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Nigeria: Buba Marwa And The Drug War – OpEd

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If there’s any area in which President Muhammadu Buhari deserves some praise and has made positive and giant strides, it is the drug war which has taken on a more urgent tone and tenor since the appointment of retired Brigadier General Mohammed Buba Marwa as Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). The success achieved by the agency can be ascribed to the fact that his appointment certainly put a round peg in a round hole. Today, Marwa remains a poster boy of the Buhari administration.

Recall that Muhammadu Buhari during his first outing as a military head of state in 1984, had taken drastic and decisive steps to curtail drug trafficking and drug possession. He passed decree 20 which made drug possession and drug trafficking and illegal dealings in oil punishable by death. This decree which was applied retroactively caught three drug traffickers Bartholomew Azubuike Owoh, Bernard Ogedengbe, and Lawal Akanni Ojuolape in the net in April 1985. Despite pleas by well-meaning Nigerians, the three young men were executed for drug trafficking to serve as an example and deterrent to potential traffickers. 

Almost forty years after this decree was enacted, drug trafficking and drug possession have reached an alarming rate and dimension and have become a scourge that has given Nigeria a bad name and image due to the involvement of some of our citizens in this unsavoury trade. Even so, it has also contributed in no small measure to the general insecurity in the land. Determined to stamp out this scourge that has had a debilitating effect on youths and the general populace so much that increasing numbers appear to be permanently hooked on drugs, President Buhari has once again taken the bull by the horns. He has reiterated his commitment to zero tolerance for drug trafficking and drug possession and has therefore given unstinting support to the NDLEA in a bid to rid the nation of drug trafficking and drug abuse and to recover ill-gotten wealth, acquired from proceeds of the illicit drug trade, as well as protect the image of Nigerians.

Indeed, drug addiction is harmful, not only for the person addicted but for their loved ones as well. Once it becomes an addiction it can easily destroy lives, break families and wreak havoc on communities. Even so, anyone who has dealt with addiction themselves or has attempted to come to the aid of a friend or family member knows how difficult and hard it can be and how helpless it can feel.

The effects of the drug trade can be easily illustrated by the dastardly actions and activities of terrorists and bandits. For instance, in November 2020, about 43 rice farmers were killed in cold blood in Zabarmari, a community in Jere Local Government Area, Borno State in what observers believed were victims of Boko Haram whose actions were fueled and driven by hard drugs. Nigerians were outraged and horrified by the gruesome murder of these farmers. In the same Borno State, and within the same period, several stranded passengers including women and children were killed and butchered along the Maiduguri highway by insurgents without any remorse. General Marwa had described the action of the insurgents as not only barbaric but ungodly and demonic.

At all times, the NDLEA helmsman has consistently restated the enormity and challenges we face as a result of the after-effects of drug trafficking, declaring that there’s a clear and present danger when a large number of youths who make up about 70% of the population are active drug users. For instance, Gen Marwa declared that about one in 6 persons in Kano State is engaged in drug usage, adding that there are about 2 million drug users in the state, representing about 16% of the population. In Lagos State about 33 percent of the population ranging between 16 and 64 years are found to be active drug users, which is very high; and the highest in the country.

Also, Buba Marwa has said one out of every four drug users in Nigeria is a female. From the National Drug Use and Health Survey, one in four drug users in Nigeria is female. “There is more profound evidence on social media where users upload videos of themselves, a significant number of whom are young girls, abusing various types of drugs including cannabis and methamphetamine,” he said.

He explained that the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that 14.3million Nigerians, most of them overwhelmingly youths abuse drugs while Nigeria has an exceptionally high drug prevalence of 14.4 percent.

The danger of the drug epidemic was brought closer home by the NDLEA boss at a workshop on Drug Prevention, Treatment and Care (DPTC) for Governor’s Wives in Abuja, revealing the findings of a recent drugs survey which suggests that 1 in 5 persons (of approximately 3 million Nigerians) who had used drugs was suffering from Drug Use Disorder, with no less than 155, 000 among them in dire need of medical treatment, at this time.

Also, speaking while launching the War Against Drugs Abuse (WADA) Club at the University of Abuja, Marwa said, “Part of the measures to reduce drug use in universities is the proposed introduction of the Drug Integrity Test for both new and returning students. According to him, “The Drug Integrity Test is anticipated to metamorphose into an anti-drug policy for all higher institutions of learning in Nigeria.”

Having said all that, since Marwa became the helmsman of the agency, he has brought renewed vigour, passion, commitment, dedication, unusual zeal and tenacity of purpose to his assignment. He has breathed new life into an agency that was moribund and almost comatose, undistinguished and rudderless.

Marwa comes with a distinguished public service record. Prior to his appointment, he had served as the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Drug Abuse, which perhaps provided the groundwork for his far-reaching impact and work in the agency. He made quite an impact in that initial assignment. Buba Marwa was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant in the Reconnaissance Corps in 1973 before moving to the Armoured Corps. Even as a young military officer his leadership potential was manifest, hence he served as the Aide-de-camp to the Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma. He was at one time the Academic Registrar of the elite Nigeria Defense Academy. During the tumultuous military era, he served with distinction as the military governor of old Borno State and capped his public service career as the military administrator of Lagos State where he acquitted himself with distinction and excellence. 

The Marwa mark of excellence has been brought to bear in the drug war. The achievement of the NDLEA under Marwa’s watch can only be appreciated in light of the pernicious effect of the drug trade on the general security situation in the land. As Gen Marwa has rightly noted, there’s a nexus between drug trafficking, terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, and other violent crimes. The drug trade fuels the high-level insecurity in the land. It is the oxygen that gives life to the twin evils of terrorism and banditry. And Marwa and his dedicated team have been doing their utmost to disrupt and dislodge the distribution chain of drug supply as well as the source of the drug trade. 

Apparently, the drug lords and their accomplices have met their match in Marwa. Attempts to turn the nation into a narcotic state is being fought to a standstill with smart technology, vital intelligence gathering and determination on the part of drug czar and his team. Besides the agency has spread its dragnet wide to uncover the drug barons in society. Gen Marwa has promised that there’s no more hiding places for drug dealers and their minions. He has taken the war to the drug lords smoking them out of their hideouts, seizing proceeds of their crimes ranging from billions of cash in various denominations, as well as properties, cars, and other luxury items from the drug barons.

Without a doubt, Buba Marwa has brought great reforms and transformative leadership to the drug agency. He has expanded NDLEA by creating 6 new directorates, 14 zonal commands and a tactical unit made up of a Strike Force. Besides, the staff is well motivated and rewarded. He has introduced improved work conditions, while promotions and payment of allowances are prompt. 

Within a short period of time, Marwa has turned that moribund organization into one of the most vibrant and highly effective agencies of government. Moreover, his vision and dynamic action speak for themselves. Between January 2021 to July 2022, NDLEA through its offensive action operations recorded 18,940 arrests, 2,904 convictions as well as seizures of 3.6m kg of drugs. Part of his success can be traced to linkages and support of other sister international drug agencies where intelligence and vital information are shared in the global war against drug trafficking. Marwa has been able to gain the confidence and cooperation of international narcotics agencies because he has brought integrity, credibility and transparency to the drug war. 

Indeed the highwater mark of the agency’s activities was the arrest of a distinguished police officer Deputy Commissioner of Police, Abba Kyari and his accomplices in a drug bust. Abba Kyari, a highly decorated police officer is today cooling his heels in prison and facing a charge of criminal conspiracy and involvement in drug trafficking.

Virtually the media is inundated daily with reports of several drug bursts across the country. Also, in the past week, the agency recorded another breakthrough when it arrested a drug kingpin in highbrow Victoria Garden City, Lekki, Lagos with about 13 million tramadol capsules estimated at 100 million naira. NDLEA Spokesman, Femi Babafemi, in a statement said the pills recovered from the mansion were no less than 13,451,466 and worth N8.8bn in street value. According to him, the mansion belonged to a billionaire drug baron, Ugochukwu Nsofor Chukwukadibia now in custody. 

The arrest of Ugochukwu, who is the Chairman of Autonation Motors Ltd, is coming barely two months after NDLEA uncovered at least 258.7kg of crystal methamphetamine on September 30, in a clandestine laboratory in the residence of another drug kingpin in the estate, Chris Emeka Nzewi, who was arrested alongside a chemist, Sunday Ukah, who cooked the illicit drug for him.

Also, the NDLEA’s drug-bursting streak further yielded greater results when a drug cartel was apprehended in Ikorodu, Lagos State. In what appears to be the biggest singular cocaine seizure in the history of the anti-narcotic agency, operatives of the NDLEA busted a major warehouse in a secluded estate in the Ikorodu area of Lagos where 1.8tons (1,855 kilograms) of the illicit drug worth $278 million equivalent of about N194 billion naira in street value were seized. Marwa and his team received a presidential commendation for this outstanding performance.

Still, the NDLEA has gone a step further by setting up a unit that handles rehabilitation, reintegration, and reeducation of drug abuse victims. The agency offers assistance, help, and support to drug abuse victims. According to General Marwa, a hotline has been set up to help victims of drug abuse overcome their drug habits. Marwa also wants political parties to screen aspirants for drug integrity tests. 

With a round peg in a round hole, the drug war is being fought with renewed vim and vigor, which is why there has been a general turnaround in the fortunes and activities of the NDLEA, due largely to the excellent leadership provided by its Chairman, Mohammed Buba Marwa. In a word, in the aridity of quality leadership, Buba Marwa has become a byword for excellence and service delivery. Clearly, both Brigadier General Buba Marwa and his team have demonstrated their unshakable resolve to wipe out the cankerworm of drug trafficking and drug abuse in society.

Kola King

Kola King is a Nigerian journalist and novelist. He worked for more than two decades as a reporter, correspondent and editor in major national newspapers in Nigeria. He's the founder of Metro newsletter published on Substack. His debut novel A Place in the Sun and was published and released in 2016 by Verity Publishers, Pretoria, South Africa. His writing has appeared in Kalahari Review, The Missing Slate Literary Journal, The New Black Magazine and Litro magazine. He earned a Bachelors degree in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos.

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