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Renewed drug war: The Marwa factor – Dr.Muiz Banire SAN



The recent arrest of a drug baron by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) was quite an attention-grabbing piece of news. Amid the clutter of news headlines and talking points of Sunday, May 23, the bust was a major news story. The interception of 36 blocks of cocaine – 27.95 kilogrammes in weight and valued at over N8 billion – and the arrest of the alleged kingpin of the syndicate behind the trafficking, Ejiofor Felix Enwereaku, at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Ikeja, Lagos, by operatives of NDLEA, on Friday, May 14, 2021, was a story that was not only refreshing amid the gory news of insecurity pervading the nation, but also that which I read with fascination.

The facts had me spellbound: how the organised criminal gang specialised in tagging/planting drugs in innocent travellers’ luggage, the audacious efforts by the drug baron to bribe NDLEA operatives with huge amounts of dollars paid in three tranches, and his subsequent confession that opened a can of worms on international drug trafficking. These are the stuff of a thriller, a narrative that is one hell of a drug story. Even a hardened critic of government parastatals will begin to take a fresh look at the new NDLEA. What’s more, coming on the heels of an unending cycle of arrests and interceptions of the past five months, this last bust is a shred of incontrovertible evidence that Nigeria has entered a new era of spirited, strategic and absolute war against illicit drugs and those involved in their trade and trafficking. Nowadays, we are witnesses to weekly busts of drugs of various types that make you wonder what has been happening these past years. And even Netflix’s Narco series pales out of significance when compared to the stories emanating from NDLEA’s never-ending busts and arrests. There is a growing acknowledgement among Nigerians that, at last, real work is being done about the country’s drug situation and cleanup of illicit drug is taking place across the country.

I have refrained from joining the conversation about the development at the anti-drug agency. For a good reason. I don’t join the praise-singing bandwagon. I am not one to rush to give commendations. What if the rash of results soon fizzled out and turned out to be nothing else but what, in Nigerian parlance, is called initial gragra? However, for five months, the momentum has been sustained. So, we can now come to the logical conclusion that what is happening at the NDLEA is no fluke. This time, it is for real. It is the new order. Hence, I am more than convinced that I can now join the conversation. And where do I start? That is the big question. The answer is simple. The Marwa Factor, of course, should be the starting point of my discourse. To be candid, I never expected less from the helmsman, Buba Marwa, whose giant strides I had witnessed while being administrator in Lagos. To, however, correctly situate my conviction about the competence and delivery capacity of the actor, I have further gone out of my way to peep into his profile.

We all know Marwa is synonymous with Lagos. He was Lagos’ Military Administrator for three years, from 1996 to 1999. I was a commissioner in Lagos State for many years, starting from 1999. I was a witness to the concluding part of Gen. Marwa’s history in Lagos when he handed over to the civilian government of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the sum of N2 billion, the highest amount handed over from one state administration to another, leaving aside the alleged liabilities. At the time, I was in the cabinet of Lagos State government.

Aside from that, I knew, I saw and experienced the good works of Gen. Marwa up close. He is a Lagos legend. A hero for Lagosians. Operation Sweep has passed into the history books of Nigeria as an intervention that brought violent crimes, especially armed robbery, under effective control. And the credit goes to Marwa.

He has become a specialist in this area, someone who can arrest a situation of anarchy or disorder and effect a turnaround, stability and order.

He had done it earlier with Operation Zaki in Borno State, where, as a Military Governor of old Borno (comprising of present-day Borno and Yobe states), his territory was under siege from cross-border raiders from Chad. And taking charge as the chief security officer of his state, he created a joint military operation by army and air force formations stationed in Borno State. And in one year, he nipped the problem in the bud and brought the situation under control. In Lagos, he tamed the area boys, so much so that Lagosians, for the first time in a long while, were free from the stranglehold of the scourge of neighbourhood hoodlums, which had become an albatross. Thousands of street urchins were rehabilitated, trained and empowered with vocations. Lagos knew peace.

Marwa was not only versed in managing security, he was an all-round administrator, as shown by his Lagos CV: he executed “Operation 250 Roads,” which eventually culminated in the construction and rehabilitation of over 700 roads mainly through direct labour; he constructed mini waterworks and boreholes that gave over 500 communities potable water; he constructed and rehabilitated several general hospitals, including building two accident and emergency hospitals, the first of their kind in Nigeria; he constructed the Lagos State University College of Medicine (LASUCOM) from scratch; he added eight new housing estates, and during his time, Eko Tourism Resort, a 120-chalet resort by the Atlantic Ocean, was constructed. He also established an integrated public transport service, which included hundreds of buses, a ferry service, a train shuttle from Alagbado to Iddo and the now ubiquitous three-wheeler vehicle, popularly called ‘Keke Marwa’.

Marwa was leadership personified. It wasn’t surprising when Newswatch voted him “Nigeria’s Man of the Year 1997.”

To date, Marwa’s imprint is all over Lagos. If you were someone that knew him or lived in Lagos of his time, the moment his name was mentioned as the new NDLEA chairman late in January, you’d expect some action in the months ahead. Marwa is an action man. That is why we can talk about the Marwa Factor without fear of being accused of sophistry.

So, the gale of results at the NDLEA is attributable to the Marwa Factor. The lesson from his five-month-old leadership at the anti-narcotic agency is evident: With good leadership, things can work out better in this country. Let’s see it this way: The NDLEA budget has not been improved; I am also aware that the welfare or salaries of operatives have not changed; there has not been any big donation made to the agency since the man took over, yet the agency has been posting record achievements consistently over five months. I have been wondering if the agency had been in existence before Marwa, the last time possibly we heard in terms of activities of the existence of this agency was during the reign of General Baimaiyi, as the head. Since then, the agency seemed to have gone into the doldrums. What else is at play here but the Marwa Factor? Thank God for the appointment of the great general that is now the rejuvenator.

Posterity will no doubt be kind to President Muhammadu Buhari for appointing Gen. Marwa as the NDLEA chairman/chief executive officer. It is one of the few appointments that I can attest the President got right in the midst of other chaos. The President got it right this time with a round peg in a round hole.

With the challenges of governing a country like Nigeria, the weekly results being recorded by the NDLEA since Marwa took over the reins of the anti-narcotic agency are, without doubt, news that makes the President’s day.

At the last Security Council meeting, President Buhari was reportedly elated at the performance of the agency. Naturally, that is expected of him.

The big news for me was Mr. President’s assurance to further enhance the capabilities and potentials of the NDLEA. Media reports of May 13, 2021 quoted the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd), as saying at a media briefing that the President applauded the activities of the NDLEA at the security meeting, which he presided over.

Monguno stated that he was able to brief the National Council of Security (NSC) meeting on the enablers of crime one of which is drug and the need to find quick responses with a view to mitigating the growing threats to society.

He said: “Of course, we’re considering the use of other enhancers to deal with these issues. Alongside the issue of importation of drugs. This was part of the memo I presented to the National Security Council. Already Mr. President is very, very much inspired and motivated by the new leadership in the NDLEA. And he is also working on measures to further enhance the capabilities and potentials of the NDLEA, which he is very, very happy about the performance in recent months.”

Indeed, in five months, we have had a glimpse of the potential of the NDLEA. Now everyone knows that a robust budget for operation, a better salary and welfare package for the agency’s workforce will go a long way to transform the agency into a juggernaut that will crush drug cartels and disconnect Nigeria from the global illicit drug market. Given the nexus between drug abuse and insecurity, the NDLEA can help to cut the Gordian Knot of insecurity– cut down the problem by even as much as 80 per cent. Once the substance that motivates and emboldens its users and abusers to commit acts of criminality is taken away, there will be a remarkable reduction in the spate of violent crimes, be it banditry, armed robbery or insurgency.  Beyond this, greater numbers of our youths are daily destroyed these days by the effects of drug usage and abuse. I am equally aware of so many family units that are in a perilous state today due to drug consumption and abuse. Neither would I under-estimate the substantial contribution of drug usage and abuse to the overwhelming number of divorce cases experienced these days.

Insecurity is perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing Nigeria’s nationhood today. The problem is multi-dimensional. And it is no rocket science that to get out of the problem, the country needs to adopt a multi-pronged approach. And I dare say, in a Marwa-led NDLEA, we have found one of the needed solutions to this hydra-headed national problem.

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