Sustaining the Momentum of Drug War

Col. MM Abdallah (Rtd.) Chairman/Chief Executive, NDLEA, is a ‘Combatant at War’. He has not only rekindled the anti-drug fire but has sustained the momentum of the drug war

Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah, Chairman/Chief Executive, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) is an accomplished military strategist. From the rank of a second lieutenant up to that of a colonel where the infantry-trained officer retired, his forte had remained core operational responsibilities. This is the background that perhaps earned him the very delicate responsibility of leading the asymmetric drug war.

Precisely three years in the saddle as the helmsman of the Agency, having assumed duties on January 11, 2016, Col. Abdallah (Rtd.) has not disappointed. He is gradually reengineering the Agency in the direction of strategic warfare, grounded in meticulous planning, target setting and measurable outcomes.

The Chairman/Chief Executive’s strategic action is anchored on three dimension stagged (3) Ds in line with the change agenda of the Buhari Administration.  All officers and men of the Agency must be mobilized and given proper orientation aimed at disrupting the distribution of drugs, dismantling the criminal drug networks by attacking drug supply sources and defeating the criminal drug entrepreneurs by prosecuting them with the aim of convicting them and making them to forfeit their illegally acquired wealth.

The first strategic action of the Chairman/Chief Executive was his forensic study into the state of the Agency in order to take stock of the available resources.  In the words of Abdallah,“the findings were as intimidating as they were distressing but notinsurmountable”. The Agency was found to be understaffed, underfunded withdilapidated structures, inadequate logistics as well as low staffmorale.

A study in gallantry, Abdallah is confronting the problems on all fronts. While awaiting the release of funds by the presidency to be able to cure the Agency of its ‘Achilles hills’, the combatant has continued to sustain the momentum of the drug war.

In the first one year under Abdallah, the Agency arrested 8,257 suspected drug offenders. This figure is made up of 7,720 male and 537 female. The total drug seizures during the period stood at 267,574.45 Kilogrammes. Cannabis sativa accounted for 187,394 Kilogrammes of the drugs seized followed by 77,765.18 Kilogrammes of Psychotropic substances, 1,325.55 Kilogrammes of Methamphetamine and 718.27kilogrmmes of Ephedrine. Other drugs include Cocaine which accounted for 305.17 Kilogrammes and 66.28 Kilogrammes of heroin. In year 2016, the Agency prosecuted 2,271 cases in which it won 2,249. Nineteen (19) cases were discharged and acquitted while a case was struck out.

The Agency maintained its steady performance even in 2017 where it arrested 10,009 drug suspects nationwide. The numbers of male suspects were 9,387 which accounted for 93.78% of the total arrest while female suspects were 622 representing 6.22% of the total arrested. It seized 309,356.31 kilogrammes of drugs which included 191,084.19 kilogrammes of Cannabis and 117,143.2 kilogrammes of psychotropic substances including 160 pills of Tramadol seized at Apapa Ports. Cocaine and heroin were 92.26 kilogrammes and 85.36 kilogrammes, respectively.

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In 2017, the Agency achieved 98 percent prosecutorial success even when it lost 192 cases out of the 1,666 offenders prosecuted. The Agency convicted 1, 621 drug offenders.

Operation Thunderstorm, launched by Abdallah is to ensure that cannabis plantations are invaded by the Agency such that the illicit drug crops are destroyed before they are harvested and moved into the illicit drug market. By so doing, there would be no availability of the locally grown substance, let alone fuelling demand. This operation has given Cannabis cultivators bloodied nose. In 2017, a total of 317.118 hectaresof cannabis plantation were discovered and destroyed while in 2016, 718.78 hectares of cannabis plantations were destroyed. This represents a decrease of about 55.88%. This was owing to dearth of funds and shortage of manpower. Also, cannabis farmlands are usually located in the hinterland which makes it very difficult for the officers to access. Obsolete arms and other logistics also contributed to poor performance in this area.

The Agency’s operational balance sheet in 2018 was positive in all respects. The Agency, evidently focused on its Drug Supply Suppression and Drug Demand Reduction mandate succeeded in stamping out a huge volume of drugs which if allowed into the market would have done incalculable damage to society. In the same vein, the Agency came to the rescue of several drug dependent persons while it created public awareness on the unsavoury consequences of drug abuse.    

Between January and November 2018 alone, the Agency arrested 8, 243 suspected drug offenders, made up of 582 female and 7, 650 male. The Agency seized 131 tons of the dangerous drugs.  Cannabis sativa, the only locally cultivated in Nigeria accounted for 87 tons. The Agency intercepted 15 tons of Cough syrup with Codeine which was banned earlier in the year because of its widespread abuse.

Tramadol Crisis

The Agency also extended its dragnet to Tramadol which has become a drug of choice for users. In the third quarter of the year, the Agency recovered 581 million tablets of tramadol in the search operations at Apapa sea port. The illicit tramadol tablets were recovered from 23 containers. These containers, all originating from India had been on the watch-list of NDLEA before berthing at the Port. The tablets which are in various dosages ranging from 120 to 250 milligrams are above the permissible threshold of 50 and 100 milligrams.   Tramadol is a narcotic-like pain reliever used to treat moderate to severe pain.

It is obvious that the current influx of tramadol is not for legitimate use. Tramadol which is a derivative of Opiate is for post-surgery application.  The seizures in recent times far outweigh the country’s legitimate needs. It only suggests massive illicit use in the country.

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The Agency also discovered additional clandestine laboratories in Enugu and Imo States leading to the destruction of 20 kilograms and 77.960 kilograms of Methamphetamine found in the laboratory. This brings to 15 the number of Methamphetamine laboratories so far discovered in Nigeria between 2011 and 2018. Methamphetamine is an emerging drug clandestinely produced in the country. It is a highly addictive substance that affects the central nervous system.  It gives a false sense of well-being and energy. The continued use of the drug creates several negative effects and irreversible harm.

In 2011, Nigeria acquired the status of Methamphetamine producer nation through the discovery of the first methamphetamine laboratory in Lagos. Other laboratories were discovered in the following states, Lagos, Anambra and Delta States.  The discoveries of these laboratories across the country, apart from the fact that Nigeria is highest producer of cannabis in West Africa, portends a grave danger for the country and its image which invariably affects the national security of the nation.

Cannabis plantations destruction

The Agency destroyed 2, 864.65 hectares of cannabis farm land during the year. During the period the Agency recovered 40.6 tons of cannabis abandoned on the farm. The Agency discovered a temporary warehouse in a forest bordering Uteh, a community in Ondo State where 130 tons of cannabis was stored.

Public Destruction of Exhibit

In order to ensure that drugs seized do not find their way back into the society and not to constitute threat to public health, the Agency sustained its public destruction of drug exhibits by burning.

The Agency destroyed a total of 14 tons of drugs seized over a period of two years in Adamawa State.  In Kano State, 50 tons of the illicit substances were destroyed. In Ondo State the Agency destroyed 110 tons while in Edo, it destroyed 136 tons. In Jigawa and Federal Capital Territory, the Agency set ablaze 6 and 24 tons of seized drugs, respectively.

Prosecution of Drug Offenders

The Agency has a track record of diligent prosecution of drug offenders. In 2018, it has prosecuted 632 offenders out of which it secured 623 convictions and only 7 acquittals. Only two of the cases were struck out.

Drug Demand Reduction

Awareness is the first line of drug abuse prevention. One factor Abdallah has discovered to be working in favour of drug abuse is ignorance. He has therefore given impetus to the anti-drug awareness drive of the Agency. There has been an intensive and extensive anti-drug abuse education and awareness programme in schools and communities. Last year alone, the total number of programmes conducted for youths in school was 241 with 53,025 students in attendance. For youths out of school 52 awareness programme was conducted with 13,121 participants. For community based 41 programmes were conducted with 14,995 as participants. Two (2) other programmes were carried out for prison inmates targeting 403 of them.

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The Agency conducted 32 programs in work places where 6,533, attended. Seven programs were organized capturing paramilitary agencies with 201 personnel in attendance. Awareness programs were also carried out in market places with some of the programs targeted at the National Association of Proprietary and Patent Medicine Dealers, NAPPMED. A total 41 of media-based programs were conducted.

Close to the Chairman/Chief Executive’s heart is the condition of those already hooked to drugs. He is determined to restore them to usefulness. So far, 2, 777 of this category of persons are undergoing treatment and rehabilitation under the Agency’s scheme. Drug Abuse education has been infused into the curriculum of both formal and informal education in the country.

The Agency has been in the forefront of the commemoration of international day against drugs. The Agency has used annual awareness day to highlight the dangers of drug use and their illegal trade and provide educational material to stakeholders all over Nigeria to help amplify the message about the extreme cultural and economic harm the trade in drugs is still doing across the globe. It also used it to sensitize government at all levels to intensify their efforts at combating both drug demand and supply, while improving access to treatment for addicts. The event has attracted participation from top government functionaries, members of the diplomatic corps, international collaborators, captains of industry, religious and community leaders, Non-governmental organizations, youths and people from all walks of life.

International collaboration

The Agency enjoys robust relationship with our international partners that has led to the following:

  • six sniffer dogs courtesy of the German Government
  • Donation of vehicles by America Government
  • drug testing machine for dependent persons by the French Government
  • Renovation of our NAHCO Office by National Crime Agency, UK

The Agency has continued to maintain America Government’s clean bill of health as a cooperating country against illicit drug trafficking, globally.

In order to curb the involvement of some unscrupulous Nigerians in drug trafficking abroad, the Agency has intensified efforts of screening Nigerians going to drug source countries before they are given visa. This is to ensure that only persons with legitimate businesses have opportunity to travel to those countries.

Manpower Development

In drug control, there is no graduation. The Chairman/Chief Executive has placed high premium on training, retraining and retaining of officers. Officers and men have been trained across board both within and abroad, with the support of international collaborators. The training regime has culminated in the Command Officers’ Summit which has held for two consecutive times in the Regional Academy for Drug Control in Jos, Plateau State.

Final Word

Speaking in the manner of Napoleon the Great, the Chairman/Chief Executive enthused: “give me all the needed logistics and manpower, the menace of drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking will be history in Nigeria”.

The Chairman/Chief Executive is upbeat that NDLEA is making the difference in the nation’s drive to achieving the mandate. He is aware that illicit sectors pose significant risks to development and governance. In this respect   he is working with other stakeholders in the country to reduce illicit drug availability and trafficking thereby strengthening the licit sector and focusing on areas where Sustainable Development Goals aimed at ending poverty, transforming all lives and protecting the planet can be achieved.

He also maintained that illicit drug trade proved to be an insidious threat that finances terrorism, instigates corruption, undermines economic development and erodes state authority. “One of the most alarming trends that should place Nigeria and Nigerians on the focus of policy makers, law enforcement, and researchers alike is the number of new fronts on which the illicit drug trade is growing”, he maintained.

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