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Nigeria’s Hard Talks on Drugs – Emmanuel Onwubiko

There is a new sheriff in town as far as the battles against the trafficking and wanton abuses of hard drugs in Nigeria are concerned. This sheriff as it were, is on a righteous rampage and the camps of drug barons are in trepidation.
  
The new boss of the National drugs law enforcement agency used to be a military governor of Nigeria’s largest State Lagos and he is retired Brigadier General Mohammed Buba Marwa. He introduced the tricycle motorcycle transportation system in Lagos to bridge the gap between car owners and the large army of poor commuters who usually go through hell to move from point A to Point B daily and this novel transportation system was then named after him as KEKE MARWA. 

Since the last few months that he mounted the saddle as the Chairman, Chief executive officer, the modus operandi of that agency has witnessed revolutionary changes and if he continues with this speed for the next couple of years, he will make landmark achievements that will engrave his name on the sands of time. What he needs now are our prayers, support and for him to remain truly to his calling as a one man revolution squad. 
   
But there is one negative exception and that is exactly the Nigerian factor thus-: the institution which now has a proactive leader in the person of Buba Marwa and his able departmental heads, is still being grossly underfunded.

It is inconceivable that a national agency fighting billionaires who are the drug barons and their deadly foot Soldiers who are the traffickers, is being treated merely as a parastatal under the ministry of Justice and therefore gets her funds through the usually backward envelope system whereby the ministry will first of all be cash backed by federal ministry of finance and budget and then the other agencies under it will be given fractions from what accrues to the ministry. It’s like waiting for the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.

Right from my days as a journalist covering the judiciary for The Guardian in Abuja and by extension NDLEA, I have often wondered why Nigeria which is notorious and ranked as one of the most notable hard drugs transit camps in the World is waging war against such deadly menace and a hydra headed global crisis through a system of the envelope funded mechanism. 

I once asked the minister of justice as an active journalist long before now why NDLEA is not funded just like the judiciary so the funding will automatically drop to them from the main source and not being passed on through the Justice ministry.

Also why has the Country been funding NDLEA just like boys brigade even when we send them to go after billionaires who can easily bribe their way out of any charges or kill them if they stand on their war to the illicit billions? Hard drugs business is a multi-billion dollars global industry. 

I did not get any meaningful response from that minister of Justice who felt that divesting him of the control of NDLEA is like a demotion. But the issue is about our national security and the fact that hard drugs pose some of the gravest challenges to our survival as a Constitutional democracy.

Recently, my organization HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) visited the NDLEA  and we broached the idea of the agency getting direct funding from the federation accounts. But the hierarchy personified by the Executive Chairman was silent may be because they do not want to be seen fighting the minister of Justice. 

But look, the issue is about us as a nation and so getting NDLEA to enjoy independence in terms of funding and operational scope would be one of the best ways to put a check to the rapidly expanding tentacles of drug barons. 

This is because, no matter how good the chairman and his team want to be, the temptation to give up on the fight may come if they are broke and so can not take some initiatives that are capital intensive without recourse to the bureaucracy. For instance the NDLEA does not fund activities of credible groups or supporting NGOs carrying out advocacy campaigns against drugs and drugs trafficking.  At least the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA has received no penny or one kobo in support of our vigorous and dangerous campaigns against hard drugs business in Nigeria.  

Anyway, away from the institutional impediments constituting a cog in the progress of NDLEA, we will examine some themes that have resonated from the thinking cap of the leadership of NDLEA since the new man came on board.

We are abandoning the issues of operational and funding independence because these key issues are within the reach of the National Assembly and the president to pursue if they truly wish to make good legacies for themselves.

The first issue is about the debate on whether to legalize marijuana or not. On this issue I think all sides to the debate have valid points and so none should be shoved aside. 

The likes of the Ondo State governor thinks the use of Marijuana should be legalized so as to expand the revenue scope of the nation. HURIWA thinks it’s a good idea to legalize medical consumption of Indian hemp but the time isn’t ripe yet. 

The Governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu, urged the Nigerian Government to jettison traditional orientation and “archaic” sentiment that state that cannabis is a ‘devil’s plant’.

Akeredolu, who spoke at a Stakeholders’ Roundtable on the “Benefits and Opportunities of Cannabis Plant in Nigeria” held at the International Culture and Event Center, urged the Nigerian government to give legal backing to cannabis to enable its use in Nigeria, saying “cannabis is a multi-billion naira industry that can help diversify the Nigerian Economy if judiciously utilised”.

He said, “the medical and economic merits of the use of cannabis outweigh its demerits.” Akeredolu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), stated that advanced research has shown that Cannabis has immense economic benefits if well utilized.

On public perception trailing his advocacy for controlled cultivation of the cannabis plant, the governor stated that opinions against the legalization of the plant are as a result of the ignorance of people about the numerous benefits of the plant.

“The planet earth has a constant period of darkness and light every 24 hours which we call night and day, in like manner, just like every other crop or plant, Cannabis Sativa has both CBD and THC content which we can put it to good and bad use,” Akeredolu said.

“Products with extract of Cannabis Sativa are already in our pharmaceutical sales outlets across the country. They are being imported with foreign exchange, and sold at exorbitant prices with additional, but avoidable stress on our Naira.”

Akeredolu stated that during his first term, he and other members of his cabinets made a trip to Thailand to understudy the legal reform carried out to facilitate the decriminalization of the cultivation, processing and export of Cannabis Sativa which gave him the opportunity to know the immense benefits that comes along from controlled cultivation of the plant.

“My visit to Thailand was an eye-opener. We saw forest reserve used in the past to cultivate and process hard drugs transformed to be meaningfully utilized in an environmentally friendly way for healthy ventures. We saw people previously sold to hard drugs engaged in legitimate business ventures,” Akeredolu said.

“What we are therefore advocating for in Nigeria is simply controlled cultivation of pharmaceutical standard cannabis strictly for medical purpose. I am saying necessary laws must be amended to give room for it. I am not saying it should be a free-for-all venture. Those investing in it must be licensed under strict control.

“We must find a way to legalize the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes. There is nothing wrong about it. We are only shooting ourselves in the foot. It is a foreign exchange earner for people outside the country. People want this. We ourselves, even our pharmacies want to develop.”

Akeredolu further revealed that Ondo State has one of the best Cannabis in the world which is capable of creating a million dollars’ industry for the country.

He explained that in 2019, the global market of Cannabis was put at 52.8 billion dollars and that the market forecast is an average 14.5% increase from the year 2020 to reach 103.9 billion dollars by 2024.

Akeredolu urged members of the National Assembly, the NDLEA, the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria and Research Institutions to have a second and deeper thought on the issue, saying it holds great potential in solving the current economic woes in the country.

The Chief Panelist at the Roundtable, Hon. Benjamin Okezie Kalu, member representing Bende Federal Constituency who doubles as the Spokesperson of the House of Representative, agreed with Akeredolu, stating that said it has become imperative for Nigeria to review the legislation prohibiting the farming and production of Cannabis for medicinal and industrial use in Nigeria.

While applauding Akeredolu for leading the Advocacy for the legalisation of cannabis, Kalu posited that hemp is a viable prospect for Nigeria’s diversification efforts.

The Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora, Tolu Akande-Sadipe, who was also a panelist at the roundtable, expressed optimism that the passage of the Dangerous Drugs Act [Amendment] Bill 2020, currently at second reading, would usher in a new era on medicinal cannabis production and distribution in Nigeria.

Chairman/Chief Executive of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, Brig. Gen. Mohamed Buba Marwa (Retd) has explained why proponents of the legalisation of cannabis sativa cannot have their way under the prevailing security situation in Nigeria today.
 
Gen. Marwa spoke as guest speaker at the 2021 Ulefunta annual public lecture organised by the Deji of Akure kingdom, the Ondo state capital, His Imperial Majesty, Oba Aladetoyinbo Ogunlade Aladelusi and chaired by the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae.
 
Laying the basis for his argument, the NDLEA Chief Executive said, the proliferation of illicit drugs often engenders a pattern of crime, chaos and conflict. In the advanced world, it is the driver of high crime rate and violent killings in the inner cities. In developing or Third World countries, it is the escalator of strife, pogroms and civil war, and has played a big role in countries torn to pieces by tribal war, such as it is playing our in Syria, which has become the hotbed of Captagon, and Afghanistan, which controls the opium trade.
 
“We have seen narco-terrorism in countries like Colombia and Mexico where drug cartels are law unto themselves and are as powerful, if not more powerful, than the State. So, there are real cases, not scenarios, of where and how illicit substances played a role in a societys rapid descent into chaos and tettering on the brink of a failed state.
 
“So the pertinent question for us today is: Has drugs played any role in the festering insecurity in Nigeria? The answer is yes. Of this we have ample evidence.
 
 Represented by his Special Adviser on National Drug Control Master Plan, NDCMP, Otunba Lanre Ipinmisho, Gen. Marwa stated that considering the intractable burden of insecurity facing the country, “we do not have the luxury of allowing a narcotic economy to take root and thrive in our society. Africa, nay, Nigeria has enough problems without adding the burden of narco-terrorism.
 
“Of all the known illicit substances, Cannabis sativa is the only one that is native to Nigeria and it is the most abused of all illicit drugs, and from the findings of the National drug Survey of 2018, cannabis is becoming a national albatross
 
Warning that the population of Nigerians hooked on cannabis alone is more than the population of countries like Portugal, Greece or the Republic of Benin, he said as such the nation cannot afford to toy with the grim reality of the danger of legalising cannabis when all the needed infrastructure to monitor and control that are still far from being in place.
 
“Where cannabis is concerned, we should not by any argument allow ourselves to become the proverbial fool that rushed in where angels fear to tread. Countries like Canada, that are pro-cannabis have strong and efficient institutions that are way ahead of ours by long mileages.

“Given the reality of our law enforcement, controlled cultivation of cannabis is a mirage. Arent pharmaceutical opioids controlled? Tramadol, codeine, rohypnol, benzopam, they are all controlled, yet, their trafficking and abuse is causing us unquantifiable human and economic loss. And for those who point at the inherent economic benefit that could accrue from legalisation of cultivation, in accordance with our reality, would you be comfortable, if by tomorrow, your 13-year-old son can easily access marijuana, or you find some wraps of weed in his pocket, or you learnt that someone has introduced your 16-year-old daughter to smoking Igbo under the pretext that it has medicinal value?
 
Our individual answer to that question will give us a public opinion of where we should stand as a country in the cannabis debate.
 
He warned that We should stop treating cannabis like some sweet candy without any side effects. Its repercussions outweigh the vaunted benefits. And legalising its cultivation for a country like Nigeria, is a shortcut to illicit drug Armageddon. At a time we are taking a forward march in the fight against drug abuse, attempting to paint cannabis in a favourable light is akin to taking backward steps.
 
“As far as NDLEA is concerned, cannabis remains an illicit substance. The Agency shall always canvass against its cultivation, possession, trafficking and sales, and use. And offenders will face the wrath of the law. And, if I may add, our conviction rate is 90% successful.” 

Both the protagonists and the antagonists have made solid good reasons but these options should be weighed against the backdrops of our current situations. Again the call for compulsory drug test for intending couple as made by the Chairman of NDLEA to me is misplaced. 

What is desirable is for NDLEA to be empowered to conduct DRUG TEST on all aspirants to public political offices so we stop drug addicts from gaining power as is the case previously and even today with the rate of corruption and all sorts of bad behaviours by political office holders. The NDLEA should rather campaign for the compulsory drug tests on politicians and they should leave intending couples alone because that’s not very important.  

 
Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs @ www.theingerianinsidernews.com, www.huriwanigeria.com.

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