By Emmanuel Onwubiko


Writing on the theme of ‘So who’s winning the war on drugs?’ published on August 30th 2012, Dan Hind, the author of two books, The Threat to Reason and The Opinion, stated that President Nixon’s declared war on drugs is more than thirty years old. The author then asserted that it is time to ask who is winning.

The author proceeded to logically affirm that presented with a crime, it is reasonable to ask who benefits from it. Material gain is a motive, after all. This much is familiar to anyone who watches crime drama or reads crime novels. Perhaps, then we should apply this principle to the millions of crimes that together constitute what the American government calls the War on Drugs.

The standard account goes something like this. The main beneficiaries of the trade in illegal drugs are those who control the growing areas, the international supply routes, and the distribution networks in consuming countries. Popular movies and music tell us that drug dealing in America itself is hugely lucrative for the individuals involved. These inner city gangsters capture the bulk of the profits, along with sinister cartels in Latin America and Central Asia. Taken together they are the enemy in this war. Disrupting their activities is the key to reducing the supply of drugs. Law enforcement at home and paramilitary operations abroad can win this war, if only enough resources are deployed and Western politicians remain resolute.

This account is only fitfully accurate and conceals much more than it reveals. For one thing, the places where drugs are produced capture only a tiny fraction of the proceeds of the trade. Two economists, Alejandro Gaviria and Daniel Mejìa, calculate that only $7.6 billion of the $300 billion that Colombian cocaine eventually makes at retail stays in the country. That’s a little less than 3 per cent. The top gangsters might hold on to more than that, but they invest it overseas. The heads of the Mexican and Colombian cartels are also American and European investors. The same is true of the transit routes. Much of the money made there also finds its way out of the country and into the Western banking system. At the other end of the chain, street dealers also take a tiny slice of the trade’s value. A few years ago the social scientist Sudhir Venkatesh estimated that the vast majority of dealers in Chicago make less than $7 an hour.

Dan Hind then espoused on the possibility of losing the ‘War on Drugs’, and asserted that clearly a small number of criminals make significant sums from the trade. But most people are working for little more than subsistence wages, from the peasants growing coca plants in the Andes or opium poppies in Afghanistan to the dealers on the streets of Western cities. Even those few of the latter who avoid arrest or violent death and rise to the top face the constant danger from law enforcement and from their competitors. Though the drugs trade has become a symbol of easy, if immoral, money, much of it is demanding and difficult work, where the penalties for miscalculation are severe. 

The aforementioned essay is about the American counter-narcotics efforts which cost the United States of America several billions of dollars to wage. When compared to the budgets for counter-narcotics war in Nigeria and much of Africa, side with side with the funding commitments of the USA, Africa’s budgets pale into insignificance. 

Amidst limited funding resources, those who believe in President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s ability to deliver on his renewed hope agenda can confidently point to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) as a prime example of effective governance in action.

Established in 1989 in response to the pervasive and seemingly uncontrollable drug trade of the 1980s, the NDLEA was tasked with gaining control over the expanding drug trade and eradicating the trafficking and abuse of hard or illegal drugs. Its primary objective has been to halt the devastating effects of drug abuse on society.

The NDLEA is now under the current dispensation, an active participant in the global effort against illicit drugs and international crime, as evidenced by its accreditation and membership in various international organizations, including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), The Intergovernmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), and The West African Epidemiology Network on Drug Abuse (WENDU).

Under the current leadership of General Mohamed Buba Marwa (Retd), the NDLEA has emerged as a beacon of hope in Nigeria’s battle against drug trafficking and substance abuse. Since assuming office on January 18, 2021, General Marwa has taken bold actions to strengthen the agency’s efforts.

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In his first 10 months, his initiatives resulted in over 10,000 arrests, 1,000 convictions, and the seizure of over three million kilograms of assorted drugs and cash valued at over N120 billion. Additionally, Marwa has implemented a strategic overhaul of the agency, expanding directorates, introducing performance reward schemes, and enhancing career incentives to improve efficiency and visibility.

These efforts have garnered praise from foreign governments and strategic partners, signaling renewed trust in the NDLEA’s capabilities. Within his first year in office, the agency earned international recognition as a formidable regional force in drug law enforcement, attracting partnerships from similar agencies worldwide.

Under Marwa’s leadership, the NDLEA has demonstrated remarkable effectiveness in combating drug trafficking and substance abuse. The agency’s proactive approach, strategic initiatives, and relentless pursuit of drug offenders have further yielded tangible results. As of the latest statistics available, the NDLEA has achieved significant breakthroughs, including a total of 50,901 arrests, including 46 drug barons, demonstrate the agency’s capacity to apprehend key players in the drug trade.

The recent interception of a massive heroin consignment at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos stands as a testament to the NDLEA’s vigilance and operational prowess. The seizure of 51.90 kilograms of heroin and subsequent arrests of key members of the drug cartel highlight the agency’s ability to disrupt sophisticated drug trafficking operations spanning multiple countries. Similarly, the interception of cannabis, opioids, and other illicit substances across various states demonstrates the NDLEA’s nationwide reach and commitment to eradicating drug-related crimes.

These statistics paint a clear picture of the NDLEA’s operational effectiveness under Marwa’s leadership. With these staggering strides in apprehending drug offenders and dismantling criminal syndicates, the NDLEA under Marwa has sent a resounding message to drug cartels that Nigeria will not tolerate their criminal activities, further underscoring the agency’s commitment to disrupting the flow of illegal drugs and dismantling the networks responsible for their distribution.

Marwa’s proactive approach has not only yielded tangible results domestically but has also garnered international acclaim. Collaborations with global partners, such as the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), United Kingdom National Crime Agency (NCA), and other international stakeholders, have bolstered the NDLEA’s capacity to combat transnational drug trafficking.

The USA, UK, and Canada, in particular, have praised the NDLEA for its relentless efforts in tackling drug-related crimes.

However, while the NDLEA has made significant progress under Marwa’s leadership, some challenges must be addressed to sustain and amplify these gains. One key issue is the need for enhanced autonomy, both operationally and financially. There is, therefore, an urgent need for the National Assembly to strengthen the enabling Act setting up the NDLEA to confer enhanced autonomy operationally and financially, thereby consolidating the high tempo of the war on drugs.

Despite the significant progress made by the NDLEA under Marwa’s leadership, the agency continues to face formidable challenges. The evolving nature of drug trafficking operations, the emergence of new synthetic drugs, and the infiltration of criminal networks pose threats to Nigeria’s security and stability. However, these challenges also present opportunities for the NDLEA to adapt and innovate in its approach to combating drug trafficking and substance abuse.

Marwa’s leadership has been instrumental in propelling Nigeria towards victory in its war against drugs. Through his proactive, competent, and patriotic approach, General Marwa has revitalized the NDLEA and positioned it as a formidable force against drug trafficking and substance abuse.

However, sustaining this momentum requires legislative support to strengthen the enabling Act setting up the NDLEA, and confer enhanced autonomy operationally and financially. By doing so, Nigeria can consolidate the high tempo of the war on drugs and emerge triumphant in its fight against drug trafficking and substance abuse. 

• Onwubiko is Head of The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and was a National Commissioner of The National Human Rights Commission