Mrs. Maryam Gambo Sani is the first female commander of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, in Katsina State. Under her watch, several successes have been recorded against drug abuse and trafficking. But there are challenges. In this interview, Mrs Gambo Sani talks on drugs abuse especially in Katsina State and other sundry matters
What have been the challenges being the first female commander of NDLEA in the state command?
During the course of my work since 2000, I’ve been Assistant State Commander in charge of Administration and Logistics, so I’ve been dealing with a lot of people in terms of administration and discipline and the rest of them. You know the whole of administration is like every bulk of the job with the exception of operation, is on you. So I am used to that and by virtue of my years of employment, it is always being that I am in the same rank with the commander or he is just a step ahead of me.
I am Course II by ranking in NDLEA. We only have Course I; after Course I then II and as it is now, we are all of the same rank because the gap is not much between I and II and III. So if by casual leave, by going for annual leave or any course the commander is going, I am directly in charge most of the time during all my time being a deputy. It didn’t come as a surprise because in other areas, we have a lot of females that are commanders too. So my appointment as a commander didn’t come as a surprise as such, and there’s not much difficulty in it being that my husband is equally of same rank and is of same course and he’s been a commander for a very long time. So the experience is ok.
What are the challenges faced in tackling the problem of drug abuse in the state?
The challenges are much; it’s not peculiar to me as being a female only. It is an in- thing. The challenges are there whether it is a man or a woman. We have the issue of lack of operational materials to work with which is the biggest challenge. If we have adequate materials and funding, it would lessen the challenges. But we’ll not say that it would wipe out the whole of the challenges but it would lessen it. You can imagine the whole of Katsina state having 34 local governments. I have six area commands. Each of the area commands is covering six local governments. And in one area command, they just have a dilapidated vehicle that cannot function. In some of the area commands, their vehicle cannot leave Katsina here to Kankia. That is what we have in all the area commands. So how can somebody work with such? Here in the headquarters we just have two Hilux vehicles that have spent eight years. So you can see it’s a big challenge. If any of my area commands are going out for operations now, they need to apply to the headquarters we need give them vehicles, after they are done one or two. As you were coming you saw only one Hilux because one is already in Kankia since yesterday. So when they finish their job today they will return it and we’ll send it to Dutsinma, which is next on the queue. Yesterday the two left, one went to Jibiya the other went to Kankia. The one in Kankia is not yet back. That is how we have been managing. So we have a lot of challenges in terms of logistics.
So how do you move suspects to the courts?
If we want to move suspects to court we still use the vehicle- Hilux. That is what we have. In the morning sometimes they go to court, when they drop the suspects and the exhibit they come back and do other work. When they close, the lawyer will call from court to inform us that they are through, and then we send back the Hilux to go and pick them and take the suspects back to prison, and some back here. So that is how we have been managing.
There are reports of young girls using drugs and engaging in immoral and other anti-social behaviours. How is the command tackling the issue?
The issue of young girls indulging themselves into the use of cough syrup and Rofenol most especially, and valium, is on the increase. That is the truth of the matter; because a lot of times my officers go for operation most especially in hotels and in some houses where they use as meeting centres. They do make arrest of girls who are into this. And in some occasions, we do have some parents who bring girl for rehabilitation. My coming here had seen me rehabilitate three girls though with difficulty because we don’t have space; we don’t have a place to keep them. As you can see the charge room, there is a small room there: any time we have case dealing with girls, we prepare the place and keep them there and you know that it is not safe. It is not safe at all. So I don’t always take girls. If I take any girls it is when I see the situation is out of hand. An instance is where the girl does not even sleep at all at home. They go out and sometimes a week they don’t come back home. So when the parents come, it’s a sympathetic situation, and I cannot just say no, so I now make use of that interrogation room, and I have to draw all the female staff I have to be on duty 24 hours on them because you cannot just keep a girl exposed there. We have continuously informed the government about this predicament and they always say that they would do something about it. So we are hoping this time around, because the issue is almost out of hand. It’s not only the girls that indulge in this drug abuse, married women also do. I have an occasion where the last female that was brought in here, I learnt that she is seriously back into the drug habit. When she was here, I called and interviewed her, and she said the extent is bad. She made an instance of her school; she said in her class they are about 120 or more. She said that from that number about 80 to 100 of them use this Codeine and Roth. So you can see how alarming it is in schools.
What is the role of patent medicine dealers in the illegal dealings on hard drugs in the state?
Presently my agency is having several, and anyone that had been arrested is still on our watch list. We’ll liaise with the relevant authorities. If they continue, definitely something needs to be done and done fast. As an organization, NDLEA does not have the right to just close a chemist. We cannot equally withdraw their licenses because we don’t issue their licenses. It is the work of the Ministry of Health and NAFDAC. These two bodies have inspectorates that are supposed to be going round these patent medicine dealers especially. Patient medicine owners not allowed to sell anything like controlled drugs that is the law. And equally cough syrup containing Coedine; they can only sell cough syrup, the one without Coedine. They have a list of drugs that they are supposed to sell. We call it over the counter drugs. But these days because they want to make fast money they leave over the counter drugs, and because these people want to abuse these pshco-tropic substances, they are into it full time, even more than most of the chemists. So the position is that it is against the law for them to sell it and we are watching them. And a lot of them we have their cases here, they are pending in court. Presently the cases are ongoing, so by the time we have a conviction on one, so it will send a signal to them that it is a no go area.
How many recent cases do you have on ground for the patent medicine owners?
I don’t have actual figure now but we have more than five or so. Their offences border on unlawful possession and dealings.
On the rehabilitation of girls doing drugs…
Every command has two cells, one for males and another for females. But the involvement of women in drug dealing or trafficking itself and not drug use is less than the men, so we decided to convert the second cell that is meant for females for counseling. Anytime we have female suspects, we use this outer cell for them. And equally, if we don’t have a suspect, if there’s need for someone on critical situations, if we need to rehabilitate such girl, then we equally keep her there. But now the government is giving us a listening ear and that they intend to revive the former promise that the past government made in building a rehabilitation centre for us. So we are keeping our fingers crossed to see that it is actualized.
Have there been recent efforts in the arrest of suspects by the command?
There are lots of efforts. We made some series of arrests that are quantifiable, about three or four cases of quantities of Tramadol that we arrested. That is this ex-convict, a man in Sabuwan Unguwa who has no patent medicine shop, and was arrested with large quantities of Tramadol and Coedine. Though he’s at large, but all necessary intelligence as to his whereabouts is known to us. So he would soon be apprehended. We equally have a chicken griller in town. On top of the grill shed, a large carton of Tramadol was discovered, and we have equally arrested many hawkers that sell medicine openly. Their cartons are filled up in our rehabilitation room. We have equally raided a lot of areas where majority of the users were arrested. As just told you our vehicle was just in Kankia, the area commander called to say that he had arrested eight or so people there, and equally in Dutsinma and the rest of them. So we’re not just sitting; we are on our toes to see that the drugs issue is brought to its barest minimum.
On synergy between NAFDAC and other security organisations in the state…
Yes, on Monday after a truck with fake drugs was arrested, we worked with NAFDAC to give us an analysis of the drugs to ascertain their genuineness. They replied that of the about 17 to 18 types of drugs, four of them are genuine while the rest didn’t have NAFDAC registration and are therefore, fake. So there is collaboration between us. And the fake drugs with no NAFDAC registration number we are transferring to them. Those that are controlled we would keep until we get the owners. And those ones that are genuine the owners can come and pick them which I know they would not because it is combined with control.
What is your general advice to youths, especially those into drug usage?
My general advice to them is that drugs don’t pay. It does not add anything to you. It affects your health, job; if you are a student it affects your school because it affects your brain. When you use drugs, definitely for someone who is brilliant, maybe in school he takes the first position, it could make him start going back. Something like Cannnabis Sativa, that is ‘wiwi’, it kills the brain cells gradually. Drugs destroy the home, put parents under pressure, emotional stress and the rest of them. It also affects the community and the state at large. If you quantify the amount of drugs being consumed in monetary terms, you would see that it is in millions and even billions of naira that goes into the drain. These monies that are supposed to be used to develop the individuals and to develop the society have gone down into the drain.
Everybody’s hand must be on deck to fight drugs abuse in the state. Just as how Dangote has become a household name, likewise drugs in Katsina state is now a household name. If it does not affect you directly, one or two of your relations may be affected. So everybody’s hand must be on deck by giving the NDLEA the necessary cooperation to make sure that we get drug dealers and barons, because they are within us in the society. They are not evil spirits; they are our sons and daughters, uncles and relations that deal in these drugs, so we should expose them before they get to us.