BREAKING: NDLEA writes APC, seeks drugs integrity test for Politicians before Primaries

Warns: “No more hiding place for illicit drug business in Nigeria

Adds: “We’re always some steps ahead of illicit drug peddlers, consumers”

At the rate he is going, many Nigerians may be tempted to refer to him as an enigma, a miracle worker or a game-changer because of the unprecedented success he has recorded so far. Mohammed Buba Marwa, a retired Brigadier General and Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, has already made history on the saddle, having been appointed to the top but dangerous job by President Muhammadu Buhari in January 2021. 

He has brilliantly devised and applied strategic measures and policies that have enabled him to succeed where others failed woefully and has re-written the history of drug war in Nigeria by removing at least 5.4 kilogrammes of narcotics valued at over N400 billion from circulation and stalled the illicit substances and cash from being utilised by the drug barons for sinister motives. By so doing, Marwa has saved the nation from the perils of illicit drug peddling and consumption.

 While others before him appeared overwhelmed by the atrocities of drug barons, Marwa is actively employing his military background and experience to battle the menace by bravely confronting illicit drug couriers at land borders, airports and seaports with astonishing success. He is winning the war by some measures and the fight is on to snatch more culprits into the dragnet of the NDLEA. 

In this interview with Soni Daniel and Kingsley Omonobi, Marwa sends a stern warning to drug barons and consumers that there is no more room for illicit drug business in the country under his watch. Excerpts:

YOU are presiding over 

a very dangerous assignment that entails confronting very powerful and wealthy elements. What level of support and cooperation are you getting from other security agencies in order to ensure the success of your mandate? 

 First, let me commend Vanguard Newspapers for being one of the reliable and dependable papers in the country over the years, which has set up a good standard for itself. I am happy to report that we are getting full support from other sister law enforcement agencies. We have cultivated this partnership, cooperation and collaboration from them because of our shared responsibilities. We all want the drug scourge to be eliminated and the trafficking of drugs to end and so on. 

The police, for instance, have always produced culprits whenever any is caught and cooperated with us in every drug-related matter. The Inspector-General of Police himself sent a very strong letter to all the commands to this effect that the police should realise that as far as drug and narcotics issues are concerned that it is the NDLEA that prosecutes. 

And we have been receiving their cooperation from then on. Ditto for the Nigeria Customs Service. We do joint examinations at the ports and when they do seizures in locations where we are not deployed, they hand them over to us. We are doing very well on this and we are in the process of signing a joint Memorandum of Understanding with the NCS and the National Agency for Food, Drugs and Administration, NAFDAC, and the armed forces in the areas of firepower, training and equipment. I can say that we are receiving good support and cooperation from sister agencies of government. 

What magic are you using to expose illicit drugs from the land borders, air and sea ports in an unprecedented fashion and speed in recent times? 

We have Commands in the seaports and the international and domestic airports across the country and we have deployed both personnel and equipment in those places. We have standard Operating Procedures and our men are professionals who know exactly what to do in each location. We are in all these places and also in the cargo terminals. While I would not give details of how we do it, I feel it will suffice to say that you the media have continued to report us and we appreciate that. For the arrests that we are making, we are always two steps ahead of these drug dealers. 

That is why when they put the drugs in the handles of their luggage or their inner selves or inside shoes or certificates or women’s creams or cornflakes and so on, it is not very difficult for our men to still fish out the hidden drugs. 

And, by the way, isn’t it strange to export cornflakes from Nigeria to Dubai? So we continue to tighten the noose, and I think the word is definitely out that it’s a very high risk to them for attempting to bring illicit drugs through the ports of entry. And even when they don’t use the ports, and they try to use those jetties and creeks, they still find us there as evidenced by the recent seizure of the largest quantity cocaine of measuring two tonnes in September that they brought through the jetty. So, they should know that we are in all of these places no matter how remote they may seem. We are also in land borders like Seme, idiroko and other land borders in the North, etc. 

In spite of this, the production of drugs and consumption is still high. How are you dealing with that internally?  

It is definitely difficult, especially when you look at the drug use prevalence survey. But it is also getting better because we have been able to remove 5.4 million kilogrammes of assorted illicit drugs from the street. 

That is the seizures in the last 20 months. So that is very significant. Once that massive quantity of hard drugs is pulled out of the street, the consumers are starved of the illicit substance. That is one level of success. Secondly, we also understand the economics of it that there has to be a demand. 

Once the demand is there the suppliers will find a way, and so we are also attacking drug demand and we have launched the war against drug abuse at the instance of the President himself who personally launched it last year, demonstrating the political will and the capacity to end this scourge. We are pushing this prevention strategy through advocacy across various stakeholders, the communities and so on, and setting up structures through traditional institutions, churches, mosques, NGOs, schools and the markets. So all these steps are aimed at reducing the demand and supply of drugs so that the situation can get better gradually. 

So, what would you say is helping you to succeed so far in the drug war? 

In my opinion, it is first by the grace of God because what we are doing is blessed by God. We believe that God is on our side because we are helping Nigeria and Nigerians, youth, families and society as a whole to get away from this dangerous scourge and habit. It is a dangerous thing for one’s health and the security of this country as it promotes criminality and death. 

So, we believe that our work is blessed by the almighty God and we are enjoying his grace. And then, the leadership of the country is helping us immensely. This is because the President is playing a very important role in supporting and encouraging us to do all that we have been able to do so far.

 Our officers and men have been wonderful by being dedicated and committed to the job. I have to openly commend them for their work which has given us success. These are all the ingredients of our success story in addition to international and local partners that are working with us. 

Talking about your success, is it possible to put a figure on the quantity of illicit drugs  and the value in terms of money so far seized since you assumed leadership?  

We have seized, in terms of quantity I believe, 5.4 million kilogrammes of hard drugs so far. The quantity is two tonnes of cocaine which is worth over N400 billion. This is a substantial quantity of drugs seized and destroyed and a strong message sent to those who are into the illicit business. 

 I just wonder if you feel happy doing this kind of work which is dangerous. How do you feel being at the head of this kind of work?  

The battle against drugs globally is not an exciting assignment. However, it gladdens our hearts- all of us- when we make successes because we believe we are helping the society. 

That’s really the answer. As to the question of the dangers, risks, hazards and so on, the commendation has to go more to the officers, men and women of the service who daily go out to meet some of the challenges. You know the cartels also are dangerous but, that said, we all take precautions and one thing is clear. I will now speak as a Moslem but I’m sure that even in Christianity the same applies, that nobody actually dies before his time. Whatever the case may be, these things are pre-ordained and of that I’m certain. 

What is the level of support that you are getting from international agencies in the drug war? 

Yes, we get support for a lot of things from our international and local partners. We share intelligence. We receive training support from our partners and they also give us equipment. The United States, the French Government, the United Kingdom and the German government give us support in various forms. Right now, the German government is building a training school worth €6 million for the NDLEA in Lagos. 

We are in the process of collaborating through MOU with the Saudi Directorate of Narcotics, with the Indian Bureau of Narcotics, and even with Pakistan. So we’re getting support and of course the UNODC and the funding from the EU. But let me be very clear, though, that none of the partners give NDLEA cash or money. Everything is done in kind. For instance, UNODC is currently renovating the NDLEA Academy and we get our strike force trained by the French government. And, a lot of training is coming for our personnel from the UK Border Force and Crime Agency. We are quite pleased. 

From your experience so far, do you think Nigeria has enough laws or policies to succeed in winning the drug war or is the country handicapped by way of laws? 

Well, I can say that no law is perfect. Even the Nigerian Constitution is still being amended from time to time. So our own guiding law is the NDLEA Act which, as we speak, is in the process of being amended. One of the areas that have been affecting the work as far as illicit drugs in particular and drugs in general are concerned, is the Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria Bill that has been in the works for years. 

But I am happy that it has recently been signed into law by Mr. President. One of the critical areas has to do with the regulation of the practice of pharmacy in the country. For instance, there are over one million patent medicine stores that are operating based on the old pharmaceutical council law, which states that to open a patent medicine store one only needs to be able to read and write, which is most elementary. 

Again, the penalties for offences stipulated in that law is as low as N20 and N50. With that many people breach the law with impunity and virtually get away with their crimes. That is just one area of challenge. 

The other area obviously is to regulate the training of pharmacists and the critical issue of drug prescription in Nigeria. In Nigeria people go to the pharmacy and prescribe drugs for themselves instead of a doctor doing that as it is global best practice. The new bill also regulates prescriptions and also stipulates what doctors can do and cannot do. We look forward to its implementation. I think it’s going to help.  

What message would you want to send to those who are still potential users of illicit drugs since there is a new Sheriff in town?  

Well, to the traffickers and the dealers, a strong message is that if their eyes are open and their ears are listening, they are seeing what is happening. They have seen that the NDLEA is very proactive and professional and has the capacity to deal with them from wherever they operate as far as Nigeria is concerned. We do not accept the manufacturing or the production of these illicit drug substances. We do not accept exports or imports and we are going to get anyone who tries to engage in any of these criminal acts. 

Illicit drug business

We are sure we will get them anywhere they want to turn to in order to bring in any illicit product into this county. So, my simple and honest advice to them and a strong warning at the same time is that they should stay away from illicit drug business. This is because we will get anyone who tries to defy us. And, once we get anyone who tries to bring in illicit drugs into Nigeria, we will jail them and confiscate the drugs and their assets. 

And for those who are consuming, we would like to appeal that if they are using drugs, it is dangerous for their health, for their family and for the society. They should stop forthwith taking something that is destroying their organs, affecting their mental alertness, behaviour, brain functions, nervous system and has the capacity to even kill them.

 So this is something to stay away from and look for more wholesome activities. And where you are unable to stop you should seek help. We have a 24/7 call center: 080010203040 toll free. There are psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health professionals on the other end that can give help to those who need assistance any time of the day. But for those who have not started playing with illicit drugs, we advise them not to try it but to stay away from it for their own good.

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