By Temitope Ponle
ECOWAS, African Union, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), European Union and INTERPOL have called for concerted efforts in the fight against illicit drug abuse and trafficking.
The call was made at the opening of an experts’ meeting on; “Illicit Drug Trafficking, Organised Crime and Drug Abuse in West Africa’’ on Friday in Abuja.
The INTERPOL and ECOWAS had coordinated an operation across some member states which resulted in nearly eight tonnes of seizures and the arrest of 74 people in 2012.
The operation tagged; (Operation Atakora) which was within the framework of the ECOWAS Regional Action Plan on Drugs was carried out across Benin, Ghana and Togo.
A similar operation (Operation Adwenpa) carried out to strengthen border controls along the Abidjan-Lagos corridor also resulted in major seizures of 900kg of illicit drugs, stolen cars, currency, firearms and fake travel documents.
The 10-day operation which began on Jan. 26 to Feb. 4, was carried out across Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo.
The Representative of the INTERPOL Regional Office, Abidjan, Mr Koivogui Niouma, however, said that in spite of the successes achieved, member states needed to harmonise efforts in information sharing among relevant institutions.
Niouma said: “these criminals are always changing their pattern of activities and use the weaknesses of our forces to operate’’.
“They have developed more ingenious means of bypassing surveillance.
“Our best response is exchange of information and this is why we welcome the approach for us to work to get rid of nefarious activities in our sub-region.”
In his address, Mr Cheikh Toure, the UNODC Representative, urged member states to strengthen legal and penal systems, improve preventive services and enhance cooperation.
Toure said enhanced cooperation among member states would ensure the success of the new ECOWAS plan of action for the fight against drug trafficking and abuse and organised crime.
Also speaking, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Human Development and Gender, Dr Fatimata Sow said that the experts’ meeting would develop a draft for the new ECOWAS plan of action to tackle drug trafficking and abuse.
Sow said that significant progress was made in the first ECOWAS seven-year plan of action for the fight against drug trafficking and abuse and organised crime in West Africa which ended in 2015.
She said the first plan of action was adopted by the Heads of State in 2008 and added that the new action plan would cover the period of 2016 to 2018.
The commissioner also noted that some member states had developed good drug control initiatives and strengthened their criminal justice systems.
“Shortly after the adoption of this Plan, the ECOWAS Commission, in collaboration with the UNODC, developed an operational plan and a monitoring and evaluation mechanism to ensure its implementation.’’
She, however, expressed concern that the plan had yet to be fully implemented by some member states due to challenges of funding, limited technical support provided by partners and lack of technical expertise to the commission.
The commissioner explained that the trend in drug abuse and trafficking and organised crime continued to grow and had become “increasingly sophisticated and dangerous”.
She said that the new draft plan would address the concerns raised in drug trafficking and abuse and organised crime in the sub-region.
“In addition, the new plan seeks to establish a link with Target 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
“The new Draft Plan focuses on the best policy measures to adopt in order to reduce drug trafficking organised crime and drug abuse in the region.
“The plan identifies five priority deliverables with measurable outcomes with performance indicators clearly defined,” she said.
Also speaking, the African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs, Mr Mustapha Kaloko, said the scourge had become a threat to peace, security, public health and social development.
Kaloko said that the African region needed holistic approach to tackle both drug supply reduction and drug demand reduction.
“A multi-sectoral and balanced approach between legislative norms setting, law enforcement and drug abuse prevention and treatment activities are paramount.
“Africa needs drug policies that protect children from drug use, that recognise that the drug problem is not only a criminal justice issue but a health problem.”
In his remarks, the EU Attaché, Regional Programmes, Peace and Security, Mr Philipé Peyredieu du Charlat expressed the commitment of the EU to ECOWAS.
Peyredieu du Charlat called on African countries to be more vigilant and have the political resolve to implement policies that would address the menace of drug abuse and trafficking in the region.
“The situation is worsening by the day; we call on member countries to put up a number of mechanisms to ensure the support of this action plan,” he said.