The name Buba Marwa is very popular. As popular as the ubiquitous tricycle, more commonly called Keke Marwa. And that’s because it was Marwa who brought the tricycle to Nigeria, berthing it in Lagos where he was military administrator from 1996 to 1999. Now, the same Marwa is at the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, as chairman. Here, he oversees the day-to-day operations of the agency. NDLEA is 32 years old, established by the military in 1989 via Decree Number 48 of 1989.
The agency has had strong men as chairmen. Both military and civilian. But it has never resonated with Nigerians positively as it’s doing now. The name NDLEA was at best synonymous with bad news, bribery, compromised staff, hunters becoming the hunted, anti-narcotics agents binging on hard hooch and drowning in narcotics. NDLEA was not self-respecting and it was not respected either, only that it was dreaded, not just by a few drug runners but much more by innocent Nigerians who could be jailed on trumped up charges while the real drug barons walk free. NDLEA existed alongside a booming illicit drugs industry. Cases of officers becoming couriers were rife. Barons became billionaire patrons. Couriers counted cash in millions. And some of the agency staff morphed into couriers and barons, frolicking with those they were supposed to nab and prosecute.
But all that seems to have changed in a matter of months. Just because a Buba Marwa arrived. Just because a President Buhari appointed a fit and proper person to run the agency. Talk of round peg in a round hole, Marwa pops up. His imprimatur as military administrator of Lagos State remains a reference point for leadership excellence in the military era. He was a model administrator who showed a knack for innovation and pragmatism. Keke Marwa was his response to the niggling public transport disorder in Lagos and it has outlasted his administration, to become a national transportation tool. In the heat of insecurity that threatened the peace of the state, he introduced Operation Sweep, a collaborative anti-crime unit comprising both the police and the military. He innovated housing models for both the poor and middle class. Education, healthcare, human capacity development and general infrastructure were captured in his radar of development. He was by far the best governor in his class.
It’s no brainer that he would do well at NDLEA. And he’s doing just that, showing both capacity and knowhow. The same qualities he evinced as a former envoy to South Africa; and as head of the Presidential Advisory Committee for the Elimination of Drug Abuse, PACEDA. And here’s the point. Merit, not religion, politics or ethnicity, got Marwa the job. Nigeria has many Marwas, men and women who are endowed with the knowledge, capacity and mental aptitude to perform with distinction. But they never get the opportunity.
Marwa having served as envoy in South Africa has been exposed to the nuances and tricks of the drug lords. South Africa has a fair share of narcotics trouble, especially among the black population. Serving in the PACEDA team also prepared him for the job. He didn’t have to learn the ropes. He burst into the scene, primed and ready. In barely six months since his appointment in January, this year, he has roused the agency out of institutional slumber, using the same inherited staff to outperform his predecessors. Barons are on the run. Couriers are being silenced by terriers. Agency staff have roared to a new work ethic steeped in fervour and passion for service.
With the same old staff, Marwa has demonstrated that leadership is the rotor of followership. A competent and devoted leadership is the trigger for competent and devoted followership. It’s no rocket science. And the results show. Almost every week, interceptions and seizures are made in huge hauls. Recall the 233,000 kg of cannabis seized in an Edo community, ranked the biggest in the history of the NDLEA. Billions of naira worth of hard drug seized in a matter of weeks after assumption of office.
What with that audacious seizure of over N30 billion worth of cocaine at Lagos airport; the N32 billion worth of cocaine at Tin Can port, several big money drugs intercepted at major airports in Lagos, Kano, and Abuja. Marwa, the good old Marwa, is on duty. And it’s not good news for the drug barons, merchants, importers and exporters of same and their retinue of couriers. To them, Marwa is bad market, bad news and a bad guy. He’s a spoiler. And make no mistake about it, no drug baron is a little man. They are usually powerful with strong links in governments, in embassies and are usually highly wired in diplomatic circles, and very deadly too.
Whether it’s the Sinaola cartel of Mexico once headed by the dreaded and now jailed Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman or the Jalasco New Generation (Mexico), the biggest and fiercest rival to Sinaola cartel, headed by Ruben ‘El Mencho’ Oseguera, a former police officer, these cartels and their leaders reportedly play huge roles in determining political leaderships of their country and regions. They are connected to top politicians, anti-crime agents including top cats in the Mexican anti-narcotics agency, prison officials, have preferences for certain airlines; all to protect their business. These are booby-traps Marwa must watch out for. He must turn his radar internally to periscope the activities of his officers. The popular theory that wherever drug trade booms and top guns evade arrest over a long period, there are usually collaborators or moles within the anti-crime agency. The NDLEA is not populated by angels but humans; Nigerians, men and women whom, like any other mortal, are capable of selling out to the crooks and feeding them with critical intelligence that helps them remain elusive over long periods. How do you explain that a particular drug baron had been evading arrest for 10 years, though now nabbed.
The recent interception of heroin with street value of N6.5 billion at the cargo section of Murtala Muhammed International Airport by men of the NDLEA and the manner the baron behind the shipment, Tony Onwurolu, escaped arrest at his Okota, Lagos home when NDLEA officials closed in on him, suggests there could be leakages in the agency’s intelligence management chain.
Marwa’s first six months at NDLEA runs like a thriller. Over 2,000 arrests made, over 500 convictions, drugs worth billions of naira seized. Impressive report card. But he and his troop must not take their feet off the pedal. I knew Marwa in my days as Group News Editor of The Post Express newspaper through then Col. Bitrus Kwaji, now retired Major-General Kwaji. It’s the same Marwa who gave Lagos a new lease. He promised criminals hell those days in Lagos, and they got it. He’s promised drug traffickers hard times during his term at NDLEA. And true to type, he’s doing just that. Nigeria is choking under the stranglehold of myriad challenges including crimes fuelled by drugs. This country waits on Marwa to deliver her from the negative impact of drugs including crimes and health-related consequences.
But he needs protection and prayers. Barons brook no opposition.