If there is an agency that has given the Muhammadu Buhari regime something to celebrate, it is the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency which has recorded breakthroughs after breakthroughs in its fight against drug trafficking and use in the country. The agency, under the leadership of Brig.-Gen. Buba Marwa (retd.) has redefined visionary and purposeful leadership in a country where political opportunism and demagoguery have become the hallmark of governance.
Before he was appointed the NDLEA chairman, the drug agency was like any other establishment with little or no focus or initiative. It was best known for harassing small-time cannabis sellers and occasionally setting ablaze Indian Hemp farms.
However, the situation changed dramatically the moment the new Sheriff rode into office on the conviction that things can be done differently for the greater good of the nation. Driven by a burning zeal that is hard to find in the public administration, Marwa, like a catalyst, changed the lethargy at the NDLEA to lethal energy. This has made the environment too hot for the drug barons and their minions to operate with their usual swagger and bluster.
Faced with the overwhelming task of drug control in a country with an exceptionally high prevalence of drug use of 14.4 per cent, Marwa took up the challenge with an uncommon determination to win the war against drug trafficking and he is succeeding.
The retired military officer has not only transformed the NDLEA from a sheep to a ferocious lion, he has also sent many untouchable narcotics dealers into early retirement in prison custody. Between January 2021 and August 2022, the NDLEA seized no fewer than 286 assets and 600 bank accounts belonging to drug barons. The assets include 249 exotic cars and 37 luxury mansions. It also confiscated N871.53m worth of illegal drug funds between January 2021 and August 2022.
The seizures came against the backdrop of the categorization of Nigeria by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as the transit point for heroin and cocaine intended for European, East Asian, and North American markets.
According to the UN agency, since 2004 “drug traffickers have been increasingly using West African countries, including Nigeria, for smuggling large amounts of cocaine from South America into Europe and North America. The country has a relatively high rate of drug abuse due to the continued availability of illicitly manufactured and diverted pharmaceutical products containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.”
The drug agency has also recorded N619.12m final illegal drug funds forfeiture and N252.41m as interim forfeiture. Under its drug supply reduction effort, it has arrested 18,940 suspected drug traffickers from January 2021 to July 2022.
The agency in a report made available by its spokesman, Femi Babafemi, stated, “Assets and financial investigation: Illicit drug funds that were investigated and seized include final forfeiture―$1,319,400) (ii.) £102,000) (iii.) CFA 14, 000, 000 and interim forfeiture―N252,407,726.20.”
It added, “The agency’s drug supply reduction efforts recorded the following: the arrest of 18,940 suspected drug traffickers (comprising 17,444 males and 1,496 females and including 12 barons) from January 2021 to July 2022; conviction of 2,904 offenders to various jail terms in court; seizure of 3. 6 million kilograms of narcotic and psychotropic substances; cannabis farm destruction: 691 hectares of cannabis farms were detected and destroyed across six states.”
Following the rising consumption of crystal methamphetamine popularly known as Mkpuru Mmiri, the NDLEA operatives have gone after the operators of clandestine meth laboratories and dismantled hundreds of them. The agency’s operational assets were able to locate and dismantle illicit meth laboratories across the country with recent discoveries in Victoria Garden City, Ajah, Lagos, and Nise community, Anambra State.
According to the agency, over 12,326 drug-dependent people had been counselled, treated, and rehabilitated in its facilities. To enable drug-dependent individuals or families and employers of people suffering from drug use disorder to seek help, Marwa set up a Drug Abuse Call Centre in July of 2021.
To demonstrate his lack of respect for those who think they were sacred cows, Marwa has dismantled several multi-billion naira drug empires masquerading as genuine enterprises. He has also exposed rogue policemen moonlighting as drug dealers.
For instance, the drug agency has secured an interim seizure of 25 properties belonging to the Chairman of Mallinson group of companies, Mallinson Ukatu, who is on trial for allegedly importing a banned drug, tramadol, valued at N3b into the country. Further investigations also revealed that the accused in October 2019, imported two containers containing 1,284 cartons of tramadol with a market value of over N22b.
Before his arrest and detention in Ikoyi Custodial Centre alongside his accomplice, Sunday Ibekwute, Ukatu was believed to be a responsible and morally upright citizen engaged in a legitimate business until the long arm of the NDLEA caught up with him and exposed his shady character.
Ukatu came under watch last year after five cartons of tramadol 225mg were seized from his staff on May 4, 2021, when he sold them to undercover police officers allegedly led by a former Commander, Intelligence Response Unit, Abba Kyari, a Deputy Commissioner of Police.
Kyari and his deputy, Sunday Ubua, who were subsequently arrested for drug dealing, are currently being held in Kuje Custodial Centre, Abuja.
Justice Emeka Nwite of the Federal High Court, Abuja, in an order dated August 29, 2022, restrained Ukatu or any other person from dealing with his properties listed as exhibit NDLEA III.
Also seized were two big warehouses; an office shop; a Toyota car; Volvo SUV; Range Rover SUV; Bulk Enclave SUV; NISPO factory; a proposed warehouse; proposed office complex and warehouses in Igboko village, Ado-Ado Ota, Ogun State; Central Business District, Abuja, including a parcel of land at Maryland, Ikeja, Oshodi, Festac town, Oregun, Ikeja, and Nike in Enugu.
Others are a manufacturing plant in Igbesa, Agbara, Ogun State; a property at Yomi Oshikoya Drive, Ikeja and another property in Asaba, Delta State.
Unrelenting in their zealous drive to root out the evil of drug trafficking and consumption in the country, the NDLEA also arrested a billionaire drug baron, Ugochukwu Chukwukadibia, after operatives busted a mansion filled with 13 million pills of tramadol 225mg in the Lekki area of Lagos State on Monday.
According to a statement by Babafemi, the suspect was nabbed with tramadol worth N8.86b.
The investigation breakthrough comes over a week after operatives of the anti-narcotics agency busted a warehouse in the Ikorodu area of the state where cocaine worth about N194b was stored.
Commenting on the progress recorded by his administration, the former Lagos State military administrator stated, ‘’As of January 18, 2021, when I resumed duty, NDLEA had a meagre 5, 000-man ageing workforce that was under-motivated, poorly-trained and bedevilled by poor work conditions.
Following presidential approval to increase NDLEA’s workforce, the agency has recruited and trained 5,000 new officers at the NDLEA Academy, Jos. Consequently, NDLEA is now more visible at airports, seaports and borders, as well as on highways and in cities across the country.
To further motivate his men, Marwa has paid accumulated claims of officers and burial expenses owed to families of 188 officers who died in active service. The money was last paid in 2014. The agency has also settled the premium for injury and life insurance for its officers and men.
Unsurprisingly, Marwa’s achievements have attracted attention and accolades and also earned the agency the trust and confidence of international partners. This has translated into donations of a speedboat to the NDLEA Marine Unit by the United Kingdom Government in February 2021; training and donation of intervention equipment twice by the French government and a €4m Narcotic Detection Dog Training Facility to be completed in four years by the German Government in August 2021. The agency also received a pledge of £1m support from the UK Government in June 2022.
To sustain its momentum, the drug agency has in the past 20 months formed new alliances and revitalised old partnerships with the United States Drug Enforcement Agency; Drug Law Enforcement Agency of Gambia; General Directorate of Narcotics Control of Saudi Arabia; Cote D’Ivoire and the Directorate for Priority Crime and Investigation of South Africa, among others.
To tighten the noose further, Marwa has deployed drug-detecting scanners and the Aletheia eye-based lie detector system at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos. He also launched the National Drug Control Master Plan, 2021-2025, a multi-sectoral collaboration roadmap for drug control policies in Nigeria.
The Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, Idayat Hassan observed that there had never been a concerted effort in the fight against drugs, in the last decade, as there was now.
Speaking in the same vein, the Convener, Coalition In Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said, ‘’The NDLEA under Marwa is doing a fantastic job; it is the only agency of government under the Muhammadu Buhari regime that has genuinely and sincerely earned the commendation of Nigerians.’’