NDLEA: Parable Of The ‘Small Thieves’

“The individual’s passions must be subjected to the government’s laws.(Edmund Burke (1729-1797)”
“The foundational legal systems that developed in Mesopotamia, China, and India were each distinct, in language, logic, and purpose. The Mesopotamian kings promised justice to their people, setting out rules that ordinary people could, at least in theory, rely upon; the Chinese rulers established systems of crimes and punishments to bring discipline and order to their expanding territories; and the Hindu brahmins sought to guide ordinary people along the path of the dharma, the cosmological order of their religious tradition. But, while each of these three legal systems was unique, together they provided the forms that all subsequent laws have adopted. It is arguably the crowning achievement of the modern state to have combined elements of all three within the legal systems that now dominate the world.
But this did not happen for many centuries. In the meantime, legal techniques travelled, inspiring kings and rulers with quite different ambitions. They were also taken up in much more local contexts, by princes, councils, villagers, and tribesmen”.
(The Rule of Laws, A 4,000-year quest to order the World, A Triumph’ the secret Barrister by Fernanda Pirie).
The raison d’etre of the aforementioned profoundly logical and philosophical affirmations and the brief historicity of the import of the rule of law is to demonstrate the fact that laws are made for the good of the society.
No laws can’t by themselves enforce the provisions contained therein therefore there is the imperative need for the most competent individuals to be assigned to different governmental department with definitive mandate which if meticulously implemented would logically evolve into the building of a well governed society.
The enabling legislation setting up the institution that has been charged with the onerous task of eradicating the trafficking and use of banned chemical substances and drugs is the NDLEA Act.
To present it in the way that it is, it is an Act to establish the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency to enforce laws against the cultivation, processing, sale, trafficking and the use of hard drugs and empower the agency to investigate persons suspected to have dealings in drugs and other related matters.
This reflection is not to highlight the elementary legal framework setting up the NDLEA.
Far from it, but this is just a quick attempt to once more applaud the current leadership running the NDLEA headed by the retired Army General Mohammed Buba Marwa and his very competent and intriguingly, very young team of directors.
The aim of this piece is to say that why too many arrests are made of suspected drug peddlers, this phenomenon will not abate except and unless the root cause of the phenomenon is tackled.
It does seem like the current management of the anti-hard drugs agency wanted to go the direction of confronting the root cause of high incidence of involvement of those I may call ‘small thieves’ in the crime of drugs trafficking by attempting to drum up advocacy for strong legislative framework to permit for the forfeiture of assets of barons of hard drugs. But this line of thinking is no longer being heard.
But there is no way of reducing the incidence of drugs trafficking unless those who are the major players are taken out but it is not likely to happen due to a number of reasons one of which the newly elected governor of Anambra state professor Charles Soludo mentioned.
The Anambra State Governor-Elect, Chukwuma Soludo, had lamented the influx of drug barons and internet fraudsters known as Yahoo boys into politics.

Soludo said the criminals are rushing into politics to avoid being arrested by security operatives.

He spoke on Saturday at the first graduation of the School of Politics, Policy, and Governance Pioneer in Abuja.

Soludo said Nigerians now see politics as a big business rather than a call to service.

Soludo said oil money has “destroyed the social fabric” and some political stakeholders created political structures to make so many gains.

“As the noose tightened globally on other rentier/criminal enterprises such as drug trafficking or internet scamming, many of the barons flocked into politics as the next easy alternative.

“Politics has become big business. Appointment or election into public office is seen largely as an opportunity to ‘eat’ rather than a call to selfless service,” Soludo said.

“There is an army of rich (big men) who have never worked or done any productive work in their lives and believe that it is their right to expect something for nothing.”

So I ask, how many of these drug barons have Nigeria been able to put out of business? The truth is that most government appointees are just too satisfied dealing with ‘small thieves’ than touch the “sacred cows” some of whom actually facilitated their appointments.
Take the war against corruption and economic crimes for instance, the two agencies (EFCC, ICPC) are caught in the web of the parable of the small thieves to such an extent that only school boys called ‘YahooYahoo’ are arrested and paraded but the real thieves with major consequences who have destroyed the economy of Nigeria and are actively sabotaging the economy of Nigeria are the same people who are in the corridors – of –power in Abuja and across the federation.
It is hoped that the new leadership at the NDLEA won’t fall into the collective governmental temptation of working with the doctrine of catching the small thieves and they think that they are working.
The thing to do is to put on their thinking cap, build good enough intelligence and go after the real people and not just those hirelings who are constantly arrested and put out of circulation only for new recruits to emerge since poverty stricken and idle minds are the devil’s workship.
Nigeria is obviously the poverty capital of the World. Youth unemployment here is about the highest in the world and rule of law is weak here. So there are perfect opportunities for the real owners of the underworld to always find replacements for the small thieves that NDLEA has continued to arrest and parade as if they are catching the big fish. Never!
If the institutions of law enforcement here should target ‘bigger fishes’ I can bet you that crimes will reduce but because crime is profitable to governmental rogue officials, it is difficult to hope otherwise. This is why the NDLEA must heal itself of the Infection of operating within the frame of mind of the parable of the small thieves.
NDLEA should pursue the proposed legal reforms so it can very well be in a good position to do real battle and not the usual comedy of errors of catching small thieves whereas the big thieves are even cocooned in the corridors of power.
Rather than the proposal to test students for drugs which is seriously not a major priority now, the NDLEA should get to the barons who are in government unless they are just the same old hierarchies who were in office for their goodies and foreign trips and no more.
Brigadier General Marwa himself highlighted the arrests made so far since the last one year that he assumed office. Good as it is, there is hardly any sign that NDLEA caught one big baron.
Chairman/Chief Executive of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, Brig. Gen. Mohamed Buba Marwa (Retd) had asked all tertiary institutions in Nigeria to make drug integrity test an institutional policy for both new and returning students as part of efforts to fight the menace of drug abuse among Nigerian youths.

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Gen. Marwa who made the call at the University of Abuja while launching the drug free university campaign on Wednesday 9th February, 2022 also called for a partnership between the NDLEA and the university system that will allow the agency set up outposts on campuses to further strengthen the authorities in fighting the scourge.

According to him, Part of the measures to reduce drug use in the university is the proposed introduction of the Drug Integrity Test for both new and returning students. The Drug Integrity Test is anticipated to metamorphose into an anti-drug policy for all higher institutions of learning in Nigeria. It is expected that the University of Abuja, being the University of National Unity, will be the first public university in Nigeria to adopt the Drug Integrity Test for fresh and returning students of the institution.

The Drug Integrity Test is not a punitive measure; rather it is an early detection tool to ascertain an individuals drug use status for appropriate intervention, and timely treatment and care. This will also entail that the university will develop a drug policy and make such available to each student. Equally important is the need to create an NDLEA outpost on the campus where well deploy our men to assist the authorities, deter drug dealers and users within the university.”

While commending the management of the University of Abuja for collaborating with NDLEA to organise the launch, he said the theme, Drug-Free University and Tertiary Institutions, is apt and timely as there is no better time than now to combat the drug challenge in the university community and among students.

He said the menace of drug use in the country is of worrisome dimension, especially among the youth population.

The truth on ground indicates that our society needs to do more. The National Drug Use and Health Survey of 2018 showed that Nigeria has a peculiar drug use prevalence. And it is instructive and worrisome to know that drug use was common among those aged 25-39 years, while the age of initiation was 22 years for heroin and 19 years for cannabis. Note that these age groups comprised of young people who are either in secondary or tertiary institutions or are on the cusp of graduation. To simplify the report of the survey: young people are overwhelmingly the majority of drug abusers in Nigeria. That is a jolting reality because youths are the building blocks of every developed nation and anything that affects the youth population affects the nation. The youth population constitutes the countrys workforce and the stronger the youth of a country, the more developed that country would be. One, then, wonders what will become of Nigeria with about 70% youth population, if the future of its youths is ravaged by drugs.

“To aggressively reverse the trend, His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, GCFR, launched the War Against Drug Abuse (WADA) campaign on 26th June 2021 to commemorate the United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking. The goal of WADA is to mobilize all Nigerians, especially the youth population, for active participation in the process of ridding our society of the drug menace. As one of the worst-hit age groups by the drug menace, Nigerian youths are critical stakeholders to the attainment of the laudable goals of WADA. Since the launch of WADA, the Agency has initiated evidence-based prevention activities, which include focused advocacy, drug awareness campaign, sensitization, treatment and care of People Who Use Drugs (PWUD). We have launched a renewed campaign and intensive sensitization, targeting youths in schools at all levels as well as youths out of school, he stated.

The NDLEA boss added that Some years ago, the Agency opted to address the drug problem among youths by setting up in schools the Drug Free Clubs. The pervasiveness and magnitude of the drug use problem has necessitated the change in the name of the club from Drug Free Club to War Against Drug Abuse Club―WADA Club for short―to inject a renewed vibe and vigour into the club and its members.” He said the essence of the event was to officially launch the WADA Club in the University of Abuja and to formally inaugurate the War Against Drug Abuse Ambassadors (WADA Ambassadors) among the staff of the institution. He charged the students in the spirit of true patriotism to desire and work towards a country devoid of drugs and its attendant consequences.

Others who spoke at the ceremony include representatives of the Minister of Education, National Universities Commission, and the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Abdul-Rasheed Naallah. They commended the collaboration between NDLEA and the university as part of renewed efforts to stamp out the problem of drug abuse in the country.

On the 24th of January,  marwa read out his one year achievements thus: “It is with great pleasure and joy I welcome you all to this press briefing. Last week, I clocked one year in the saddle of the NDLEA. Incidentally, the Agency is 32 years old this month. Hence, this briefing couldn’t have come at a more auspicious time than now, when the Nigerian public ought to be informed about the state of the NDLEA after one year of a focused, and pragmatic turnaround. To the bargain, this occasion offers me the opportunity to render accounts of my stewardship of this noble institution. WHAT WE MET Let me start by recalling exactly how we started the journey last year. Two days after the announcement of my appointment as the new Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the NDLEA, I resumed work at the national headquarters of the Agency on January 18, 2021, and had my first meeting with the management and staff. That first day will remain evergreen for me. I was welcomed by a disenchanted workforce. I faced an agency that had great expectations. I could sense fears. I could discern disappointments. I could feel pessimism. At the same time, I got a good vibe of profound optimism. Albeit bleak, I knew the situation could be salvaged. But something extraordinary had to happen. The NDLEA was in a bad state due to years of neglect, a situation that allowed the rot to set in, leading to loss of efficiency which in turn eroded public confidence in the agency as well as caused allies and strategic partners to lose faith in the Agency.  In retrospect, the Agency couldn’t be blamed for indolence. The problem in the NDLEA is better explained with the analogy of a machine with a manufacturing defect. The NDLEA was a forgotten agency. Underfunded and understaffed, the Agency survived with a lean workforce of officers and men, who worked with grossly inadequate and obsolete tools and earned considerably less in salary than their counterparts in other government security institutions. The situation was so bad payment of allowances of any sort (including burial entitlements to the families of the deceased officers) stopped long ago. There was no promotion, a situation that left officers stalled on a rank, some for as long as 20 years. So this time last year, the NDLEA was an Agency afflicted with institutional defect, gradual but steady deterioration from within due to demoralising work conditions and appalling staff welfare.   At last,thankfully,  a government mustered the willpower to salvage, reform and rejuvenate this organisation whose importance to the wellbeing of society cannot be underestimated. The change couldn’t have come at a better time because the dire findings of the National Drug Use and Health Survey of 2018 was a wake-up call that showed clearly that procrastination was an invitation for a national catastrophe. Having 14.3 million Nigerians abusing drugs, with 10.6 million addicted to cannabis portends grave consequences. The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is the government that read the situation correctly and subsequently took the bold and decisive step to revamp and gird the NDLEA for the task of cleansing Nigeria from the scourge of drug abuse and trafficking of illicit substances. WHAT HAS BEEN DONE IN 12 MONTHS It required a titanic effort to move the NDLEA from a near-catatonic or moribund state to a functional condition. To achieve that, a complete overhaul was needed, which must be pursued in a pragmatic, systematic and sustained manner, and according to a well-forged blueprint. Earlier, I had spent time as Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Elimination of Drug Abuse (PACEDA), a body whose mandate included the generation of recommendations on how to rid the country of its drugs problem, part of which operationally translated to how to restructure and fortify the NDLEA to achieve that objective. We had done our homework well, by studying the Agency and interacting with its officers as well as consulting far and wide in the industry. In the end, PACEDA submitted recommendations that we felt would help to reposition the Agency for efficiency. By an act of Providence, I found myself entrusted with the responsibility of implementing the recommendations, with the announcement by Mr President on January 15, 2021, of a new Chairman/Chief Executive Officer. With the blueprint from PACEDA, it was easy to point out dislocations in the NDLEA architecture, that needed to be reconstructed or restructured. We had worked accordingly in the past 12 months, propagating a slew of reforms and restructuring that were implemented in sequence or pari passu. The key areas are highlighted as follows: PERSONNEL We had to find a way to bring the workforce back to life with some IMPACT measures. In this regard, the starting point was the inauguration of a Harmonization Committee which was tasked with working on all anomalies in the service and welfare of staff, such as delayed promotions, unpaid allowances, burial entitlements and other cumulative failings of the Agency in the area of career advancement of officers. Subsequently, we corrected the aberrations with stimulus interventions calculated to motivate our personnel. Prominent among the measures are:  Promotion of 3,506 officers. Payment of allowances and burial entitlements to families of 188 personnel who died in the line of duty. The last payment of such allowance was in 2014.Initiating a performance reward system of Bimonthly Best Performing Command Award, which after two editions, became Quarterly Awards & Individual personnel commendation awards. Payment of insurance premiums, both life and injury insurance, hitherto abandoned for years. Expanding the top hierarchy to accommodate more deserving officers, made possible by the structural reform of the agency.  STRUCTURAL REFORMS We expanded the agency’s structure, which was a belated development. The restructuring was calculated to strengthen the agency to function per the reality of contemporary drug situations. In other words, the imperative of sustained efficiency necessitated the restructuring of the anatomy of the NDLEA. The beautiful thing is the Agency is comprised of very resourceful and educated personnel. Therefore, there was no shortage of capable and experienced manpower to drive the reforms in this area, which majorly are: Creation of new directorates, namely:(1) Directorate of Planning, Research & Statistics(2) Directorate of Media & Advocacy(3) Directorate of Special Duties and Strike Force. (4)Directorate of Airport Operations(5) Directorate of Forensics and Chemical Examination Creation of 14 zonal commands Creation of the Office of Provost Marshall to maintain internal discipline Unbundling of Directorate of Admin and Finance into (a) Admin & Establishment (b) Finance & Accounts CHANGE OF PHILOSOPHIES & PROCESS To transform the NDLEA from a reactive and inert anti-narcotic organisation to a pro-active and vibrant one, we made major changes and introduced innovations to the principles and philosophies driving our activities. The major ones are: A Paradigm shift to intelligence-driven process. This gives the Agency an aura of invincibility and more efficiency in our various operations. Adoption of Maxim of Offensive Action against traffickers This non-stop tracking and arrest of traffickers gave the Agency an edge in its drug supply reduction activities. Weaponization of asset forfeiture against barons Shifting gear to the tactics of forfeiture of Assets of barons and pursuing the masterminds of drug trafficking networks, using a combination of laws, (including the NDLEA Act, the Money Laundering Act and the international tool of Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, MLAT, enabled us to go beyond arrest to the actual dismantling of drug syndicates.  MECHANISMS & INTERVENTIONS We also tried to strike a balance in our Drug Demand Reduction effort with the following: War Against Drug Abuse (WADA) campaign: Launched by President Buhari on June 26, 2021, this is an advocacy campaign designed to win public support and society’s involvement in the effort to combat the menace of illicit drug use and trafficking. Six months after it was flagged off, we have reached out to several states, met with governors, religious leaders, traditional rulers, community leaders, social groups amongst others. The effort has won support for NDLEA activities at the grassroots. Launch of National Drug Control Master Plan NDCMP 2021-25. Developed with the technical support from UNODC, the NDCMP is a results-based strategic planning tool for coordinating interventions against illicit drug use and trafficking and related organized crime in Nigeria. This fourth edition of the NDCMP is the outcome of two years of coordinated, collaborative and multi-agency effort of experts from all the relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as well as Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). Activation of Standard Practice and Policy Guidelines (SPPG): A treatment and rehabilitation document developed in conjunction with UNODC. The document, like a field manual, provides synergy among our counsellors and further boosts our capability at treatment and rehabilitation. Drug Integrity test: We concretise our drive for a drug-free Nigeria with the entrenchment of drug tests in the public sphere namely tertiary institutions, government, security organisations etc. The policy is gaining widespread acceptance with several government institutions already adopting it. KEY ACHIEVEMENTS This is the easiest part for me because it is also the part of the development in the past year that is well-known to the public. We can take solace in the fact that our achievements of 2021 surpassed the records of any given year of the past 30 years. In drug supply reduction, our interdiction efforts yielded unparalleled results, which as of December 31, 2021, are as follows: i. Arrests of 12, 306 suspects, including 7 drug baronsii. Conviction of 1, 400 offenders iii. Pending 1, 502 cases in court iv. Seizure of over 3.4 million kilograms of assorted drugs v. Drugs and cash seized worth over N130 billion vi. 406 hectares of Cannabis farms destroyed vii. Contributions to the Consolidated Account through asset forfeiture viii. 7, 761 drug users counselled and rehabilitated in NDLEA facilities. In the areas of improvement of the workforce, we attained the following: Approval for the construction of six standard rehab centres, starting from 2022Approval for the construction of barracks across the country over four years, starting from 2022.An improved budget Successful recruitment and training of 5, 000 officers and men, thereby doubling our strength.  Other positive developments include: Return of allies and partners New Partnership: The Agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding with its Gambian counterpart, DLEAG in Banjul on August 4, 2021, to formally seal their cooperation to combat illicit production, manufacture and trafficking in narcotic drugs.  A similar MoU was signed with Cote D’ivoire on 7th Nov, 2021 while the same partnership with Saudi Arabia’s General Directorate Of Narcotics Control (GDNC) as well as those of Pakistan, India and South Africa are ongoing and will hopefully materialise this year. These developments are symbolic of the growing influence of the NDLEA and recognition of Nigeria’s effort in the anti-narcotic space. Donations of equipment and training: From strategic partners such as UNODC, DEA, UK Border Force and foreign governments, we received equipment and training, which include: i. A speedboat donated by the UK government ii. Operational equipment (e.g. body shields, bulletproof jackets, helmets, handcuffs, walkie-talkies, motorcycles etc) from the government of France.      iii. Two new buses and a sniffer dog were donated by the German government. The German government is also in the process of constructing a 4 million Euro dog training facility in Lagos.  I have to at this point also highlight some of the spectacular seizures recorded by the Agency since January 2021. These include: 230 tons of cannabis in Edo State in February and a recent seizure of over 100 tonnes of psychotropic substance across the country in the past two weeks.451, 807 Captagon tablets, weighing 71.119 kg in September at Apapa Seaport, Lagos. This was the first-ever recorded seizure of the drug in the West and Central African regions. 1,994, 400 capsules of Tramadol in February at the Apapa Port, another 144, 400 bottles of Codeine syrup in March and in October, 32.9 kg of cocaine.43.11 kg of cocaine in February at Tin Can Seaport and another 22, 590 kg of Codeine syrup at the Port in September 4, 996, 200 capsules of Tramadol, weighing 2,498 kg in May at the Onne Port and another interception of 100,000 (100ml) bottles of Codeine cough syrups weighing 15, 325kg in 500 cartons at the port in June Seizure of 2000.6kg Cannabis Sativa in concrete mixer truck loaded in Ogbese, Ondo state and intercepted along Girei – Yola road, Adamawa state on 2nd Dec, 2021In December 2021 alone, over 34, 000kilograms of cannabis smuggled from Ghana were intercepted at the Eko Atlantic City Beach while more than 8.3million capsules and tablets of Tramadol were seized in Lagos a week before Christmas. Just last week, about 1.5million capsules of same drug loaded in Onitsha, Anambra state heading to Kebbi and Kano were also intercepted by our men in Edo state At the airports, we have recorded a series of interceptions and seizures of cocaine and heroin, but Murtala Mohammed International Airport remains the epicentre of the spectacular seizures, including what stands today as the biggest single seizure from an individual in 15 years, which is 26.840kg of cocaine smuggled from Brazil in January, 24.05 kg of Heroin in April, 27.95 kg of Cocaine in May, and 26.15kg of Heroin in May.  PLAN FOR 2022 & BEYOND After one year of restructuring and rejuvenation, the NDLEA is now an organisation of bolstered workforce with 15 Directorates and 115 formations across 14 Zonal Commands, 36 States Commands (including FCT Commands) and 10 Special Area Commands. In 2022, we are going to build on the foundation laid in 2021. That building process includes: Continued recruitment and training of new officers. We are set to increase our staff strength in the New Year. Intensification of WADA campaign Amendment of the NDLEA Act, which is awaiting second reading in the National Assembly Procurement of arms and other operational equipment CONCLUSION In conclusion, I must state clearly that it is not solely by our efforts that we were able to achieve all the results of 2021. We have enablers, facilitators and supporters who helped to bring the NDLEA back on its feet. First and foremost, all Praise and Glory to the Almighty, Allah. Our gratitude goes to President Muhammadu Buhari who gave us the necessary support and encouragement required to give the agency a new spine. Likewise, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the Senate Committee on Narcotic Drugs and the House Committee on Drugs and Narcotics supported us all the way. The role of our international partners cannot be overemphasized, likewise, the Armed Forces and police, other MDAs, IMC, SPC, our partner NGOs, CSOs and regulatory agencies.  Our friends in the media helped to create a friendly ecosystem for this new NDLEA and numerous Nigerians supported us with their goodwill and prayers. We owe them all gratitude. I salute the officers, men and women of the NDLEA for their courage, tenacity, professionalism and commitment. Well done. The Agency has come a long way. And there is still a long way to go. We have a clear vision of where we are headed, and there is a roadmap to that destination. Today, the improvement in our fortune as an organisation is driving the NDLEA workforce to continue to push for the attainment of organisational goals and fulfilment of our core mandate of securing our country against the drug scourge. We all believe in the vision of the new NDLEA and we are committed to its mission. Our mandate is to ensure a drug-free Nigeria. We shall continue to play our role towards the achievement of that goal.”
The above self delivered testament is just the usual routine. We want a fundamental departure from the business as usual. We want to see how many real drug barons are arrested and successfully convicted and their ill gotten wealth taken away and given back to the Country. We need to see that in another 6 Months we should see that NDLEA has followed the footsteps of their Counterparts in the USA, UK, Canada or China who go to the ROOTS OF HARD DRUGS INDUSTRY and put out the key players and show it’s resilience by working with other jurisdictions to achieve holistic results.
It is time to say NO to the PARABLE OF THE SMALL THIEVES.

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EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and was federal commissioner of the NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

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