Arresting the drug abuse, trafficking menace

THE arrest of 31,675 drug offenders by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency between February 2021 and June 2023 lays bare the rising menace of drug trafficking and abuse in Nigeria. Mohammed Marwa, the Chairman of NDLEA, who also announced the seizure of 6,252 tonnes of illicit drugs nationwide during activities marking the 2023 International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking, re-issued the warning that Nigeria may be transiting from a minor transit point in the international drugs trade to becoming a major hub. This calls for much stronger efforts by the government to prevent such a calamitous occurrence that could push the country into graver insecurity and instability.

With the theme, ‘People First: Stop Stigma and Discrimination, Strengthen Prevention,’ the worldwide campaign focused on efforts to rehabilitate and counsel drug users. In Nigeria, trafficking within and across the country’s borders is increasing, and abuse is rising even faster.

Interdiction efforts have recently resulted in the arrest of 35 drug barons, while 5,147 offenders have been prosecuted and sentenced to various jail terms. Some of the criminals also forfeited their ill-gotten wealth to the government. Both the Nigerian government and the people should fret. Rising drug abuse and trafficking are fuelling crime, terrorism, and ill health, while law enforcement is overstretched.

The warnings by foreign and local security experts on Nigeria’s gravitation towards becoming a major transnational drugs hub should no longer be ignored. The country is already experiencing unprecedented insecurity; banditry, terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, Fulani herdsmen ethnic violence, and cultism have laid the country low. Transiting to ‘narco-state’ status could complete its lurch towards state failure.

President Bola Tinubu should therefore treat this challenge as another national emergency and tackle it head-on. Drug trafficking, says the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency, is powered by organised crime gangs that also engage in other serious crimes such as arms trafficking, modern slavery, financing terrorism, and money-laundering. Nigerians should tremble because in addition, says the NCA, “There is also corruption at every stage of the drug supply chain, including through the use of corrupt port and airport officials.” In a country with record-shattering levels of corruption, terrorism and compromised state institutions and officials, the warnings become strident alarms.

The Federal Government must take the lead in a national eradication programme involving the 36 states and the 774 local governments, as well as foreign and domestic partners.

Despite regular interceptions, seizures of drugs and prosecution of couriers, some desperate Nigerians continue to venture into the illicit drug complex. The NDLEA in 2022 recorded N619.12 million as final illegal drug funds forfeiture, and another N252.41 million in interim forfeitures, while 18,940 suspects were arrested.Drug use prevalence in Nigeria, said the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, was nearly 15 per cent, almost three times higher than the global average.

The NDLEA also disclosed that 10.6 million Nigerians used cannabis in the past year. Worryingly, cannabis use is often introduced to many people while in their teens, revealed the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Mojisola Adeyeye, underscoring the scale of the problem where youths acquire damaging life-long habits with negative consequences on their health and society.

UNODC’s World Drug Report 2023 said that around 296 million persons used drugs globally in 2021, an increase of 23 per cent over the previous decade, while the number of people suffering from drug use disorders skyrocketed by 45 per cent to 39.5 million.

A 2018 survey found that one in seven persons aged 15-64 years had used a drug (other than tobacco and alcohol) in the past year in Nigeria. Ominously, it also determined that among every four drug users in Nigeria, one is a woman. Previously an urban problem, drug abuse now thrives in rural areas.

The United States National Drug Intelligence Center highlighted the negative consequences on the individuals abusing substances, and its impact on their families, friends, businesses, and public revenue. The most obvious is ill-health; manifesting in sickness and ultimately in death. Communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis spread faster among drug abusers.

Research found that one in five persons abusing drugs in Nigeria suffered from drug-related disorders, including mental illness; while it influences criminal activities such as theft, armed robbery, cult violence, prostitution, and rape. The terrorists, bandits, mass kidnappers and murderers rampaging across the country are heavy users.

Drug abuse and trafficking persist despite the efforts to tame them. This is not surprising since the criminal trade in hard drugs is very lucrative, motivating participants to consider producing, trafficking, and distributing them worth the risk. The UNODC estimates the global trade —cultivation, manufacture and distribution and sale of prohibited drugs—at $32 billion; Worldometer assesses total global spending on illicit drugs at $400 billion annually.

Nigeria’s weak institutions and ingrained corruption fuel the problem. Drug barons and cartels often escape the net unlike low-level couriers. Nigeria must take urgent measures to prevent the country from becoming a ‘narco-state,’ like Mexico and Colombia where drug cartels wield enormous political influence, corrupt the law enforcement and judicial system, and rival the state in the possession and application of the instruments of violence.

There should be a reinvigorated national anti-drug strategy. The NDLEA should be revitalised, well-funded and its personnel motivated, trained, and retrained. Corrupt insiders in the security agencies should be identified, flushed out and prosecuted.

There should be a well-planned national programme involving all three tiers of government as well as regional, state, and local activities–all integrated and aligned with global efforts. Tinubu should appoint a national anti-drug czar, coordinating national and state law enforcement and anti-drug units of the foreign and domestic intelligence agencies.

Drug abuse should be treated as both a crime and a health issue, especially by the states and LGs which should strengthen partnerships with communities, NGOs, schools, youth, and faith-based organisations to run outreach and rehabilitation programmes. The situation is getting worse; the government should therefore respond accordingly.

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Author: Maxwell Dudu

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