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Interrogating propriety of drug tests on intending couples, politicians

By Ameh Ochojila, Abuja
30 August 2022   |   3:55 am
Disturbed by increasing cases of drug abuse, a former Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi, advocated drug tests for all individuals seeking elective political office, to ensure that they are not drug addicts.

Chairman of National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Mohammed Buba Marwa

Disturbed by increasing cases of drug abuse, a former Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi, advocated drug tests for all individuals seeking elective political office, to ensure that they are not drug addicts. Sanusi made the call at a three-day workshop on anti-substance abuse awareness campaign and training the trainers, held in Kano.

His suggestion was prior to the charge by the chairman of the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Brig-Gen. Buba Marwa’s (rtd) to parents to insist on drug tests for their children’s spouses before marriage.

The NDLEA’s boss had proposed that couples intending to get married should do drug tests. He added that the agency is doing everything possible to meet up with the presidential mandate to curb use of illicit drugs in the country.

He had argued that no parent would want their children to marry drug addicts, hence it has become necessary for would-be couples to take the test before marriage. He noted that some religious bodies have made it mandatory for intending couples to do one test or the other to ensure that they have a successful marriage, adding that the inclusion of a drug test in the list should not sound absurd to people.

The duo are not alone in recommending drug tests for politicians, workers and students. Others who have joined in the call are traditional rulers and leaders of thought across Nigeria. The Ona of Abaji and Chairman, Federal Capital Territory Council of Chiefs, Abuja, Alhaji Adamu Yunusa, had also thrown his weight behind drug integrity tests for intending couples.

Irked by the menace of drug abuse, Gov. Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State went further and established a committee to address the alarming rate of drug abuse in the state. Lawmakers in Adamawa went even further and passed a law requiring mandatory drug and alcohol tests before one gains employment or admission into public institutions.

Tambuwal, while inaugurating the committee to control the alarming rate of drug use in the state, said controlling the circulation of illicit drugs and consumption was necessary in view of the increasing number of youths going into drugs.

“More worrisome is the involvement of married and single women in substance abuse, which is a negative trend that cannot be tolerated by any responsible society.

“Substance abuse is one of the major causes of the socio economic problems our state and country are facing today.
These include the rising rate of crime and insecurity, ill health, lack of productivity in all sectors and poverty,” he said.

The law enacted by Adamawa State House of Assembly makes alcohol and drugs integrity tests a mandatory part of screening for applicants seeking for admission or employment in public institutions across the state.

The bill, tagged, “A bill for a law to provide for mandatory drugs, alcohol and other illicit substances testing for applicants for appointments, employment and admission into educational and public institutions” was sponsored by Hon. Kabiru Mijinyawa (Yola South).

The passage of the bill followed a motion to that effect by the Deputy Majority Leader and member representing Gombi constituency, Hon. Japhet Kefas. After the passage of the bill, the Speaker of the Assembly, Rt. Hon. Iya Abbas, directed the Clerk to prepare a clean copy for Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri’s assent.

According to proponents of mandatory drug tests, many marital problems like domestic violence and divorce are attributed to drug abuse.

However, in response to the proposal to conduct drug tests on politicians, a coalition of 18 political parties under the aegis of Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) rejected the proposal, describing it as outrageous and a deliberate attack on the sensibilities of lovers of democratic governance in Nigeria. The national chairman of IPAC, Yabagi Sani, maintained that the proposal portrayed politicians as drug addicts who must be certified fit to run for various elective offices by the NDLEA.

Others who opposed the suggestion argued that the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria and the Electoral Act do not require drug tests for candidates.

Adamawa State Governor, Ahmadu Fintiri

Some lawyers on the other hand feared that since drug test is not made a precondition for disqualification of a candidate in the Electoral Act, it would be of no consequence. They, however, added that such an idea is ideal for public interest and would help to determine the integrity and soundness of aspirants as well as deter those who engage in abuse of hard drugs.

They argued that for such a proposal to see the light of day, there must be an enabling law, pointing out that any law that is inconsistent with any provision of the Constitution is null and void to the extent of such inconsistency.

Some of the lawyers argued that in the face of the provision of section 34 of the Constitution that guarantees the right to the dignity of the human person, no person can be compelled to take a drug test without reasonable laws.

According to an Abuja-based lawyer, Sylvanus Malik, while it is true that neither the Constitution nor the Electoral Act specifies drug tests for public office-holders, these legal instruments demand high standards of integrity from those who seek to hold public office.

He explained that in several provisions, they specify a list of qualities expected of public office-holders. For instance, Section 137(1) (c) of the 1999 Constitution states that a person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President if he is adjudged to be a lunatic or otherwise declared to be of unsound mind. A person may not be qualified for the position if he is under a sentence of imprisonment or fine by a court or tribunal for any offence involving dishonesty or fraud.

“These provisions, while not explicitly requiring a drug test, expect those aspiring to public offices to be free of hard drugs. Thus, what the NDLEA’s proposal has brought to the limelight is the fact that no effort has been made to ascertain that those who aspire to public offices are people of sound mind ab initio by subjecting them to integrity tests. So it can be said that there is no step taken to make this law on requirements effective,” Malik said.

On a drug test for the intended couple, the lawyer agreed that many marital problems such as domestic violence and failed marriage are attributed to drug abuse, which prompted the NDLEA to suggest a compulsory premarital drug test.

According to him, the requirement of drug test before marriage, however strange it may sound, is geared towards ensuring intending couples are of sound mind and to prevent future marital problems that may arise due to illicit drug use.

For Douglas Terkura Pepe (SAN), any compulsory drug tests for any category of citizens must be backed by law. At the moment, there is no such law.

The lawyer also argued that any such compulsory test would be discriminatory. “It may amount to discrimination to politicians and intending couples when the rest of the country is not so subjected,” the SAN argued.

Bamidele

Another lawyer, Bamidele A Jacobs, Director, Legal Lawyers Alert, a Civil Society Organisation, said in view of the rising cases of Gender Based Violence (GBV) and other abuses being linked to drug use, “I think it is natural to want to support this kind of call,” he declared.

Jacobs stated that such tests will only remain in the realm of persuasion as long as there is no law to compel would-be couples and politicians to go through it. “In fact, it will be illegal for anyone to make that a prerequisite for marriage or entry into any public office.

“A clear case of that has been the requirement of HIV and blood genotype tests, which some religious organisations introduced before couples are joined in wedlock. There have been reports of a lot of would-be couples rejecting this and opting for alternative arrangements.

“In summary, I am saying the requirement of drug test will only apply persuasively and not mandatorily as long as no law validly passed compels people to do so,” he said.

An Abuja-based lawyer, Godwin Ogboji argued that Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) expressly provides that “every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person.”

He explained that with the above constitutional provision, it will be inappropriate and even unlawful to force any individual to take a drug test without any reasonable suspicion.

The lawyer stressed that there must be a basis for any such action, wondering how and where it was proven that drugs propel politicians to be corrupt or that it is responsible for the rising cases of domestic violence and divorce in the society. So, there is even no basis that drug tests should be made compulsory, he insisted.

“For such a view to even see the light of day, there must be an enabling law,” he maintained.

Similarly, Yomi Alliyu (SAN) argued that unless there is a law to that effect no one can force anybody to do drug tests. “Even if there is a law by the National Assembly, it will be an invasion of liberty of citizens as guaranteed by the Constitution to conduct such tests,” he insisted.

The Dean, Faculty of Law, Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State, Prof Bukola Akinola said under Nigerian laws on freedom of association, a man is free to marry whoever has attained the age for marriage.

Pepe SAN

“However, there are grounds for dissolution of marriage especially if there is an element of deceit or misrepresentation among others. However, human rights are not absolute.

“On the grounds of public policy, it is good for public order and morality to ensure that tests are conducted before marriage. This will help reduce cases of domestic violence in Nigeria.

“As far as I am concerned, drug tests for politicians should be mandatory. It should be a constitutional requirement for vying for political offices. This is because, how would you explain a situation where politicians in the legislative houses throw chairs at one another except for issues of mental health.

“May I suggest that our rehabilitation of those found culpable of drug abuse should be given the attention it deserves by the government and Non Governmental organisations. Aside this, we should deepen our curriculum at primary and post primary education levels as well as our tertiary institutions,” he advised.

Port Harcourt based lawyer, Isdore Ozuo believes that NDLEA’s proposal appears to suggest that domestic violence and mindless looting of state resources are products of drug abuse.

His words: “But this is far from the truth. Mindless looting of state treasury has little or nothing to do with drug abuse, likewise the issue of domestic violence. NDLEA’s suggestion may only be considered where there is verifiable research or evidence to show that drug abuse is the major contributor to domestic violence and looting of state resources.

“Secondly, passing a drug integrity test before marriage or before one assumes any political office is no guarantee for a violence free marriage or respect for state treasury. Indeed, drug abuse could happen at any stage. In fact, complications in marriage or the allure of political power may trigger drug abuse. So, the suggestion by NDLEA may not be the solution to the prevalence of drug abuse in Nigeria.”

Ozuo argued that it is doubtful whether NDLEA has the capacity to conduct drug integrity tests for intending couples or every prospective political office holder in Nigeria. For marriages, he stated, NDLEA may not cope with the sheer number of intending couples every week except they establish a test centre in every local government area council in Nigeria. According to him, the material and human resources required for such endeavour may put undue pressure on national purse.

“Finally, the fundamental rights provisions of the Constitution such as the dignity of the human person guaranteed to every citizen may conflict with any policy or law requiring drug tests for any endeavour. The implication is that a constitutional amendment may be necessary for NDLEA’s suggestion to fly. It is to be noted that in Nigeria, the Constitution protects everyone from any mandatory drug test,” Ozuo said.