Dennis Obiefule is the commander, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in charge of the Federal Capital Territory. In this exclusive interview with EMMA OKEREH, he raises the alarm on the high level of drug abuse in the FCT. He, however, believes that the agency is winning the drug war in spite of stiff resistance from the barons.
Can you brief Nigerians on the mandate of the agency?
The NDLEA was established by Decree 48 of 1989, now called N Cap 30 laws of the Federation of Nigeria.
The mandate of the agency is two fold—supply reduction and demand reduction. Supply reduction has to do with issues bordering on trafficking, manufacturing, production, cultivation of controlled drugs such as cannabis sativa, cocaine, heroin and psycho tropic drugs.
Demand reduction has to do with counselling. As you are aware, there are people that abuse drugs, so the agency is mandated to reduce the supply of these illicit drugs as well as reduce its consumption.
While carrying out the supply function people that are arrested with exhibit are usually prosecuted; that is the suppliers, dealers or sellers. If they are arrested, they are taken to the Federal High Court for prosecution, and if convicted, they are sentenced to a jail term.
There is no minimum sentence for offenders; it depends on the disposition of the judge. Some are given nine months, some 2 years, some 10 and some life sentence. It depends on the nature of the case and the facts presented before the court.
The other leg of the mandate is on demand reduction---those that are consuming these drugs. It is either they are picked up from the scene of operation or their relatives refer them to us.
When they are brought here we don’t prosecute them; the law does not recognise quantity, it does not specify quantity. What we do in the course of investigation is that, when we discover that the person is only consuming it, rather than send the person to jail, we counsel him, rehabilitate him and send him person back to the society.
Some people bring their wards for such treatment while some are picked in the scene of operation but they are generally counselled and released.
Has your adopted method of counselling been effective in dissuading drug consumers?
To some extent, it is working. It is working because we have had cases where people that were counselled and returned back to the society came to us on their own. There was one in particular that came recently. He even brought materials for the ones that are still undergoing some treatment.
Supposing we did not treat that kind of person, by now, he may still have been in the business of taking drugs. You know that some people go into this type of habit not knowing the danger the drugs are posing to their health. But by the time they come in, they are counselled, and some of them will turn a new leaf while some still go back to the habit. To some extent, I will say it is succeeding.
Let’s take a look at the FCT where you are now the commander, what did you meet on ground?
Well, I think the larger population of the FCT consume these drugs, but it appears that the ones we consume here are not those the law recognises. What they call cough syrup, containing codeine, is an example. Here, the consumption is on the increase.
I discovered that most of the joints we have here are full of what we call “pocket dealers.’’ And because of the nature of the joints, when you succeed in picking the consumers up, they throw away the drugs and you arrest them without the exhibit as they immediately deny ownership.
That makes our operation difficult. But we are devising strategies on how to reduce their activities and make sure we pick them up with exhibits so that we will be able to prosecute them.
Another step is identifying the dealers. If you go to a joint for a raid, usually, every- body there will run, and so, if you don’t know the dealer, you end up picking the consumers, and when you pick them, there is nothing you can do with them.
We don’t have the facilities to keep all the consumers. That is the challenge we are facing here because we don’t have enough space. Even if we are given the national stadium, it cannot contain the users in this city, let alone where we are.
That is why we are after the dealers; once they don’t exist, the consumers cannot get the stuff to use.
But again, I have discovered that the more we pick these people, the more people still gather in those areas. The challenge we have is identifying the major dealers where people go to buy from.
They usually bring this thing from the South, especially cannabis sativa; so if we can cut off their supply it would help us because if they don’t have access to the suppliers they would have nothing to consume.
How do you identify the black spots?
We identify the black spots through patriotic residents. People give us information; and I urge the people not to be discouraged because we are not God. I cannot sit here and tell you that I know all the black spots, but people are really helpful. Our officers also go on surveillance.
How about identifying big time suppliers; don’t you think it will be an uphill task?
To me it is not an easy task. But if people are willing to co-operate with the agency it will not be difficult. They are not spirits, they live with us. Any environment where cannabis is stored is easy to detect. People who live in such a neighbourhood should be able to give us information. Dealers have warehouses, some rent one or two rooms, only to store cannabis sativa.
Such a drug can easily be identified by passersby who know its odour, hence they can give us information. So I think it is easy if people are willing to give information.
What strategies do you intend to adopt to contain this high rate of abuse?
It is not good to discuss our strategies on the pages of the newspapers because, as you are planning to counter their activities, they are also devising strategies to beat you.
What are other challenges hindering your operation?
To start with, I don’t have enough manpower. The vehicles are also part of it. Our vehicles are well known to them. The vehicle we use all the time have come to be known by them. Again, this business is often conducted in the open and when we are approaching, they would raise alarm and whatever they have on them, they throw away.
So even if you pick them, you do so without an exhibit. That is why I am trying to identify the dealers so that even if we don’t pick any other person, if we pick the dealer at that spot it will be useful.
The information I have is that some of these dealers don’t even live in the FCT. They operate from neighbouring states. So when they are coming in they come with the quantity they can sell within that period. So we still need people to give us information where these people live.
Looking back at the formation of this agency, do you think it is winning the war?
To a great extent, I think we are winning the war. This is because without what the agency is doing, I don’t know what the society would be like. You know there are many factors that lead people into drugs. Some people left their villages in search of fortune in Abuja and when they got here, they found things very difficult; some are misled, some got stranded and ended up in the hands of peddlers.
For the agency to win the war, it has to be tackled holistically. It cannot be taken in isolation. Unemployment issue has to be addressed, you can see the number of graduates that are churned out by the universities every year joining the millions already roaming the streets in search of jobs. Those who normally would not indulge in drugs may do also out of frustration.
The agency is raiding, arresting and prosecuting them. Those who are afraid to go to jail are afraid of getting involved. But those that are involved don’t even know the danger facing them. That is the irony. The agency is doing a good job; I am talking from statistics.
Would you speak on the number of arrests, prosecution and seizure you have made since assumption of office here?
I came in February and we made 17 arrests, 22 in March and 9 as at today, all dealers. In terms of seized drugs, in February we seized 54.1 kg of cannabis sativa, 2.9 kg of cocaine.
In March we had 47.71 kg of cannabis, 1.1kg of cocaine and 1.05 kg of psycho tropic substance.