•Charges continent’s anti-narcotic agencies to consolidate partnerships
•Organised crime driving insecurity in Nigeria, says report
Deji Elumoye, Michael Olugbode in Abuja and Bennett Oghifo in Lagos
President Bola Tinubu, yesterday, warned that Africa might remain in chains if it did not break free from the shackles of the criminal enterprises of drug barons and their illicit syndicates.
Tinubu sounded the warning in Abuja while declaring open the 31st meeting of the Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies Africa (HONLAF).
He implored heads of national drug law enforcement agencies in the continent to renew the fight against substance abuse and illicit drug trafficking in their respective countries.
The president’s comments came as a new report launched yesterday by the National Institute for Security Studies (NISS) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) stated that organised crime was one of the main drivers of insecurity in Nigeria, saying it poses acute threat to the people, economy and environment.
Tinubu told the anti-narcotics chiefs, “If we don’t dismantle the criminal enterprises that threaten our future and build a brighter tomorrow for all Africans, we will remain in chains in a diseased and amoral world, as will our children and their children.”
In his keynote address titled, “Rising Above the Drug Threat”, Tinubu, who was represented by Vice President Kashim Shettima, observed that Africa was “at the mercy of a threat that knows neither race nor geography, neither gender nor social class”.
He enjoined the heads of drug law enforcement agencies to consider the conference in Abuja as a ray of hope and a catalyst for positive change across the continent. He also thanked them for their sacrifices to ensure a world free of illicit drugs.
According to the president, “This threat has crossed borders and destroyed societies and dreams. Without the moral commitment of the men and women in this room, this threat would have left cities, countries, and even civilisations erased.
“So, I must commend you for your sacrifices in the bid to keep our world drug-free, sane and safe. This conference emphasises your investment across borders to protect us from the devastations of drugs, a threat that only submits to the enforcement of the law.
“Therefore, we are grateful to HONLAF and its partners, notably the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, for creating this avenue, for offering intelligence and drug law enforcement officials a grand opportunity to compare notes, collaborate, and build networks that would be several steps ahead of the criminal network of drug transnational organisations.”
Tinubu stated that in the last couple of decades, criminal organisations had made frantic efforts to breach the security measures in African countries, all in a bid to pollute the minds of their citizens. However, he added that the anti-narcotics agencies had proven to be a thorn in their flesh.
The president, who doubles as Chairman of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), added, “But while it’s a compliment that drug-law enforcement organisations are a threat to their criminal empires, their desperation must never be taken for granted.
“Without you as gatekeepers of healthy nations, humanity as we know it would have long been perverted. So, on behalf of the world, I say: thank you, thank you to all of you, who have kept us from being polluted and destroyed.
“For us, the commitment to the fight against drug trafficking and substance abuse is not just a matter of policy; it is a moral imperative. We recognise that a population at war with drugs is not a dividend but a liability. We believe that the future of our youth, the strength of our institutions, and the well-being of our communities depend on our ability to eradicate this threat.”
The president stressed the need for the anti-narcotics agencies to consolidate established contacts, strengthen operational and existing partnerships, and cooperate at the sub-regional and regional levels. He said this would make trafficking of illicit drugs and movement of drug syndicates difficult on the African continent.
On the choice of Nigeria for the conference, he said it was a profound recognition of the campaign and fight against illicit drugs in the country by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).
“We are hosting the 31st HONLAF meeting here to reassure you of our promise to participate in building a world not threatened by the infiltration of illicit drugs,” the president added.
He declared, “While I encourage you to take some time out from the busy schedule of your programmes to enjoy the beauty and hospitality of Abuja. I thank you for your dedication and resolve in this noble cause and look forward to the fruitful discussions and partnerships that will emerge from this gathering.”
In his remarks, Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of NDLEA, Brig. Gen. Buba Marwa (Retd), who was elected to chair the conference, cited the details of the 2023 world drug report as a challenge for Africa, and charged his counterparts across the continent to strengthen operational networks and raise the bar in the drug war.
Marwa stated, “Drug use disorders are harming health, including mental health, safety and well-being.” He added that the harm caused by drug trafficking and illicit drug use was enormous, insisting that they are also contributing to many threats, from instability and violence to environmental devastation.
The NDLEA chairman said, “Young people are using more drugs than previous generations, and the majority of people being treated for drug use disorders in Africa are under the age of 35. What is worse, the availability of treatment and other services has not kept pace with these developments, and women, in particular, are suffering from treatment gaps.
“The world drug problem, in all its forms and manifestations, affects all of us. The stakes are especially high for Africa. No one country can tackle a problem of this magnitude alone; just as well, the world drug problem cannot be tackled solely through international policymaking. It also requires effective implementation and collaboration among practitioners.
“This is where the HONLAF comes in. The meeting is very important, as it enables its parent body, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, to learn about current regional drug trends, threats, and emerging challenges from practitioners and law enforcement experts, from all parts of the continent.”
Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, who was represented by Director, International Criminal Justice Cooperation, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Nkiruka Jones-Nebo, said, in his address, “It is imperative that this conference remains proactive in addressing the legal complexities that may impede seamless cooperation in intelligence sharing, joint operations, and training.
“These barriers must be dismantled to prevent any loopholes that could potentially facilitate the activities of drug cartels operating across our borders. The Federal Ministry of Justice stands committed to providing unwavering support and efficient systems to empower NDLEA in its mission.”
Country Representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Oliver Stolpe, said the drug problem had changed from what it used to be 20 years ago.
Stolpe stated, “Today, the picture is different, local consumption is increasing, and increasingly problematic. We need a balanced approach to supply and demand reduction.
“We need to invest in prevention and in treatment. And, we need alternatives to imprisonment for drug users that are more effective and help decongesting prisons. At the same time, we need to strengthen cooperation between countries along drug trafficking routes with the aim of dismantling the ever more sophisticated trafficking networks.”
Executive Director, UNODC, Ghada Waly, and Chairman, UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, who both spoke via video messages, expressed support for the gathering and charged delegates to maximise the opportunities provided by the platform.
One of the highpoints of the event was the presentation of a report on Organised Crime in Nigeria: A Threat Assessment (NOCTA), produced by the National Institute for Security Studies, in collaboration with security agencies, and supported by UNODC.
Commenting on the report, Commandant of NISS, Ayodele Adeleke, said, “With investigations to connect transit and production countries, the report is hoped to encourage other partnerships to create a coalition that fights organised crime in partnership and collaboration. We must not give up, let us give Nigeria the true future it deserves.”
According to a statement issued by UNODC, “The study aims to improve our collective understanding of illegal markets in Nigeria and the structures and modus operandi of criminal groups operating in and out of the country.
“By dedicating our collective talent, energy and resources to this task, we can defeat the scourge of organised crime and give Nigeria the prosperous future it deserves.
“The report found organised crime to be one of the main drivers of insecurity in Nigeria, posing an acute threat to its people, economy and environment.”
In the report contains seven thematic chapters on different aspects of organised crime, like cultism, maritime crime, kidnapping, manufacturing and trafficking of illicit drugs, wildlife and forestry crimes, trafficking in persons, and smuggling of migrants.
The report said organised crime “is a complex and diverse phenomenon.
“Nigeria’s strategic location along global shipping routes between the Americas, Europe and Asia, its large-scale transport infrastructure and its porous borders make it an attractive target for criminal organisations that use the country as a base and transit point for their operations.
“Youth unemployment and widespread multidimensional poverty provide a large pool of potential recruits for criminal organisations. Governance gaps combined with an abundance of natural resources often located in remote areas offer strong incentives for engaging in criminal activities. On the other hand, overburdened law enforcement and security agencies pose limited risks to the operations and profits of criminal organisations.”