Buba Marwa’s NDLEA

By Okey Ikechukwu

As military Governor of Lagos State in the 90s, he introduced Operation Sweep. This was a special anti-crime outfit, with incredible rapid response capabilities. Suddenly, crime rates dropped precipitously in places like Mushin, Maroko and those far-flung parts of the state which were generally looked upon as no-man’s-land; in terms of guaranteed security. Yes, Lagos became unsettlingly calm. After-dark criminality suffered a major setback. The criminals fled, mostly to neighboring Ogun State. This prompted the Military Administrator of the besieged state to inaugurate Operation Wedge, a few months after the emergence of Operation Sweep.

So, as Marwa swept them out of lagos, Ogun wedged then for ultimate extermination. Thereafter, all other Military Administrators latched onto the idea and set up various security outfits. But most of them lacked the rigour, professional efficiency and real-time response profile of Marwa’s Operation Sweep.

Then, The Guardian newspaper set up a 13-man interview team, one of the largest interview teams I had ever seen or heard about, to meet with Marwa and discuss governance and other political issues. To my surprise, my name was on the list of interviewees. This was most unusual, because I was on the Newspaper’s Editorial Board; members of which were usually not part of Newsroom activities. So, off we went to the Governor’s office on the appointed date.

It was a full harvest. The questions kept coming. The Governor kept answering. The exactness of his answers, his general articulation and pointed grasp of issues of leadership and strategic engagement stood out so clearly. Then I asked: “What is the explanation for the very conspicuous decline in petty crimes, and general criminality, since you became governor? Is it indicative of an improvement in the level of living, or is there some special method you deployed to bring about what we are seeing today?”

He managed his usual dimpled smile and said, matter of factly and almost casually, “I simply studied the crime demographics and did the needful”. That was not enough explanation, and I told him so. He needed to tell the public exactly what he was doing.

Then Marwa explained how and why a leader must use security reports to guide himself in the management of state security. “Remember that I was a military officer attached to one of Nigeria’s Foreign Missions. I looked at the New York City Model and that is what I have applied here, with some modifications suited to our environment”. He went further to explain that he met areas, like Ikoyi, with low crime rate having far more police presence and patrol than the very densely populated parts of the state. Why, for instance, would Ikoyi have four patrol teams while Mushin, with 20 times the population of Ikoyi, having just one patrol team? He asked rhetorically.

“There must be a method, and even a science, to every serious engagement, if you want to make the right impact and achieve meaningful and lasting results. I can tell you this with absolute certainly: Any governor coming after me who applies this same template will achieve exactly the same commendable results”. He rounded it off by saying that the best approach to any job is to first find out how best to do it, before you start. And, it is a matter of record that he was one hell of a good governor while in Lagos.

Is he bringing more or less the same approach, paradigms, effectiveness and attitude to his current watch as the Chairman of the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA)? I believe that the answer is a resounding yes!

All the arrests and seizures of illegal drug consignments and sundry successes of Marwa’s NDLEA have been very heavy on preemptive intelligence work. There is also overwhelming evidence of thorough going demographic analysis. Within this you find, also, the conscious mapping of drug production, transportation, distribution and consumption patterns. Marwa’s NDLEA is one of the few examples of an organization that is paying deliberate scientific attention to the physical and human geography of drug-related issues today.

There seems to be, in all of this, a structured collaboration with the internation anti-drug network, with focus on predictive, and predictable drug-related activities.

Last week, Brig. Gen. Buba Marwa (rtd) said that drug abuse among Nigerians was one of the main drivers of insecurity in the country. This was during the sensitization and advocacy programme for women and youths in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Abuja. The programme was a collaborative engagement with Dr Aminu Gusau, organized under the platform of WADA. Marwa’s stated concern at the event was the growing involvement of women and youths in drug abuse.

This unfortunate development has taken absolutely incomprehensible dimensions in the country, across all the six geopolitical zones. It is also no longer an urban phenomenon, or problem. Many rural communities are now bedeviled by the malaise. As Marwa pointed out, the problem of drug abuse among the youth has now become everyone’s problem. It required everyone’s effort to deal with, and eliminate, it. All parents, schools, religious leaders, the general public, and the youths themselves must rise to the occasion.

One of the essential takeaways from Marwa at the aforementioned event is his observation that the youths constitute the engine room of every society, which must be in the right shape mentally and physically to drive a better future. But that will not happen if they are damaged by psychotropic drugs. This is a universal problem of humanity, irrespective of tradition, culture, and religion.

Listen to Marwa: “The youths exhibit attitudes both for the development of society and, at the same time, for the creation of problems in society. Drug abuse leads to criminal offences, and this fuels insecurity, such as armed robbery, murder, kidnapping, and banditry, among others. This also leads to burglary and sex work. Evidence shows that young people use drugs for various reasons, which include relaxation, experimental/curiosity, and enhancing performance, among others”. These are brute, incontrovertible, facts of our daily experience, as Nigerians.

“Go all out for drug barons and cartels”, was Marwa’s charge to NDLEA commanders, when he set targets for Commanding Officers in his 2024 Tasking Orders. As he was telling Zonal Commanders, State Commanders and Area Commanders of the Agency to go all out and smoke out drug barons still in hiding, he was also telling them to dismantle their cartels. The dismantling of the cartels, distribution networks and other facilitating variables, as part of ongoing efforts to totally cut off illegal drug supply generally, and especially to persons involved in criminal activities across the country, will make visible impact on local and national security.

Marwa is probably one of the few heads of government agencies in Nigeria today who can say with justification: “Within the limit of our resources, we have been able to push boundaries. The statistics of our operations, empirical facts from the field, the general anti-illicit drug climate we have built and the rapport between us and our domestic and international partners, all speak volumes about how we are faring, especially against the backdrop of where we are coming from, of what the situation used to be a few years ago”. Go and verify, as Peter Obi would say.

And Marwa also operates with more than a fair doze of realism, while on the job. Hear him, again: “Commendations apart, we also cannot afford not to tell ourselves the plain truth; we still have a long way to go. Hence commanders, officers and men of NDLEA can’t afford to rest on their oars. Yes, we have kept the flag of performance flying, but there’s still room for improvement. There is still much to do. And we cannot afford to be complacent now, as we have committed to a lot of ongoing efforts to improve our operational capabilities”.

He also spoke of how the Agency is constantly engaging stakeholders within and outside the country, to support and help optimize its capabilities. “We need to remind ourselves that to achieve our mandate, professionalism and discipline must be maintained at all times and in all our operations”, he never stops saying.

The NDLEA, under Marwa, is working with all relevant state authorities, and available supportive channels, for improved funding and greater impact. With improved funding, the Agency will deal more comprehensively and holistically effective, as an essential part of the “solutions toolkit’ for dealing with an aspect of the security challenges facing the nation today. If the NDLEA can effectively undermine drug availability, and also cut off the access for drug delivery routes and channels for criminals and the vulnerable, there will be a substantial, and measurable, gain in social stability. The will also be a decline in youth restiveness and general insecurity. 

In this regard, it is important that the Agency gets improved funding, which should be seen as a very important investment in an overlooked aspect of the much-vaunted non-kinetic approaches to guaranteeing national security. This is a matter the President should take seriously, and personal; especially bearing in mind the youth crisis in Olowogbowo, and some other parts of Lagos.

If, as Marwa said to his Commanders: “This year, we want to raise the bar of our performance and this calls for commanders who are up to the task to be up and doing on the job”, it means that the NDLEA should be helped to “… clean our streets and communities of illicit substances”. The matter is made more urgent by the fact that, as the NDLEA boss said: “… recently, there is another demand by kidnappers and bandits aside money, which is drugs. In that sense, it means NDLEA is working because they don’t ask for it before, meaning that they’re no longer as available as they used to be and the prices of those available have gone beyond their reach.”

Lest we forget, there is a direct connection between joblessness, poverty, school closures, drugs and criminality. But this does not take away from the need to deal with whatever is under our control. In the instant case, it is the menace of illicit and harmful drugs. That is Buba Marwa’s call, and plea. He needs everyone’s support in this fight.

Related Articles