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INTERVIEW: Why Drug Peddling Still Thrives In Nigeria – NDLEA's Femi Babafemi.

Femi Babafemi.
Director, Media & Advocacy, NDLEA.

The issue of drug abuse in Nigerian is gradually becoming, or rather, has become a menace that needs a state of emergency declared over its use in order to save the lives of our young people who engage hugely in drug and illicit substances abuge in Nigeria.

The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA since the appointment of Brig. Gen. Mohamed Buba Marwa (Retd) as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, has held the bull by its horn to make sure that drugs manufacture, sale, importation and use gradually wipes off our system as a country.

During a recent visit to Abuja, ‘‘Precious Eze’s Blog” caught up with the agency's Director of Media and Advocacy, Mr. Femi Babafemi, who took time to answer some questions from us.


Can we begin by you enlightening us on what the core responsibilities of NDLEA entails? 

Basically, NDLEA has a responsibility to curb the growing, cultivation, production, importation, or exportation of illicit substances. And these illicit substances vary, starting from the most common one here in Nigeria which is Cannabis. This cannabis also has a lot of strains. Some call a particular variant Cannabis Sativa. This is the most popular one grown and produced in Nigeria. We also have loud, this one is very popular among the young ones. There is also the most dangerous one, Colorado, some of which are synthetic. That's the one that throws them in the gutters and makes them totally lose their senses.

We have all these but beyond Cannabis, we have Heroin and Cocaine. We also have the opioids. The opioids are the likes of Codeine, Tramadol and other pharmaceuticals meant for the treatment of certain illnesses but are now being abused. In other to control this misuse, the government has categorized them as either banned or controlled so that they're not easy to access. But if you must access them, it will be under certain medical prescriptions. With all these measures in place, as an agency, we are all out to ensure there is no circulation, importation, exportation, or even the use of these illicit substances.

The list is endless just to mention a few. Lest I forget, there are some that fall under the New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), they are unconventional. As a result of the renewed war against illicit drugs especially from January 2021, leading to a great record of arrests, seizures, scarcity and restricted access to these drugs and the ones available became very expensive and unaffordable. This made them to begin mixing different drugs and making concoctions.

There are quite a number of them, they are called different names in different communities because they are made. Some come under herbal drinks, one of which is‘Akuskura.’ Beyond the arrests, drug seizures and prosecution of those involved, the other major pillar of our work is Drug Demand Reduction. This is the other side of our Drug Supply Reduction work.

The drug demand reduction is the area where we focus on prevention through advocacy and sensitization. This is where we actually need a lot of Nigerians to get involved to understand this issue and talk about it, make it a talking point. In doing this, we help to prevent people from going into substance use and abuse.

However, in situations where some people have slipped into substance abuse, we provide counseling and treatment. We have counseling and treatment centers in our commands across the country where those struggling with substance abuse are either rehabilitated in-house or scheduled as outpatient coming for counseling. We're also involved in their aftercare. That is the reintegration of these people back into their families and back into the society.

In this regard, we observed that the fear of stigmatization drives a lot of people away from assessing treatment, so the Chairman/Chief Executive of the Agency went a step further to set up a drug abuse call center. This drug abuse call center is managed by mental health experts, counselors, psychologists, psychotherapists, and psychiatric doctors who run shifts 24/7.

Also, there is a toll-free helpline, which people can call from the comfort of their homes and get help. Some of them, all they need is tele-therapy. They just need someone to talk to, counsel them and speak sense to them.

When you seek treatment from that center, they don't need to have all your details. From the moment of your first call, you will be given a unique code. It is by that code that you are identified even in your subsequent conversations. Also, the good thing is you can access the call center from any part of the country; North-West, North-East, North-Central, South-East, South-West, or South-South. There is no cost for the calls made to the center. It is fully borne by the Agency. It is also language-friendly. People who speak English will be attended to in English, those who are comfortable with pidgin will be attended to in pidgin language. However, people can also be attended to in our three major languages of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba.

Basically, these are the major responsibilities of the agency. 

As a worried citizen, I ask again, is drug abuse rampant among young people alone? I know there are older fellows, who abuse drugs.

No, this is a problem that is not limited or restricted to only the young people. If you read the National Drug survey reports, which was published in 2018, the statistics covered those within the ages of 15 and 64. So, from that alone, it is obvious that, it is not only the young people who do this. From our own day to day operations, we can attest to the fact that indeed those that are younger than 15 now abuse drugs. Those that are older than 64 also abuse drugs.

Every day, we listen, watch or read the news, there have been series of arrests made, yet Nigerians still peddle drugs. Why? 

One, the drug problem is a global problem. It is not restricted or limited to Nigeria alone.

For Western countries that have all the means to fight it, and have been fighting it, they're still worse than us. This is indeed a global thing. And don't forget, most of these drugs that you find in our communities, on our streets are not produced here in Nigeria. They're smuggled in from other parts of the world. So that goes to show that this is not a Nigerian experience alone, it is a global thing. Now, coming to your question, why, even despite the arrests and seizures?

One, it is a global problem, two, the money involved. It will take a lot of discipline and godly heart to resist. It is very lucrative for them. In some parts of the world, a kilogram of cocaine can give them as much as $500,000-$600,000. What they make is unimaginable and that is what makes some of them too desperate to do drugs at all cost. Another reason is greed. For instance, those who were lucky to have made one or two trips without being caught will be bent on going for another trip until they are caught. When you look at all these, at the bottom is the problem of parenting. When they are not disciplined or rightly brought up from home. Quite a lot of factors are responsible but the foundation of parenting is always the bedrock of drug problem. 

In your opinion Sir, how can a parent caution his/her ward from going in the wrong direction early as it relates to drug use? 

Intentional parenting. Intentional parents discover early when a child is drifting. Before it goes out of control, an intentional parent would have sensed it and addressed it immediately. Take for instance, when a child of 12 years starts taking alcohol, at this age it is called ‘gateway drug’ because it starts from little drops of alcohol. When they get to a point where their alcohol consumption no longer intoxicates them, they will begin to look for other substances to add, that is where drug use comes in. An intentional parent will notice this at what is called the experimental stage, when a child is starting to taste or drink alcohol, when the parent notices changes in their lifestyle or the kind of friends they move around with, such a parent will resist the child and raise early caution. It is a war and parents must fight it at all cost.

Can either the parent or ward come to NDLEA?

Absolutely! For those who cannot come directly to the office, the call center is based in Abuja but can be reached from any part of the country, anyone is free to call 080010203040. It is a 12-digit line different from the regular GSM line and the people who will attend to you are experts. Your physical presence is not required. When you call, a code will be given to you, a file will be created with the code, and from there, follow-up begins. This is to bridge the gap between those who need help but are afraid of stigmatization and the need they really need so that they can get the needed help without being judged or stigmatised. 

In your earlier comment, you mentioned ‘Mkpuru Mmiri’ I am an indigene of Igboland and I am not familiar with that word. What exactly does it mean?

Mkpuru Mmiri as known to the general populace is the name given to Methamphetamine by people from the South-East. Street names are given based on location and its effect on people. Its other street names are Crystal Meth and Ice. It is one of the most dangerous substances used. 

What is the Agency doing to curb the effect of ‘Mkpuru Mmiri’ on the people of the South-East?

Towards the end of 2021, there was an outbreak in South East, and that was how a lot of people got to know about ‘Mkpuru Mmiri’. We moved decisively. The people of the South-East were spontaneous in their reaction to work hand in hand with us to battle the menace. Some were flogged publicly in their communities where they were found but as a law enforcement Agency we didn't support the violence and punishment meted out but this goes to show their resistance against substance use in their locality. It shows the spirit of WADA at work. War Against Drug Abuse, WADA was launched on June 26 2021 as a social advocacy initiative to mobilize citizens to take ownership of the fight against substance abuse and illicit drug trafficking. We are glad that there is a step-down and we are monitoring activities across board.

After an arrest is made, what is the agency's next step of action?

If arrested with a drug exhibit, you will be charged to court and prosecuted. Over the past 33 months, arrest of about 36,094 suspects has been made. Although, it is not everyone who is arrested that is prosecuted. Some are early users, some are just beginning to experiment and some are packed at raided joints, those who are just users after proper profiling and investigation are placed on counselling and treatment while those who are dealers and are involved in the criminal aspect are prosecuted with 6,043 convicted with over 11,000 cases still ongoing in court. Treated and counseled persons make up about 27,432 so far.

Do you see Nigeria as a drug free Nation?

I am very optimistic because where we are today is not where we were three or four years ago. This is an indication that there is progress. It is a problem that has eaten deep into society and it is not a quick win war. It will take consistency and aggressive effort to curb it. We are definitely not slowing down and in years to come this will be a thing of the past. 

What is the relationship between NDLEA as an Agency and the Entertainment industry like the AGN and PMAN. These industries have celebrities who use drugs? 

We have the WADA (War Against Drug Abuse) which is an advocacy platform to mobilize all Nigerians to take ownership of the campaign against drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking. We have gotten positive feedbacks. We are open to partnership and collaboration from schools, parents, faith-based organizations, NGOs, CBOs, CSOs etc. We have been able to establish relationships with celebrities and influencers. We are in close contact with AGN (Actors Guild of Nigeria) and we have also established contact with PMAN (Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria) to advance the campaign against the drug scourge.

In all, every Nigerian matters and should be actively involved in this effort. All it takes is for one person to deliberately and consistently talk to the other person about dangers of drug abuse and by doing so, the word will spread and lives will be saved.  This is why every Friday between 3-5pm on X-space (formerly Twitter), We connect and share knowledge with the young people and bring experts to discuss drug abuse and mental health. We have thousands from diaspora and across Nigeria who join this X-space conversation. It is a global problem, so a lot of people join to listen and share their experiences. It’s been an awesome experience and I’m glad NDLEA pioneered this kind of conversation using the social media platform and today some other MDAs are doing same.


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