The Commander of Narcotics, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Federal Capital Territory Command, Hamisu Lawan, in this interview says moral decay, lack of parental guidance and greed are the key factors fueling the use and trafficking of illicit drugs in Nigeria. Chinedu Eze presents the excerpts:
What made you choose to build your career in a para-military organisation, NDLEA?
For me I have always been thinking of service to my country and specifically I am more concerned and touched by what service I can do that will add value to security and wellbeing of the citizens. And I think NDLEA incidentally falls in line with that. Not only security but also the wellbeing of citizens; so that is clearly what informed my decision to join the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency.
Having put so many years in the service and still committed to serving the country, would you say that you are fulfilled?
Yes, I must say that I am fulfilled somehow, I can also say no. Why yes? Because to the glory of God I am able to contribute and I am still contributing my own quota to what I believe in and what I thought the government is equally concerned with. So I am certainly fulfilled on that. No, because I am still not too comfortable because the drug challenge still remains. So, in a sense, I can say that it is still work in progress.
You know every country has a drug issue and most countries make attempts to curtail the movement and use of drugs. So, what is the progress report and can you say drug use and trafficking is abating in Nigeria with all the efforts the agency is putting in the fight?
One thing I will take as an advantage and opportunity to explain on matter of drug abuse and drug trafficking is that it is an evolving phenomenon. It keeps on changing shapes, so what every country tries to achieve is to be on top of the situation. That is being in control of the situation. Because when you control cocaine and heroin trafficking the tendency of switching over to such other substitute is there. And I think that is where the challenge is in Nigeria now.
People argue that many youngsters are abusing drugs as a way to escape from hardship due to poverty, unemployment and so on. Do you agree with this view?
It shouldn’t be because I am a practitioner, I am in the field; I have cause to arrest persons that have some legitimate business. Our records indicate that many who have been arrested in the past were well to do. I am sure if you are following our presentations, our engagements with the media, you will have quite a number of people that are well established and doing well and professionally inclined; but yet well into drug dealings. Well, for the abuse, incidentally you have some people from very big and established homes. So, how do you now explain the situation using the issue of poverty and unemployment? So, I think it falls on other factors, and for some others I can assure you, we are losing the societal value. And somehow we have quite a number of parents that are found wanting in the society especially in the responsibility of parenting. Collectively, the family is the first state of the society. I think in a number of families are dysfunctional. They are not inculcating the right behaviour in their children and wards. The families are not necessarily broken down but dysfunctional. I think these are the clear explanations as to what accounts for some of these gaps.
What would you say are the immediate challenges for you and the agency?
Well, you know there are three pillars per task – competency, which is the law, capacity, that is the manpower, then completing, that is the resource. So now, competence, yes, we have the competence, we have the enabling act that says NDLEA should do A and B. That is supply reduction and demand reduction. Now in terms of capacity, I think it is still work in progress because we still need more manpower, we still need more training and I think these are big inhibitions. Then the other one is the capability. The capability we are talking of the platform. How many state commands we have? What infrastructure do we have in such state commands? How capable are those area commands? What is their strength? I think this is an area resources remain a challenge.
In terms of partnership or collaboration with other countries, training and intelligence, which countries would you say have been cooperating with Nigeria?
When you asked this question, it equally reminds me of even the competency. Locally, we do cooperate with quite a number of sister agencies within the country. But I think what is important is that the government should take a look at some of the existing laws that were hitherto domiciled in other institutions. Those laws can be reviewed, moderated or even repealed. This is because in some cases it creates overlap of work. In term of collaboration with international community, NDLEA has always been there, we have been key. And remember, part of the assessment of the NDLEA is not necessarily even from within Nigeria because what happens in Nigeria, what the NDLEA does attracts the international community, so international community is interested party.
At one time, we belong to one of the drug major list in the world, the list that is being championed by the United States. So somehow, we were lucky, after resilience and hard work, we exited out of that drug list. And in terms of collaboration especially in the area of training, I can tell you that the United Nations Office on Drugs and crime (UNODC) this year has remained quite wonderful. This is because over the last 10 years, UNODC has been closing quite a number of gaps, especially in specialised training of most of our officers under the auspices of what they call Response Drug and Crime. And I think that is quite a wonderful partnership that we have with organisation. But that is not to underestimate the operational collaboration with UK border force and other support from other countries and organisations.
I noticed that most often NDLEA is always disappointed with the sentencing the court gives to drug traffickers who lose their cases?
Well, this is one issue that is outside you and me. What we know is what I told you, but the law establishing NDLEA made adequate provision in the books. If a person is found wanting, he get pronouncement, and for us it is quite adequate. But remember in the judiciary they equally have what they call principles directing guidelines of sentencing and you know I might not be too competent to comment on what happens in the judiciary. I think that is something for the judiciary to answer.
Is it possible for NDLEA to push a bill in the National Assembly to strengthen some of those laws so that they will get higher sentencing?
Everything is possible, it all depends on what you really want to achieve. Like I said, take a very close look at the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act, you can see that it has made provision to the extent of even life imprisonment. But you hardly hear of life sentence. So like I said it is clearly something that has to do with the judiciary, which they will have to answer. Because like I said, there is what they call sentencing guideline. You know the moment you have his lordship on the bench, he decides what happens depending on what other facts that are available to him.
Is NDLEA looking at adopting new strategies because I heard that the traffickers are becoming more sophisticated?
Clearly, these criminals will always want to try another strategy to delude the watchful eyes of the law, but we always catch them up through training and intelligence. That has always been the situation world over, they try the first point and succeed and then they come, the second or the third might not be as successful, as it were. So for us collaboration is key, because manpower is there, capacity building is there, partnership is very, very important and I think that is the way to go. I can assure you now that the present leadership fully understood that, training is important and it requires more hands and government has graciously approved that and it is ongoing.
In terms of rehabilitation, what is your view about rehabilitating drug addicts?
That is one key responsibility assigned by law to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency. Where it states that we are to carry out demand reduction efforts. But over time I must admit, over the last 30 years of NDLEA existence, I think that is one area that we are having some challenges. But now we understand and I can guarantee you going forward, the present leadership understood that there is need for more counseling centres. Not only counseling centres appropriate counseling centres with appropriate staffing and appropriate skills. And I think that is the way to go, because most of what we are now having or most of the people or the new entrant into drug addiction are principally involved because of the gaps. Due to the serious work NDLEA is doing many drug users have not been able to access cocaine and heroin, they could readily get codeine. It is because these are medicines that can be obtained somewhere in the pharmacy. What they do is, they are doing essential drugs, which even by normal convention that they must be made available and affordable by every responsible company. But unfortunately because of some of these gaps of not enlightening people of the dangers of some of these things, most people are getting into it as substitute for cocaine and heroin.
Recently media association recognised you for the excellent job you are doing. How did you feel when you got this award?
Well, the feeling is mixed, mixed response because one, I was just thinking and believing that I was just doing my routine work. I felt encouraged when I realised that the mirror of whom I thought am serving equally recognised that. So, when the press crew decide to now appraise and award you, it is like society doing it, because it is the mirror of society, so I was quite honoured.
The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is about the most sensitive formation of the agency because of the high profile nature of the people there. How is the Commander copying with pressure from the highs and low?
You see, it is not about the person; already professionally everybody is expected to have been trained as to how to respond to such issues. Except that with additional training your skills can now come out clearly. And that is what we are striving to achieve and to the glory of God, I think we are trying our best and we will keep on trying.
What message do you have for the Nigerian youths concerning drug abuse?
I have always been saying this: that we must know and be conscious of our tomorrow. And we kept on saying that youths are the future of this country, so you must not ruin that future. We must say no to drugs.