By Fred Itua, Abuja
Last Thursday, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan and Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), General Buba Marwa (retd), took off the lid when the duo gave an exposé on those funding terrorism and banditry in the country. For many Nigerians, the revelation was shocking. For those within the corridors of power, it was unexpected.
For Marwa, who since he assumed the chairmanship of NDLEA, has recorded huge seizures of illicit drugs transited through the nation’s airports and locally, swimming in troubled waters to get the job done appears to be his forte.
Lawan isn’t exempted. It was a departure from his usual mantra that the National Assembly was on the same page with the Executive. However, there are concerns. Nigerians, who since the revelation was made, have waited for the next line of action, are wondering if the government will go beyond the repetitive promises and do the needful.
Pundits also hold the view that if the country must arrest the situation, NDLEA must be empowered, by revisiting some of the laws establishing it and giving it the needed financial backing to rid the country of barons and their enablers.
Lawan in his extensive intervention, said the unnamed barons provide terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, bandits and kidnappers with arms and ammunitions to undertake criminal activities in the country.
According to him, such drug barons who engage in trafficking heroine, cannabis and cocaine have made Nigeria a major transit route for plying the illicit trade, which he added, was responsible for the rise of criminality in the country.
The Senate President, therefore, called for the restructuring of the NDLEA so as to further empower it to rise to the occasion of clamping down on the criminals.
He said: “The National Assembly members are almost on a daily interaction with our constituents and we know the very debilitating impact of drug abuse in our various communities.
“You have rightly said almost every community in this country suffers from drug addiction. So, we are very mindful of what is happening.
“I believe that this agency needs restructuring. Now that you have taken over, we should go the whole haul to restructure the agency, not piece meal touches, because we need to get it right.
“My personal opinion is that NDLEA should be in the league of EFCC, ICPC, and therefore, the kind of support that those two agencies I mentioned receive, you should receive something like that, in addition to many other things that you should be supported with.
“So, the National Assembly will definitely work with you, we will partner with you, and will ensure that we do our best to give you the kind of support that will enable you properly to discharge your mandate.
“Having said this, let me say that Nigeria as a country is in one way or the other a transit route for drugs. Drug peddlers pass their drugs through Nigeria – cannabis, heroin and possibly even cocaine.
“We believe that this has to stop, because the proceeds of such activities fund terrorism, they fund banditry, you wonder how the bandits have RPGs and these massive arms that they have. Definitely these are some acquisition provided by some barons, not the bandits themselves.
“So, we need to ensure that this transit role that Nigerians play is addressed properly. And here we have to approach this through multi-sectoral efforts – the Customs, Immigration Service, our Security Agencies, and in fact, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), and our seaports.
“Of course, this is not going to be easy, but we have to be steadfast and we should do whatever is possible without the limited resources we have to make you better.”
Speaking on the drug addiction rate in Nigeria, Lawan underscored the need for multi-dimensional efforts across the various agencies of governments aimed at tackling underlying causes such as illiteracy, unemployment and poverty, responsible for the exposure of youths to criminal tendencies.
The Senate President also advocated for the inclusion of Drug Education in the curricular for schools and institutions of learning in Nigeria.
Lawan added: “We also believe that the drug addiction level in Nigeria is so bad that we are losing our youths to drug addiction. Like you have mentioned, the terrorists, insurgents, bandits and almost all the criminals have recourse to taking drugs to enhance their courage in order to undertake their illicit activities.
“So, there then is the need for us to step up our work on preventing our youths from taking the drugs, and that requires a lot of multi-dimensional efforts, because some may be due to lack of employment, some illiteracy, and poverty generally.
“These are some of the root causes. Somebody out of frustration is recruited to join. And, therefore, this is also something that the National Assembly has been trying hard to ensure that the economy of Nigeria provides for everyone – that we have an all inclusive economy bringing up those who are down.
“And I believe that this is one way that we have to continue to deal with this scourge. I also believe that we have to go on advocacy to our schools and institutions, and why not, even include in our curricular the issue of drugs, so that right from primary school up to secondary school level, our students should be able to understand the dangers of taking drugs.
“I believe that this is one incentive to criminality like you have just pointed out, so it is a huge responsibility placed on your shoulders, but you are not going to walk it alone, we are going to walk it with you.
“I want to urge you, that you get across to other agencies of government – like the immigration service, customs, airports authority, DSS – and the decay that you might have found is probably because the agency has not been able to have a better structure that will enable it fight drug trafficking and even addiction of the 21st century.”
Marwa on his part, said the Ninth Senate has “displayed great interest, competence, support and effort” on the review of the NDLEA Act.
“This is a very important step to correct some of the lapses in an Act that was promulgated way back in 1989”, he said.
According to Marwa, the visit was intended to “call for urgent intervention from the Senate President”, warning that, “Nigeria is in a state of siege today.”
Marwa raised the alarm that the drug addiction scourge was largely responsible for acts of criminalities which have pervaded all parts of the country, and the outcome witnessed in the spate of insecurity lately.
He lamented: “Yes, you have insurgency, banditry and kidnapping, but if you went to Ogoni to speak to somebody about insurgency, he might not be concerned.
“If you go to some other parts of the country and speak of kidnapping in some areas, it’s not a major concern. If you go to some other areas and speak of banditry, it may not be of major concern.
“But when you enter the realm of drug abuse, every part of Nigeria, you can for sure say that everybody in this room knows somebody, or a neighbour or family that has affliction with drug abuse. The drug affliction is actually the number one problem we are facing, it is everywhere.”
“First of all, it destroys our kids, women, our youths, and the family system. Secondly, it is behind the criminalities everywhere now. You have to be crazy to commit some of these criminalities, and what fuels it is drug abuse. Even the insurgents and bandits themselves, they take drugs before they go into their activities,” Marwa added.