THE National Drug Law Enforcement Agency has just frustrated yet another desperate effort by drug cartels to push out millions of illicit drug tablets into the country. The huge haul demonstrates the magnitude of the drug trafficking and usage problem afflicting the country and the need to check it.
NDLEA agents seized 8.38 million capsules and tablets of Tramadol, and 56,782 bottles of codeine among others, in a series of raids in parts of Lagos State. Both drugs are restricted and banned from over-the-counter sales. The breakthrough followed sustained surveillance on some targets as ordered by its Chairman, Mohammed Marwa. An alleged drug kingpin, Ezekiel Ibe, was arrested and over five tonnes of high milligrams Tramadol – 225mg and 100mg – recovered from his warehouse. The haul included 7.9 million Tramadol tablets and 390,000 capsules of same weighing 5.46 kilogrammes.
Within 11 months, the agency said it had destroyed hard drugs worth N50 billion and arrested 10,355 traffickers, while 5,579 drug addicts were rehabilitated. It cited the National Drug Use Survey data showing that 10.6 million people abuse cannabis. This makes Nigeria the country with the highest number of people addicted to Indian hemp.
Marwa had earlier warned that “if we don’t all rise up against the menace now, by 2050, not less than 30 million Nigerians will be on drugs and that is too dangerous for the future of this great country.” This warning should not be ignored.
Already, there is much cause for concern. Not only is the quantity of illicit drugs being seized at border points and across the country alarming, but international agencies have tagged Nigeria as an emerging transit point in the global illegal drug trafficking trade. Indeed, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, a unit of the US Department of State, had since 2015, listed Nigeria among the 34 territories it named as “major sources of precursor or essential chemicals used in the production of illicit narcotics.” There is therefore a need for greater concerted action by the three tiers of families, communities and non-l, as well as informal groups, to cooperate to fight this rising menace.
Moreover, drug trafficking is organised by powerful drug cartels that are well-armed, powerful, and strong enough to destabilise weak or failing countries. Some have become “narco-states.” Applied first to Bolivia, it is a political and economic term describing countries where virtually all formal state institutions have been penetrated by drug cartels. Among them are Mexico, Guinea-Bissau, and Honduras. Drug cartels once destabilised Colombia and sustained decades of insurgency there. Everything should be done to avoid making Nigeria, already adjudged a failing state, slide into narco-state status.
Increasingly, many youths are seeking solace in hard drugs. Waywardness, breakdown of family values and general moral decay in society contribute to this. So do loneliness, misery, disappointment, and failures. Joblessness and the ensuing frustration, lead some youths to drift into bad company, drug abuse and crime. The National Bureau of Statistics assesses the national jobless rate at 33.3 per cent; it is about 55 per cent among youths aged 15-24 years. Drug usage also fuels cultism and criminal gangs in schools at all levels.
Ominously, it is also fuelling banditry, insurgency, kidnapping. Troops and other security agents regularly harvest tonnes of narcotics during raids on the hideouts of terrorists, kidnappers, killer Fulani herders and armed robbers.
State must get involved in the fight against drug abuse. As usual, the fight has been left largely for federal law enforcement institutions. This is a costly mistake. It reflects the awkward centralisation of the country’s twisted federalism. In the US, apart from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other federal agencies, the 17,985 state, county, city, and local police forces all share responsibility for drug law enforcement.
Creating a new strategy must involve decentralisation of law enforcement. The fight should not be the exclusive responsibility of the NDLEA. Smoking of Indian hemp openly is rampant; in cities and towns in the country, it is sold and used openly. Police routinely ignore this crime. Most notorious for open drug use are the motor parks and bus stops, where touts, transport union enforcers and street ruffians operate above the law. There should be an attitudinal change by security agents, especially the police, in the enforcement of laws against the sale and consumption of hard drugs.
States should use their security outfits, special squads and ‘task forces’ to enforce the law. Lagos State, for instance, since mid-2015, hardly bothers to enforce its laws banning the sale and consumption of alcohol within a reasonable radius of motor parks and bus stops. Consequently, the thuggish ‘agberos’ (touts) are having a field day openly using drugs.
The President, Major-General Buhari (retd.), should draw up a national plan and an effective coordination format. In response to the enormity of the drug problem where illicit drug use and associated crime was costing the country $59 billion annually by 1988, the US Congress passed legislation establishing the position of the National Drug Control Director to coordinate national drug control measures and address the problem of fragmentation of drug law enforcement. Like he has set up a coordinating centre on illicit arms in the Office of National Security Adviser, Buhari should quickly appoint a national coordinator/liaison centre on drug trafficking and abuse, pending legislation establishing a “drug czar” along the American template.
The NDLEA should be resolute in implementing the five-year (2021-2025) National Drug Control Master Plan recently launched in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Marwa should implement the promise he made to the international community vowing Nigeria’s determination to go after the assets of drug barons and traffickers in any part of the country.
States, local councils and the leadership of the transport unions should mobilise their members against using narcotics and enforce zero-tolerance rules against drug and alcohol sale and use at motor parks.
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