The drug problem is as old as man. No society is insulated from the negative consequences of illicit drugs. Many analysts are of the opinion that apart from the genocide of Second World War, no other phenomenon has had more debilitating consequences on mankind like the pandemic drug scourge. This view is anchored on the fact that even the much dreaded HIV/AIDS which has yet defied any known cure has narcotic drugs as one of its principal causes. Besides, drugs are known to induce social vices, civil upheavals and other forms of criminalities.
In Nigeria however, the problem of drugs began to assume very worrisome dimensions at the end of the second world war following the return of some Nigerian soldiers from mainly, Burma, India, where they had fought. One of the negative consequences of the war was the return of the soldiers with some seeds of cannabis sativa, also known as Indian Hemp, which they in turn experimented and discovered that the illicit plant could do well in some parts of the country. With time, the cultivation of cannabis sativa began to grow and so was the trafficking and abuse of the cannabis plant. Drug barons soon discovered that the geographical location of Nigeria, its thick population, bustling commerce, and vibrant air transportation hold so much attraction for a thriving drug business. This led to the experimentation with category ‘A’ drugs such as cocaine, heroin and other psychotropic substances; a situation that has made the country a drug trafficking/transit point. In order to address this growing problem of illicit drugs, Nigeria has remained proactive in its counter-narcotic initiatives.
It is on record that Nigeria flagged off its narcotic control efforts in 1935 when the Dangerous drugs Ordinance was enacted to control drug trafficking and abuse. Subsequent governments made concerted efforts to stay on top of the drug problem. In 1984, Nigeria recorded another landmark effort when the Federal Military Government promulgated the Special Tribunal (Miscellaneous Offences) Decree No. 20 of 1984 to frontally confront drug trafficking within the Nigerian shores. Section 3 (2) (K) of this Decree provided that “any person who, without lawful authority deals in, sell, smoke or inhale the drug known as cocaine or other similar drugs shall be guilty under section 6 (3) (K) of an offence and liable on conviction to suffer death sentence by firing squad. The then administration meant every section of the Decree as it soon caught up with three drug traffickers that were executed.
A new thinking later emerged, regarding the way the twin scourges of drug abuse and trafficking could be controlled. This necessitated the need for amendment of the 1984 decree, described by most concerned minds as one of the fiercest in the world. It was argued that when the stake or the risk is high as the case of capital punishment, it would succeed in raising prices of the illicit substances, thus making the trade more dangerously lucrative and attractive. The succeeding government in 1989 saw reason in these arguments when it decided to amend the Decree by expunging the death penalty clause, while substituting it with imprisonment terms ranging from two years to life.
In view of the fact that the drug menace continued to rise in profile, decree No. 48 of 1989, now an act of parliament CAP N30 laws of the federation of Nigeria 2004, established a new body, independent of other existing law enforcement agencies in the country called the National Drug law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). The establishment of NDLEA was Nigeria’s deliberate effort at evolving an institutional framework for the suppression of the drug cankerworm. This is also in fulfilment of the country’s international obligation, as a signatory to the 1988 UN Convention, which recommended separate bodies to lead the onslaught against the ravaging drug menace in many parts of the world.
Until the advent of the NDLEA, the Board of customs and Excise (now Nigeria Customs Service) and the Nigeria police were the major drug interdiction organs of government, while the Federal Welfare Department was charged with the counselling, treatment and rehabilitation of drug dependent persons. From the activities of the Agency over the years, it is evident that government made no mistake in establishing the body that has become the reference point and the leading light in global efforts against drug cultivation, trafficking and abuse.