The escalating drug epidemic
Trafficking in dangerous hard drugs, and abuse of narcotic substances is one problem that is showcasing a potential to destroy this country unless of course, the country can destroy the phenomenon first.
While the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) has tried to produce the zeal to match the inordinate ambition of drug traffickers, it is crystal clear that the drug war is entrenched; while the battle line is drawn. The rate of drug consumption, trafficking and abuse in Nigeria has reached epidemic proportions and has become a matter of serious concern.
Almost on regular basis, reports of drug peddlers nabbed and seizures made at airports and other entry points are rife and making depressing headlines, despite the strong anti-doping onslaughts by the NDLEA operatives.
Between January and August, this year, the NDLEA arrested 5,000 drug traffickers and five major drug barons controlling different cartels across Nigeria; seized over 2 million kilograms of assorted illicit drugs; seized N90 billion worth of drug and cash; and filed 5,000 cases in court out of which it secured 1,630 convictions with 3,205 pending cases. This is a gory picture of the drug issue.
Furthermore, the agency counseled and rehabilitated 2,772 clients and destroyed 1,202 hectares of cannabis farms. All of this simply shows the magnitude of the challenge, as Nigeria suddenly moved from being a drug transit country to a drug-consuming nation, an unfortunate tag. The other day, for instance, a 22-year old youth corps member was arrested in Abuja by NDLEA operatives for importing four kilograms of drugged candies from the United Kingdom.
Similarly, operatives attached to a courier company in Lagos intercepted 1.2 kg of cannabis concealed inside locally made cookies destined for Dubai, UAE and 920 grams of cocaine hidden inside synthetic hair heading to Saudi Arabia. Yet another 1.08 kg of cannabis concealed in spray cans going to Pakistan and 625 grams of methamphetamine hidden in clothing going to Australia were also seized. These could be the tip of the iceberg, considering that many cases could have transpired undetected.
In the light of these developments, the Federal Government has expressed alarm over the huge number of Nigerians engaged in drug abuse. Minister of State for Health, Dr. Olorunnimbe Mamora, quoting the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates stated that the prevalence of drug usage in Nigeria stood at 14.4 per cent, by an estimated 14.3 million people between the ages of 15 and 64 years. This is distressing as the figure was about three times more than the 2017 global prevalence of 5.6 per cent among the adult population.
Mamora said, “The menace of drug abuse has reached an epidemic proportion and, thus, requires concerted efforts by all. Drug trafficking and use are not only a threat to security, governance and development of a nation but also to the health of its citizenry.” His concern cannot be over-emphasised. According to the 2015 World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate, psychoactive drug use was responsible for more than 450,000 deaths yearly. WHO also stated that the drug-attributable disease burden accounted for about 1.5 per cent of the global burden of diseases. The world body has confirmed that Nigeria was the highest consumer of the substance globally.
The drug issue has, no doubt, assumed a dangerous dimension largely because the country is in disarray in many ramifications, and is certainly not on top of its numerous problems. Anomie pervades the land in every aspect. This explains why the recent move by the National Assembly (NASS), to legislate on the use of cannabis was considered most curious because of the difficulties that will inevitably arise on proper and effective monitoring of drug use. Not unexpectedly, the Chairman of the NDLEA, Brig. Gen. Buba Marwa (rtd), vehemently opposed the idea and enjoined the lawmakers not to support the move to legalise cannabis, as it was fraught with dire consequences. Certainly, the anticipated monetary benefits cannot match the devastating effects on human lives and society.
Nigeria was included in Category A at the start of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which led to the banning of 10 of our athletes for failing in domestic drug testing level; how would the country be classified and treated if cannabis is legalised? The present harassment and humiliation of Nigerians at airports around the world would be child’s play.
While the NDLEA should step up its onslaught against trafficking and consumption of dangerous drugs, the country’s political leaders should work to remove the tatters in which the country is clothed. The NDLEA will continue to face a daunting challenges for as long as the country battles insecurity on all fronts, fails to provide welfare for its citizens, millions of whom are jobless or in some disguised employment.
The NDLEA must nevertheless take the drug war to the tent of the enemy by going after all assets and funds linked to drug trafficking, in furtherance of its achievement so far. The agency should involve broad stakeholders in the war against illicit drugs. The establishment of a well-armed and trained strike force to beef up the agency’s enforcement capabilities and the appointment of a Provost Marshall to enthrone discipline and work ethics in the agency are proactive steps. It should expect at all times that drug barons, like their counterparts the world over, will not easily give up their trade without fierce opposition.