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Marijuana Commercialization: Akeredolu, NDLEA and The Thailand Trip (By Alaba Ojapinwa)

The marijuana debate and questions have been going on globally for over one hundred years. I must say recent public debate on marijuana in Nigeria has been accentuated by Omoyele Sowore, human right activist and the candidate for  African Action Congress (AAC ) party in the recently held presidential election. 

Sowore had mentioned at various times in his campaign it was time Nigeria woke up to global trend and realities on Marijuana by doing the needful to position itself to get the best from Marijuana. Therefore, Aketi is not alone on this line of thought. Sowore and many of us also think there is a lot of merits in doing that, and approve of it. 

Meanwhile, the decision of the governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, with regard to legalise and commercialise Marijuana, and his subsequent trip to Thailand in company with  Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency ( NDLEA ) boss to optimally harness the economic potential of marijuana for the benefit of Ondo State, and other stakeholders have since thrown up a heated controversies within the media space. It has sproutsed shades of debate, even recriminations. From curious questions from folks wanting to know more, to disapproval, and outright condemnation. 

For instance, the Presidential Advisory Committee for the Elimination of Drug Abuse has warned the governor, saying the move would be counterproductive and undermine the effort and gains Nigeria has made towards mitigating a ravaging substance and drug abuse epidemic in Nigeria. And that whatever economic gains from marijuana would be negated by the resources we would need to combat the security, social , mental and physical health challenges legalization and commercialisation of marijuana would bring.

While the opinions already given on the subject are no less competent, I am adding my thoughts on the debate in the hope that it will shed some light on the issues at stake and render senses in some ways to policy handlers.

And what is my take in all these ? I look at the civil leadership, the political leadership, the intellectual leadership, the holistic leadership. The optics, the symbolism and so on . To some of us, the statecraft  is more symbolic than the expectations of economic benefit. The process is as important as the outcome. Where have we met or missed the mark in all these ?

Some of us have no doubt in our minds Akeredolu most likely has good intentions with the trip. And to him, he was genuinely pursuing a noble endeavour. But the issues are with his methodology. And his timing. We do know too that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The governor, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, has been the President of the Nigeria Bar Association. Before then , and more than two decades ago, he was  attorney general and commissioner for justice in Ondo State, and now he is the governor.  In all the past and present positions, some of us rate him high. And he has proven us right. He has over the years proven to be a great leader. Until this.  How come with all these, he went by the method as he did? 

Drugs of any kind, not minding illegal drugs of which marijuana remains in Nigeria are in the exclusive legislative list . States don’t legislate or form policies on that. With these,  you need the legislative and policy framework.  So why is Akeredolu jumping the gun ?  And when some of us see a SAN who happens to be our governor jump gun in this manner, we get bellyache.

This is because of what this signposts and believing that it is at the bottom of our problem as a country.  Stuffs are mostly subjective and personal. We have no regards to institutions, due process and institutions. And that is one of the main reasons we are the way we are.  One may want to argue that was why NDLEA was with him on the Thailand trip. And that is good. But why did Akeredolu go at this time? Does he not understand he should spend his time working on putting up the enabling legislative, regulatory and policy framework ? If Ondo State must go to Thailand, does he have so little to do, so much resources to squander, or so untrusting he cannot delegate some of the so many aides and commissioners ? 

Akeredolu reportedly muted the signing of a memorandum of understanding of partnership with a Naresuan University in Thailand on the extraction of marijuana . Even on the first visit!  My heart bled when I read that! You have got marijuana for ages, our people have been growing it for ages. Now you have to go to Thailand to partner with a university to extract it ! And when no policy and legal or regulatory framework in place yet. 

By this, the governor demonstrated a manifest overlook, undermining and lack of respect for our educational and research and governmental institutions. It is not on record he went with any intellectual or representative of any of our educational and research institutions.

Societies can only be advanced and strengthened when each and every one of us, not minding leaders give the right attention and respect to the nurturing of our institutions. Akeredolu failed this time in that regard.

The meaning of the governor's proposal is the intellectual aspect of the endeavour would come from Thailand university. His focus is on the selling of the physical product. If Aketi does not understand the main deal is the intellectual property and patent. Then he’s got no business doing what he is doing. This is not the kind of move expected of a 21st century leader. Perhaps we  need 21st century leadership in this, just like in many areas

Our kids would not forgive us if we let marijuana go the way of cocoa. For the avoidance of doubt, isolating and extracting cannabis oil or other products is not rocket science our people in Nigeria cannot handle. And even if Aketi thinks it is, the right thing to do is to develop a strategy where we can build the capacity to handle it locally from get go. One of the main responsibilities leadership should be inspiring and motivating people to strive, aspire and achieve feats.  

The other day, in a bid to process Cassava, Akeredolu brought in Chinese.  We wanted to plant gmelina, he brought Chinese. We want marijuana processed, he jumped on the plane to Thailand. And in 2019 ! What  on earth then can we galvanise, and organise ourselves to achieve?  And where is the inspiration, aspiration and leadership expected  of Akeredolu? Surely not in all these.

These are cases of going to Sokoto ( a distant city ) to look for what is in your Sokoto ( pant ). And by the wrong person, using the wrong methodology. What kind of statecraft is that ? Or is it open season for mediocrity in governance ?  Certainly unexpected of Aketi.

Now to the main criticism – Security , Social and Health Challenges. To be clear, many of our folks arguing against the commercialization of Marijuana are not oblivious of the economic its benefits . The crux of their argument is  the way things are in Nigeria the social , physical and mental health ills  it would bring.   And the resources needed to offset this will ultimately negate whatever economic benefit it would bring .

Not everything is measured in monetary terms. The value placed on anything or endeavour cannot just be the monetary. And this should be elementary to anybody no less a governor. They also argue, there are so many other numerous non-controversial resources  that does not carry this social and health burden lying fallow unexploited or abandoned. So why the fixation on marijuana ?

There is also the language used. Language like Ondo State will partner with this and that. Ondo State will make so much money from marijuana. This gives the impression government is going into business. People believe this government should limit itself to making the enabling legal, policy and regulatory framework and leave the business to private sector. If so how come government  is so excited ? Bandying figures around at this rudimentary stage? Is government  going into marijuana business? Can it  do it well ? Have they got the pedigree and record to convince even the most optimistic ? No.

Nigeria is notorious for chaotic distribution of anything including medicines. There is no structure . No respect for the pharmaceutical industry. As we speak, anybody can open shop and sell any drug in Nigeria. The most potent of narcotics, opioids, controlled , targeted, stimulants and what have you can be procured anywhere in Nigeria.  This is one of the factors in the underbelly of the opioid crisis abuse ravaging Nigeria. The Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria through the Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria recently closed down for 2 hours protesting  the non-signing of the Pharmacy Industry Bill.

They have argued, the non-signing of the bill by President Muhammad Buhari is the main reason Nigeria is in this mess of chaotic drug distribution and by extension appalling pharmacy and medical practice  and care causing so much health and social havoc including the public health crisis of opioid and substance  abuse.

If our government has  proven not be trustworthy in supposedly little and ordinary things , do you blame us if we find it difficult to trust them with bigger stuff ? In fact Nigeria recently banned the use of codeine . So critics argue, a government that cannot regulate and control the distribution and use of conventional and everyday prescription medication cannot be trusted with commercialising marijuana. And it’s very easy to reason with them.

We cannot overlook the serious security challenges in Nigeria. Government has been found wanting in managing this. Rule of law is largely absent. In fact Nigeria has lost control of the issue. And this was recently  echoed by former president Olusegun Obasanjo . And the Nigeria minister of defence recently appealed to Russia for help  confessing Nigeria is overwhelmed. Incidentally Ondo State where Akeredolu is governor  and the Marijuana growing areas have been the hotbed of kidnapping and other nefarious activities. 

It won’t be too much of a stretch if we listen to the argument in some quarters that in a mostly unorganised society like our own,  commercialised  marijuana business would be a veritable gateway for drug money to filter  into our polity, politics and government with potential dire consequences.  And we cant wave that fear away with the back of our hands. We only need to look into  many South America and middle east for instruction and wisdom.

There is the argument marijuana is in high use anyways . And without legalisation and commercialisation. And that legalization can only improve the situation and even rein in the criminal aspects while bring up the positives. Yes that is possible.  And expected too if the right structure , resources and processes are put in place first. But first things first.  Has Aketi ever reasoned why only a few countries have been able to commercialise marijuana. Have we got what it takes to manage it ?  Yes it would bring money . But it would bring other things.

It is very interesting and worthy of not Aketi and other proponents of a hurried commercialization of marijuana have not in any way addressed the concerns of  security, health and general lack of preparedness of our society for another controversial and addictive substance. They have been hammering just on the benefits. How disingenuous and hypocritical can that be? We cannot just bury our head in the sand and not address these. That would be most fraudulent. 

Getting the economic benefits from marijuana and mitigating the negatives to possible minimum are not either or propositions. They both can be achieved. We just have to prepare for it. Legalization and commercialisation would inevitable increase use.  This is because the stigma would have been removed. And that can be good , because then we can better monitor the stuff in all its ramifications. 

But before we can get the optimal benefit and mitigate the negatives, we have to invest in the platform, structure and process to make its management seamless.

The problem with us as a country  we don’t make adequate preparation  and lay foundation for stuff. A governor would jump into plane by whims and wants the benefit like since yesterday. We do not want to invest in the structure  to make stuff work. 

A country  does not invest in basic infrastructure like electricity, water, road, education etc. But only think of money. And that is the very reason for our national poverty and retrogressions despite the huge potentials. Tell me, how would a country not able to provide electricity have good distribution system for anything?

And where is the health  and social system to take care of the health and social  fallouts?  So people would be left to fall through the cracks while government and business smile to the bank ? That would be blood money on our hands . And what is the moral and leadership example in a governor touting he wants to champion the production of a substance  to enhance global health when the health of his people is so left unattended ? 

When it was not commercialised, government won’t be held accountable ,but once a governments commercializes it , responsibility comes. So government should demonstrate some capacity to handle issues when it comes up. That is largely absent. For now.

This is called tunneled vision oblivious of unintended consequences. It is called not looking at stuff holistically. It is the danger inherent in one sided narrative.  It presents as a lack of capacity of competent evaluation . Of risk versus benefit evaluation vis a vis your environment of operation. And not evaluating the unintended consequences of your policies and actions. In an unprepared environment like ours, the cost of the unintended consequences would be  way more than the financial benefit . And its unbelievable Aketi doesn’t get this. 

How about the 200 disease cure health claim been indiscriminately being bandied about ? And from the least expected quarters ? Maybe not least expected from politicians . 

It’s so unbelievable and heart wrenching, some of us who should know cannot help having bellyache  reading them. Some of us live in one of the few countries medical cannabis have been legalised for so many years. And one of the two countries the recreational use is nationally legalised. 

We live it . We see it and its effects . Our daily work involves discussing cannabis with clients. And we have shown enough interest to get training and knowledge on this.  We can therefore separate the wheat from the chaff . We see the holes in those unsubstantiated and irresponsible claims.  

The right Cannabis product  definitely have some health benefits. Just not anywhere what our politicians are throwing about. And since when is it the job of politicians to be talking about the health benefits of stuffs?  Where are the numerous experts in Nigeria?  Where are the Pharmacists? Where is NMA ? NBA ?  Where are our intellectuals and researchers? Shouldn’t they be the ones discussing this first ? 

This does not reflect well on our leaders. It’s a disturbing dynamics. And the optic is very disappointing.

It is a huge proof that Ondo State is in need of 21stcentury leadership. You even begin to wonder where the heads of Aketi’s political advisers are regarding this. Or is it he doesn’t consult them or he doesn’t listen to them ?

This is because feelers from many quarters are this singular issue is going to contribute greatly to diminishing Aketi’s  political fortune. He’s already been branded the marijuana governor. It doesn’t matter his good intention and whether some of us believe in this save the timing and methodology. In a society like ours it would sure reduce this political capital . And it surely does not have social capital.  At least for now. And economic capital is not enough. We are in a democracy.

To be sure many of us are open, have campaigned for, and would even support harnessing the medical and economic,  and I would add eventual recreational benefit of Cannabis. But we have to do first things first. We have to invest in the right places to make that happen. We would not support this short cut , fire brigade and fly by night approach and methodology Akeredolu is employing. And to be sure,  this goes beyond the legal and regulatory framework . Public education and enlightenment, health and other social services and infrastructure and so on have to be in place.  And that is a long shot for now.

We wont support this tunneled vision ,money grab inclination. We are well informed about marijuana and all its ramifications. For some of us it’s our daily job dealing with these things. So we are talking from a point of knowledge, information and practice.  

We would not trust Aketi and Buhari with these things if some basic things are not in place. We cannot afford to fail our children by allowing some hurried, uninformed , money grabbing endeavour take foot hold to the detriment of the mental ,physical and social health of their future . Never.

We can do it when the right resources have been put in place . Not now. 

Aketi may have good intentions. Unfortunately, good intentions are not always enough. Your methodology, timing, preparedness are all wrong headed.  And runs against his governments mantra; Think anew, Act anew. Aketi should endeavor to put that in practice . And not just a mantra.

However , there is a positive side to this. Aketi has thrown his weight behind a very important conversation. If we continue to talk about it and get the necessary resources in place , we will sometime in the future be in a position to have a favourable risk benefit situation when it comes to exploring and exploiting marijuana for economic and medical purposes . 

But you know what they say about preparation meeting opportunity?  For now we are not prepared . And with the way leadership is in Nigeria, achieving the optimum environment for that is still a long shot. But if any leader wants to demonstrate some lack of understanding and advertise ignorance by looking only at this issue one sided thereby exposing the future of our society to avoidable risks,  our people surely  won’t let it fly.

Alaba Ojapinwa is a Pharmacist in Canada.


  1. Deep thought!
    Plan your work.
    Work your plan.
    Preparations time is never a wasted time!

  2. Nice writeup, I'm also of the opinion that we are not prepared for this.

  3. Well written article. Let's go back to the basics. So much needs to be done, the rule of law, food, shelter, organised healthcare system. Hopefully we'll be having more constructive opinions like this. God bless Nigeria ����

  4. Well done Alaba. Kudos for a good write up. Aketi came up with a novel idea but He shouldn't be in a hurry. There's huge work to be done before benefits derivable from the idea will come

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