Olugbenga: NDLEA Has Upped the War against Illicit Drugs

Mabo Olugbenga is the Director, Operations and General Investigations, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency. In this interview with Kasim Sumaina, he spoke on the efforts the agency has made in curbing drug abuse and why parents and the society must be involved in the fight, among other sundry issues 
Drug use is becoming common among children of rich and middle class in the country. What do you think is responsible for this? 
I may not exhaust the reasons, but there are two major ones. First, some parents abandon their responsibilities or leaving the care of the children to schools, mosques, churches and others. Even if not deliberate, some leave their children’s care to the children’s peer groups, because if parents don’t check on who their children relate with, it looks like handing over the children to their peer group. Another thing is if we are talking about some of the classic drugs like cocaine or heroine which are not cheap, it means the children have access to much money to be able to afford them.
The use of tramadol and other opioids have made it convenient for youths to make drug use a habit without being detected. Is the agency not concerned about this?
We are very concerned. For parents, we have talked about whether they don’t have sufficient time because of looking for means of livelihood for the children. Another challenge is that some parents know some of these drugs. For instance, parents can ask their children why they are taking benylin when they are not coughing for example. That is one way parents can get involved. But you know these children again, they will say they just started developing cough. So the agency is very concerned.
That is why we are engaging non governmental organisations, pharmaceutical council, and several stakeholders to ensure that we enlighten them. It’s going to be more of enlightenment. We are not going to abandon our enforcement responsibilities, but then when you see people that you call victims, it is better you address them from that angle rather than from the angle of a criminal.
Gone were the days when people stigmatise drug addicts. Now it’s becoming glamorous among teenagers and young adults. How should this be approached?
All hands have to be on deck to tackle this in the sense that it is multi sectional. Some of these children take inspiration from some celebrities who enhance their acts or performers with the use of drugs. So it has to be more of counselling and alertness, not only from parents, but the society, the press, among others. Whether you like it or not, there is still a lot of ignorance on drug use and its trafficking as well. So everyone, including religious bodies must play their part.
Where is cannabis cultivation more prominent, the North? How can this be curbed?
We can’t specifically pin cannabis cultivation to the North because it is a widely consumed in the country because it is far cheaper than many drugs. Even the prevalence of other substances are no more restricted to the North. There are a lot of abuse of benylin and codeine going on in the South as well. Since we have a national spread, we are doing our best all round, but we pay more attention or so to areas that have been identified as risky. We are doing that presently, NDLEA cannot do it alone, that is why we are engaging stakeholders.
How does drug intake hamper the development of the country? 
If you look at it from the area of productivity, most people on drugs can never be productive as those who are free. On health grounds it is affecting us. On productivity it is affecting our economy. On health grounds, it means that we have to spend more money on treatment. Money that could have been used for other things. Again there is the area of influence. If traffickers are allowed to just continue to get rich, some of our youths may not even feel the compulsion to look for legitimate means of making money. And if the society is equally careless enough to overlook the source of income of some persons, this on its own will lead to increase in percentage of people who would want to get rich quick through drugs.
Like in the case of Davido’s friends, many young Nigerians have lost their lives to drugs or alcohol. Clubs and joints are hubs for these. Do you sometimes visit these joints/clubs to monitor what is happening there?
We do. We have made arrests, we made seizures.
And then how many have been arrested and how many are undergoing prosecution?
We have so far arrested 5,036 drug offenders this year, while 532 have been prosecuted. And a total of 370,399.6 kg of prohibited drugs have been seized.
We understand most people on drugs are usually sexually reckless. What is your advice, both to parents and to the government. How do they ensure that this is nipped in the bud?
I think, we should go back to the issue of this counselling thing. Number one, even before you talk about counseling, these children and youths need attention. We need to know our children well and the perf group they keep. We need to know their challenges. We need to also give them access to talk to us as parents.
They want to be listened to. We need to be closer to them. We need to identify their challenges. We need to interact with them. There should be opportunities for them to express themselves. Like you know they are more interested in these social media and all those things. So we can control it in such a way that it will now be the bad aspects we are involved in. They can also bring out a lot of creativity if they are properly advised and guided. Then again the issue of employment is always very key. An idle hand can do a lot of things if misled.
What are the challenges the agency is currently facing? 
Funding. Funding. Funding. If I can say it three more times. First, we want the government to increase the funding. Funding also includes ensuring the implementation of the staff strength already approved to us. We need funding for intelligence gathering. We need money for operations. We have many commands that cannot boast of a good vehicle to be able to fight the war.
What is the solution to the cultivation and trafficking of drugs?
The solution still lies in all hands being on deck. Those organisations, agencies both federal and NGO’S we all just need to put our hands together. It is a multi faceted problem, so it has to have a multi faceted approach
What is your final advice to parents and Nigerians?
My final advice is, let’s be more sensitive to our children. Let’s interact more with them. Let’s be concerned about the company that they keep