The Castration of Drug Enforcement Under Democracy: An Insider’s View

The 2019 elections have come and gone and have produced its victors and losers no matter how illegitimate the ballot was. Many issues that plague Nigeria severely were not even discussed in the campaign season. Dividends of democracy? What was discussed was patrimonial-manias in the shape of the obtuse mantras of “only X can save Nigeria”; good luck to the promoters. The unresolved issue of interest here is the raging drug problem that is ruining an entire generation of Nigerian youths and severely embarrassed the Buhari government through a BBC expose titled “Sweet Sweet Codeine.” As the drug problem has been largely unresolved, the government is going to be embarrassed again shortly. One may ask, where is the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in all of this? One should perhaps, more importantly, ask what roles the presidency and national legislators playing in drug enforcement?

Understandably, the staff at the NDLEA are very dissatisfied that the conditions of governance and enforcement imposed upon them by way of policy. It has greatly undermined its effectiveness in tackling the raging drug problem in Nigeria. A senior staff (the Insider; based in Delta State) who works with the NDLEA bares his mind on the issue which is corroborated a former middle-ranking staff (the outsider; based in Abuja). The Insider is seriously dismayed that drug addiction has escalated from a negligible level locally at its inception in 1990 to a rate of 65% (say, in Delta State) in 2018 (2019 statistics are forthcoming) which is comprised mostly of youths. The Agency, he affirms is becoming more ineffectual with time, a situation no staff is happy with. The Insider in a no-nonsense style lists three key factors that are responsible for the failure of the NDLEA, namely funding, policy and recruitment.

The Insider firmly declares the pernicious lack of funding as “the Curse” crippling the NDLEA. This might not be surprising. The surprise is that funding cuts have made the NDLEA not just an under-performer but has made its outputs retrograde. There has been a 20-year steady decline in overall funding. The Insider states that in 2018, staff are clamouring for funding levels provided by the Federal Government to the Agency between 1994 and 1999 in which at least 75% of the funding for logistics was provided.

Underfunding has also ensured that since 2000, the NDLEA no longer has any border or marine patrol units to prevent the smuggling of goods into the country beyond ports, say the Insider. The Outsider furthers this argument by relating stories of being gagged when reporting cases of drug smuggling via the “oil bunkering routes”. When bunkering ships come to the shores of Niger Delta to cart off crude oil they do not come empty-handed, they bring in and take away contraband goods including drugs. However, no data appears to exists in this aspect of the drug trade.
Operational, surveillance and information funding is at best derisory at the Agency. The Insider states that operational vehicles are completely lacking in all the areas of command and that the Federal Government has not provided any in the last ten years! Is it not a national disgrace that private commercial vehicles have to be hired by the Agency to carry out raids and other covert operations? Also severely lacking is the provision of functional arms and ammunition which also has not been provided in the last ten years. Other very deficient operational provisions include the lack of modern scanners, detector dogs, modern-day testing kits, and stuff as basic as hand-cuffs and gloves.

Policy without the political will to tackle drug problems leads to contrary institutions (with opposite outcomes to those intended) and facade of governance. The Insider insists there should be sufficient agency independence, good enforcement legislation, up-to-date regulation and the non-politicisation of the NDLEA especially the absence of political interference from the centre. The Agency, alas, has to wait for “politics of government” at the centre for every action it takes.

The Federal Government has deliberately or inadvertently created a policy inconsistency that has strongly disrupted the effectiveness of drug law of enforcement recently by introducing of “Ease of Doing Business” (EODB) rules. EODB is a core policy of globalisation designed and developed to make international business easy for market participants. It is intended to minimise restrictions, spot checks, routine searches, or any tactics by anti-crime agencies at airports and seaports that prevent the movement of drugs in and out of the country. EODB has, however, created a boon for drug dealers/traffickers since it has considerably reduced the risk of detection. Most shockingly, the NDLEA is expected to act as observers rather than enforcers at the airports and seaports, which is rendering the Agency highly ineffectual in those areas. It would not be shocking though if the airport/seaport operation of NDLEA are privatised.
When asked if there were any known incidences of pharmaceutical concerns bribing NDLEA agents when they were guilty of drug offences, the Insider’s answer was a resigning “No need”. He went on to say if Nigeria was a sane country there should be proper oversight and supervision by his Agency of the activities of pharmaceutical companies but in Nigeria there are none. Again this is a gaping hole in the drug enforcement in Nigeria.

The Outsider makes it clear that he has been on several raids on “Old Soldiers” (marijuana dens) and marijuana plantations. Sometimes his team had to hire commercial buses with non-NDLEA personnel driving the bus. This could easily compromise the whole operation, but no other choices exist. On the contrary, he emphases that pharmacies and patent chemist shops are never raided for selling tramadol, codeine and Valium, the main drugs fuelling the current drug addiction epidemic in Nigeria. This is nothing short of “regulatory blindness”. He was embarrassed that the Pharmacies Council of Nigeria could shutdown 46 pharmacies and 213 patent medicine chemists in Lagos State alone in 2016 in one swoop for trading irregularities, but the NDLEA could not undertake such actions.

Corruption within the NDLEA is mainly of the “white type”, which is nepotism and favouritism. Once again the Insider complains that the former years of NDLEA under General Musa Bamaiyi produced a high standard of recruitment and initial training outside the recruit’s state of origin, particularly for non-commissioned officers. Back then recruitment was non-political. That is no longer obtainable within the Agency. Today nepotism and favouritism ostensibly affect the appointment, postings, promotions, course attendance etc. Merit is no longer a benchmark or measure that decides the progress of an officers career within the Agency. Instead, who you know and your ethnicity counts more than anything else. The recruitment and career progression should be fair and even, and based on professionalism and specialisation which must meet the core areas of need of the agency.

The Insider states there is also a serious deficiency in the standard motivational incentives such as reward systems which are obtainable in sister agencies around the world, even in Ghana and South Africa where police forces also serve as their country drug enforcement agencies, respectively. Other motivational incentives should include proper welfare, insurance, adequate salaries, allowances for transfers, court attendance allowance, information gathering grants etc. It is not enough to be employed, wear a uniform and deliver services that far below expectation. The Insider signs off stating morale are low in the Agency.

The sole implication of this of Insider’s and Outsider’s witness is that front-line services expected of the NDLEA are seriously undermined by a combination of poor funding, policy failures and the uneven recruitment and advancement of staff. It is clear that since the return to democracy in 1999 drug enforcement has not even been a middle-ranking priority of successive governments. For staff to be clamouring for a return to funding levels and recruitment standards under the military is an indication of moving backwards and failing democracy. How to improve the Agency’s performance is evident and how to tackle the growing drug addiction epidemic is straightforward enough despite the usual complexities involved that need to be handled by other agencies in collaborative efforts. The question is, does the Government of Buhari care enough to tackle the drug addiction epidemic in Nigeria, even after being voted into office a second time?

If the presidency and legislators are not interested in curbing the drug problem in Nigeria, a time will come when citizen movements will. But such collective desperation may present a major threat to Nigeria’s very own democracy.


Grimot Nane

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