War against narcotics: The options Tinubu must embrace

To underscore the danger posed by narcotics and other substance abuse, the United Nations Convention unambiguously condemns “abuse of drugs”, even stating that “addiction to narcotic drugs constitutes a serious evil for the individual and is fraught with social and economic danger to mankind”.

The reliance on narcotics and abuse of substance by mass majority of Nigerian population, especially the Youths and its attendant consequences has posed a great danger for our country and its future. Statistics from World Drug Report is everything but palatable for Nigeria. There has been a great concern over the 23% increase in the number of people using drugs over the past decade.

The disturbing report says there is 45% rise in those with drug use disorders, reaching 39.5 million people worldwide. Nigeria alone accounts for 7.5% of this statistic, with an estimated population of three million individuals facing drug use disorders. Particularly concerning is the widespread use of opioids, which rank as the second most consumed drug after cannabis. Additionally, 13.2 million people in Nigeria inject drugs, with half of them testing positive for Hepatitis C, 1.6 million with HIV, and 1.4 million with co-infections. This is a national disaster waiting to happen.

The dilemma of substance or drug abuse has been a universal challenge. The concern is so alarming because of its untold effects on citizens and systems. Drug use has adversely lowered the productivity of otherwise active population. Our Youths who are supposed to be vibrant, dynamic and active in nationbuilding are languishing in drug abuse. 

With poverty giving rise to hopelessness, unscrupulous politicians found these Youths as easy political tools to unleash mayhem on their opponents. They load these Youths with drugs and arm them. This sad state of affairs cannot continue. The future of our great country is not assured given the rate at which our Youths take to drug use.

Factors that encourage illicit drugs trafficking in Nigeria are financial burdens, youths unemployment, get-rich-quickly syndrome, peer pressure, sexual involvement and dysfunctional family palaver. Other contributing factors that encourage drugs trafficking in Nigeria are, first, our porous national boarders, poverty, corruption, unemployment and weak legal framework/system to prosecute and punish culprits.

A time-tested saying has it that it is unwise to continue to do things the same way and expect different outcome. Hence,  there is need for a change of approach in dealing with this national emergency. The first practical step the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration should take is to declare a State of Emergency on substance abuse. This will demonstrate Nigeria’s seriousness to address it. This is worth declaring a State of Emergency for because if youths are the future of our country or leaders of tomorrow, what happens to the future of Nigeria if the psyche of our Youths is destroyed due to drug use?

As a panacea, President Tinubu should ensure effective security at our national boarders with modern communication technology and close marking of the agencies responsible for securing our boarders to avoid sharp practices. The Nigerian Immigration Services should be empowered to do their job. The president should also be firm in his decisions. The constitution empowers him to hire and fire. If any appointee is failing in his/her mandate, he/she should be fired and replaced with a more competent person so that we can protect our country.

Against the backdrop of the foregoing, it is clear that if the Tinubu-led government must succeed in its war against drugs and crime, the approach must be multi-pronged and holistic. A successful anti-drug war cannot be waged without simultaneously fighting the causative factors as aforementioned. First, a poverty alleviation programme that impact directly on the Youths population. A time proven aphorism has it that “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” If our Youths are actively engaged in profitable ventures, they will be too occupied to think of abusing drug.

It is so sad that most of the empowerment programmes carried out by successive governments in our country has been marred by corruption and backhand deals. It never gets to the targeted beneficiaries; hence, our youths are still languishing in self delusion and economic quagmire.  The empowerment scheme that works is the one that teaches the youths how to fish for themselves instead of giving them fish. Giving them handout has not helped them beyond the immediate.

In Nigeria, the reliance on substance abuse has escalated in the last two decades, largely due to downturn in economic prospects like absence of viable economic opportunities. This has resulted in large armies of youths, who are unemployed, underemployed or rendered immobile due to inability to make ends meet. To fill this vacuum due to boredom or failed expectations, most of them take to drug abuse as the only avenue they can feel good. The direct consequences of drug abuse, especially among the youth population, is crime, as they’re emboldened by the effects of substance abuse to wreak havoc on innocent citizens with reckless abandon.

Nigeria has always had institutional means of fighting drug menace. The drug concern led to the creation of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) on 29 December, 1989. Despite this laudable initiative, substance abuse continued to spiral until the recent chairman if the agency, General Buba Marwa (rtd) came on board.

 Although General Marwa has taken the drug war to another level, the institution needs to be empowered to do their job. The bad eggs among the drug law officers who connived with drug dealers should be weeded out of service, while those who do their jobs faithfully should be recognised and rewarded. This will go along way to serve as motivation.

The Tinubu-led administration can prevent drug trafficking through education, alleviation of political poverty, legalisation/punishment, sustaining and advancing our collaboration with international community through increased collaboration with institutions like the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crimes (UNODC). Though the UNODC has partnered actively with Nigeria through the NDLEA in the past, a lot more grounds and windows can still be explored.

Let me affirm that the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme is the best idea ever invented by any Nigerian leader of all times. Corps members are everywhere serving in nook and cranny of the country, Tinubu should declare the sensitisation of youths against substance abuse and other illicit substances as the primary duty of NYSC members. Sensitising them young is one of the viable options available to us as a country, and the NYSC with its national spread holds the magic wand.

By way of hindsight, Drug abuse refers to illegal use of drugs, even if the user in question is not addicted to drugs. It must be noted however that there’s legal use of some drugs that can be harmful or even fatal, such as alcohol consumed by an adult pregnant woman, drug trafficking, the illegal sales, or dealing in controlled substances.

As part of efforts to eliminate the use of ilicit drugs, a Presidential Advisory Committee on Elimination of Drug Abuse (PACEDA) was set up on a fact-finding mission in 2007. The committee was saddled with the responsibility of working toward reducing the level of drug abuse in the country. The committee, which I was a technical advisory member, moved round the country,  including some foreign countries, before successfully submitted its report on the cause of drug abuse and weakness of agencies to the ministry of Justice under former Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Bayo Ojo (SAN).

The Tinubu administration should revisit the said report and implement its recommendations. The president should create an intelligence mandate office to deal with issues relating to transnational organised crimes, criminal justice, countering corruption, drugs control and terrorism. These allows the advisory intelligence to provide comprehensive solutions to the interrelated challenges member state face.

Needless to remind us that one of the most debilitating dangers and consequences of drugs trafficking by Nigerians is the battered image of the country internationally. At major airports around the world, Nigerians are always given special search. This is sad enough for President Tinubu to declare a state of emergency on drugs and crimes. If not, the much desired Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) will remain a mirage because no investor will like to put his money in an economy wrought by uncertainty, drug abuse, gross illegality and crimes. God bless Nigeria!

Ibrahim is director, Communication and Strategic Planning, Presidential Support Committee (PSC).