Counter Narcotics: Marwa Has Started Again
By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Around late December of last year, I travelled down to Arondizuogu from the nation’s capital to spend ten days end of the year vacation.
Traditionally, during those kinds of vacations at the Countryside, yours Faithfully take out quality times to unwind and part of the unwinding process is to deliberately get close to nature such as running around the house with village goats and feeding their baby goats or herd of kids that are usually very pretty.
But do you know that I still found time to digest two or three books I took along with me on my journey to my hometown?
One of those books happen to be what I may consider a classic on management. Uniquely, the book which is colourful, do also have a very lengthy title as follows: “What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School.”
Specifically, that book is made up of 300 pages but I stumbled on two facts on decision making that is helpful to our reflection on the counter narcotics war by the Brigadier General Buba Mohammed Marwa-led National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).
The first of the twin lessons learnt from the book is on what the author calls ‘elephantine decision making in which he offers the exposition as follows; “A circus keeps a baby elephant from running away by chaining it to a stake. When the animal pulls at the chain, the cuff chafes its leg, and the baby elephant concludes that to avoid pain it had best stay put.
But when the elephant grows up the circus still chains it to the same small stake. The mature elephant could now pull the stake out of the ground like a toothpick, but the elephant remembers the pain, and is too dumb to use the new set of facts - how circumstances have changed. The tiny stake keeps a two-ton elephant at bay just as effectively as it did the baby."
The author then explained that many executives are too dependent on old facts, outmoded conventions, or are still basing decisions on what worked twenty years ago. This is elephantine decision making.”
The second of the twin lessons from that intriguing book is on what he said that good decisions are self fulfilling and he proceeded to explain thus: “If you immediately start to second guess a decision you have made it will most likely prove a bad one, not because it was the wrong decision, but because you undermined its chance for success.
A lot of questionable decisions have worked, because the people who made them were determined to make them work, and a lot good decisions have failed, because the people who made them ever got over their doubts.”
Interestingly, what triggered this write-up was a story I watched this morning of Monday January 16th 2023 on the British Broadcasting Corporation World News on the arrest of Italy’s most-wanted mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro who was picked up in Sicily off a coffee shop after 30 years of man hunt by the Italian law enforcement Authority.
Watching this story came about the same time that news broke out of Lagos, Nigeria's boisterous commercial capital that the NDLEA has just made another big catch of a drug cartel somewhere in Lagos.
Ironically, on reading the well written press statement by the tested and trusted media manager Mr. Femi Babefemi of the NDLEA, what came out of my mouth was: ‘Marwa has started again!’ Marwa has started again with his relentless counter-narcotics war', I muttered to myself.
I then quickly pinched myself when I consciously remembered the two lessons on decision making that I got from the book that I read over the last Yuletide/Christmas season in Arondizuogu and it dawned on me that the break through by the Italian law enforcement officers in capturing the most wanted mafia lord probably in all of Europe after 30 years on the run and also the persistent breakthroughs systematically recorded by the Brigadier-General Buba Mohammed Marwa –led NDLEA were out comes of good decision making that are obviously self fulfilling.
Like in Nigeria whereby even bad guys are praising the overwhelming patriotic zeal of General Marwa and the NDLEA under his supervision, Italians hailed the capture of Italy's most-wanted mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro who has just been arrested in Sicily after 30 years on the run. It took deliberately good decision making for the Italian law enforcement officers to track this dangerous crime lord and then put him out of job after he evaded capture for three decades.
As reported, the Mafia boss Messina Denaro was reportedly detained in a private clinic in Sicily's capital, Palermo.
He is alleged to be a boss of the notorious Cosa Nostra mafia.
Italian media reported that he had been receiving treatment when he was captured just before 10:00 (09:00 GMT) and taken to a secret location by the Carabinieri.
More than 100 members of the armed forces are said to have been involved in the arrest.
A video circulated by Italian media appears to show people standing in the street and applauding the Italian police as Messina Denaro is led away.
Messina Denaro was tried and sentenced to life in jail in absentia in 1992 over numerous murders.
These include the 1992 killing of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, the deadly 1993 bomb attacks in Milan, Florence and Rome, and the kidnapping, torture and killing of the 11-year-old son of a mafioso turned state witness.
Messina Denaro once boasted he could "fill a cemetery" with his victims.
The mafia boss also oversaw racketeering, illegal waste dumping, money-laundering and drug-trafficking for the powerful Cosa Nostra organised crime syndicate. He was reportedly the protege of Totò Riina, the head of the Corleone clan, who was arrested in 1993 after 23 years on the run.
Clans nicknamed Messina Denaro "Diabolik" - the name of an uncatchable thief in a comic book series - and "U Siccu" (Skinny).
He is thought to be Cosa Nostra's last "secret-keeper". Many informers and prosecutors believe that he holds all the information and the names of who were involved in several of the most high-profile crimes by the Mafia, including the bomb attacks that killed magistrates Falcone and Borsellino.
Although Messina Denaro had been a fugitive since 1993, he was thought to have still been issuing orders to his subordinates from various secret locations.
Over the decades, Italian investigators often came close to catching Messina Denaro by monitoring those closest to him. This resulted in the arrest of his sister Patrizia and several other of his associates in 2013. Police also seized valuable businesses linked to Messina Denaro, leaving him increasingly isolated.
However, few photos of Messina Denaro existed and police had to rely on digital composites to reconstruct his appearance in the decades after he went on the run. A recording of his voice was not released until 2021.
In September 2021, a Formula 1 fan from Liverpool was arrested at gunpoint in a restaurant in the Netherlands after being mistaken for Messina Denaro.
Italians were glued to the screens on Monday morning when news of the arrest of the mafia boss broke.
For years, Messina Denaro had been a symbol of the state's inability to reach the upper echelons of the organised crime syndicates. His arrest will be an unexpected sign of hope that the mafia can be eradicated even in the southern regions of the country, where the state is perceived as largely absent and ineffective.
Tributes to the work of the armed forces poured in from across the political spectrum.
Gian Carlo Caselli, a judge and former prosecutor general, said that the arrest of Messina Denaro was an "exceptional... simply historical event" that might lead to significant developments in the ongoing inquiries into the 1993 bomb attacks that killed 10 people across Italy.
Italy's PM Giorgia Meloni thanked the armed forces for their work in detaining the "most important member of the mafia criminal group", adding: "This is a great victory for the state." These praises are in order just as most Nigeria are commending the Marwa led NDLEA and praying for them to continue in the unrelenting battles against hard drugs especially in this election year of 2023.
The latest from the relentless war against drug cartels in Nigeria is that operatives of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, at the weekend busted another Tramadol cartel in Lagos with the seizure of millions of opioids pills and bottles worth over Five Billion Naira (N5billion) from their warehouse in Amuwo Odofin area of the state and arrest of two of the kingpins.
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 equipment and various quantities of illicit substances used to mass produce the dangerous new psychoactive substance were recovered on Saturday 14th January 2023.
The drug cartels took the first heat on Tuesday 10th January 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. 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.
This was followed by the seizure of 121,630 pills of pharmaceutical opioids and some quantity of Molly from a dealer, Charles Okeke on Wednesday 11th January at Idumota area of Lagos Island. Another effort by the Agency to bring the drug cartels to their kneels paid off on Friday 13th Jan 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.
Illicit drugs recovered from the warehouse include: Three Million Two Hundred and Sixty Four Thousand Six Hundred and Thirty (3,264,630) pills of tramadol; Three Thousand Four Hundred and Ninety (3,490) bottles of codeine and Nine Hundred and Fifteen Thousand (915,000) capsules of pregabalin 300mg.
This came on the heels of the arrest of a suspect, Olarenwaju Lawal Wahab who distributes for the cartel same day. 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.
In neighbouring Ogun state, operatives in the early hours of Saturday 14th Jan. 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.
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 214kgs cannabis; 1,440 capsules of tramadol; 480 tablets of swinol; 1,440 tablets of Rohypnol and 114 liters of industrial codeine, among others were recovered from the building before sealing off the premises.
In Abuja, operatives of the FCT Command of the Agency on Thursday 12th Jan. raided the notorious Tora bora hills in the federal capital city and recovered 350.7kgs of skunk and 794 bottles of codeine hidden under rocks. This is even as 756kgs of C/S were recovered at Dawo village, Kaga LGA, Borno and transferred to the Agency on Friday 13th Jan. 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 LGA, where they arrested a suspect, Sunday Make with 275kgs of Cannabis Sativa and Seeds, while a total of 272kgs of C/S were recovered from two suspects: Nwele Friday, 35, and Egbe Nnaemeka, 47 at Ifo layout, Abakpa Nike, Enugu. In Katsina, 34.3kgs 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, a notorious drug dealer who is physically challenged, Abiodun Emaria, 40, was on Saturday 14th January arrested with 6.2kgs of cannabis at his hideout in Ohada village, Uhunmonde LGA, Edo state.
NDLEA’s spokesman Femi Babafemi described the development as one of “the biggest singular cocaine seizures” in the agency’s history.
He said the officials busted the “warehouse in a secluded estate in Ikorodu area of Lagos where 1.8 tons (1,855 kilograms) of the illicit drug worth more than two hundred and seventy-eight million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($278, 250,000) equivalent of about one hundred and ninety-four billion, seven hundred and seventy-five million (N194, 775,000,000) naira in street value were seized”.
It will berecalled that around October of last year at least, four drug barons including a Jamaican and the warehouse manager have been arrested in the well coordinated and intelligence-led operation that lasted two days across different locations in Lagos State,” Babafemi added in a statement Monday.
Kingpins of the cocaine cartel in custody include Messrs Soji Jibril, 69, an indigene of Ibadan, Oyo State; Emmanuel Chukwu, 65, who hails from Ekwulobia, Anambra State; Wasiu Akinade, 53, from Ibadan, Oyo State; Sunday Oguntelure, 53, from Okitipupa, Ondo State, and Kelvin Smith, 42, a native of Kingston, Jamaica.
They are all members of an international drug syndicate that the Agency has been trailing since 2018.
The warehouse, located at NO. 6 Olukuola Crescent, Solebo Estate, Ikorodu, was raided on Sunday and the barons were arrested in their hideouts in different parts of Lagos, the agency said.
Preliminary investigation reveals the class A drugs were warehoused in the residential estate from where the cartel was trying to sell them to buyers in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world,” the spokesman noted. “They were stored in 10 travel bags and 13 drums.
To demonstrate that the consistent breakthroughs by the NDLEA are products of good decision making, General Marwa told Vanguard Newspaper in a recent interview as follows; "The battle against drugs globally is not an exciting assignment. However, it gladdens our hearts- all of us- when we make successes because we believe we are helping the society.
That’s really the answer. As to the question of the dangers, risks, hazards and so on, the commendation has to go more to the officers, men and women of the service who daily go out to meet some of the challenges. You know the cartels also are dangerous but, that said, we all take precautions and one thing is clear. I will now speak as a Moslem but I’m sure that even in Christianity the same applies, that nobody actually dies before his time. Whatever the case may be, these things are pre-ordained and of that I’m certain.
General stated too that, yes, we get support for a lot of things from our international and local partners. We share intelligence. We receive training support from our partners and they also give us equipment. The United States, the French Government, the United Kingdom and the German government give us support in various forms. Right now, the German government is building a training school worth €6 million for the NDLEA in Lagos.
The NDLEA boss confirmed thus: "We are in the process of collaborating through MOU with the Saudi Directorate of Narcotics, with the Indian Bureau of Narcotics, and even with Pakistan. So we’re getting support and of course the UNODC and the funding from the EU. But let me be very clear, though, that none of the partners give NDLEA cash or money. Everything is done in kind. For instance, UNODC is currently renovating the NDLEA Academy and we get our strike force trained by the French government. And, a lot of training is coming for our personnel from the UK Border Force and Crime Agency. We are quite pleased.
Well, I can say that no law is perfect. Even the Nigerian Constitution is still being amended from time to time. So our own guiding law is the NDLEA Act which, as we speak, is in the process of being amended. One of the areas that have been affecting the work as far as illicit drugs in particular and drugs in general are concerned, is the Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria Bill that has been in the works for years.
But I am happy that it has recently been signed into law by Mr. President. One of the critical areas has to do with the regulation of the practice of pharmacy in the country. For instance, there are over one million patent medicine stores that are operating based on the old pharmaceutical council law, which states that to open a patent medicine store one only needs to be able to read and write, which is most elementary.
Again, the penalties for offences stipulated in that law is as low as N20 and N50. With that many people breach the law with impunity and virtually get away with their crimes. That is just one area of challenge.
The other area obviously, according to Marwa, is to regulate the training of pharmacists and the critical issue of drug prescription in Nigeria. In Nigeria people go to the pharmacy and prescribe drugs for themselves instead of a doctor doing that as it is global best practice. The new bill also regulates prescriptions and also stipulates what doctors can do and cannot do. We look forward to its implementation. I think it’s going to help.
Nigerians can only hope that the politicians campaigning for elective offices especially those seeking the most important office of President of Nigeria must during this campaign season, inform the electorate with convincing facts and figures, on what their blueprint is for waging persistent counter-narcotics war in Nigeria and indeed provide reassurance that when the successful candidate emerges as the elected President, such a government that would be rolled out on May 29th 2023, wouldn't roll back the hands of the clock in the currently ongoing counter narcotics war being waged by the great fighter in the person of Brigadier General Buba Mohammed Marwa-led National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency(NDLEA).
So I repeat, this strongman General Marwa has started again!
Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and was National Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria