The Country Representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Oliver Stolpe, has said recent study conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics, showed that over 14 percent of Nigerians between the age of 15 and 64 years abused drugs at least once in a year.
The German-born UN official, also said the figures meant that drug use prevalence in Nigeria is almost three times as high as the global average. “Today, there are more than three million Nigerians who live with some form of drug use disorder, meaning they are in need of drug counseling or treatment,” Stolpe stated.
The UNODC boss in this exclusive interview with Saturday Sun, also spoke about his activities in the United Nations Nigeria Office and his love for the country.
Would you like to tell Nigerians the focus of UNODC in Nigeria?
UNODC established its country office in Nigeria in the early 1990s. Today, we are working hand in hand with our partners in government on a host of issues, including the fight against corruption, tackling organized crime and terrorism, as well as maritime crime. We also support Nigeria’s efforts in curbing the menace of trafficking in persons and the smuggling of migrants. And of course, we have been actively engaged with our partners in government and civil society in enhancing drug use prevention and treatment.
How effective has been your efforts to help reduce drug abuse and other crimes?
As typical for my line of work, it is a story of mixed results. We are extremely pleased for example with the work of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which has been able to evolve into a world class anti-corruption body, also due to our support for more than a decade. We are equally encouraged by the impact of our capacity building projects targeting the Attorney General’s Office, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the Office of the National Security Adviser, just to name a few. At the same time, not all of the results we achieved under our many projects have always proven sustainable. I remain optimistic though. With a government that has put anti-corruption and security at the top of the list of its priorities, and continuously growing community of civil society organizations active in the various areas of our work and the strong commitment of the international community, I am convinced that together, we will be able to improve security and the rule of law for the benefit of all Nigerians in the years to come.
How alarming really is the problem of drug abuse in Nigeria compared to other countries where UNODC has been involved?
The prevalence of drug use is undoubtedly of grave concern to our organization as it is to the government of Nigeria. The recent study, which the National Bureau of Statistics conducted with the support of the European Union and UNODC found that more than 14 percent of Nigerians between the age of 15-64 years used drugs at least once over the course of a year. That means that drug use prevalence in Nigeria is almost three times as high as the global average. Today there are more than three million Nigerians who live with some form of drug use disorder, meaning they are in need of drug counseling or treatment.
How is your collaboration with NDLEA?
UNODC has a long history of cooperating with the NDLEA. More recently, we have been working with them as our principal project counterpart in the context of a large scale European Union (EU) funded project on “Response to Drugs and related Organized Crime in Nigeria”.
Are you in touch with the Buba Marwa-led Presidential Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Drug Abuse?
UNODC is actually a member of the committee and as such, I believe, we managed to really contribute to the quality of the work of the committee in particular through providing the necessary evidence base, as well as international good practices informing its policy deliberations.
Do you think the Nigerian government is doing enough to address the problem of drug abuse?
I think the Federal government itself has recognized that more needs to be done to tackle the drug use epidemic in the country, hence President Buhari established the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Drug Abuse – PACEDA in late 2018.
What do you think the Nigerian government should do urgently to avert the consequences of a drug-ravaged youth?
There is a need to invest decisively into drug use prevention, in particular at the secondary school level. In partnership with the Federal Ministry of Education, as well as with a number of state governments, we have been testing successfully, a school-based drug prevention programme in Nigeria – UNPLUGGED. Considering its good results, this programme should be rolled out to all secondary schools across the country. At the same time, we need to find ways, e.g, through sports to engage out of school children to build their resilience to drug use.
What would you want the Nigerian government to do differently to achieve better results in the fight against drug abuse and corruption?
The Federal Government, in consultation with a diverse group of stakeholders, has just completed its work on the development of the National Drug Control Master Plan 2021-2025. Drawing from past experience, we know that there is a need for a much stronger engagement of state and local governments, as well as civil society in its implementation. We need a whole-of-society effort!
What would you say are the gains of your efforts since you assumed the leadership of UNODC in Nigeria?
Frankly, I think my counterparts in government, civil society and the private sector are in better position to answer this question.
How long have you been in Nigeria now?
There is no short answer to this question. I have been implementing projects in Nigeria since 2000, first remotely from our headquarters with occasional visits. From 2008 to 2011, I was then posted here for the first time. Since late 2018, I now have the privilege of serving as UNODC’s representative in Nigeria. I should probably also mention that I am married to a Nigerian from beautiful Plateau State.
What do you enjoy most about Nigeria?
No doubt, its people. Your energy, passion, resilience and humor make living here never dull and always inspiring.
Do you wear Nigerian dresses and eat the local food?
You remind me to follow up with my tailor, the Nigerian attires are in the making.
As for food, my wife and I try hard to create our own European-Nigerian fusion in our every-day cooking. My all-time favorite Nigerian dish must be goat meat pepper soup.
How do you relax?
Spending time with my family and cooking.
What’s your favorite sport?
Depends. I love to play volleyball and to swim, but when it comes to watching, of course, it is football.