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As NDLEA moves against drug abuse

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
07 July 2022   |   3:34 am
In the last few days, much attention has been paid to the grassroots efforts of the institution charged with changing the trends of drug addiction, trafficking and transforming the mindsets of Nigerians towards drugs in the Country- the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).

NDLEA

“Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a hundred times.” – Mark Twain

“Addiction is just a way of trying to get at something else. Something bigger. Call it transcendence if you want, but it’s a rat in a maze. We all want the same thing. We all have this hole. The thing you want offers relief, but it’s a trap.” – Tess Callahan

In the last few days, much attention has been paid to the grassroots efforts of the institution charged with changing the trends of drug addiction, trafficking and transforming the mindsets of Nigerians towards drugs in the Country- the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).

This government agency spent quality time and resources beneficially to mark the United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking recently.

The celebration was marked by series of advocacy campaigns and activities by the NDLEA and many other affiliated organisations, including some high profile Nigerians such as the President represented by his able Vice President, the wives of governors, the media, the Non Governmental Organisations and individuals dedicated to the crusades to combat drug abuse and trafficking of illicit substances.

But of all the events put together to mark this special day, the most enduring was the inauguration of the initiative of the NDLEA supported by partners, of a 24/7 Call Centres dedicated to providing quality and top notch counselling services to citizens battling the challenges of drug addiction.

We at the Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria (HURIWA) are indeed fascinated by this development and it is basically one of the strategies and we think that there should be more institutional initiatives to save millions of lives that may be destroyed by drug abuse-related issues.

This is because drug abuse goes to the roots of the heightened state of insecurity and terrorism that afflicts a large chunk of geographical space of Nigeria and therefore tackling this menace from its roots is the best way going forward in this battle against drugs in Nigeria.

Experts say that drug addiction (also known as substance use disorder) can be defined as a progressive disease that causes people to lose control of the use of some substance despite worsening consequences of that use. Substance use disorder can be life-threatening.

Addictions they reasoned are not problems of willpower or morality. Addiction is a powerful and complex disease. People who have an addiction to drugs cannot simply quit, even if they want to.

The drugs, experts affirmed change the brain in a way that makes quitting physically and mentally difficult.

Treating addiction often requires lifelong care and therapy. It is therefore in the determination of the Nigerian governmental agency that is mandated to eradicating drug addiction known as NDLEA to achieve this priority that informed the adoption of a number of projects and workable strategic steps one amongst them is the just inaugurated nation-wide telephone call centres, which is a very progressive and functional strategic approach towards controlling and reducing the high rate of addictions by a lot of Nigerian youths.

We will look at a recent statistical data on drug addiction in Nigeria and we will see that certainly these are frightening times that demands that all hands must be on deck to tackle this hydra-headed monster.

NDLEA recently said that no fewer than 29.4 million Nigerians aged between 15 and 64 years abuse psychoactive substances and other dangerous drugs.

NDLEA further said, “One in every four drug abusers is a female.” The Anambra State Commandant of NDLEA, Mrs. Florence Ezeonye, stated this in Awka during a ceremony to mark this year’s United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

The nation’s Vice President, who is a Professor of law of Evidence, Yemi Osinbajo, at the UN day ceremony in Abuja said as much regarding the imminent danger that drug culture amongst youths poses to our national security if no action is adopted to redress and change the trend.

Osinbajo who assessed the current war being waged against illicit drugs in the country declared that the days of drug abuse were numbered in Nigeria.

Speaking on the theme: “Addressing Drug Challenges in Health and Humanitarian Crises,” Osinbajo flayed the prevailing menace of drug abuse in Nigeria, which he said portends grave consequences for young people and undermines the security of the country.

He, however said the nation was winning the drug war, adding that the days of the scourge of drug abuse and dependency in the country were numbered.

The vice president’s optimism was premised on the renewed vigour of the NDLEA, the commitment of the Federal Government and the support of development partners.

He thinks that in as much as the Federal Government through its agencies and the state governments would lead the charge with decisive policy initiatives, the strides must be complemented by changes at the family and community level.

According to the vice president, drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking has become a global public health and socio economic challenge, which places a huge burden on Nigeria’s health care system, with, “grave consequences for young people and the productivity of our labour force,” undermining the security of communities.

Osinbajo made specific reference to an old United Nations Office for Drug and Crime (UNODC) report which said, “drug use was responsible for the death of almost half a million people in 2019. And drug use disorders resulted in the loss of 18 million years of healthy life.”

Osinbajo, while lamenting the increasing trends of drug abuse in areas of conflict and in post conflict settings, such as in IDP and refugee camps, said the development was a special concern to Nigeria, especially as the country is in the throes of civil conflict and terrorism, resulting in the displacement of large numbers of our population.

He said young people who are usually the most vulnerable to drug, also form the majority of armed combatants and the resultant widespread use of drugs by the terrorists.

Against this background, the vice president said the Federal Government had also taken both specific and general actions over the past seven years, all directed at trying to control or deal with the menace of illicit drug trafficking in Nigeria in particular.

Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, NDLEA, Brig Gen Mohamed Buba Marwa (rtd), in his welcome address at the UN day, revealed the arrest of 10 major drug barons whom he said have already been “taken out of circulation” with many more on the NDLEA’s watchlist along with their foot soldiers.

Marwa said the agency had been involved in a series of training on Drug Prevention, Treatment and Care (DPTC) for the officers, “to refocus from the criminalisation of drug users to provide the full gamut of health services for them.”

According to him, the agency had this year alone, counselled and rehabilitated 3, 523 drug users mostly through brief interventions in its facilities.

Also, Chairman of MTN Foundation and former Minister of Health, Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi, said the Foundation would continue to support the NDLEA in its effort to rid the country of illicit drugs. Incidentally, even as the NDLEA makes coordinated efforts to rehabilitate drug addicts, the body is not resting on its oars to combat the incidents of drug trafficking with many of its State’s offices coming up with impressive statistics of arrests they have made so far.

In line with the above affirmation, the NDLEA, Ondo Command disclosed that it had seized about 30,000kgs of drugs from June 2021 to date. The disclosure coincided with the elaborate events that characterised the celebration of the International Day Against Drug Abuse.

The State Commander, Mr. Kayode Raji, in Akure, said marijuana, puff Shisha, alcoholic drinks and other deadly mixtures, such as “scoochies or skushis” topped the list of the most consumed substances among the youths in the state.

He noted that other deadly drugs and substances the teenagers also abuse included Rohypnol, “Ref” as they call it, “gegemu”, Arizona and Loud, believed to be enhanced Marijuana that produce stronger effect than the regular one.

In conclusion, we think the decision by the Chairman of the NDLEA to also concentrate efforts and focus towards treatment of drug abusers so as to reform and transform them to become useful members of the society is one of the finest human rights milestones of that agency since it came on stream and this was applauded.

As good as this initiative to treat drug addiction in Nigeria amongst youthful population, what is much more acceptable is to provide sustainable source of support and funding for the implementation of this project by the NDLEA. We call for funding and operational independence for the NDLEA. This isn’t rocket science since it has been legislated for the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.  Granting financial and operational autonomy to the NDLEA is an idea whose time has come.

Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and was National Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.