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Time to expedite action on drug control bill

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Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN)

There is this common saying that wealth is health. But it is very interesting to note that this eternal verity goes beyond being wealthy. It is simply a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. That is why the health care of an individual is of paramount importance to the extent that one has to be conscious of his or her intake of substances, be it food or drugs.

Interestingly, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides for health care delivery to citizens. The constitution also states that the three tiers of government in the country must have a visible role to play in health care delivery.

However, the dimension in which citizens abuse drugs and substances has long before the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Africa aired its documentary on the abuse of drugs in Nigeria, gained the attention of the National Assembly.

And they (the National Assembly) indeed responded to it. Therefore, in order to ensure that standard facilities are available in every state to provide mental health services and curtail substance abuse, the National Assembly needs to urgently examine and pass into law, the proposed bill on drug control.

The bill, reportedly clarifies objectively, the mandate and capacity of National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) as well as the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC) and other relevant law enforcement and regulatory bodies to eradicate the illicit production and trafficking of controlled substances.

It also seeks to establish a central mechanism to facilitate collaboration among law enforcement, regulatory and public health authorities in line with the National Drug Control Policy.

Other provisions in the bill focuses on proactive law enforcement and regulatory measures aimed at the eradication of illicit importation, production and trafficking of controlled substances.

It also criminalizes the diversion, distribution or otherwise dispensing of controlled substances without a prescription or license.

So also, mental health bill, which formed part of the drug control bill, recognises the fact that psychosocial issues are the key drivers for the abuse of psychoactive substance. The National Assembly said the bill was crafted to ensure that standard facilities are available in every state to provide mental health and substance abuse services.

The proposed law guarantees the protection of the rights of people with mental illness and stipulates that mental health practitioners and facilities no longer engage in practices that are harmful to people with mental health and substance use disorders.

In recognizing the low number of mental health practitioners in the country with the ratio of practitioners at one psychiatrist to 1.6 million people, the draft law makes provision for quality mental health and substance abuse services available for women and adolescents, who are an underserved segment of the population.‎

To cap it all, the bill also provides stiffer sanctions that would serve as a proactive mechanism in the prevention of drug trafficking and abuse.

Reacting to the bill, a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Yemi Omodele said the report in the dailies on abuse of drug was disheartened. He noted that drug does more harm than good to the society when it comes to abuse.

“It is disheartened to read, watch and hear from news from media houses that some Nigerians are involved in abuse of drugs in this country. It portrays a bad image for Nigeria in the international community. This may not be unconnected with stand of the federal government vide the national assembly to have statues that will protect the country, its citizens, importers and exporters of drugs in the country by proposing a bill to that effect.

“It is to the knowledge of every Nigerian that drugs have done more harms than good to the society when it comes to abuse of same. The present laws under which the law enforcement agencies operate, do not give adequate strength to the said departments to operate effectively when it comes to sanctions, control, extradition of drugs abusers, treaties with other countries of the world in relation to drugs and a host of others,” he said.

Omodele stressed that the deficiencies had made security agencies go lukewarm. According to him, they need to be overhauled with fresh laws from both the national and state legislative bodies.

His words: “The bill should relax the bureaucratic procedures in terms of extradition of persons alleged to have committed such heinous crimes. The law court should not be used as cover up in terms of prosecution of the offenders. Such cases should be given urgent attention in courts primarily to serve as deterrent to others. Nigeria should not be used as a dumping ground for dug barons.

“Adequate checks and controls should be put in place at our boarders. Training and retraining of the agencies in charge of drug related matters has to be done and carried out at intervals. The full weight of the law should be seen to have been used against drugs addicts, while the producers of the drugs should be put under a proper checks, control and supervision.”

In his view, NDLEA needs adequate and competent work force and facilities to be able to detect drugs addicts. In addition, the lawyer wants wide sensitization programmes to be run in schools, market squares, churches and the media houses primary to “educate our youths about the pros and cons of drug addiction”.

Also the former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, Mr Yinka Farounbi said the country lacks the will power to implement and execute extant laws.

According to him, the only permanent thing in life is change and there is always improvement in everything.

He said: “Thus, a bill to strengthen the capacity of both NDLEA and NAFDAC shouldn’t be a bad one, but the question is: are they fairing well with the present law we have? I honestly don’t think so.

“In this country, we have a general bad attitude of implementation and execution of laws. Besides, our law is highly selective, depending on who the culprit is. So, if the agencies are strengthened statutorily, but the ‘Nigeria factor’ is still there, the efforts will come to wasted exercise. I pray to be proved wrong.”

On his part, the second Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Monday Ubani called for speedy passage of the bill.

He said: “I have gone through the draft of the bill and I find it very helpful for the health sector. One thing that interests me is the recognition of the inadequacy of practitioners on mental issues and the provision for quality mental health and substance abuse services available to women and adolescents. Therefore, it is a commendable move, and I urge that it should be passed into law urgently.”

Similarly, Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem said the bill is a welcomed idea. According to him, it is coming at a time when it has become expedient to put to a halt, the worsening cases of drug and substance abuse and the rise in mental health related diseases.

“The bill touches on a number of germane issues, which if implemented will save us from the looming crises relating to drug abuse. The criminalization of diversion, distribution or dispensing of controlled substances without a prescription or license is a welcomed idea.”

He also commended the focus on improving the quality of mental health and substance abuse services available for women and adolescents, “who are an underserved segment of the population.”

Adetola-Kazeem expressed the hope that the bill would be passed expeditiously. “It is hoped that the National Assembly will expedite action on this bill by passing it in record time rather than delaying it until the momentum created by BBC documentary on abuse of Codeine dies,” he declared.


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