Nigeria’s progression from a simple, stable and “clean” society to one that is drug-troubled may have taken long to come about; but it seems to have finally come to stay. In fact, it has now reached an emergency level. Given the deep-rooted nature of the drug problem, it is a situation that will remain so for a long time, unless drastic measures are taken to restore the country’s erstwhile pristine innocence.
Until 1985 when three young Nigerian men, Bartholomew Owoh, Lawal Ojulope and Bernard Ogedegbe, were tied to the stake and shot for illegal possession of hard drugs, cocaine and heroin, very little was known about drug or its abuse in the country beyond the usual culprit, Indian hemp, which has always been widely available. The public execution was a drastic action that tugged at the heartstrings, especially when the law under which they were executed was retroactive.
But despite the tough stance of the government, Nigeria’s rising profile in the hard drug business refused to wane over the years. From a mere transit route in the 1990s, where the country played a major role in the movement of hard drugs from South America to European and Asian countries, she has transformed into a country of ardent abusers and traffickers of hard drugs, which should not be very surprising. Being a transit route is always a precursor to a transmogrification into a more dangerous status.
A report of the first ever survey on drug use in Nigeria released last week has given an insight into how deep-rooted the drug problem is. According to the survey supported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the European Union, about 14.3 million Nigerians, representing about 14.4 per cent of the country’s population between the ages of 15 and 64, were said to have abused drugs in the past one year. This is very worrisome because of the deleterious effects of drug or substance abuse on both the abuser and the society.
Drug or substance abuse, according to the World Health Organisation, is “the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs.” This could result in dependence syndrome, a phenomenon that develops after repeated substance use and “strong desire to take the drug, difficulty in controlling its use (and) persisting in its use despite harmful consequences,” among other issues. A global phenomenon, alcohol alone is responsible for about 3.3 million deaths every year, the UN agency says. The figure is far higher when other dangerous drugs are taken into consideration. This is perhaps why many countries, including Thailand, Singapore and Saudi Arabia, hand down maximum punishment for drug offences.
Most disturbing about the Nigerian report is that, at 14.4 per cent, the prevalence of drug abuse in the country is more than double the 2016 global average of 5.6 per cent. Yet, given the rate at which the habit is spreading, it is expected that the rate will further increase and might become an epidemic in a country that lacks the capacity to handle it. The disturbing report, carried out by the National Bureau of Statistics and the Centre for Research and Substance Abuse, showed that the drug problem was more pronounced in the South than in the North, contrary to what people were led to believe in the past.
Aside from drugs such as cocaine, heroin and amphetamines, abused by the elite and high net worth individuals, the most abused substance was cannabis (Indian hemp), taken by 10.6 million Nigerians, out of the 14.3 million that took drugs last year. This makes cannabis, perhaps next to alcohol, by far the most commonly abused substance in the country. But, also popular among the youths, probably due to their affordability, are some prescription drugs such as Tramadol, codeine, antibiotics, cough syrup and laxatives.
Substance abuse hurts abusers in many ways. The Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Mojisola Adeyeye, said drug abuse could lead to arrhythmias – irregular heartbeat – cramp, coma and death. Experts say that drug abuse could lead to diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C and even stroke. Death could come as a result of overdose. It could hurt the victim’s finances as a lot of money goes into maintaining the habit. At the place of work, it could result in diminishing productivity and eventual sacking. Socially, people who abuse drugs steal to sustain the habit, which could also alienate them from their families and close friends as the drug takes precedence over any other thing.
Adeyeye, whose agency is charged with the regulation of the manufacture and distribution of drugs and other ingestible items, identified the love of money by peddlers, unemployment, disobedience to the laws of the land and the porous borders that allow the substances to be smuggled into the country as reasons for the high prevalence of drug abuse. According to her, the only way to prevent a breakdown of law and order by the addicts was for the government to develop and enforce a National Prescription Policy.
The NBS report said, “The extent of the problem is such that it cannot be addressed alone by any single entity within the government or by the government alone.” So, it is a problem that demands the collaboration of all segments of the society, especially the family, where parents and guardians should pay more attention to what their children and wards are doing. Religious groups also have a big role to play in keeping the youth away from drugs, especially through enlightenment.
It has been established that mere arrest and incarceration of drug offenders do not solve the problem. Government’s knee-jerk reaction has been to ban some of the drugs, but it will only criminalise abusers and not help them. In the United Kingdom, drug or substance abuse is treated as an illness, a brain disorder. As the problem is increasing, there is the need to create treatment and rehabilitation centres. As it has to do with human resource, this is a problem the government should show more interest in.