What major reforms have been initiated and implemented by the NDLEA in the past year?
The last change of leadership in January 2021 led to major reforms that have been yielding results and we cannot talk about it without attaching it to the leadership of the agency under the current leadership of Brig-Gen Buba Marwa (retd.) which has tried to apply a society approach in the fight against substance abuse and illicit drug trafficking in the country. For the reforms, we have the Drug Demand Reduction and the Drug Supply Reduction. For the supply reduction, we have offensive action whereby we take the war to the doorstep of the enemies. What we have done in this regard is to put drug traffickers on the run and in the heat and when they are arrested, we ensure that they are properly and effectively prosecuted and convicted. Also, we have a 95 per cent conviction rate which means that we hardly lose a case.
Apart from arrests, seizures, and convictions, we also leverage relevant laws that have to do with going after the assets of offenders, especially the drug barons; for example, about two weeks ago, we released a statement about the forfeiture of a mansion in Victoria Garden City that was used by a baron that was convicted. We also go after their bank accounts, the properties that were acquired through criminal trade, and this is to cut their financial strength and power which in turn cuts access and availability of the illicit substances.
Can you explain the drug demand reduction aspect of the reforms?
On the flip side, we have the demand reduction which is the area where we mobilise every member of the society to get involved because there’s quite a lot of work in that area. In this area, we rely on people to give us information and intelligence which gives us the privilege to arrest people in the most unsuspecting places. I’ve read on social media where people say we use diabolical means to detect drugs and arrest offenders but no, all of these are based on the combination of intelligence and technology.
So, we try to use this medium to campaign to people, especially the youth, not to go into substance abuse. We try to raise the level of awareness by educating them directly or through proxy because there are a lot of partnerships and collaborations with other stakeholders to have an effective campaign. This was what led to the creation of the National Drug Control Masterplan (2021 to 2025), which is the strategy document for the war against substance abuse and illicit drug trafficking. The same demand reduction led to the agency launching the War Against Drug Abuse, which was to mobilise everyone to buy in and join the war against substance abuse. That is why in our schools, communities, and faith-based organisations, now, there are WADA clubs and the essence is to reduce the demand. It is to also mobilise stakeholders at the state and local government levels. We also introduced what we call the State Drug Control Committee and the Local Government Drug Control Committee. At the state level, the committee is headed by the wife of the governor of each state.
In the bid to also reduce the demand, we are encouraging employers to ensure that they make drug tests mandatory for their staff members. The same goes for universities whether you’re a new student or an old student. We’re glad that a lot of schools are keying into it. As I speak with you, the University of Abuja has made it mandatory because as a student, the certificate you’re issued is not only about knowledge but about character. So, before the school can certify that you’re of good character, you have to conduct a drug test that’ll confirm that indeed, you’re not into substance abuse.
Statistically, what is the level of the use of illicit drugs among men, women, and the youth in Nigeria?
That would have to be about the 2018 National Drug Survey. When you look at the survey report conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics, 14.3 million Nigerians abuse illicit substances and these are people within the age bracket of 15 to 64 years old. However, these days, we have children below 15 years who are 12, 13, and 14 years old going into substance abuse. Out of the total number, we have over three million suffering from drug use disorder, or rather called addiction. However, those who are affected the most are those we call Gen Z and millennials. Also, one out of four abusers is a woman, which also shows that women are also deeply involved in this. These days, women’s involvement is not limited to abusing illicit substances, they are also neck-deep in trafficking. In our recent activities and arrests, we have seen active women involvement and also some of them are barons.
The agency reports numerous raids and seizures of illicit drugs across the country regularly. What is the total weight of drugs seized in 2023?
In the last three years, we have had a total seizure of over 7,500 tons. When converted, that would give you over 7.5 million kilograms of illicit drugs. In addition to that, we’ve also had 1,057 cannabis farms destroyed in the forests. You need to see where these plantations are established. They are deep inside the forests deliberately cut off from people with no accessible roads and our officers would have to trek for kilometres to get there.
What is the financial value of the substances seized?
We try to run away from putting figures in order not to invite people to trafficking through the amounts because the drug business in the world is a multi-billion dollar industry. However, in the last three years, the volume of drugs we have seized alone was more than N800bn, which is almost close to a trillion. The over 2.1 tons of cocaine seized in Ikorodu, Lagos State towards the end of last year was worth more than $300m. If you convert that alone, imagine how much it will give you so that is why we try to run away from numbers because the money involved drives the inspiration of people going into it.
How many suspects were arrested in 2023?
In the last three years, we have had over 48,157 arrests including 46 drug barons. We have over 8,350 offenders prosecuted, convicted, and jailed while we have 12,103 other pending cases.
From your operations, which region or state in the country would you say you has recorded the most seizures and arrests?
Lagos, Kano, Edo and Ondo states. Delta also comes on that table.
Did your investigations show any reasons for the prevalence in the locations?
We wouldn’t say those states are the worst but because of certain factors, they are up there. It can be as a result of population or geographical location. For example, we know Lagos usually has the highest in the country but it is not to say that the state government is not doing what it is supposed to do. It is because it is a state that shares borders with many West African countries, and then because of the sea. For instance, the cocaine that came into Ikorodu came in through the high sea and was moved on water up till Ikorodu. Also, Edo and Ondo are spectacular because of the issue of cannabis that is planted and processed in those two states; even though they are not the only ones planting, that is where you have the highest number of cannabis plantations that we have destroyed so far. This year alone, in one single exercise, we destroyed more than 300,000 kilograms of cannabis warehouses in the Ogboje community of Edo State and we have such in Ondo also.
Some Nigerians believe that the sale and distribution of illegal substances are the handiwork of cartels run by people who are well-connected in society. Can you confirm that?
There’s no doubt about that. That is what I just told you not so long ago, but the current leadership is looking to ensure that we disconnect their network by going not only after their consignments but after their plantations, assets, warehouses, and after themselves, just to let them know that they are not above the law.
What is the agency’s reaction to claims that NDLEA officers connive with cartels to arrest and prosecute members of rival groups for a fee?
We act on information, it doesn’t matter whether the information comes from rivals or not. Meanwhile, we don’t even know who the people giving us the information are because we have different channels. So, anybody can give us information, but what matters to us is that we should make sure that the cartels no longer exist, whether our informants are rivals or not rivals. I am sure if Mr A gives us information about Mr B today and Mr B is apprehended there is a tendency that Mr B will give us information about Mr A, who will also be apprehended. However, it doesn’t make any sense if we dedicate our time to reply to speculation, but I can tell you categorically because I am part of the team and I am involved in the process of apprehending cartels. We don’t care about where the information comes from and we don’t need to know, all we need is the information about who is doing what is not legal and where. That is all that we need and we begin the process to verify it and apprehend them. That is why the claim doesn’t concern us and it doesn’t make logical sense because collecting information will go through stages of processing and it will get to the (NDLEA) chairman who will have to approve it after verification before we carry out any operation.
What happens to the seized illicit substances when investigations have been concluded? Are they disposed of? Are they destroyed?
Some people were doubting what the agency was doing with the seized drugs but I am sure over time when they started seeing numbers of public destruction of drugs across the country, they saw that we are truly committed to ridding Nigeria of drugs. When cases are investigated, and statements are made that an arrest has been made, we document all the exhibits and keep them in our warehouses under the control of exhibit keepers. After the suspect has been prosecuted and jailed, we gather all the documents and return to court to seek the final order to destroy the exhibits. After the court gives us the order, we put everything together and choose a location, mostly on the outskirts of a community, gather everything there, and destroy them in the open public air with a lot of stakeholders in attendance. Law enforcement agencies, the military, traditional associations, clerics, and others including the judiciary.
What does the agency do to ensure that seized substances are not resold to the perpetrators by officers of the agency?
I can tell you that since Gen Marwa (retd.) took over the leadership of the agency, which is most paramount and very top on his agenda, not a single individual in the agency has access to the exhibit room. Today, there are over three locks to the exhibit rooms and different people holding the keys, which indicates that no single individual can go into the room to tamper with the exhibits. There have to be three or more people who will go together because there are over three keys in the place. Meanwhile, those exhibits are also periodically audited under the office of the agency’s chairman, Special Monitoring Task Force. This shows that they move everywhere to follow cases up to ensure the right things are done and to audit exhibits to verify and measure everything. I can boldly tell you that it is very difficult to smuggle anything out.
Has the agency taken punitive measures against its officers caught using, stealing, or selling confiscated illegal substances to drug cartels in and outside Nigeria?
Well, I am not aware of anybody who has done that as far as my knowledge can take me. I’m not aware because for miscellaneous offences or some other misdemeanour that people commit in the course of their activities or official duties, they face disciplinary panels. But I’ve yet to come across anyone because the punishment outweighs whatever you are benefiting from it. The punishments are heavy; you lose your job and face criminal prosecution. No one will want to take that kind of risk.
The agency recently made arrests and seizures at airports in Nigeria. What does it find shocking about the different methods used to traffick illicit drugs into or out of Nigeria?
We are no longer shocked by the mode of concealment because the agency is intelligence-based and top of our game when it comes to deployment and use of technology. So, we are not shocked because we know that we are far ahead of these criminals. Quite a number of them do some other things that they think we don’t know and that’s why we just wait for them and they walk into our hands. They are the ones shocked that we were able to discover them because we are way ahead of them in terms of intelligence gathering and deployment and use of technology to discover and unravel their tricks.
What is the update on the alleged killing of a two-year-old boy by officers of the agency in Delta State in July 2023?
If you follow the news, you will discover that the affected boy was buried some weeks back. The agency has been close to the family and we will be supporting the family to ensure that the right things are done.
Would you say the agency has settled the issue with the boy’s family? If it has, how was the case settled?
If it wasn’t settled, the boy wouldn’t have been buried.
The NDLEA has at different times been accused of carrying out raids indiscriminately, sometimes leading to the killing of innocent Nigerians by officers of the agency. Is the agency bothered about the unprofessional conduct of its officers?
That is something you find once in a very long time. That is why I told you that in the new NDLEA, there can’t be any operations without a lot of processes and procedures followed. We have standard operating procedures that have to be followed by any command or commission of the agency which goes up to the desk of the chairman.
Our officers go through training and as I speak with you, thousands of them are undergoing training, especially members of our strike force, which is the elite team when it comes to weapon handling and all of that. They are the ones in black uniform and they provide cover for our regular operatives when they go to difficult terrain. Beyond that, our standard operating procedure has been updated to ensure that the right things are done before any operation. We’ve tightened our processes such that you hardly hear about such occurrences again.
Your officers face difficult situations while on duty. How many NDLEA officers have been injured, killed, or missing in the last 12 months?
Quite a number of our officers. The recent one was some weeks ago in the same community where we seized over 300,000 kilograms of cannabis in January. So, we do have this once in a while but the good thing is that we learn from these experiences to beef up our operations whether in terms of manpower or terms of equipment used. The agency now deploys armoured vehicles for some of its operations to ensure that our officers are protected.
Does the agency have adequate compensation for the families of slain officers?
Yes, we do. We have injury and life insurance cover for our officers. Also, when the new administration came on board in 2021, the outstanding burial responsibilities for 188 families were cleared. Beyond that, we have insurance coverage for our officers.