I still recall with vividness how in the year 2008, Nigeria and most Nigerians breathed a sigh of relief as the country was certified by the United States of America as cooperating in the anti-narcotic crusade for the eighth successive time in 2008, with George Bush, the former president of the United States of America, USA, noting that Nigeria had made significant progress in counter narcotics war and had effectively co-operated with the United States on drug-related and money laundering cases. Although he (Bush) was saying the obvious, and, the majority of Nigerians thought that the nation was winning the war against drug trafficking. But to Nigerians with critical minds, it was very doubtful; if the agency will sustain that record as nobody within the leadership did anything to institutionalize such performance.
Apart from this challenge, the agency then, also wore the crest of an underfunded body and was reputed as infamous in poor manpower it earned from a long period of neglect by previous administrations. And expected, such euphoria elicited by United States certification was short-lived as events and reports on the nation’s effort in this direction suddenly nosedived unabated. This negative leadership trend continued until very recently when former military administrator of Lagos and Borno states, Brig-Gen. Mohammed Buba Marwa (rtd), was in January 2021 appointed as the substantive Chairman/CEO of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Before the appointment, Marwa had worked as Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee for the Elimination of Drug Abuse (PACEDA) between 2018 and December 2020, along with others to develop a blueprint on how to end drug abuse in Nigeria. Today, I cannot categorically say that all is perfectly well for the nation in its efforts to liberate its citizens from trading on, consumption of or effects of illicit drugs, but looking at the present instinct in the country, and exciting progress in this direction, particularly, the recent declaration by the Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Brig. Gen. Mohammed Buba Marwa(retd) that N6 billion worth of drugs meant for insurgents was intercepted by the agency’s operatives at the Apapa Port in Lagos State, the situation explains something new and different. But before then, this piece will add context to the present discourse.
From available records, the fight against drug abuse in the country has been on for a very long time and backed by so many federal laws. In fact, it dates back to as far back as 1935. Some of the most important laws against the cultivation, trafficking, and abuse of illicit drugs in Nigeria are as follows. The Dangerous Drugs Ordinance of 1935 enacted by the British Colonial administration. The Indian hemp Decree No. 19 of 1966. The Indian hemp (Amendment) Decree No. 34 of 1979. The Indian Hemp (Amendment) Decree, and the Special Tribunal (Miscellaneous Offences) Decree No. 20 of 1984. The Special Tribunal (Miscellaneous Offences) (Amendment) Decree of 1986 and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Decree No. 48 of 1989 (as amended by Decree No.33 of 1990, Decree No 15 of 1992 and Decree No. 62 of 1999).
These laws were harmonized as an Act of the parliament, CAP N30 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004. This Act established the NDLEA. But regrettably, these legion of laws neither appreciably provided an effective and efficient strong source of solution to illicit consumption of drugs in the country , nor provided useful frameworks comprehensive enough to offer legal solutions to the issues of drug trafficking or its enforcement. However, at present, with Marwa’s leadership, the country has against all known logic become visibly unsafe for both illicit drug paddlers and consumers. It is no longer business as usual. Also characterizing Marwa’s administration as exemplary is his being integrated in approach. He is not class specific. His recent advocacy/enlightenment campaigns of school children about the harmful effects involving drug abuse and persistent emphasis that those seeking public offices in Nigeria go through harmful drug related tests are but perfect examples to this claim/assertion.
Comparatively, like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Goal 3 which is targeted at “ensuring healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, even so has the NDLEA developed sustainable National Drug Control Master Plan (NDCMP) that views illicit drugs from the perspective of public health and education issues while providing a balanced solution to the drug scourge. Extensively, there are in fact more pragmatic reasons why the nation must join hands with the Buba Marwa led administration to stamp out the proliferation of illicit drugs in the country. First, is that many lives, going by commentaries have before been destroyed as a result of drugs. Many are in psychiatric wards. Many have died. So many have lost their jobs and many have lost their homes.
Qualifying the development as a reality to worry about is that, according to the World Drug Report, released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), .26 Jun 2019, stated that about 35 million people are estimated to suffer from drug use disorders and who require treatment services. With this revelation, it is evident that consumption of drugs in amounts and methods not authorized by medical professionals has presently become the greatest killer of humanity. And perfectly characterize as correct the recent claim/ statement by President Muhammadu Buhari that the danger posed to the country by illicit drugs is worse than those of insurgency, banditry and other threats to the stability of the country.
“Let me say that this war is more deadly than the insurgency we have in the Northeastern part of the country or the acts of banditry in the Northwest or the acts of kidnapping that transcends all the geopolitical zones of this country, because it is a war that is destroying three generations, because I’ve seen clips of where grandparents are on drugs, parents are on drugs, and by extension, their wards, their children are on drugs’. That is not the only danger. A 2018 survey report on drug use in Nigeria by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse (CRISA) with technical support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and funded by the European Union (EU) under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) in, “Response to Drugs and Related Organized Crime in Nigeria, among other things observed; that the past year prevalence of any drug use in Nigeria is estimated at 14.4 per cent or 14.3 million people aged between 15 and 64 year and high when compared with the 2016 global annual prevalence of any drug use of 5.6 per cent among the adult population.
In the same vein, World Drug Report 2018 indicated also that psychoactive substances excluding alcohol, overall was higher among men in Nigeria, Drug users the report added was most common among those who were between the ages of 25 and 39 years, while the rates of past year use were lowest among those who were below 24 years of age. Cannabis was the most commonly used drug followed by opioids, mainly the non-medical use of prescription opioids and cough syrup. This is not by any means a good commentary. Yet, the situation says something else. It was also revealed that living with an active drug abuser –for example, a husband automatically makes the wife a passive substance abuser, of which the adverse effect resulting from such an arrangement in most cases appears more pronounced on the passive abuser. Away from impact to the physical dependence, mountain of evidence suggests that the person using a drug over a period time would have developed an intense reliance on drugs, often to avoid difficult withdrawal symptoms.
The person will often crave (strong desire) to use the drugs despite the damaging consequences to their physical, mental and social well being. Drug users can also experience psychological dependence in which they believe it is necessary to use a drug to function sometimes just at social gatherings or all the time. This challenge from what experts are saying is further nourished by our not being ready as a nation to confront the underlying cause(s) of drug dependency and other associated behaviours. Our unwillingness to collectively assist the abusers to focus on un-learning such negative behaviours and in its place develop the required skills and positive attitudes to achieve a drug-free society as currently preached the world over exacerbates the challenge. Very regrettably, in abandoning this responsibility, one fact we fail to remember is that drug dependence is not based on a personal weakness or lack of morals on the part of the abuser but a chronic relapsing medical condition- a reality that, in my opinion, qualifies these people for our love and not vilification or abandonment.
For a better understanding of the plights of the abusers, we must begin to imagine what it would look like if those drug abusers were to be from our families. We can imagine ourselves participating in the funerals of our dear ones that passed on, no thanks to substance abuse. Sincerely, our failure to love and care for these drug addicts in our society, make us more socially sick than the abusers. But then, Nigerians must pray and support Mohammed Buba Marwa’s quest to defeat proliferation of illicit drugs in Nigeria.
• Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;jeromeutomi@yahoo. com/08032725374.