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An Unwinnable War Against Hard Drugs?

General Mohammed Buba Marwa

July 03, (THEWILL) – It is a tough job for chairman of National Drug Law Enforcement Agency retired Brigadier General Mohammed Buba Marwa. He is not finding it funny at all as the number one man charged with sniffing out barons and dealers or smoking out those who patornise them. In a recent appearance on Channels Television, he let on that even politicians work hand in glove with drug cartels. (One was tried and jailed recently by a Lagos court.) As governor of Bornu and Lagos states separately, Marwa had his way and applied the rod when necessary. But since his appointment as chairman of NDLEA in January 2021 by President Muhammadu Buhari, there have been frustrations along the way. Nevertheless, the agency under him has recorded some smarting victories against barons, suppliers and consumers. The problem, as any social worker will tell you, is not the barons or dealers but the dope heads and coke heads looking for an angry fix. Michael Jimoh reports…

“I get high with a little help from my friends,” so goes the inscription on a famous Bob Marley poster. Of course, the self-acclaimed patron saint of marijuana had one spliff clenched between his index and forefinger touching his lips in the said poster, smoke clouding part of his angular visage. Without his supplies from wherever, the reggae icon insinuated or suggested, he might never attain that mellow-high state he so much cherished for much of his adult life.

But there is also another side to it: without pot heads like Bob Marley and the millions of coke, heroin or crack addicts all over the world, barons and dealers could be very well out of business. The logic is, as any economist can attest, sans demand, sans supply. Asked once why he repeatedly sold marijuana after been busted severally by the police, a drug dealer said the very obvious thing: “Because there are always junkies out there.”

There are always junkies out there! That seems to be the major problem facing hard drugs busters like retired Brigadier General Mohammed Buba Marwa chairman of National Drug Law Enforcement Agency. On request, barons and dealers are ever ready to give hard drugs abusers their required fix – a pinch of heroin or a snort of cocaine, a roll of weed or those syrupy medicines young people now relish swigging.

From seedy corner streets and slums in Ajegunle or Mushin, at bus stops and motor parks in Ogun state, public school fields in Kaduna or Kano, young people are turning to hard drugs more than ever before. Two decades or so back, most teenagers would have been appalled to learn that their classmates smoked pot. It is a different picture today, as anyone can see at bus stops in most state capitals. But the most damning instances of drug abuse by young people are to be found in Psychiatrist Hospitals across Nigeria, where they recline, wasted, undergoing rehab. Some make it. Some others do not. And yet, the craze for psychotropic substances is on the rise. Also disturbing to NDLE chairman is the growing involvement of politicians and security agencies in hard drugs trafficking in Nigeria.

Appearing on Channels Television recently, Marwa intimated that NDLEA has arrested politicians “who either are holding political office or have retired. Recently one of them was jailed in Lagos, he was trying to smuggle 1kg of heroin, maybe to use it to run for office,” insisting that “cartels also participate in political institutions; they actually fund candidates into the various levels so that the correct laws (that favors them) are enacted.”

Still fresh in memory was the arrest of former head of IRT, Abba Kyari, by NDLEA officials last February. What was his crime? He asked a colleague to assist him in siphoning part of a cocaine seizure by offering a bribe of $61, 400 in cash which was recorded.

Four days after last Christmas, drug traffickers disguised as men of security outfits were arrested in Bornu state. Gimlet-eyed operatives of NDLEA thought something was amiss when they routinely searched three men and found one of them to be a fake army officer. The impersonator, Yakubu Kotri, was caught with a car loaded with over 427 kilograms of illicit drugs in Bornu.

Another impostor, Salisu Mohammed, wore the uniform of another security outfit. He was caught with hard drugs for distribution in the Federal Capital Territory. Other arrests have been effected, as well, of traffickers taking tramadol to the FCT. Among them is Dada Adekunle, Usman Isa, and Alfred Aminu.

Writing on Marwa’s 69th birthday anniversary last September, Senior Special Adviser Media and Publicity to PMB, Femi Adesina, used the occasion to laud some of the achievements of the chairman, the seizures and arrests made of barons, dealers and abusers.

Headlined “Buba Marwa Gives Them Bloody Nose” in Vanguard, Adesina reeled off the number of arrests of traffickers and barons at the time: 9,355 and six drug barons and more than 5,000 drug offenses cases filed in court. Also, more than N100 billion worth of drugs and cash have been recovered with an astonishing 2.7 million kilogrammes of assorted illicit drugs seized in 10 months. About 5,579 drug users have also been counseled and rehabilitated.

Continuing, PMB’s spokesman said: “mind boggling seizures and interceptions made include 230 tons of cannabis in Edo State, 451,807 Captagon tablets at Apapa seaport, in Lagos, 1,994,400 capsules of Tramadol, 144,400 bottles of codeine syrup, 32.9 kg of cocaine worth over N9 billion in October alone, and the biggest single seizure from an individual in 15 years, 26.840 kg of cocaine smuggled from Brazil.”

These figures clearly show that Marwa is on top of his game. Last year, for instance, at the 3rd Annual Colloquium of Galaxy Clique in Offa, Kwara state, the retired army officer let it be known that the agency under his watch confiscated N60billion worth of hard drugs in the last two months. It is a record in the history of NDLEA since inception in 1989.

Tagged “Hard Drug Abuse and Insecurity: A Siamese Twins,” Marwa was represented by Babayeju Kayode, Kwara State Commandant of the agency. According to him, infallible intelligence sources have “established a clear nexus between drug abuse and terrorism (Boko Haram) in the north east and other security challenges across the country.”

He couldn’t be more correct. Before embarking on any operation, criminals have been known to embolden themselves with a cocktail of hard drugs. Cannabis, Marwa disclosed through the Kwara commandant of NDLEA, had been the only illicit drug locally produced in Nigeria for years. “But this has changed with the establishment of clandestine laboratories in several parts of the South-East and Lagos.”

Now easily available on corner streets are illicit substances like codeine, methamphetamine, rophynol, tramadol, etc.

“This is followed by codeine (cough syrup), tramadol, Rohypnol, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, valium 5 and 10,” the NDLEA boss said. More worrisome to the chairman is the age bracket of drug abusers. “The statistical analysis of these drug-dependent persons shows they were of age 15 to 64 years bracket.”

Marwa also said at the colloquium that “since the agency began operation in 1990, over 9.5 million kilogrammes of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances have been seized with over 27,000 drug traffickers convicted”, insisting that the “economic consequences of the cultivation, processing or manufacturing, packaging, smuggling, retailing and peddling of narcotic drugs and psychotropic drugs are disastrous. It causes destruction of national economies, the frustration of monetary and fiscal controls and inflation due to laundering of proceeds of drugs.”

Apart from the economic consequences of trade in illicit drugs is the effect on Nigeria’s democratic process. “A major implication of the vast financial assets from the drug trade,” Marwa said, “is its influence on political decisions which has led to the overthrow of legitimate governments and the creation of ‘Narco Democracy.”

In the early to mid-nineties, Bolivia’s democracy was similarly threatened by ‘Narco Democracy. To fight it, the government set up a plan called Dignity, which consists of four pillars, according to Dr. Guido Nayar Parada, Minister of Government at the time. The four pillars are development of alternative crops, prevention, prohibition and eradication. The plan worked so well that formerly coca-based regions began cultivating food crops.

“So far, we’ve had historic results,” Guido Naraya said at the time. “More than 8, 000 hectares of coca plants have been destroyed while developing 100, 000 of alternative crops in the El Chapare region. Before the plan, police couldn’t even get into that area. Today, it is a law-abiding region where the cocaine-based economy has been replaced by one based on food.”

To understand Marwa’s equally rising stature, profile as chairman of NDLEA, it might help to go back to his roots, his formative years through adulthood to what he has become today.

A retired Army officer, Marwa was born into a soldierly family, starting with his grandfather and then his own dad. Though from Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa state, he was born on September 9, 1953 in Kaduna state. Sired by forebears who were in the military presupposes that he would join the army. Marwa did, beginning his military career at Nigeria Military School, Zaria, then Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna.

It has been said that Marwa distinguished himself at both institutions, staying solidly in the top five all through his classes. Of course, all that would be a prelude to a firmer educational base and brighter career. He was still in the Nigeria Army when he made it to Pittsburgh University where he studied International Relations and Harvard where he obtained a Masters’ degree in Public Admin.

Marwa has held several executive and diplomatic positions both in the Nigeria Army and for the Nigerian government. He was Aide-de-Camp to Lieutenant General Theophilus Danjuma, Academic Registrar of NDA. He has also worked as military attaché in the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC. Marwa also held diplomatic posts in a number of African countries such as Lesotho and South Africa.

Commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant in the Nigerian Army Reconnaissance Corps, he soon repaired to Armoured Corp. Two of his instructors later became Nigerian rulers. The first, Ibrahim Babangida, appointed Marwa as Military Administrator of Bornu state where Marwa left his indelible footprints for the period he was the number one in the north eastern state.

When IBB stepped aside and Sani Abacha took over, the goggled general needed a tough man to take charge in a tough state. He looked no further than Mohammed Marwa who had performed well in his own natal state. Faster than a rifle shot, Abacha sent Marwa to Lagos to put things in order in the littoral state.

True enough! Bursting at the seams with human population and vehicular movement marred by bad roads, Marwa came up with “Operation 250 Roads” to contain those two perennial problems. It was not only roads he turned his attention. As one observer put it, Marwa “revamped public health institutions, and ensured that free malaria treatment was available to residents of the state”.

But it is the famous ‘Operation Sweep” that was most effective. For those too young to know, a combined team of the army and the police, Operation Sweep was set up by the MILAD to tackle the menace of armed robbery in the state. Did he succeed in this?

Very well. Criminologists recorded low levels of crime at the time, from random robberies to carefully planned and well executed operations by men of the underworld. All through his tenure as MILAD of Lagos state, Marwa had zero tolerance for criminals. In fact, the success of Operation Sweep led to criminals bee-lining it to neighbouring states. “The fear of Operation Sweep,” hard-eyed criminals used to say then, “is the beginning of wisdom.”

For all his plans to make Lagos state a better place, to make it a more livable space when he was MILAD, several assassination attempts were made on his life. On one occasion, in February 1998, Marwa himself was compelled to make that announcement on radio and television.

Unknown persons were again trying to assassinate him, the statement read, and that he and his entourage had been the target of several bomb attacks starting in 1996. But he said that he would not be intimidated. His most concern for now, as a promotional ad of NDLEA proclaims is that “a drug-free society begins with you.” If that doesn’t happen, then dealers will be in good business as long as there are “junkies out there.”