On January 16, 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari made an unlikely appointment; making the former military administrator of Lagos State, Brig Mohammed Buba Marwa (Rtd.) as the new boss of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). Marwa was a stand-out military administrator in two stand-out states and many of his deeds to begin the up-lift of Borno and Lagos states are still talked about till this day. The President permitted himself the use of hindsight to see this appointment through.
Before many begin to wail about the enormity of the task before Marwa, it is pertinent – if not a little cheeky – to say it is no big deal for a man who was a military administrator in Nigeria’s most remarkable State and former capital, but the man is not to be envied; not with the new wave of drugs’ consumption sweeping across the country unabated.
As at June 2020, the NDLEA and the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) overwhelmed by the surging numbers, confessed that over 14.3 million Nigerians between the ages of 15 and 64 use hard drugs. Of this number, 10.6million Nigerians abuse opioids while 2.4 million youths and adults abuse codeine-based syrup, with 92,000 more using cocaine.
To be fair to those who have taken the reins before him, the NDLEA has engineered effective arrests but Marwa was not brought in to fulfil all righteousness; he is here to fight an effective war against drugs’ abuse by bringing about a higher arrest to a reduction in abuse ratio.
Does Nigeria have a national policy on drugs? How is it applied? Does it need reviewing? Are there loopholes in the current acts/laws against drug-running, sales and facilitation within the country? How much of this policy on the war against drugs has been politicised? Without question, the NDLEA knows the nation’s drug-trafficking route, hotbeds and those who have turned some of these substances into psychedelic drugs. Beyond knowing, what is it doing about them? The nation has been embarrassed for too long about her inability to deal with drugs’ trafficking and, if we sleep on this, we may find ourselves back in the ‘80s and mid-‘90s when we were known for the ignoble act of drugs’ trafficking.
It is no secret that drugs trafficked from Latin America and Asian countries through the region to the lucrative European and North American markets end up in sub-Saharan Africa. What is a wonder is how the drugs diffuse through our borders and get into our homes.
Our future as a nation is at stake. A little over 60 per cent of the nation’s population is composed of its young people and, if they are destroyed by illicit drugs, if the nation fails to curb the use of these drugs, then, the nation will be on the receiving end. Marwa has his job cut out for him and it is one to envy.
We must take effective messages to our institutions of learning (both foundational and higher learning). Nigeria Drug law and policy should be reviewed to be in line with current realities and international best practices that put supply control, demand reduction and harm reduction programmes at the same level.
Drug use among young people should no longer be treated as a criminal offence; rather, as a public health and socio-economic development issue.
Training of law enforcement officers on how to protect the human rights of vulnerable populations who use drugs should be taking serious.
Arrests should focus on the high-level drug traffickers and criminal networks to cut off the source – not on the young who use drugs. Scaling up of comprehensive evidence-based drug prevention, treatment, care and support programmes and facilities for young people in Nigeria would be a huge step forward.
The government should, as a matter of urgency, develop a standard regulatory framework to guide the establishment and practices of drug treatment and rehabilitation centres across the country, with focus on the human rights of people using these services.