.Osinbajo interacts with APC delegates in Ilorin

—Hails NDLEA Chairman’s dynamic leadership

—Says drug abuse portends danger for young people, undermines security

—We’ve begun radical reforms to provide treatment, care, rehabilitation—Marwa

–We’ll continue to partner with NDLEA in fight against illicit drugs–MTN

By Johnbosco Agbakwuru, ABUJA

VICE President Yemi Osinbajo, Monday, said Nigeria is winning the war against drug abuse and that the days of the scourge and dependency in the country are numbered.

This is as the Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, Brig. Gen. Bubar Marwa (retd), has said that the agency has

begun radical reforms to provide treatment, care, rehabilitation.

On its Corporate Social Responsibility, the MTN Foundation, has promised to continue to partner with NDLEA in a order to rid the country of illicit drugs.

Speaking at the United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking, at the Old Banquet Hall, Presidential Villa, Abuja, Prof. Osinbajo decried the prevailing menace of drug abuse in Nigeria, a development he said portends grave consequences for young people and undermines the security of the country.

The theme of the 2022 celebration is “Addressing Drug Challenges in Health and Humanitarian Crises.”

The Vice President said, “We are winning this war. The days of the scourge of drug abuse and dependency are clearly numbered, but it will involve even greater investment in focus and determination for the long haul.

“The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) especially in the last two years under the dynamic leadership of General Buba Marwa, the NDLEA Chairman, has been fiercer and sharper in its determination to stamp out drug abuse and trafficking in the country. His vision and strong resolve have given the war against drug trafficking and abuse new energy, purpose and clearer direction.

“I am glad to hear that in 2021, about 8,000 drug users were counselled and rehabilitated by the NDLEA, and in the first half of this year alone, over 11,000 drug users have been counselled and treated. We must maintain a multi-dimensional and holistic approach to tackling drug abuse.

“In the past 17 months, the elderly we are told has recorded over 17,647 arrests of offenders including 10 drug barons and I’m sure that that number increases everyday if you’re following the news, with over 2369, convicted persons and over 150,000 kilograms of drugs that have been seized within the same period. So the statistics show that 5.5% of the population aged between 15 and 64 years used drugs at least once since 2018. This is precisely the age bracket that we cannot afford to lose to drugs.”

Prof Osinbajo, while lamenting the increasing trends of drug abuse in areas of conflict and in post conflict settings, such as in IDP and refugee camps, said the development was a special concern to Nigeria, especially as the country is in the throes of civil conflict and terrorism, resulting in the displacement of large numbers of our population.

He said that young people who are usually the most vulnerable to drug, also form the majority of armed combatants and the resultant widespread use of drugs by the terrorists.

“Indeed, some studies have shown that after controlling for armed groups and individual level variables, drug intake and alcohol consumption, sharply increase the violent actions perpetrated during conflicts.

“For women and girls in particular, the situation is more harrowing. They’re exposed to severe traumatic situations. Due to violence, and sometimes sexual exploitation, especially in camps, which together with other stressful factors of displacement can lead to drug use.

“These problems are all worsened by the expected lack of access to treatment and therapies for drug abuse in refugee or IDP camps.”

Speaking on the approach that ensures the realization of the objective, Prof. Osinbajo said “the new normal offers us opportunities for increased innovation in tackling this menace, through technology-based monitoring systems for promptly detecting and addressing drug market changes; and also accelerating mobile outreach programmes, remote consultation, and treatment for those who suffer from drug use disorders and are without the appropriate care.”

He further stated, “as much as the Federal Government through its agencies and the state governments would lead the charge with decisive policy initiatives, these strides must be complemented by changes at the family and community level. The kind of change we seek regarding drug abuse cannot happen without the collaboration of families, faith-based organizations and community leadership at the local levels.”

Prof. Osinbajo noted that a society free of drug criminals is achievable by “relentlessly breaking illicit drug supply chains and distribution networks; discouraging drug use through intensive outreach and sensitization; and also promptly prosecuting traffickers.”

He added that “we must intensify rehabilitation of drug addicts, because what we are faced with is indeed a public health crisis — a crisis that is taking lives, destroying families and shattering communities.”

He said communities everywhere must rise to the challenge, adding, “we must spearhead massive value reorientation across the country, reassessing cultural factors and systems that support drug abuse and trafficking.”

In his address, Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, Brig Gen. Mohamed Buba Marwa (retd), said the agency has over the past few years focused on the treatment approach of the drug war.

He said the NDLEA has set up a helpline and a website will soon be unveiled to scale up the drug war in the country.

Gen. Marwa disclosed the arrest of 10 major drug barons which he said have already been “taken out of circulation” with many more on the NDLEA’s watchlist along with their foot soldiers.

He also said the agency has been involved in a series of training, including on Drug Prevention, Treatment and Care (DPTC) for the officers “to refocus from the criminalisation of drug users to provide the full gamut of health services for them.”

He said, since it’s realignment, the agency has made good strides in it’s concerted efforts at drug demand reduction activities.

The NDLEA helmsman said the agency has this year alone, counselled and rehabilitated 3, 523 drug users mostly through brief interventions in its facilities.

“We also extended the DPTC training to several NGOs to empower them with the requisite skills and knowledge to cascade the effect to communities and the grassroots.

“Given the dearth of treatment facilities in the country, it will be impossible to make the kind of gains we are targeting. To this end, we proposed the establishment of model rehabilitation centres to further make treatment accessible and affordable to more people. The good news is that President Muhammadu Buhari graciously, with the support of the National Assembly, approved the establishment of six rehabilitation centres across the country, three of which have been approved in this year’s budget.

“Building treatment facilities is a good step, but it can be rendered inefficient because of the challenge of access that is inherent in a climate of stigmatisation where someone labelled “ a drug addict” is treated as a social pariah.

“To scale this hurdle, we embarked on building a toll-free  NDLEA Call Centre. This project due to be commissioned on Thursday 30th June, 2022, will run as a 24/7 call centre with a helpline that can be called by drug users who need help but are afraid of stigmatisation or do not know how to get help. They will be able to call toll-free and get to speak with experts such as counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists among others.

“The call centre will eliminate the obstacles standing in the way of those that genuinely need help as we will be guaranteeing them the confidentiality they need. Similarly, the toll-free number, 0800-10203040, and the website, ndleahelpline.com.ng, will help the public to pass valuable information, report incidents and ask for help. 

“Still, we need to foster a climate of knowledge, tolerance and understanding that will allow drug users to take advantage of treatment without fear of any prejudice. As most of us in this room have come to know today, that drug addiction is a health problem affecting the brain, the public also needs to know this and throw away archaic prejudices.”

The NDLEA boss said President Buhari launched the War Against Drug Abuse (WADA) campaign exactly a year ago, adding that it serves multiple purposes that aid the attainment of its objectives, from enlightenment as a pathway to drug use prevention to the reorientation of the masses as a means to the eradication of stigmatisation and discrimination of drug users, among other objectives.

“We must not, however, lose sight of the germane fact that our efforts at treatment and care, could amount to an exercise in futility if we fail to stem the flow of drugs into and around the country. We must close the tap at the source.

“That means barons, dealers and kingpins, those who are the masterminds of the trafficking network, must be removed from the equation. Once, they were invisible and above the law. But we have changed that narrative with Offensive Action. We have taken 10 major drug barons out of circulation. Many more are on our watchlist and we are closing in on them.

“We are also removing their footsoldiers from the street. Last year, 12, 306 offenders were arrested and 1,385 of them were convicted. From January to May this year, we arrested 5, 341 out of which 984 are convicted already. During these five months, we have seized 154 , 667.339 kilograms of drugs, and destroyed 276 hectares of cannabis farms in deep forests across the country. 

“What is heartwarming to us in NDLEA is the change we observed in the dynamics of society’s response to illicit drug matters over the past 17 months. We have seen a degree of positive response from the government and people in government, like never before. There has been a strong response from stakeholders in the illicit drug spectrum. Our partners have rallied more strongly than before. Society is warming up to the idea that together we can end the drug scourge. We hope that the momentum will be maintained even as we adopt various measures to lend impetus to the effort.”

Speaking at the event, Chairman of MTN and former Minister of Health, Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi, promised to continue to support the NDLEA in its effort to rid the country of illicit drugs.

He said, “Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we feel happy that the foundation of the MTN has become an intimate part of the programs of the NDLEA. we feel that the task ahead is just beginning and the NDLEA needs a lot of support.

“Because indeed you will find that in Nigeria today, very many people are crazy but only few are walking the streets. In Nigeria today, very many people are on drugs but few are manifesting it.

“Indeed, you will find that there are very many children, young people who are on drugs but the parents don’t even know. That’s why the foundation of the MTN decided some five years ago to join the struggle to reduce addiction, drug abuse, substance abuse in this nation.

“And in the NDLEA, we have found a very good and cooperative partner. We want to assure you, General that we will continue to walk that path with you Insha Allah. we would help you to build your gravitas that is your ability to become the center of gravity on this subject matter. Your ability to become the hub for information, for communication, for counseling on this subject matter.

“We will do everything also to improve your Caritas in the sense that your ability to care, especially at the stage of rehabilitation will be strengthened. That’s why I said to you that the journey that we’re both setting on, is not 100 meter race is a long distance race. So we will improve your gravitas and your charitas as a person and as an organization.”

The Chairman of MTN Foundation said that the telecommunication giant

carried out the unplugged training for 90 secondary school teachers from nominated schools in Kano, Oyo and River States in collaboration with the UNODC.

He explained that the nominations were guided by that body, adding that it also helped them in the area of preparing their report on drug prevalence in Nigeria.

“Earlier today you saw the Vice President given some presents. It was the MTN Foundation that organized the virtual quiz competition among students from 12 Secondary Schools across five states and the FCT including Gombe, Kano, Imo, Kwara and Abuja again in partnership with NDLEA.

“Now we are very happy that these things have happened. And we are assuring you General (Marwa) that it’s only beginning you ain’t seen nothing yet. And we say to you that as an organization we would continue to support you in the area, especially of advocacy.

“You’ll be surprised how many people are ignorant about drugs and the abuse of drugs. If you say to someone, say no to drugs, they should be asking you which drugs and therefore, advocacy has become very important.

“And when you embark on that program we will strategize with you because by doing so, by making you a success story, we’re helping the younger generation in this nation.

And if we do it well, and Nigeria makes an in road In this connection, it will be a green light for all other African countries. In fact, the black race and that’s why we are behind you.

“There is absolutely no grounds to think that by working alone, we can do it. The issue of drug abuse can date back all the way to the old days 4,000 years before the Christian era when people were using opium. if you fast forward, you will find that sometimes in 1859 precisely on the 25th of June there was an end to the dismantling of the very fast trade on opium in China,” he said.

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