The new Chairman/Chief Executive of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Brigadier-General Mohammed Buba Marwa, in this exclusive interview, told Daily Trust Saturday how drug barons tried to use the COVID-19 pandemic as cover to smuggle illicit drugs into the country.
DT: In recent weeks, the NDLEA recorded some feats in terms of large seizures of drugs worth billions of naira, what’s the secret?
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Marwa: Good intelligence is the basis of effective and efficient anti-drug operations, worldwide. The detection and seizure of drugs were not coincidences because they didn’t happen in one state. In three weeks, the NDLEA operatives recorded successes in Lagos, Abuja, Edo, Nasarawa, Benue and Katsina. It showed that we have made a strategic adjustment in our operations.
We have tweaked our tactics. We put in days of hard work and due diligence, checked tips and double-checked our facts. We did a round-the-clock observation that required patience and perseverance. And we waited for the right time to strike. So the secret is hard work, more commitment and being goal-oriented. We have simply redefined our goals, and we are committed to meeting those goals.
DT: Can you highlight on some of the seizures in recent times?
Marwa: Between January 24 and February 10, we achieved some remarkable seizures, two of which are earth-shaking because of the size of drugs involved. The first one is the discovery of 40 parcels of cocaine, weighing 43.11 kg and worth over N32billion, shipped into the country from Brazil at the Tin Can Port, Lagos.
The second is the case of a 33-year-old Nigerian young woman intercepted at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, who brought in 26.840 kilograms, also worth billions of naira. That is the largest individual haul in 15 years. She arrived in Nigeria via an Ethiopian Airline, with the consignment concealed in 16 duvets.
We also arrested seven suspected drug barons operating four large warehouses in Ukpuje forest, Owan West Local Government Area of Edo State, where a total of 16, 344 bags of cannabis and seeds, weighing 233, 778kg were seized, in addition to two pump action and one double barrel guns.
The estimated street value of the seized illicit drug is put at over N1.4bn. We have recorded similar successes in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Katsina, Nasarawa, Benue and some other commands of the agency.
DT: Some of these seizures were substances brought into the country from other parts of the world, what could be responsible for the trend?
Marwa: It shows that members of the global drug cartel are desperate to move large shipments, which have been lying in store for months due to the limitation globally by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had restricted global movements for some time. Then one can deduce that the global cartel is seeking a safe pipeline that could serve as conduit to their market. But by now, the message should be clear to them that they have the NDLEA to contend with in Nigeria.
DT: Are you saying there is a surge in drug activities now, or that traffickers have been getting away with their deals before you came on board?
Marwa: Well, that may be difficult to tell. It is safe to say that the long months of non-flight movement across the world had affected the global drug market, and with the resumption of flight, there is an aggressive trafficking across the world.
In that case, the timing of the seizure has no relationship with my arrival at the NDLEA.
On the other hand, we have restructured our strategy, and so far, we have results to show for it. From the word go, I am on record to have told my officers and commanders that the new maxim is offensive action, and that is showing in the figures and frequency of arrests and seizures.
DT: These drug traffickers were able to beat checks at the airports to smuggle in those substances from abroad; why was that possible, and what is the way out?
Marwa: It tells you that at our airports and seaports, our men have to uphold their integrity. For instance, at the MMIA, on January 24, 25 and 27, our operatives intercepted three attempts to bring in a large haul of cocaine. That speaks volume of the efficiency of the NDLEA.
We will continue to provide the right resources for our operatives to perform at their optimum. The simple way out is intelligence gathering and sharing among the law enforcement agencies here and partnership with those in other jurisdictions. Above all, discipline, patriotism, diligence and commitment are key elements you expect from officials of any serious organisation.
DT: What is your vision and action plan for the NDLEA in your first 100 days in office?
Marwa: We want to send a clear message to the drug network worldwide to stay away from Nigeria. And for the barons and cartel in Nigeria, we will put them out of business. They will either relocate or drop out of the drug business. We want a record number of arrests and convictions. And we have set for ourselves the goal of ridding the country of drug activities.
DT: Recently, you advocated drug test for students in tertiary institutions and politicians; what informed that?
Marwa: There has been a recorded increase in drug use among young people in the country. The use of opioids, such as tramadol and codeine and other dangerous cocktails have become commonplace among young people. At the same time, cultism, rape and violence have been on the high in the last few years.
So you cannot overlook the role of hard drugs in the crime wave.
As such, if we are serious about curbing the menace, we should be looking at multi-measures, which should include drug test for students of tertiary institutions, which will give management of these institutions an accurate drug profile of their campuses.
This test will also benefit the larger society. We should know the drug profile of every single person in a position of responsibility, whether as a security operative or public officeholder. In a States, for instance, 13 would-be government appointees tested positive to drug and had to be replaced.
DT: Since there are usually bad eggs in organisations, how would you tackle some bad elements in the agency, who are conniving with drug barons?
Marwa: First, we are not going to take it kindly, or treat with kid’s glove, any of our operatives implicated in any drug case. We will prosecute them the same way we would prosecute suspects. In any case, we have our internal affairs department, headed by an ACG, who reports directly to me as special watchdogs that look at the conduct of officers and men of the NDLEA.
DT: Beyond arrests and seizures of barons and illicit drugs, what are the measures your administration has put in place to ensure speedy and judicious prosecution of cases?
Marwa: We will be thorough in our investigations so as to have watertight cases we can take to court and come out with convictions. Yes, conviction out of every case is now our goal. Secondly, we will not delay in our investigations. Cases will be investigated and wrapped out within reasonable deadlines. I plan to also meet with the chief judge of the Federal High Court to present some proposals to him.