From Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) has carried out operation against drug abuse in Ondo State, especially the planting of illicit drugs with the recent destruction of over 5,000 hectares plantation of cannabis sativa otherwise known as Indian hemp at Ala village in Akure North Local Government Area.
The operation, which lasted several hours, was carried out by the NDLEA Special Enforcement Team (SET), and suspects who specialized in planting of Indian hemp arrested.
The leader of the team, Mr. Sunday Zirange, lamented that the state was rated highest in the planting of cannabis in the South West, stressing the need for government to encourage planting of cocoa and other cash crops to discourage youths from planting Indian hemp:
“In the next 10 years if care is not taken, the thick forest in the West would have finished, and this will affect the ecosystem. The northern part is a desert with fast encroachment, while the South which is supposed to be the hope of the nation is being used for cannabis cultivation and the destruction of economic trees.”
He alleged that most of the people engaged in the illegal business align with some influential people who collaborate with them to cultivate cannabis:
“Last year, about 72 tonnes of cannabis were seized in Ondo forest zone. Now we decided to be on the plantation site for us to see things for ourselves. You can see there is no standing tree again we will bring those arrested to justice.
“This development is affecting the country, all hands must be on deck, because the situation will affect the whole world with the issue of global warning as a result of environmental degradation. We need a change of orientation and engage in planting of trees to replace the old ones.
“In overseas countries, they use technology through helicopters and herbicides to destroy cannabis farms, but in Nigeria, it is through labourers using cutlasses. This should be improved upon.”
The state Commandant of NDLEA, Mr. Mohammed Mallami Sokoto, said the state is blessed with a vast forest, which contributed to the impunity of the cannabis cultivators: “Apart from Ala forest with its difficult terrain, there are about five or six other forest reserves including Ogbese, Ose and Idanre also notorious for hemp planting.
“We are taking a proactive measure aimed at alternating cash crops and cultivation of economic trees especially cocoa to eradicate cultivation of cannabis.” He said Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu supported the farm produce scheme:
“We came with a convoy of over 20 vehicles and trekked for over three hours because of the bad road and difficult terrain to access. There are very large hectares of cannabis forests we are taking over within a week.”
A community leader who identified himself as Olusegun expressed satisfaction with the efforts of the NDLEA at destroying cannabis farms: “We have a vast land in this town and many people use advantage of the land to plant all sorts of things. Most of those involved in the planting of cannabis are from the South South or South East. They are not from Ondo State.
“We are not happy with the development and we are ready to do everything to put an end to the act. We shall support the NDLEA to bring an end to the planting, selling and consumption of cannabis sativa in this area.”
Fourteen suspects who allegedly plant, sell and consume the illicit drug were arrested, just as some community leaders were interrogated on their roles. About 100 labourers were engaged by the agency to destroy the cannabis in the presence of journalists and other observers, including community, political and religious leaders.
It was learnt that Ala village about 70 kilometres to Ogbese, a town allegedly renowned for hemp consumption, is notorious for cannabis cultivation.