Combating Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking: The Call to Action
By Oluwole Sheriff Olusanya
23rd June, 2017 was my younger brother’s 24th birthday. ‘Taiwo Olusanya’ is my best friend and I would have loved to discuss in great details, all the naughty things we did together when we were much younger but I have something serious to discuss today. This week’s article is wholly dedicated to addressing the menace of drug abuse and illicit trafficking and offering workable suggestions to decision makers and those in vantage positions on how to combat the scourge. In addition, our individual and collective roles and responsibilities as members of the society would also be itemized. You are much welcome.
Monday, 26th June, 2017 is the international Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking which is observed annually to raise awareness about illicit drug abuse and trafficking. It was first observed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1987 on a date chosen to commemorate Lin Zexu’s dismantling of the opium trade in Humen, Guangdong, just before the First Opium War in China. United Nations statistics states that 230 million people worldwide are using drugs. The United Nations World Drug report 2007 also stated that drugs worth around USD322 Billion had been traded around the world every year. Drug abuse is one of the most serious health problems. Besides damaging health, it has several side effects such as economic loss, antisocial behavior such as stealing, violence and crime besides social stigma and overall downfall of the society.
Drug rackets operate internationally, but some countries have become more notable transshipment points for drug circulation. India possibly because of its strategic location is a victim of drug activities including drug trafficking and local consumption. The Government of India passed a law in 1988 to prevent Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances as a measure to curb the drug haul. But still then drug menace continues widely. It is believed that in Punjab about 75% of youth are addicted from one or the other form of drug. The use of drugs appears to be increasing in the metros along with alcohol use amongst youth and even women population. The influence of Westernization, changing family structure and peer pressure are some of the reasons behind drug abuse. (Source: United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC)’s official website)
Similarly, a paper by Gernot Klantschnig, titled; “The politics of drug control in Nigeria: exclusion, repression and obstacles to policy change”, it is believed that; “International agencies have viewed West Africa as a major player in the global trade in cocaine and heroin and in efforts to control that trade, as there have been reports of escalating arrests of drug smugglers, large scale drug seizures and ‘narco-states’ in the sub region. It is claimed that a substantial share of the drugs available in Western markets transit through West Africa today and are increasingly used there as well. Notwithstanding this growing alarm, there is little serious scholarship addressing the issue of drugs and drug policy in West Africa”.
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) is the Federal agency in Nigeria charged with eliminating the growing, processing, manufacturing, selling, exporting and trafficking of hard drugs. The agency was established by Decree 48 of January 1990. The NDLEA is present in international airports, seaports and border crossing. It tries to eradicate cannabis by destroying plantings. The NDLEA also targets the leaders of narcotics and money laundering organizations. Its head office is in Ikoyi, Lagos. Former Chairman of NDLEA, Alhaji Ahmadu Giade, described illicit drugs as “alien” to Nigeria. Cannabis, now locally grown in most states of the federation, was introduced to the country by foreigners. Ms. Dagmar Thomas, the Country Representative of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), says Nigeria was one of the largest cannabis growers in Africa, with over 8% of the population abusing cannabis. Annual cannabis seizures increased from 126 metric tonnes in 2005 to 210 metric tonnes in 2007. (Source: Wikipedia.com).
If the truth is to be told, NDLEA has made significant progress in the fight against drug abuse and illicit trafficking and its should be commended. Gernot Klantschnig’s research, titled; “The politics of drug control in Nigeria: exclusion, repression and obstacles to policy change” also confirmed the above assertion. Excerpts; “According to most Nigerian drug officials, NDLEA campaigns started to be successful in the second half of the 1990s, when the military government made the drug war a top political priority. This drug war could stop the ever-increasing tide of cocaine and heroin shipped through Nigeria. To support this claim of success, officials highlight increasing drug seizures as measures of performance –seizure statistics are referred to as ‘performance scorecards’ in the NDLEA – and the tonnes of drugs that are burnt at officially choreographed events every few months (NDLEA, 2005). They also point to a range of approval messages from the national media and foreign drug agencies since the second half of the 1990s. This positive reporting on the Nigerian drug agency has continued and intensified since the end of military rule in 1999. The national media has published repeated stories praising the efforts of the NDLEA – with titles such as ‘We Are Winning the Drug War’, ‘International Community Woos NDLEA’ or ‘UN Applauds Anti-Drug Crusader’ (Daily Sketch, 2001; Daily Sun, 2004; Vanguard, 2004). News stories more critical of the NDLEA have been exceptional (NDLEA, 2004). From the late 1990s onwards, foreign agencies, such as the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the UNODC also started to praise the efforts of the NDLEA in their annual reports and described the agency as Nigeria’s ‘most professional body’ combating drug trafficking. This praise came after several years of international critique for an agency that had been rife with corruption. From the late 1990s onwards, foreign agencies claimed that the NDLEA had ‘assumed a leadership role in drug law enforcement in the region’ (US State Department 1997, 1999, 2000, 2004; Daily Sun, 2004). In more recent years, even the US State Department, which had been the driving force behind Nigeria’s drug policy – related ‘decertification’ throughout most of 1990s (Obot, 2004), joined the ranks of admirers: Despite the significant challenges facing West Africa, there is reason for hope. Oil wealthy Nigeria is entirely unique: numerous and very experienced Nigerian traffickers have been deployed worldwide over decades. But despite its many problems the Government of Nigeria has demonstrated increased political will in fighting narcotics. … Nigeria’s National Drug and Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) flexed its muscles in arresting a drug kingpin, processing an extradition, and convicting 1,231 of 1,239 traffickers (Carson, 2009)”.
Consequently, I do believe that more still needs to be done to improve on the performance of NDLEA. The government needs to improve on the funding and resources allocation for NDLEA. A report by Vanguard published on 6th June, 2016 titled; War Against Drug Abuse: NDLEA will be well funded in 2017 – FG by Ikechukwu Nnochiri validates my point. Excerpts, “Senate Committee Chairman on Drugs and Narcotics, Senator Lidani noted that NDLEA was in dire need of greater funding to enable it function optimally to be able to deliver its constitutional mandate of combating the drug menace. He described as worrisome, the high level of drug trafficking in the country and the inadequacies of the agency to confront the scourge adequately because of shortfall in manpower and transportation especially operational vehicles, boats and aircrafts. According to him, when the joint Committee approached the Head of Service to request for staff increase for the agency, they were told there is no cash backing to employ additional staff, saying that while the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSCDC) got approval to recruit 7,000 staff recently, just like some other para-military outfits, the NDLEA was left out. On his part, the House Committee Chairman, Hon. Eucharia, lamented that the Agency currently have 4,900 officials to cover the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory. She said it was disheartening that NDLEA officials go to effect arrest of drug peddlers with motorcycles popularly called Okada. “If you share this figure among the 36 states and the 774 Local Government Areas in the country, it is nothing to write home about’’, Hon. Eucharia added, even as she decried as appalling, the rate at which married women consume hard drugs. She revealed that only N114 million was appropriated to NDLEA as capital expenditure in the 2016 budget with a paltry allocation of N100,000 to each State Command monthly to defray operational cost which she described as grossly inadequate. Meantime, the NDLEA boss, Col. Abdallah (retd), stressed that the agency he inherited from his predecessor needed to be transformed in terms of human and material resources to enable him and his men to meet up to expectations”. (Culled from Vanguard News – http://www.vanguardngr.com/2016/06/war-against-drug-abuse-ndlea-will-be-well-funded-in-2017-fg/)
Conclusively, I also believe that we need to provide the authorities with any useful information that would help them in the discharge of their responsibilities, we should also note that inter-governmental organizations like NDLEA and others function more optimally with the co-operation and collaboration of members of the public. This done, we should not forget to wish my younger brother ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY!’
Olusanya is a relationship officer at Sterling Bank Plc, Lagos