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War Against Illicit Drugs More Dangerous Than Insurgency, Banditry — Buhari

•I met NDLEA half dead, says Marwa •WADA takes off

President Muhammadu Buhari has noted that the war against illicit drugs is more dangerous than the war against insurgency, banditry and kidnapping ravaging parts of the country and has therefore called for concerted effort to deal with the menace.

He made the declaration Saturday at the presidential villa, Abuja while launching the War Against Drug Abuse (WADA), a programme initiated by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in commemoration of the United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking under theme: “Share Facts on Drugs. Save Lives.”

The President charged the NDLEA to intensify efforts to rid the forests of the southwest and south-south regions of the country of criminal elements, who he said, had made the places their hideouts, from where they launch criminal onslaughts as well as for farming marijuana.

Represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, Buhari said: “The war against drugs is a war that must be fought by all, it is therefore my pleasure, to declare on behalf of the good people of Nigeria, a War Against Drug Abuse (WADA), not just as a slogan, but a call for civil action for all Nigerians to take active part in this war.

“Let me say that this war is more deadly than the insurgency we have in the Northeastern part of the country or the acts of banditry in the Northwest or the acts of kidnapping that transcends all the geopolitical zones of this country, because it is a war that is destroying three generations, because I’ve seen clips of where grandparents are on drugs, parents are on drugs, and by extension, their wards, their children are on drugs.

“So, this is a war that It is targeting three generations in a stretch. So, it is more deadly than even the security challenges that we are having in this country and I believe strongly that every effort must be put in place to ensure that we deal with the issues of substance abuse and trafficking and manufacture so that we can get to the root cause as ably elucidated by our keynote speaker this afternoon, of the mirage of insecurity problems that are confronting this nation.

“And I believe strongly, with every bit of conviction, that if we are able to deal with the issues of drug abuse, substantially, our security challenges will drastically reduce as we walk towards a drug free, Nigeria.

“I once again implore all Nigerians from every strata of life; our traditional institutions, our religious leaders, our local leadership at every level, to be very vigilant and to support this cause and the war against drug that has been declared on this day, the 26th of June they 2021.”

Buhari directed the NDLEA to develop a robust risk-communication and community engagement strategy that will not only disseminate the four pillars of the plan to responsible entities, but also deal with destroying production sites and laboratories, break the supply chain, discourage drug use and prosecute offenders as well as traffickers, rehabilitate addicts and enforcement of relevant laws.

He added: “I want to particularly draw the attention of the agency to the fact that the use of many of our forests as criminal hideouts is because large swathes of cannabis plantations are hidden deep within those forests, especially in the Southwest and the South-South.

“You may therefore, need to drive these criminal elements from such hideouts because they use it for the growth of these plants and also as a respository for criminal elements to conclude and plan their adventures on our people.

“On this United Nations anti-drug day, I call on all families, schools, civil society organisations, professional associations, religious organisations, the academia, community leaders and individuals to work for the common good in order to rid their communities of drug use and trafficking.

“As your President, I will continue to address underlying causes of drug abuse, including poverty reduction, for which my pledge for lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years and strengthened by the recently developed National Poverty Reduction with Growth Strategy signpost my unwavering commitment.

“Finally, I would like to appreciate our stakeholders and international collaborators, especially the European Union, and the United Nations Office for Drugs and Control, for their unwavering support to our drug control efforts, including the development of our roadmap.

“Also appreciated are the members of the inter-ministerial committee on drug control, civil society organisations, the academia, for their contributions and efforts to our National Drug Control initiatives.”

Chairman of the NDLEA, Brig. Gen. Buba Marwa, said in his remark that the agency was in a terrible shape by the tome he took over about five months ago, but has been steadily repositioned to effectively carry out its mandate.

He said: “Some 32 years after its establishment, the NDLEA has pushed the restart button. We commenced a renewed war against drugs because illicit drugs have acquired a new dynamism and have mutated into a hydra-headed problem.

“On assumption of office as the Chairman/Chief Executive officer of NDLEA five months ago, I found myself handed a colossal task, principally because I met an Agency that was a shadow of itself. Our image was shabby. Our visibility was poor. The morale of the officers and men was very low. The magnitude of the consequences of failing loomed so large that a paradigm shift became imperative in the Agency’s overall operation.

“So I had to find a pragmatic means to galvanise the NDLEA workforce. To this end, we set up a Harmonization Committee to look into all complaints of stagnation. The report of the committee is being implemented currently. To boost the morale of officers and men, I instituted a reward scheme that includes a cash-backed award aimed at inspiring our workforce to become result-oriented.

“Structurally, efforts are ongoing to strengthen the Agency, particularly the directorates and the state commands. In essence, we have devoted the past five months to restructuring and strengthening the NDLEA and transforming it into an efficient anti-drug juggernaut.”

Marwa thanked President Buhari for “giving us strong support and backing that made these structural changes at NDLEA possible.”

The NDLEA boss put the value of cash and drugs seized in the past five months at over N90 billion, adding that over 2,180 traffickers were arrested, including five drug barons controlling different cartels across Nigeria.

He also revealed that a record 2.05 million kilograms of drugs have been intercepted and seized across the country; and 2,100 drug offenders prosecuted with 500 jailed by courts.

Marwa further said:  “While the statistics are impressive, we wouldn’t deceive ourselves that we have succeeded in cleaning the Augean Stable in five months. We have only made a head start. We need to sustain the momentum. We need to win the drug war. We cannot afford to be complacent.”

He said according to statistics, Nigeria is the highest users of cannabis worldwide, adding that revelations from kidnapped victims have collaborated the fact that illicit substances are enablers of insecurity currently plaguing the country.

He added: “It is not difficult to conclude that drugs have been catalysts of terrorism, kidnapping, banditry, armed robbery and various violent conflicts that are currently Nigeria’s albatross.

“The enormity of the danger of drug abuse calls for an urgent need to nip the problem in the bud. This is the reason we have redoubled our efforts in the past five months with the Maxim of Offensive Action.”

The United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, in his message, lamented that the world’s drug problem remains an urgent challenge that threatens to exacerbate damage impact and to hinder a healthy recovery.

Represented by the Country Representative, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Oliver Stolpe, at the occasion, he urged law enforcement agents to go after the criminals at the upper level of the drug trafficking chain who reap the highest profit and wreck the greatest havoc.

Guterres said that the 2021 world drug report of UN, shows that death and crime attributed to disorders have nearly doubled over the past decade.

He said new HIV/AIDS  infections among adults have declined worldwide but not among people who inject drugs which accounts for 10 percent of new infections in 2019.

According to him, international cooperation has helped to limit the proliferation of new psycho active substances but the problem  is shifting to poorer regions where control systems are weaker, drug sales continue to rise and non-medical use of pharmaceutical such as Tramadol and Codeine is expanding.

He noted that drug trafficking and organized crime fuel and perpetuate circles of violence and conflicts as armed groups and terrorists profit from the illicit drugs trade.

He also regretted that the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic has left millions of people even more vulnerable to drug crime and illicit drug cultivation.

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