem of this magnitude alone; just as well, the world drug problem cannot be tackled solely through international policymaking; it also requires effective implementation and collaboration among practitioners. This is where the HONLAF comes in. The meeting is very important, as it enables its parent body, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, to learn about current regional drug trends, threats, and emerging challenges from practitioners and law enforcement experts, from all parts of the continent. We need regional perspectives to enrich the global policy discussion, and HONLAF is the opportunity to bring the African perspective to the global level.  The sessions provide a platform to share knowledge and practices and learn from each other.

“The 31st meeting will indeed provide an opportunity for us to raise the bar and break new ground in different areas of our operations and collaborative efforts. I am as excited as a lot of us in this hall are to make presentations, listen to others, and share experiences that will positively shape our operations and redefine our cooperation at the end of this conference.”

The Country Representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, Oliver Stolpe said the drug problem has changed from what it used to be 20 years ago. “Today, the picture is different, local consumption is increasing, and increasingly problematic. We need a balanced approach to supply and demand reduction. We need to invest in prevention and in treatment. And, we need alternatives to imprisonment for drug users that are more effective and help decongesting prisons. At the same time, we need to strengthen cooperation between countries along drug trafficking routes with the aim of dismantling the ever more sophisticated trafficking networks”, he stated.

The Executive Director, of UNODC, Ghada Fathi Waly, and the Chairman, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs who both spoke via video messages expressed support for the gathering and charged delegates to maximise the opportunities provided by the platform.

One of the high points of the ceremony was the presentation of a report on Organised Crime in Nigeria: A Threat Assessment (NOCTA) produced by the National Institute for Security Studies in collaboration with security agencies and supported by the UNODC. Speaking on the report, the Commandant of NISS, Ayodele Adeleke said “With investigations to connect transit and production countries, the report is hoped to encourage other partnerships to create a coalition that fights organised crime in partnership and collaboration. We must not give up, let us give Nigeria the true future it deserves.”

The NDLEA Chairman was at the 16th anniversary lecture of HURIWA and narrated through his representative, NDLEA’s efforts at drug reduction in Nigeria: “I want to use this opportunity to thank HURIWA for inviting me to give a talk on this burning national issue.

I commend HURIWA for their consistency in advocating for a just and free society where the rights of every citizen are guaranteed. I believe this topic is borne out of the desire to ensure that Nigeria lives up to her global standing as a leading and most populous black nation in the world and to engender a discourse towards the attainment of national goals and aspirations which encompasses national development.

National development can not happen under an atmosphere of insecurity and that is why we will be talking more about insecurity.

Since the establishment of HURIWA in 2007, the association has done so much to create awareness and consciousness of Human rights provisions in Nigeria. Their activities have helped in no small measure in reducing human rights abuses. I want to encourage them to keep up the good work. We must therefore lend our individual and collective support to enable the organisation to succeed.

The challenge of insecurity in our country has become a major issue that has defied immediate solutions even before President Ahmed Bola Tinubu GCFR came into office. It has become so topical that all national discussions now revolve around it. Thank God, we can see some light at the end of the tunnel. That situation of gross national insecurity was analogous to the drug situation in the country before we assumed office. The insecurity, as well as the dire drug situation, was a cumulative effect of neglect that demands a concise and deliberate effort to resolve. The Nigerian drug situation is changing for the better with what has been done in the last 32 months, but a lot more needs to be done.

It is important that we begin to formulate a workable as well as sustainable template for an aggressive arrest of the current insecurity situation in the country, which has been exacerbated by massive drug trafficking and abuse.

I believe that modern-day security can only be achieved via 50 percent intelligence gathering, 30 percent value reorientation, and 20 percent reactive and enforcement approach.

While intelligence-led policing is aimed at nipping the activities of drivers of insecurity in the bud, value re-orientation should be targeted from all fronts: family, community, institutions, and faith-based organisations, for a grassroots paradigm shift.

Society has drifted so much that value re-orientation should be given priority. It should therefore be a matter of deliberate national policy to sustain the fight against drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking.

The Drug Situation In Nigeria

According to the National Drug Use Survey conducted in Nigeria in 2018, one in seven persons aged 15–64 had used a drug (other than tobacco and alcohol) in the past year.

The past year’s prevalence of any drug use was estimated at 14.4 percent, corresponding to 14.3 million people aged 15–64 who had used a psychoactive substance in the past year for non-medical purposes.

Among every 4 drug users in Nigeria, 1 is a woman.

More men (annual prevalence of 21.8 percent or 10.8 million men) than women (annual prevalence of 7.0 percent or 3.4 million women) reported past-year drug use in Nigeria.

The highest level of any past-year drug use was among those aged 25–39.

1 in 5 people who have used drugs in the past year is suffering from drug use disorders.

Cannabis is the most commonly used drug. An estimated 10.8 percent of the population or 10.6 million people had used cannabis in the past year. The average age of initiation of cannabis use among the general population was 19 years.

Cannabis use was 7 times higher among men (18.8 percent among men compared to 2.6 percent of women), while the gender gap in the non-medical use of pharmaceutical opioids (such as tramadol) was less prevalent at 6 percent among men compared to 3.3 percent among women.

An estimated 4.7 percent of the population, i.e., 4.6 million people, had used opioids (such as tramadol, codeine, or morphine) for non-medical purposes in the past year.

Some of the drugs abused include heroin, tramadol, codeine, morphine, amphetamine, and cannabis. Cannabis was the most widely used drug.

Summary Of Achievements Under The Leadership Of Gen. Mohamed Buba Marwa:

ARRESTS AND SEIZURES FROM JANUARY 2021 TO 30TH MAY 2023

ARRESTS            – 32, 922  (including 38 barons)

SEIZURES           – 6,285 KG  (6,252 tons)

CASH & DRUGS- N565 billion plus

CONVICTIONS  – 5, 495

CLIENTS COUNSELLED & REHABILITATED                – 23,725

CANNABIS FARMS DESTROYED – 878 hectares

This huge cultivation and distribution of cannabis have necessitated our continued rejection of calls to legalise cannabis in Nigeria, as that may have a multiplier effect on crime and criminalities.

OTHER ACHIEVEMENTS BY GENERAL BUBA MARWA

1.) 10,000 personnel added to our workforce to boost our activities at the grassroots, among others

2. A robust partnership with foreign collaborators

3. Creation of an additional six directorates for effectiveness

4. Promotion of officers, etc.

Human Rights Issues

The consequences of the violation of the human rights of suspects are well known by our officers.

NDLEA commanders and heads of operation are not permitted to endorse investigation reports that fail to reflect the following human rights provisions:

1. The imperative of informing suspects of their rights

2. The right to remain silent and to be reminded that anything the suspect says can and will be used against him.

3. The right to an attorney or counsel, preferably of his own choice; if not, one will be provided for him.

4. The right against torture, force, violence, threat, intimidation, or any other means that vitiate the free will of the suspect.

5. The right against secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention is well entrenched in the minds of our officers.

He argued that adherence to the above provisions has contributed in no small way to the high rate of conviction secured under the present leadership. The challenge here is that while officers are well aware of the provisions of the above rights, the populace is grossly under-informed about them. The need to educate the populace on conditions for restriction of their human rights cannot, therefore, be overemphasised. Limited or no-knowledge conditions for the restriction of the rights of suspects have sometimes set communities against law enforcement officers who may be on their lawful assignment.

Challenges

Funding has continued to be an impediment to our efforts. Although we enjoyed the good support of the last government, we strongly believe that the present administration will do more to sustain the pace of our drug control efforts. Much more logistics are needed.

I want to use this opportunity to thank Alhaji Abdulsamad Rabiu, the founder and chairman of the BUA Group for the huge assistance given to the agency recently. The vehicles donated to NDLEA have in no small way improved our operational capacity. Our foreign collaborators and development partners have equally been supportive in building the capacity of officers and men of the Agency. It is in recognition of our efforts that Nigeria was given the right to host the 31st meeting of the Heads of Drug Law Enforcement in Africa (HONLAF), which draws participants from the European Union and the United Nations.

For us in NDLEA, we are addressing issues of drug dependence that are fuelled by ignorance through our Drug Demand Reduction efforts. This two-pronged action of drug demand and supply reduction is simultaneously taking place in our agency across our formations in all states in the country.

In drug demand reduction, we enlighten, sensitise, and educate drug users and non-drug users alike on the dangers of drug abuse. We counsel, treat, rehabilitate, and reintegrate drug-dependent persons into society. This means that we see this class of people as those who need help and some form of care or treatment. This in itself, to my mind, is the observance of human dignity.

In drug supply reduction, we go after traffickers and dealers of illicit drugs to arrest and prosecute them in accordance with the provisions of the law.

Everyone has a role to play in stemming the tide of drug abuse and trafficking, which invariably will minimise insecurity, violent extremism, disorderliness, and all forms of criminality. We owe our country a duty to join NDLEA in her efforts to educate the public on the dangers of drugs.

Drug abuse, as an obstacle to national security and development, decreases a person’s productivity and challenges the community’s sense of security, love, and peace.

One of the key impacts of illicit drug use on society is the negative health consequences experienced by its users. Drug users are more susceptible to high blood pressure, depression, HIV, and mental illness. Drug use also puts a heavy financial burden on individuals, families, and society.

Solutions

2. Value Re-orientation remains a key solution to our festering drug issues

Nigeria is a conglomeration of about 250 nations with distinct cultural and behavioral tendencies. We must leverage these multi-faceted cultural inclinations to address issues of drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking in our country. For holistic and sustainable drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking solutions, the heterogeneous and multi-ethnic structure of the country must be considered. This brings us to the issue of value reorientation.

Values can be effectively communicated in a homogeneous environment where individuals, families, and leaders of the same cultural leaning share their thoughts on the dangers of drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking as it relate to their various communities

The fashioning and building of a drug-free nation out of such a poly-national state cannot be left to happenstance. It must be consciously designed, cultivated, and nurtured by informed, patriotic, and visionary stakeholders.

Drug trafficking and abuse can be exterminated through the aggregation of individual community efforts toward effective drug control.

Community leaders, faith-based organisations, and CSOs must begin to address the crucial issue of nation-building through the drug control model of “community engagement”  advocated in this presentation. The dignity of the individual is a microcosm of national dignity. All hands must therefore be on deck to achieve a drug-free society

There can not be individual dignity when a nation is lacking in dignity.

2. The media has remained an ally and a critical stakeholder in our drug control efforts. For robust and effective sensitisation and advocacy, we have been able to carry the media along.

3. We must police our waterways to prevent drug shipments into the country and protect the maritime labour force from possible entanglement with drugs.

Drug trafficking and abuse is a monster; it is a scourge that must be tackled from all fronts.

Conclusion

For effective drug control, a combination of community approach, policy review, synergy among law enforcement, media participation, and stakeholder/community engagement must be mobilised.

We can conclusively emphasize that even as Nigeria is still overwhelmed by multidimensional poverty,  widespread insecurity, and food insecurity including widespread unemployment,  we can celebrate the milestones being engineered by the NDLEA in making Nigeria a centre of excellence in the area of Counter narcotics battles which have received global acclaim. It is heartwarming to hear President Bola Ahmed Tinubu make a solemn promise to support the proactive and massive counter-narcotics war being waged methodically and systematically in law-based strategic approaches by the NDLEA headed by Brigadier General Mohammed Buba-Marwa.  Nigerians must support NDLEA even as we mark our Independence anniversary.

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