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PROFILE: Marwa, Harvard-trained new anti-drug czar who started handling firearms at 12

PROFILE: Marwa, Harvard-trained new anti-drug czar who started handling firearms at 12
January 18
16:41 2021

Mohamed (notice the one ‘m’ in the middle) Buba Marwa’s appointment as the chairman and chief executive officer of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) is, to many, well deserved. After all, the retired brigadier chaired chairing a presidential advisory committee for the elimination of drug abuse.

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In March 2020, he called on President Muhammadu Buhari to declare an emergency on drug abuse as the country was now at a point where such a critical measure is needed. 

“We have given our recommendation which we believe if implemented, this problem will be solved. The key thing is the will of the president, which he has,” he said, months after his committee submitted its recommendation to the president. 

Marwa became a household name when as military administrator of Lagos he initiated several people-oriented policies, one of which is the launching of tricycles for commercial transportation in Lagos — now popularly known as Keke Marwa.

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He took “area boys” of the streets by engaging them in a direct labour programme for massive road rehabilitation in Lagos, and also engaged them in skill acquisition. Many of them ended up setting up cottage businesses, including bread-making factories, with the help of the state government.

Marwa also dualised the Mile 12-Ikorodu road during his three-year governorship.

He was also hailed for effectively combating insecurity with the joint military patrol code-named “Operation Sweep”, although there were reports of human rights abuses by the soldiers.

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STARTED HANDLING FIREARMS AT 12 

With a grandfather who served in the Royal West African Frontier Force and a father who served in the Royal Nigerian Army, Marwa was born to be a soldier. 

At age 12, he was already enrolled at the Nigerian Military School (NMS) in Zaria, Kaduna state. 

“I actually handled weapons, live firing, at that young age,” he said in a 2017 interview.  

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“So the military blood is thoroughly in my veins. However as the saying goes the hood does not the monk make. So wearing a military uniform, or being trained as a soldier does not affect someone’s facial disposition or calmness and stuff. It all comes down really to the individual character of the person and his philosophy.” 

MILITARY ADMINISTRATOR? THOUGHT THE APPOINTMENT WAS A PRANK 

Steadily rising through the ranks in the Nigerian army, Marwa did not believe he would be named the military administrator of Lagos in 1996. 

His first reaction, he said in the interview, was denial. He was at the time defence attaché to the Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations (UN) in New York and it was his third year on the job. 

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He was on his way to New York on the day of the appointment. He arrived in New York and was taking a rest when his wife woke him up to the news. 

“She said she had received calls that the government had made some postings and that we were being recalled and appointed to Lagos state as the military administrator,” he said. 

“Immediately I told her somebody was playing pranks on her. That, in any case, I had just finished being governor of Borno state merely four years ago, and in the defence attaché job I had been the first to be appointed twice at different occasions.

“In the past you had people who moved from one post to the other in defence attaché positions because in one streak, they were serving in Zimbabwe and then relocated to London for instance. But I had done the military attaché job twice separately, in the 80’s and now in the 90’s, so I thought I would be the last person to be appointed as military administrator again. But later, a couple of calls came through that confirmed the appointment.” 

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NEVER ARRESTED ACTIVISTS AGAINST ABACHA REGIME 

It was difficult for a military officer to govern Lagos at the time tension was rising following the death of MKO Abiola, the winner of the 1993 presidential election. Abiola died in government custody in July 1998 while Marwa was still governor of Lagos. 

In December 1996, just months into his job as Lagos administrator, Marwa escaped a bomb attack, and there were insinuations that it was sponsored by activists who opposed the military regime. 

“At that particular instance when it happened, I never thought it was a bomb blast or that it was an assassination attempt,” he had said. 

“Every day I normally leave my Isaac John residence to go to work at 8am more or less and I took the same route believing there was no threat. It was not as if I was unpopular in Lagos and so had to change my daily route to work and so on. This was a routine administrative job in Lagos as governor. And I never did anything nasty to NADECO to say that somebody out there would try to assassinate me. In fact, throughout my tenure I never ordered the arrest, let alone lock up anyone.” 

He would eventually discover that “it was some agents of the federal government that tried to assassinate me but in my own mind and to this day I am quite clear that the head of state Gen. Abacha and his deputy Gen. Diya were unaware and not part of the plot”. 

HAVARD-TRAINED ADMINISTRATOR

Born on September 9, 1953, in Kaduna, Marwa who hails from Michika local government area of Adamawa state, had his secondary education at NMS in Zaria, and his tertiary education at the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) in Kaduna after which he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. 

He obtained a master’s degree in international relations from Pittsburgh University, and a master’s degree in public administration from the prestigious Harvard University — both schools in the US.

Marwa was academic registrar of the NDA and deputy defence adviser at the Nigerian embassy in Washington. 

Between 1990 and 1992, he was military governor of Borno state, where he launched “Operation Zaki” — the first joint military patrol in the country — to combat banditry. 

Upon his compulsory retirement from the army, Marwa founded Albarka Airlines, which later folded up as all the aircraft in the fleet were grounded by the federal government following the crash of a BAC series owned by EAS Airlines in Kano. Albarka’s fleet was all BAC one-eleven. 

In 2006, he ventured into politics and vied for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential ticket in 2007. 

Ahead of the presidential primary, he was quizzed by the EFCC over suspicion that he laundered money for Abacha, although he was not charged to court. He strongly denied all allegations of money laundering, attributing his interrogation to politics.

Marwa supported Umar Yar’Adua who eventually won the presidential election, and in 2007, he was appointed Nigeria’s high commissioner to the Republic of South Africa. 

In 2011, he was the governorship candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in the Adamawa election. He lost to Murtala Nyako. 

He defected to the PDP, but returned to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015 and he worked for the victory of Buhari. 

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