The clinical intensity the NDLEA currently applies in the fight against drug trafficking has reinforced the agency’s message that these merchants of death would have no peace in 2023 going forward. ROLAND OGBONNAYA writes
No week passes without the operatives of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA)intercepting drugs and arresting the baron as well as their foot soldiers or couriers.
For example, on the penultimate weekend, the agency busted a warehouse in the Amuwo Odofin area of Lagos belonging to a tramadol cartel, arresting two of its kingpins, and seizing millions of opioids pills and bottles worth over N5 billion. This is even as anti-narcotics officers of the agency also uncovered and dismantled a clandestine skuchies laboratory in a remote part of Sagamu, Ogun state where several pieces of equipment and various quantities of illicit substances used to mass produce the dangerous new psychoactive substance were recovered on Saturday.
In a statement, the spokesman of the NDLEA, Femi Babafemi said the drug cartels took the first heat last Tuesday from determined officers of the agency who intercepted an imported consignment of Loud, a strong variant of cannabis, weighing 4,878.72 kilograms along Awolowo Road Ikoyi, Lagos, adding that after a near fatal encounter with some suspected fake security agents escorting the drugs, the NDLEA operatives succeeded in recovering the consignment with a white truck marked BDG 548 XX conveying it.
He said this was followed by the seizure of 121,630 pills of pharmaceutical opioids and some quantity of molly from a dealer, Charles Okeke in the Idumota area of Lagos Island, revealing that another effort by the agency to bring the drug cartels to their kneels paid off during this period when operatives tracked and located a major warehouse for pharmaceutical opioids at 17, Sir Ben Onyeka street, off Ago palace way in Amuwo Odofin area of the state while the owner of the store, Aloysius Okeke was arrested.
He disclosed that illicit drugs recovered from the warehouse include: 3,264,630 pills of tramadol; 3,490 bottles of codeine and 915,000 capsules of pregabalin 300mg.
Babafemi noted that this came on the heels of the arrest of a suspect, Olarenwaju Wahab who distributes for the cartel the same day, disclosing that recovered from his white Mercedes distribution bus include 14,690 bottles of codeine-based syrup; 402, 500 tablets of tramadol 250mg; 50,000 tablets of tramadol 225mg and 210,000 capsules of pregabalin 300mg.
NDLEA further disclosed that in neighboring Ogun state, operatives in the early hours of one Saturday also discovered and dismantled a clandestine laboratory on the outskirts of Sagamu from where skuchies, a highly potent psychoactive substance made with a blend of cannabis Sativa, tramadol, Rohypnol, Exol-5, and industrial codeine, was being produced in large quantity, packaged and distributed in jerry cans and bottles.
He said all the equipment for the production including power generators, industrial gas cylinders, drums, and kegs as well as various quantities of illicit drugs such as 214 kilograms of cannabis; 1,440 capsules of tramadol; 480 tablets of swinol; 1,440 tablets of phenol and 114 liters of industrial codeine, among others were recovered from the building before sealing off the premises.
In a similar effort, operatives of the FCT Command of the agency last recently raided the notorious Tora Bora Hills in the city and recovered 350.7 kilograms of skunk and 794 bottles of codeine hidden under rocks, adding that 756 kilograms of cannabis Sativa recovered at Dawo village, Kaga local government area of Borno State and transferred to the agency within the period by officers of the Nigerian Army, FOB 29 Task Force Brigade, Benishiekh, in conjunction with hunters group, based on intelligence from the State Command of NDLEA.
In Ondo State, operatives stormed Alayere, Akure North local government area, where they arrested a suspect, Sunday Make with 275 kilograms of cannabis Sativa and seeds, while a total of 272 kilograms of cannabis Sativa were recovered from two suspects: Nwele Friday, 35, and Egbe Nnaemeka, 47 at Ifo Layout, Abakpa Nike, Enugu; while in Katsina, 34.3 kilograms of cannabis were also recovered from an uncompleted building in Muduru, Mani village after which the owner, Murtala Isiya was arrested in a follow-up operation.
In the same vein, an alleged notorious drug dealer, who is physically challenged, Abiodun Emaria, 40, was last January arrested with 6.2 kilograms of cannabis at his hideout in Ohada village, Uhunmonde local government area of Edo State.
Encouraged by the successes, the Chairman/Chief Executive of NDLEA, Brig. Gen. Buba Marwa (rtd) while commending the officers and men of Lagos, FCT, Ondo, Enugu, Borno, Katsina, and Edo Commands for the arrests and seizures, charged them and their compatriots across the country to sustain the heat on drug cartels in Nigeria while balancing their efforts on supply reduction with drug demand reduction activities.
The NDLEA Boss went further to warn that unrepentant drug barons and cartels will face tougher times in 2023 if they fail to back out of the illicit drug business.
Marwa gave the warning on Wednesday 18th January at a press briefing at the NDLEA national headquarters, Abuja where he updated the public on efforts by the agency to rid the country of illicit substance abuse and drug trafficking on the second anniversary of his leadership of the anti-narcotics body. According to him, “Last year, I issued a New Year appeal to them and also warned that those who refused to heed the warning will find themselves in a difficult situation. Already, we have 34 barons in our net and they are facing the music in court. We have secured orders for the temporary forfeiture of their assets.
“With our prosecution being topnotch, they can look forward to a long time in prison and final forfeiture of their wealth and assets. Those involved in the illicit drug trade should take a cue from our actions. They can again look forward to a tough time this year. “The signs are clear: we have already in the first two weeks of this year taken down three major drug cartels, one of which has built extensive networks across the world while at least six of their kingpins are in our custody as I speak.
“The details you will get to know in the coming days. In these two years, we arrested 26, 458 drug traffickers, among them, 34 barons. In 24 months, we successfully prosecuted 3,733 offenders who were convicted and handed various jail terms in court. Of the conviction figure, 2,346 were recorded in 2022 alone, which is the highest in the history of the agency and almost doubled the highest ever recorded in the 33 years of NDLEA. This is not happenchance but a result of professionalism, determination, commitment, and hard work of our officers, men, and women.”
Describing 2022 as an epoch year, Marwa said, “We took a giant leap in drug demand reduction with the establishment and commissioning of the NDLEA drug abuse call center which broadened access to treatment and rehabilitation. It was a year we had unprecedented support too, notably from the Governors’ Wives Forum which made commitments to broaden and deepen social efforts to ameliorate the consequences of drug abuse.
“We also had support from our international partners, chiefly the UNODC, counterparts, and governments of the United States, France, Germany, United Kingdom, India, and South Korea. The support came in the form of donations of equipment, training, intelligence, and other logistics.”
While assuring Nigerians that the Agency is firmly on the task of making Nigeria safe from illicit substances, the NDLEA boss said such may sound like an impossibility but “it is achievable.” Laying bare how to realize his goal, he said, “At our end, we will sustain our offensive action and shut down the pipeline from other countries into Nigeria. We shall broaden access to treatment and rehabilitation, and we will continue to carry Nigerians along on this journey to curb the trafficking and abuse of substances in Nigeria.”
He warned citizens to be wary in their dealings with people of questionable wealth. “The anticipated amendment of the NDLEA Act will be this year and that will strengthen the arm of our agency in its drug law enforcement. We look forward to arresting more barons and the 34 in the net presently will know their fate in court in the weeks and months ahead.
“The Proceed of Crime Act 2022 enacted last year has given us new leverage. And I will like to remind those who benefit from the proceeds of drug crimes, this time, families, friends, and associates, that our investigations are thorough and that where we find any link between a drug baron and private citizens, we shall scrutinize their assets. The onus is now on every citizen, to be honest in their financial dealings with people whose source of wealth is suspect.”
He expressed gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari and other stakeholders for their support in the total transformation of the agency. “We owe a lot of people and institutions gratitude for the turnaround of the NDLEA. First of all, President Muhammadu Buhari, for his tireless support which has been the driving force for change in the country’s drug use narrative. All that has been achieved so far and ongoing efforts are part of the President Buhari administration’s agenda for a better country. We similarly, appreciate the efforts of the National Assembly, through the two committees in the Senate and House of Representatives that have oversight of the agency. We also deeply appreciate the Attorney General and the Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, the UNODC, our foreign partners, and sister agencies who have all in one way or the other been catalysts to the NDLEA productivity in the past two years. Again, special commendations to our officers, men, and women who are daily risking their lives in the forests, on the streets,dangerouserous terrains across the country chasing merchants of death and mopping up illicit substances. You’re all heroes!
He also commended the media for its support. He said, “A big thank you”.