Abuja, 9th April 2019 . The Experts’ session of the Inter-Ministerial Drug Coordinating Committee Meeting (IMDCC) of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) got underway on the 9th of April 2019, in Abuja, Nigeria.
Among others, the experts are deliberating on the theme: “Renewal of Commitment, Ten Years after the Political Declaration on the Prevention of Drug Abuse, Illicit Drug Trafficking and Organised Crime in West Africa”.
At the opening session of the deliberations, the ECOWAS Commission’s Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender Dr. Siga Fatima Jagne stated that ten years after a region-wide political declaration on the subject, there are “sufficient reasons and urgent need for renewal of commitment and dedication by Member States to address drug abuse and transnational organised crime with increased vigour and resources”
Confirming that illicit trafficking of drugs and other transnational organised crimes constitute the greatest threat to peace and security in the Sahel and the rest of West Africa, she disclosed that ECOWAS is currently developing a Supplementary Act which is more legally binding and demonstrative of the regional organisation’s concern and resolve to tackle the menace.
Commissioner Jagne noted that in spite of increased and more robust interventions by all stakeholders, challenges abound, which hamper national responses. These according to her, include an absence of a national plan of action or drug prevention and control strategy in most Member States, lack of national rehabilitation centres, paucity of psychiatric doctors and other medical personnel, incarceration of drug users without rehabilitation, inadequate collaboration among national law enforcement agencies as well as increase in trafficking in falsified medicines and abuse of Tramadol.
She however enthused that the positive outcome from the Monitoring Missions to ECOWAS Member States and Mauritania which is bringing about a recommitment to addressing the drug problem, greater participation of representatives from different Ministries and Department as well as sustenance of inter-agency cooperation, presents a ray of hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
In his welcome remarks, the Representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Nigeria Country Office Mr. Oliver Stolpe, represented by Dr.Abiola Olaleye, noted that since the setting up of the West African Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (WENDU), the UNODC has been helping to bring about coherence to national procedures.
In this regard, he stressed the necessity of finalising a Supplementary Act which will be “a way to build on our successes and look to brighter perspectives because, based on the lessons learnt from implementation of the Action Plan, we would be able to understand what could have been done better”
The Head, Social Welfare, Vulnerable Groups and Drug Control and Crime Prevention of the African Union (AU) Dr. Jane Ongolo, in a goodwill message, lamented that in confronting the challenge of drug trafficking at the doorsteps of the continent, it has to be noted that “trafficking has been displaced to Africa as the path of least resistance”
Speaking through Hajia Raheemat Momodu, she pointed to the growing nexus between drugs, and organised crime including complex and shifting networks of insurgency, local and regional politics, corruption and terrorism.
The Nigerian Ambassador to ECOWAS Babatunde Nurudeen reiterated that drug abuse and illicit trafficking constitute a great menace to the region, spilling a plethora of socio-economic problems that need to be urgently tackled. Noting that the government of Nigeria has taken some commendable strides in the fight against the scourge, he urged ECOWAS Member States not to relent in funding projects geared towards the eradication of the menace.
The representative of the West African regional office of the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL), Sere Drissa, noted that his organisation is totally committed to the collaboration it has with ECOWAS in the fields of training and police operations. He said the “roadblock” against the lucrative business of illicit drug dealings cannot be effective without a frank collaboration in the sharing and exchange of information.
The IMDCC processes are assisted by ECOWAS partners including the European Union (EU) whose support for the implementation of the EDOWAS drug and crime Action Plan ends in November 2019. The exercise will be rounded up on the 12th of April 2019 with the meeting of the regional ministers who are to adopt a set of recommendations emanating from the experts’ meeting.