Last week, another episode in Nigeria’s theatre of the absurd unfolded as operatives of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) arrested two Abuja-based partners who allegedly specialised in selling drugged cookies to inhabitants of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), including school children. According to a statement by the media director of the agency, Mr. Femi Babafemi, the suspected drug dealers, namely Rhoda Agboje, a 300 level university student, and Ifeanyi Nwankwo, her boyfriend, are part of a syndicate involved in the production of cookies with Arizona, a highly psychoactive variant of cannabis; alcohol and Rohypnol, among other ingredients. The activities of the group were exposed after Agboje was arrested at the NNPC Cooperative Estate, opposite Gaduwa Estate in Abuja, with four pieces of the cookies.
The arrest of the suspects followed a complaint that Agboje had given an unsuspecting young girl the cookies to eat after which the girl apparently lost her mind: she could not sleep, and consistently made incoherent utterances. Babafemi said: “During interrogation, Agboje confessed that she prepared the cookies with a friend and sold a pack of three pieces for N1,500. A follow-up in her boyfriend’s house also led to the recovery of over 200 pieces of the drug.” The vendor allegedly confirmed selling the cookies at parties and to unsuspecting members of the public, as well as supermarkets and clubs in the FCT. The agency, Babafemi added, had launched a manhunt for another member of the syndicate.
To say the least, this is a highly disturbing development. It is bad enough that the country’s youth, discouraged and depressed by the failures of the Nigerian state, have over the years sought succour in drug abuse and other vices. While the drug epidemic in which the country is gripped continues to pose serious existential, social and psychological dangers to the users and to the country, it is at least the case that those engaged in it do so as a matter of choice, however poor that choice may be. But given the latest incident which suggests forced drug usage, it is sufficiently clear that the country faces much more potent risks than the leadership has been willing to come to terms with.
If the allegations against the suspects in the extant case are true, they certainly deserve the maximum sentence. Forcing vulnerable, innocent children into drug use is the height of depravity. NDLEA Chairman, Mohamed Marwa, sought to make the same point when he averred as follows: “What the syndicate is doing is not only criminal but equally unconscionable. It was deliberately luring schoolchildren into drugs under the cover of selling to them biscuits or cookies. I wish to draw the attention of parents to this new devious strategy to get children addicted to drugged cookies and to urge them to remain vigilant while monitoring what their wards bring home or consume as a snack.”
Pray, just how devilish can people be? The fact is well established that drugged food and drinks are a feature of nightclub life across the country. As a matter of fact, the kind of products that the suspects in this case have been caught with are usually made available at night clubs where the rule is for participants to get “high” as much as they can, brandishing what a Nigerian street pop singer, Adekunle Temitope (aka Small Doctor), euphemistically calls their “water bottles.” In this case, however, the vendors of illegal drugs did not limit their business to nightclubs; they wilfully extended their tentacles to unwilling members of the public, including vulnerable school children, and it is yet unclear just how many lives have been badly affected or even ruined as a result of their callous commerce.
It is saddening that generally in the Nigerian society, nobody thinks about the other person any more: people are only concerned with the pursuit of money by any means. At the risk of repetition, we affirm that there is a drug epidemic in this society. Many have developed psychiatric problems, and the psychiatric department of teaching hospitals across the country are full of cases of patients who negotiated their journey into mental emasculation with the abuse of drugs.
We salute the NDLEA’s action in this case and urge it to ensure the conduct of a thorough investigation followed by diligent prosecution in the court of law. It should extend its investigative dragnet with a view to unraveling drug syndicates across the country. The suspects in this case are on the lower rung of the criminal ladder: there is much more to unveil through vigilance, commitment and professionalism.