Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has sited drug trafficking and the monies accompanying the robust but harmful trade as a major reason behind Nigeria’s underdevelopment.
The ex-president yesterday lamented the role people in power play in drug trafficking in Nigeria and other West African countries, saying it is the reason the country has remained stunted.
Obasanjo, who spoke at the Sixth Session of the African Union Conference of Ministers of Drug Control organised by the AU’s Department of Social Affairs, said that people in positions of power, security operatives and extremist groups hinder the fight against drug trafficking in the region.
While launching a report, titled: “Not Just in Transit. Drugs: The State and Society in West Africa” by the West Africa Commission on Drugs, which he chairs, the former Head of State said drug trafficking has increased corruption in West African nations.
“I would like to mention our most important of findings and conclusions. We have found that interdiction is improving. However, it is still hindered by limited capacity and resources and sometimes by the interference of the well-connected.
“In some countries, people in positions of power, the security services and extremist groups have competed for the spoils of drug trafficking. This has led to increased political instability and corruption, he said.
The WACD chairman said also: “However, we find that the links between traffickers and terrorist networks are often not ideological but rather they are brothers in crime.”
According to Obasanjo, militarising the response to drug trafficking would “therefore only make matters worse.” He also noted that West Africa’s electoral processes were “worryingly vulnerable to corruption by drug money.”
While urging the countries involved to make drug traffickers and their accomplices face the full force of the law, he added that attention should be more on gang leaders rather than foot soldiers of the criminal act.
“We abhor the drug traffickers and their accomplices, who must face the full force of the law. But the law should not be applied only to the poor, the uneducated and the vulnerable.
“We have found that it is still mostly drug users and small-time dealers who are arrested and imprisoned. The small fry is caught while the big fish swim free. National and international action against the traffickers must be stepped up, especially against those running the networks rather than their foot-soldiers on the ground,” Obasanjo urged Nigeria and its West African neighbours.
The former president added that during the course of the commission’s work on the report, it was discovered that it is not only drug trafficking that is causing major problems in the region but also drug consumption.
He said, “Drugs have become increasingly available and drug dependency has increased, especially among the young. Injecting drug use in particular carries the strong risk that HIV and other diseases might spread.
“Unfortunately, our region is simply not ready to deal with an increase in drug use. The response is all too often to stigmatise and punish drug users. But locking them up in ever greater numbers will not solve the problem. Even the United States has started to realise this. We have concluded that drug use must be regarded primarily as a public health problem.”
Speaking further, he observed that tackling the impact of drugs through informed, humane and coordinated policy would require a strong and well-coordinated effort.
Obasanjo called on political leaders in Africa to act together to change laws and policies that have not worked. This he said must be led by African governments with the support of the wider world.
He listed some of the steps as reforming drug laws, offering chronic users proper treatment and not imprisonment, and stopping traffickers from making further in-roads in Africa, adding that “these are all vital steps.”
“Today we know what works and what does not. It is time to adopt and adapt success stories from across the globe. It is time for a smarter approach to drug policy, which I fervently hope that the report of West Africa Commission will inspire”.