NDLEA and challenge of tackling drug menace in Nigeria
The global problem of illicit drugs is forcing countries including Nigeria to adopt multi-dimensional approach to tackle the menace.
Countries now address the problem through the lens of public health and broader social approach, rather than only through the conventional criminal matter approach.
In Nigeria, where the number of active users of cannabis sativa alone was put at 10.6 million, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) has adopted measures to confront the problem.
One of the measures is the launching of the National Drug Control Master Plan 2021-2025 in November 2021, which incorporated the health components of the war against illicit drug abuse and trafficking.
The imperative of the master plan was because Nigeria, with its large population, is gradually becoming a centre for drug trafficking and usage, mostly among the youth population.
On June 28, 2022, NDLEA Chairman, retired Brig.-Gen. Buba Marwa acknowledged this fact, noting that the consequences of high illicit drug usage would be huge on the well-being of the society, if not properly tackled.
Marwa said that the consequences of drug abuse, including chronic health conditions and untimely death, are existential threats that cannot be ignored by any responsible government.
“Our country currently has some alarming drug statistics. For example, we are a major cannabis sativa cultivating and consuming country.
“Four years ago, we had 10.6 million users of the psychoactive plant, which made Nigeria the world’s leading cannabis-consuming country,” he said.
Likewise, Nigeria has also become a producer and market for crystal methamphetamine, known locally as mkpuru mmiri.
However, in its attempt to free Nigerians from drug abuse, the NDLEA has actively engaged in public sensitisation.
In his speech at the 2022 International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, Marwa said Nigeria has become a dumping ground for illicit pharmaceutical opioids, especially codeine and tramadol, just as it remained Africa’s major transit country for cocaine and heroin.
The National Drug Use Survey conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), placed drug use prevalence in Nigeria at 14.4% four years ago, higher than the annual global average of 5.5%.
Also, 14.3 million people abuse drugs, while 1 in 5 persons, approximately three million Nigerians, suffer from drug use disorder, with no less than 155, 000 among them in dire need of medical treatment.
Similarly, the World Drug Report 2021, predicted a likely 11% increase in the number of people who abuse illicit substances across the world, over the next eight years.
About 40% of that increase is projected to come from Africa alone, meaning, Nigeria which is the most populous country in the continent must be very concerned.
So far, the NDLEA has launched interventions to muzzle drug traffickers, with pre-emptive strikes and arrests, so as to salvage, reverse and control the environment and make the illicit trade unattractive.
The agency in 2021 alone, mopped up over 3.4 million kilogrammes of assorted drugs from the streets, which together with cash seized from traffickers, amounted to over N150 billion.
Similarly, 12, 306 traffickers were arrested, of which 1,385 were jailed in 2021, while in the first six months of 2022, the NDLEA seized approximately 155, 000 kilogrammes of drugs and recorded 5, 341 arrests and 984 convictions.
Apart from the arrests and convictions, there is a huge effort towards drug demand reduction activities, such as counselling, treatment, care and rehabilitation.
Data obtained from the agency indicated that from January 2021 to May 2022; 11, 523 drug users were counselled and treated in NDLEA facilities.
The NDLEA also unveiled a toll-free 24/7 call centre to give drug users and addicts a channel to seek for treatment in its 26 treatment facilities nationwide. The toll-free helpline guarantees anonymity, confidentiality and safety, designed to motivate more drug victims to seek for help.
Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, commended the NDLEA for unveiling the toll-free line
According to him, it will contribute to addressing Nigeria’s growing drug problem by providing information on substance use, treatment facilities, and other drug-related issues to the drug users and their families, and invariably facilitate entry into drug treatment.
The Director, Media and Advocacy, NDLEA, Mr Femi Babafemi, said that the agency’s Drug Demand Reduction Department had been galvanised and working non-stop and reaching out to the grassroots.
“This has led to the signing, approval and operationalisation of the Standard Policy and Practice Guidelines (SPPG) on June 21, 2021.
“The SPPG is a document prepared by officers of the NDLEA with the support of UNODC under the EU Project. NDLEA has a counselling and rehabilitation unit in all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory commands,” he said.
The document is expected to provide the framework for the harmonisation of the processes of counselling and rehabilitation across the 36 states and FCT.
Stakeholders are aware that drug demand reduction is central to the anti-drug war, because it will be difficult to clean up the society of illicit drugs if there is a large population of people addicted to it and actively pushing the demand for the illicit substances.
According to Babafemi, if the market is not existing, it will be difficult to sell illicit substances.
On its part, UNODC said that between 2017 and 2018, at least six million persons in Nigeria might be drug use dependant.
Mr Oliver Stolpe, UNODC Country Representative, says this is a massive public health challenge and calls on federal, state and local governments to ensure that victims are exposed to drug treatment.
The UNODC suggested that primary health care facilities be equipped to handle drug addiction cases at the local level.
An anti-drug abuse advocate, Dr Hope Omeiza said it was important to strengthen prevention methods and rehabilitation.
Omeiza, President, Vanguards Against Drug Abuse, said drug addiction treatments have been found to reduce drug use by 40-60 per cent, reduce crime by 40-60 per cent and increase employment prospects by 40 per cent.
“The best programmes for drug addiction treatment have been found to be a combination of therapy and other services such as counselling and treatment, as well as skills acquisition that meet the needs of the individual,” he said.
Omeiza believed that with sustained commitment, Nigeria would greatly reduce the population of individuals who abuse drugs in Nigeria and achieve the multiple targets of Sustainable Development Goals in strengthening the prevention and treatment of drugs and substance abuse including harmful use of alcohol.