Nigeria’s Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo has challenged the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, to go beyond the arrest, prosecution and conviction of those involved in drug abuse and trafficking to a more holistic approach.
Prof. Osinbajo spoke on Monday at an event organized by the NDLEA, in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC; the European Union, EU; and the MTN Foundation, to mark the 2022 International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking.
The theme of this year’s event, held at the State House Conference Centre, Abuja, is “Addressing Drug Challenges in Health and Humanitarian Crises.”
Osinbajo, who was the Special Guest of Honour, said that the number of drug trafficking cases being reported proves that there is even more illicit drug activity going on, adding that every time there is an arrest of persons for drug related offences it points to fact that there is a problem.
Pointing out that the expressed vision of the NDLEA goes beyond the arrest and conviction of persons involved in drug abuse and trafficking, the vice president said the effort of the agency must be deepened to ensure that the menace is stamped out.
“It is very clear it not just apprehending but also stamping these drug trafficking and drug abuse out completely; relentlessly breaking illicit drug supply chains and distribution networks; discouraging drug use through intensive outreach and sensitization; and also promptly prosecuting traffickers.
“But above all, we must intensify rehabilitation of drug addicts, because what we are faced with is indeed a public health crisis — a crisis that is taking lives, destroying families and shattering communities.”
The vice president expressed delight that the NDLEA counseled and rehabilitated about 8,000 drug users in 2021 while in the first half of this year alone, over 11,000 drug users have been counseled and treated.
Vice President Osinbajo called for a multi-dimensional and holistic approach in tackling drug abuse, pointing out that the COVID-19 has accelerated drug use across the world, bringing up more drug related issues.
He called for the incorporation of technology for monitoring, detecting drug cartels and addressing the problems they pose to the country.
“It is true that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated drug use across the world, especially in rural areas, with many resorting to drug abuse and other negative coping mechanisms due to the lockdowns and socio-economic shocks.
“Access to illicit drugs became easier with online sales and contactless drug transactions, both influenced by the pandemic.
“But the new normal still offers us opportunities for increased innovation in tackling this menace, through technology-based monitoring systems for promptly detecting and addressing drug market changes; and also accelerating mobile outreach programmes, remote consultation, and treatment for those who suffer from drug use disorders and are without appropriate care.
“As much as the federal government through its agencies and the state governments would lead the charge with decisive policy initiatives, these strides must be complemented by changes at the family and community level.”
Warning that the change desired in tackling drug abuse and trafficking would not be achieved without the collaboration of families, faith based organizations and community leadership, Osinbajo called for value reorientation across the country and for the reassessing of cultural factors and systems that support drug abuse and trafficking.
Speaking on the theme of this year’s event, the vice president expressed concern over the increasing trends of drug abuse in areas of conflict and in post conflict settings such as IDP and refugee camps.
He said that Nigeria’s security challenges, arising from civil conflict and terrorism, created a hydra-headed problem for the country.
“First, conflict and instability undermine domestic law enforcement and compromise border controls which make the smuggling of drugs easier.
“Second, young people who are usually most vulnerable to drug use also form the majority of armed combatants & not surprisingly there is widespread, use of drugs by these terrorists and criminal armed groups. Indeed Some studies have shown that after controlling for armed groups- and individual- level variables, drug intake and alcohol consumption sharply increases the number of violent actions perpetrated during conflicts.
“Third is the triple jeopardy suffered by displaced persons, IDPS or refugees. There is the trauma and stress of displacement, it’s immediate consequences, unemployment , and coping with new cultures, loss of self esteem and hope put the displaced persons at greater risk of substance abuse. For women and girls the situation is more harrowing.
The Chairman of the NDLEA, Retired Brigadier-General Buba Marwa said that the Nigerian government has approved the establishment of six rehabilitation centres across the geo-political zones for the treatment and counseling of drug users.
Expressing worry about the stigmatization of drug users, Marwa said that the rehabilitation centres might not be put to effective use because of the way such patients are seen in society.
The UNODC Country Representative in Nigeria, Oliver Stolpe said that 2022 marked the end of the 10-year of intensive cooperation between the Nigerian government and the European Union with the implementation support of the United Nations.
“Forty million dollars worth of technical assistance, including policy research, training and equipment, strengthening of treatment centres and the rolling of extensive prevention programmes have been part of this collaboration.”
Stolpe said that Nigeria’s Drug Control Masterplan was adopted as an outcome of this cooperation in December last year.
Vice President Osinbajo also unveiled a new drug testing kit at the event.