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Nigeria chokes under gripping rage of substance abuse

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In the North, Saddam Saidu, has become a celebrity of some sort. Not so much because he is an A-list actor, or a chart-topping, rave-making singer. In fact the 21-year-old owes his “super-star” disposition to his ability to successfully wrest himself from the strong grip of drug addiction.

Saidu started threading the infamous path of substance abuse quite early in life. At 13, he was already using marijuana as a staple. Two years later, he had graduated to snorting cocaine.Efforts to salvage him saw his parents bundle him to rehabilitation centres on at least three occasions. Having gone very deep into drug abuse, he always suffered a relapse afterwards.

But being blessed with very supportive parents has been a blessing to Saidu, and that has helped him overcome addiction. Clean and drug-free now, Saidu was the cynosure of all eyes at the Drug Awareness and Advocacy Training, organised in May this year, by wives of northern state governors under the aegis of Northern Governor’s Wives Forum (NGWF), where he sang his newly released song, which expectedly, is against drug abuse.

The import of Saidu’s song, which lyrics clearly state that “nothing good comes out of drug abuse, but a wasted life filled with regrets,” is yet to dawn on Adekunle Igbasan, who lives along Agege Motor Road, in the Mushin area of Lagos State.Igbasan dropped out of school in Senior Secondary Two, when “I was not able to cope with school work. So, my parents asked me to go and learn a trade. But before dropping out, I had started smoking cigarette and Indian hemp, but none of my parents knew about it since they usually came back from their businesses late at night.”

Upon being apprenticed to a car rewire in the Ilasamaja area of the state, he met a few boys at the workshop, who were already well heeled in narcotics consumption. Here, his illicit craving got to a sickening level, before long, he was caught in the act by his parents.

Efforts to salvage him began in earnest, but Igbasan felt imprisoned and bolted away from home for four months. By the time his parents set sights on him, he was a wreck, and in the jaws of death.“My father nearly disowned me after giving me the beating of my life, but it was my mother that ran around to get me help. She did everything to bring me back to my senses and I am grateful. I no longer do drugs, and I am back to school,” he confessed.

Across the country, not many are as lucky as Saidu and Igbasan, especially now that drug abuse is spreading like wild fire.In many parts of the country, especially the North, while girls settle for cough mixtures, including Ezolyn, Cofflin, Totalin, C&C, Stopcof, and others with codeine contents to make them high, and allegedly improve their sexual experiences, boys are plunging deeper into illicit substances like cocaine, heroin as well as Indian hemp.

Poorly informed youths in other parts of the country are equally having a field day consuming these mood-altering substances, but clearly, their peers in the North have tipped the scale, necessitating spirited efforts from and all and sundry to afford them redemption.

That perhaps informed the decision of the northern governors wive to wade into the matter, via the three-day training on drug awareness and advocacy against substance abuse in Abuja.The forum is currently partnering with Reconnect Health Development Initiative (Reconnect HDI), and House of Recovery. Reconnect HDI, an international non-government organisation (NGO) that works with groups, communities, institutions and individuals, in providing support to mentally disturbed persons, and those, who abuse substance.

“We have found out that a lot of our youths and women are taking drugs, and unfortunately people don’t talk about it, and this is something that we need to properly address as mothers in our various states,” the immediate chairperson of the forum, Hajiya Asma’u Abdulaziz said.Painting a very disturbing picture of the drug situation in the North, she said: “We noticed that a lot of people in the North don’t want to come out and say that they have a last born, who is a drug addict because of stigma, so because of that, a lot of people don’t address that as an issue or a disease, and we have found out that a lot of our youths are taking drugs, and unfortunately people don’t talk about it, so that is why I said that this is a silent killer, and this is something that we need to properly address as mothers in our various states.

“This is the only way we can come together as mothers and leaders of our respective states to fight this cause and say no to drug abuse, intake or addiction, and ensure we fight this to the very last,” she said.Yari added: “We call on other stakeholders to support our humble course, which is to eliminate drug and substance abuse in northern Nigeria.”

To underscore the importance of the raging narcotics challenge, President Muhammadu Buhari, on Thursday, December 7, directed law enforcement agencies to deal decisively with importers, distributors and sellers of illicit drugs in the country in view of its debilitating effect.

Speaking at an interactive session with a cross section of stakeholders and religious leaders in Kano, during his two-day working visit, Buhari expressed concern over the growing problem of drugs abuse in the country, stressing that his administration is determined to do something urgent to deal with the malaise.

“The Nigeria Customs Service is already doing a good job and I am happy that I got someone, who is efficient, strong and trusted to lead it in the person of Hameed Ali, a former governor of Kaduna State. I have charged them and other law enforcement agencies to go after those trafficking in illicit drugs that are causing much harm especially among young people,” he said.The widespread nature of the menace, also finds expression in the sheer number of persons trafficking in illicit drugs, or those being in possession of it in different parts of the country.

For instance, on Wednesday December 6, the Bayelsa Command of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) said it arrested 77 illicit drugs suspects in the state between October and November.The State Commandant of the agency, Abdullahi Abdul, said amongst the suspects were 54 male adults and 23 female adults, who were found with a total of 124.342kg of different types of illicit drugs.He decried the abuse of psychotropic substances in the state such as Tramadol, Codeine and Diazepam, which he said were in high intake in communities in the state.

Same day, the Police in Lagos State arraigned three men before a Badagry Chief Magistrates’ Court, presided over by Mr. Jimoh Adefioye, for alleged possession of six wraps of marijuana.The accused persons Chinonso Izueke, Oyam Raphael and Omokpia Ogbemudia, the Police prosecutor, Inspector Akpan Ikem, told the court were facing a one-count charge of unlawful possession of marijuana, for allegedly contravening Section 5 (1) (b) Cap. of the Indian hemp Act, Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

As Buhari was handing down the charge to security agencies in Kano on Thursday, a Federal High Court in Lagos, was sentencing a 30-year-old man, Abubakar Nasir, to two years imprisonment for drug trafficking.The unemployed convict, who was arraigned by the NDLEA on a one-count charge of dealing in narcotics, pleaded guilty.

Nasir was arrested at Yadoya Market, Mile 12 Lagos, with about 300 grammes of cannabis sativa, also known as Indian hemp.Up North, specifically Gombe State same day, the state command of the NDLEA said it had arrested 86 suspects with 1, 293.424 kilogrammes as at last month. The NDLEA Commandant in the state, Mr. Aliyu Adole, who disclosed this said that 46 of the arrested suspects had been convicted while the remaining cases were pending.

The fact that substance abuse as practiced by misguided persons in the country is no longer good for the nation’s health is not in doubt. This explains why Dumebi Izunna, a career guidance counsellor says more Nigerians were into drug abuse than imagined. According to him, “I work in a government secondary school and the volume of youngsters that are doing drugs is simply alarming. Many working class parents, who leave home early and return late only get to know that their children and wards were doing drugs after the kids would have gone quite far into narcotics.

“Just like an illiterate youth begins to smoke cigarette or Indian hemp in order to be seen as a “big guy” by his peers, so does the misguided youth that is in school. This ugly development saddles parents and indeed the society with the task of stepping up awareness on the dangers of hard drug consumption/abuse,” the school administrator said.“I always advise parents to discretely search their children’s schoolbags from time to time. Many that have done so begin to get a clues of social vices that their kids are taking to before they are neck-deep into such,” he added.

Tolani Abdul, a psychologist seems to agree with Izunna that more Nigerians were into drug use than ever imagined, hence he wants practical steps to be taken by all concerned in order to rid the society of the cankerworm.“When young people from average homes take to cigarette smoking just to feel among, parents and elders should make them realise that self confidence does not come from doing such. Five out of every 10 that is allowed to go on with cigarette at a young age would sooner or later try marijuana and alcohol just to complete the diet.

“For the children of the haves, their migration from cigarette smoking to snorting of cocaine and the likes does not take an age, so youths must be adequately policed in order for them not to derail,” he cautioned.Abdul continued, “The other day, I was very happy when I heard the news that 20 applicants, who were on the verge of being employed at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Kano State, were sent away after they failed a mandatory drug test. These are graduates, who probably started this habit in secondary schools, moved with it to the university and continued abusing drugs all through college. If you get these ones employed, they will just up their game once they have regular income.

“It is even appalling as one of the affected candidates was even expressing anger why he should be tested for drugs, saying, ‘I wonder why anybody would be interested in my personal affairs. How should that determine my job opportunity? Even if I am taking drugs, is it not my personal matter? How is that the business of anybody?’

He also commended authorities of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) for announcing that it, would withdraw the admission of newly admitted students that test positive for drug use whenever the university conducts the test, either before or after registration, stressing that this is one of such practical steps that should be taken to rid the country of drug menace.

Equally commenting on the lack of accurate data of drug abuse/addiction in the country, and how this affect the success of the war against the menace, the Head of Department, Pharmacy Technician Training Programme, Millennium College of Health Technology, Akure, Ondo State, Dr. Adesanya Fisayo said,  “the lack of reliable data on substance abuse in the country has resulted in a downturn in the success against this menace, as data on consumption and accessibility to the substances would help enforcement efforts and decision-making about treatment availability. So, lack of these data deters checkmating consumption pattern, ease of accessibility and enforcement efforts.

On what the rising drug abuse costs the country, she enumerated, “increase in rate of crime; increased risk of mental disorders, increased diseases burden such as HIV/AIDS; increase in cases of child abuse and neglect; increase in domestic disputes and violence; increased rate of homelessness and poverty.”Malam Musa Balarabe Musa, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, is of the view that, “as governments at all levels continue to neglect their primary responsibilities, more people are likely going to be initiated into drug abuse, and of course, you would have a large community of young people, who abuse substance routinely because they are frustrated, and can easily access these substances. The substance they are abusing would appear to them as an escape route.”

He stressed that the Federal Government must, as a matter of urgency, put in place rehabilitation centres for drug abuse, as the ones under the NDLEA are not enough, and do not focus on the social and psychological aspect of the problem, but on the punitive process, which is not effective.”At the interactive session, where Buhari directed law enforcement agencies to deal decisively with importers, distributors and sellers of illicit drugs in the country, the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, called on the Federal Government to effectively enforce laws against drug abuse, stressing that, “One of the most disturbing challenges worrying Kano and many parts of the North is this issue of drug abuse.”

Sanusi lamented that, it was so disturbing that, some housewives were involved in the menace of drug abuse in the state, saying “…We have reports that when there are celebrations, like weddings, women hide drugs in their handbags and consume at will.”
The monarch, who said drugs like Benylin with Codeine, was so rampantly abused by youths and married women added, “You will see that drugs business has become an all-comer business. Government should help in seeing that only licensed business people engage in the sell of all drugs,” as there was a nexus between drug consumption and all vices committed in different parts of the state.
Worried by the prevalence of drug abuse in Kano State, plans have reached advanced stage for the staging of an appeal fund that would facilitate putting in place of effective and realistic strategies towards curbing the menace in the state.

The state government would spearhead the initiative, working hand-in-glove with relevant agencies of government including NDLEA, and the business community.Already, a comprehensive and all-encompassing work plan, which spells out in clearer terms, ways and strategies to be employed to drastically reduce the menace is near perfection.Also Islamic groups, specifically, Jama’atu Izalatul Bid’ah Wa’ikamatussunah, led by Dr Abdullahi Saleh Pakistan, is engaging in aggressive campaigns against drug abuse among youths and women, in various mosques across all 44 local councils in the state.

While on a courtesy call to the commandant of the Kano Command of the NDLEA, Pakistan renewed his group’s commitment to the fight against drug abuse, and assured that it would join efforts to rid the state of drug abuse.“We have some programmes arranged for a sustained campaign against drug abuse in our communities. We have started with offering Friday sermons in our mosques on Fridays, where we ordered all our Imams to preach against the menace,” Pakistan said.

Insisting that there were many other programmes in the pipeline, Pakistan said his group was working with Tarbiyya Rehabilitation Centre, to give that drug abuse victims skills training.Chieftains of Gyara Kayanka Youth and Community Development Association, Kofar Dan Agundi, and Idris Aminu, said at the community level, they would continue to work towards dislodging drug merchants and distributors from the area.

According to Agundi, who is chairman of the association, “Before now, youths involved in the marketing of hard drugs, including marijuana and other intoxicants roam our streets plying their trade. But now, we have chased them away, while some were apprehended and handed down to the concerned authorities are they were made to face the music.”The chairman explained that all categories of persons were involved in efforts aimed at stamping out drug abuse in their community.

“Elderly people are involved in what we call Zauren Sulhu (Peace Platform). They give direction to other categories, and they are also the ones that serve as bridge between the authorities and us.“Middle-aged individuals are the ones that are playing leadership roles in the association, and our youths are playing the role of foot soldiers. They are the ones that chase and pick up drug abusers and take them to Police and NDLEA,” he said.He commended the cooperation of that exists between the Police, NDLEA and the courts, emphasising that all these agencies were of great help in seeing that drug abuse was banished from their community.


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NDLEASaddam Saidu
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