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Drugs abuse deadlier than insurgency, banditry, says Buhari

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[FILES] Buhari

Urges Families, Religious Bodies, CSOs To Join Fight
• Directs NDLEA To Rid Southwest, South-South Forests Of Cannabis Plantations
• Says Reduction In Drug Abuse Will Reduce Insecurity
• Abuse In Nigeria At Emergency Level – Experts 
• ‘Nigeria Has No Capacity To Care For People With Drug Disorders’
• We Have Seized Over N90b Worth Of Drugs In Five Months – NDLEA Boss

President Muhammadu Buhari has described the danger posed by illicit drugs as deadlier than insurgency, banditry and other threats bedeviling the country. He called on the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) to step up the fight against drugs use by destroying production sites and laboratories, breaking supply chain, discouraging usage while also prosecuting offenders and traffickers.

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President Buhari spoke at the State House yesterday during the launch of the War Against Drug Abuse (WADA), an initiative of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). The event was held in commemoration of the United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking, with the theme, ‘Share Facts on Drugs. Save Lives.’

The president, who was represented by Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, also directed the NDLEA to rid the vast forests of the Southwest and South-south regions of criminal elements, who had turned the areas into land for cultivation of marijuana and hideouts, from where they launch onslaughts.

“I want to draw the attention of the agency to the fact that the use of many of our forests as criminal hideouts is because large swathes of cannabis plantations are hidden deep within those forests, especially in the Southwest and the South-South. You may, therefore, need to drive these criminal elements from such hideouts because they use it for the growth of these plants and also as a repository for criminal elements to conclude and plan their adventures on our people,” Buhari said.

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According to him, the war against drugs is a war that must be fought by all. “It is my pleasure to declare on behalf of the good people of Nigeria, a War Against Drug Abuse (WADA), not just as a slogan, but a call for civil action for all Nigerians to take active part in this war. 

“Let me say that this war is more deadly than the insurgency we have in the Northeast or the acts of banditry in the Northwest or the acts of kidnapping that transcends all geopolitical zones, because it is a war that is destroying three generations. I have seen clips of where grandparents are on drugs, parents are on drugs, and by extension, their children are on drugs. 

“This is a war targeting three generations in a stretch. So, it is deadlier than even the security challenges that we have in this country and I believe strongly that every effort must be put in place to ensure that we deal with the issues of substance abuse, trafficking and manufacture, so that we can get to the root cause of insecurity confronting this nation. I believe strongly that if we are able to deal with the issues of drug abuse substantially, our security challenges will drastically reduce as we walk towards a drug free Nigeria.

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The President called on families, schools, civil society organisations, professional associations, religious organisations, the academia, community leaders and individuals to work for the common good in order to rid communities of drug use and trafficking.

He promised to continue to address underlying causes of drug abuse, including poverty reduction, while also expressing appreciation to stakeholders and international collaborators, especially the European Union, and the United Nations Office for Drugs and Control, for their unwavering support to Nigeria’s drug control efforts. “Also appreciated are the members of the inter-ministerial committee on drug control, civil society organisations, the academia, for their contributions and efforts to our National Drug Control initiatives.”  

ACCORDING to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
World Drug Report 2021, COVID-19 pandemic effects have ramped up drug risks, as youths underestimate cannabis dangers. Globally, around 275 million people are said to have used drugs in the last year, while over 36 million people suffered from drug use disorders, according to the 2021 World Drug Report, released Thursday, June 24, by UNODC.

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The Report further noted that in the last 24 years, cannabis potency had increased by as much as four times in parts of the world, even as the percentage of adolescents who perceived the drug as harmful fell by as much as 40 per cent, despite evidence that cannabis use is associated with a variety of health and other harms, especially among regular long-term users.
   
“Lower perception of drug use risks has been linked to higher rates of drug use, and the findings of UNODC’s 2021 World Drug Report highlight the need to close the gap between perception and reality to educate young people and safeguard public health,” said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly.
   
“The theme of this year’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is “Share facts on drugs. Save lives,” emphasising the importance of strengthening the evidence base and raising public awareness, so that the international community, governments, civil society, families and youth can make informed decisions, better target efforts to prevent and treat drug use, and tackle world drug challenges.”
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Moreover, most countries have reported a rise in the use of cannabis during the pandemic. In surveys of health professionals across 77 countries, 42 per cent asserted that cannabis use had increased. A rise in the non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs has also been observed in the same period.
   
According to the latest global estimates, about 5.5 per cent of the population aged between 15 and 64 years have used drugs at least once in the past year, while 36.3 million people, or 13 per cent of the total number of persons who use drugs, suffer from drug use disorders.

PARTICIPANTS at a webinar on drug abuse held in commemoration of the day in Nigeria also raised the alarm that the menace of drugs abuse is taking a frightening dimension in the country, warning that the menace have risen to emergency levels.   

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One of the participants, Chairman, MTN Foundation, Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi, said Nigeria’s scourge of drug abuse is a near and present danger that is increasingly trudging towards a national emergency situation without checks.
 
His warning came on the heels of staggering statistics indicating that as much as 14.4 million Nigerians were caught in the snare of substance abuse in 2018, with very limited options of recovery available in the country.
  
Adelusi-Adeluyi raised concern that a lot more of Nigeria’s youth population could have slipped into addiction to substance abuse in the last 16 months that the COVID-19 pandemic crept into our lives and since the UNODC released its report on drug use in the country.
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He said: “It is a fight that we believe calls for a multi-sector, multi-stakeholder approach. Together we will continue to rally at the scale of urgency required. Together we will play our part towards a drug-free nation.”
 
MTN Foundation said it decided to participate in the yearly commemoration of the global event to encourage people battling with substance abuse issues to speak out and seek help, whilst discouraging first time and habitual use of substances amongst youths.

MEMBERS of the National Executive Committee of the Board of Fellows (BOF) of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), on their part, have called for the speedy implementation of drug distribution law in the country to ensure health security and curb substance and drug abuse.

They said the implementation of the drug distribution law prohibits the production, importation, manufacture, sale and distribution of any counterfeit, adulterated banned or fake drugs. It also prohibits persons to sell any drug in an open market without permission from authority.

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Chairman, BOF of PSN, Prof. Mbang Nyong Femi-Oyewo, during its mid-year meeting to commemorate its third public lecture said: “As a profession, we play a key role in the economy of Nigeria. The pharmaceutical industry and indeed pharmacists contribute to the country’s revenue through our products and services to the entire healthcare. National Development that will ensure drug and health must be in place. As Fellows and elders of the profession, we need to understand this and consciously take up this responsibility.”

She explained that it is no longer news that the incidence of drug/substance abuse in Nigeria has assumed an epidemic dimension especially among children/ adolescents and youths, which calls for widespread intervention.

Reacting to substance abuse by Nigerians and the role of the association, Chairman, Pharmaceutical Wholesalers and Distributors Association of Nigeria (PWDAN), Mr. Ernest Okafor, stated that it is not the duty of the association to enforce laws but to produce drugs for the people.

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Okafor, however, said the association was setting a standard that would enable Nigerians know the dos and don’ts in drug related matters. “The problem we are having is accessibility. People now have access to these drugs anywhere and everywhere. And we have doctors whose duty is to prescribe but do not understand what they are doing. What we can do is to set a standard which will help people to know the dos and don’ts when it comes to drug,” he said.

IN Kano State, wife of the Governor, Dr. Hafsat Umar Ganduje yesterday recommended a compulsory illicit drug screening as requisite for recruitment into the state civil service. The state government had introduced compulsory screening of political appointees including commissioners, special advisers and local council aspirants to ascertain their drug addiction status.

Dr. Ganduje, who spoke on the occasion of the 2021 United Nations International Day against Drug Abuse in Kano, insisted the test should not be limited to political appointees, but should be extended to civil service recruitment process.

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While regretting the growing rate of drug addition at the family level, the wife of the Governor challenged parents, traditional institutions and religious leaders to rise to the occasion before the ugly trend consumes the society.

Ganduje pledged to lead door-to-door campaign against illicit substance abuse in the state, and cautioned mothers to be responsible in their homes.

A Foundation, Salvaging Our Future Today (SoFT), also led a march in Lagos yesterday against drug abuse. According to President of the Foundation, Mr. Joseph Obi, who led the march, the theme aims at improving the understanding of the global problem, and at fostering greater international cooperation for countering its impact on health, governance and security.

NDLEA officials participated in the march, which started at the General Hospital end of Ikeja and terminated at Alausa, the seat of the Lagos State Government.

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Obi commended government agencies, individuals and organisations that have been working to tackle drug abuse, saying that the Foundation decided to boost the campaign with well thought-out action plans.
CHAIRMAN, NDLEA, Brig. Gen. Buba Marwa (rted), put the value of cash and drugs seized in the past five months since he came on board at over N90 billion, even as he added that over 2,180 traffickers have been arrested, including five drug barons controlling different cartels across Nigeria.

He revealed that a record 2.05 million kilograms of drugs have been intercepted and seized across the country; and 2,100 drug offenders prosecuted with 500 jailed by courts.

The NDLEA boss said, “While the statistics are impressive, we wouldn’t deceive ourselves that we have succeeded in cleaning the Augean Stable in five months. We have only made a head start. We need to sustain the momentum. We need to win the drug war. We cannot afford to be complacent.”

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Marwa said according to statistics, Nigeria is the highest user of cannabis worldwide, adding that revelations from kidnapped victims have corroborated the facts that illicit substances are enablers of insecurity currently plaguing the country, adding that, “It is not difficult to conclude that drugs have been catalysts of terrorism, kidnapping, banditry, armed robbery and various violent conflicts that are currently Nigeria’s albatross.

“The enormity of the danger of drug abuse calls for an urgent need to nip the problem in the bud. This is the reason we have redoubled our efforts in the past five months with the Maxim of Offensive Action.”

Marwa further stressed that, “it is a glaring fact that Nigerian youths are involved in drug abuse. Over the years, an undesirable subculture had flourished whereby adolescents and young adults wantonly indulged in the abuse of illicit substances. 

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“They are not only addicted to conventional substances such as cannabis and prescription opioids, such as tramadol and codeine, they also experimented with dangerous mixtures leading to novel psychotropic substances such as “monkey tail” and “skoochies”. In the context of that warped reality, they also normalised the smoking of cannabis as we have seen in some popular music videos and on social media.”

Also at the Abuja event, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, urged the President to hasten the approval that will lead to the appointment of 10,000 for NDLEA, he said was currently “understaffed”, “underfunded”, and “ill-equipped”.

Gbajabiamila, who was represented by Hon Francis Agwu, Chairman, House Committee on Drugs and Narcotics, further said it was strange that the NDLEA operatives were still using weapons deployed during the Nigeria civil war. He stressed the need to combat the menace of drugs abuse in the country contending that all crimes were enabled by narcotics drugs addiction.

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