Fighting hard drug barons and their foot soldiers is a risky venture anywhere in the world and Nigeria is not an exception. Drug law operatives in the course of performing their statutory duties fall victim to the vicious propensities of the criminals who have a lot to lose and, therefore, have every reason to be ruthless and deadly. In their desperation, they employ every means possible to eliminate any obstacle on their way to achieving their goals.
In Nigeria, the drug trade is twice as dangerous due to the sad fact that drug abuse prevalence of the country is three times that of the global average. Still, this precarious matrix is not deterring the personnel of the agency from performing their duty of safeguarding society from the scourge of illicit substances.
However, some of the operatives, as elsewhere, have lost their lives along the line of duty. Often, the challenge of the agency is how to assuage the pains their families feel. It is perceived as a very delicate issue that can affect the morale of the living, if not well managed.
Perhaps, it is for this reason that the present chief executive of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, Brig. Gen. Mohamed Buba Marwa (Retd) made staff welfare one of the cardinal points of his administration which also propelled him to leverage his contact with President Muhammadu Buhari to address the problem of the non-payment of the benefits of the fallen officers and men. In the process, the President granted an intervention fund to pay the burial entitlements of at least 188 personnel who died in active service. This benefit has been pending for 10 years and, in some instances, 15 years.
It is the opinion of this newspaper that one of the ways of sustaining the tempo against the criminals is by assuring the operatives that in the event that they pay the supreme price, the loved ones they left behind will not suffer much. Since the assumption of duty of the present chief executive, the agency has taken up this matter and is pursuing very vigorously the insurance claims of the deceased just as the personal accident insurance scheme is being resuscitated for death, medical expenses, temporary and permanent disabilities.
To boost the morale and confidence of officers and men still in service, practical steps have been taken to address their welfare and career stagnation issues.
This includes the promotion of 3,506 officers and men who have suffered stagnation for years; instituting a quarterly assessment and cash-backed award for best performing commands to motivate officers and men; creation of additional directorates to reposition and enhance the performance of the agency as well as strengthening of existing ones.
Also, the drive to make NDLEA a potent weapon against illicit trade in banned substances has led to the establishing of a well-armed and trained strike force to beef up its enforcement capabilities as well as the appointment of a Provost Marshall to enshrine discipline and work ethics in the agency.
As part of this drive to rebuild the image and status of the agency which at some point became a by word for corruption, there is an ongoing determination to restore the visibility of the agency for local and international partnerships.
Already international support such as the donation of operational equipment and technical assistance from governments and agencies is coming in.
The new direction of the agency is yielding immense results through the fostering of partnerships with drug law enforcement agencies in foreign jurisdictions through Memoranda of Understanding (MoU).
But in our considered opinion, one of the most glaring achievements of the new helmsman is the launching of non-stop operation against drug cartels across the country. In the process, between January and August, 2021, 8, 634 arrests have been made. A breakdown of this figure indicates that there were 6,461 male and 547 female drug traffickers. Similarly, 776,000 kilograms of substances were seized. Cash and drugs recovered were put at a street value of N100 billion. Furthermore, within the period under review, the agency recorded 1,630 convictions while 3, 232 cases are pending in court even as 1,202 hectares of cannabis farms were destroyed. The agency has also been able to pull 4,269 persons from the brink of drug addiction through counselling and rehabilitation.
In the opinion of this newspaper, reviving and strengthening the agency’s Directorate of Assets and Financial Investigations to go after all assets and funds linked to drug trafficking is an important way of fighting this war that is threatening to consume the youths of this country.
Commendably, in our view, the Department has within a short time obtained interim and final forfeiture orders on assets and funds worth billions of Naira linked to drug traffickers/ barons being prosecuted or investigated including a N30billion currently being trailed.
It is gratifying to note that the agency has a special purpose committee designed to involve stakeholders in the war against illicit drugs. This is in addition to advocacy visits to Governors, faith and community-based organisations, prominent traditional rulers and other stakeholders.