By Femi Babafemi
Let me start by stating that the activities of the NDLEA is divided basically into two, namely drug demand reduction and drug supply reduction.
Drug supply reduction, encompasses the law enforcement aspect of our mandate and this includes arrests, arraignment in court, conviction of traffickers, as well as seizures of consignments of illicit substances.
Drug demand reduction, on the other hand, includes all activities aimed at the prevention of drug abuse and treatment and rehabilitation of those addicted to drugs.
Drug demand reduction activities are central to our success as an anti-narcotic agency becasue, it will be dificult to clean up the society of illcit drugs if you have a large population of people who are addicted to illicit substances and are actively pushing the demand for these substances. To put it in another way, if the market is not existing, it will be difficult to sell illicit substances. Even as we turn up the heat on traffickers, as long as there is a market for illicit substances and active demand, our efforts will be defeated because suppliers, from cartels to mules that pound the streets, will contine to invent new ways to make brisk business. So it is imperative we take the users out of the equation, not by baton or handcuffs and getting them behind bar. It is by counselling and rehabilitation. To this end, we have the Directorate of Drug Demand Reduction, which is incharge of the counselling and rehabilitation services of the Agency.
Having said that, since the new leadership took charge of the NDLEA, efforts have been made to ramp up Drug Demand Reduction activities and increase our effectiveness. This has led to the signing, approval and operationalisation of the Standard Policy and Practise Guidelines (SPPG) on June 21, 2021. The SPPG is a document prepared by officers of the agency with the support of UNODC under the EU Project. NDLEA has a counselling and rehabilitation unit in all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory commands. The purpose of the document is to harmonise the activities of all our counselling centres, by providing the framework for the process of counselling and rehabilitation across all 36 states. By enshrining uniformity of actions, it doesnt matter whether a drug abuser is being treated in the centre in Sokoto, or in Rivers State, the activities that will take place in all the centres are the same, from the initial assessment to the various phases of the therapy required by the individual drug abusers.
While we have drug abusers who are referred to NDLEA for counselling and rehabilitation, a greater number of those treated (or being treated), however, are often arrested by our operatives during operations such as raids of blackspots across the cities. They are subsequently referred to the Drug Demand Reduction unit for counselling and, where necessary, rehabilitation.
Only 21 of the NDLEA counselling centres are residential, i.e. able to accommodate those needing treatment for a length of time. The remaining facilities conduct brief interventions using the outpatient method.
So when our operatives conduct raids, drug users caught in the net are usually brought in and referred to the DDR for counselling, where it will be determined whether they need to stay in-resident for proper rehabilitation or could be treated with brief intervention.
During the initial assessment phase, our counsellors try to make the client understand that they have a problem, which is their abuse of drugs; they are enlightened about the consequences of abusing drugs and also informed of the option before them that they can utilise to help themselves, namely, turning themselves in for treatment, by enrolling for the residential program. Sometimes, they are allowed to start as outpatient clients, they come and go, until they are motivated enough to stay at the centre.
So far, we have done this successfully and no less than 4, 269 persons have been counselled and rehabilitated in NDLEA facilities across the country between January and August this year.
Our roles do not end with successful rehabilitation. We undertake aftercare as well. We try to facilitate their reintegration into society. Having lost friends, families and jobs, a rehabilitated drug user will find it difficult to be accepted back. Faced with stigmatisation, they are liable to relapse and fall back to their old habit of indulging in drugs. So it is still part of our role to ensure that they are accepted back by the human community. That is why we are engaging in massive advocacy to the community.
Before now, the popular notion was that once an addict, always an addict. But now, people are beginning to also understand that, yes, someone may have abused drugs, he can also stop abusing drugs, and become a responsible person who can make a meaningful contribution to society. This is where our Media and Advocacy Directorate plays a big role, with messages tailored to educate and enlighten the public and neutralise in them any discrimination that may stigmatize drug users.
One of the reasons people who use drugs do not accept to go for treatment is because of stigmatization. But when they know that their families, the community, the society will not stigmatise them, it will be easiest for them to come out to tell you, that, yes I am using drugs and I want to stop.
We have in the past eight months been taking the advocacy message to the grassroots across the length and breadth of this country. And it is heartwarming that society is buying into the idea so much so that states and communities have offered to build rehab centres for the NDLEA as well as set up War Against Drug Abuse, WADA, committees.
We are also working towards establishing special rehabilitation centres that will be all-encompassing in offering counselling and treatment for substance abuse, as well as medical treatment needed as a result of their addiction to illicit substances and also vocational training, whereby they can start their reintegration process.
Let me end this presentation by saying, this is not the job for the NDLEA alone, we need everyone to join hands to salvage the future of our country. And I believe this webinar is part of that process. Thank you all for listening and God bless.
Femi Babafemi is the Director, Media and Advocacy, NDLEA, delivered this paper as Guest Speaker at a Webinar Seminar organised by Guided Minds