By Mudiaga Affe, Kassim Omomia, Ben Ogbemudia, Cajetan Mmuta, David Lawani, Jude Idu and Keturah Elijah
A good number of Nigerians, especially youths, are nowadays hooked to hard drugs, ThisNigeria findings have shown. This trend, concerned stakeholders, comprising psychiatrists, psychologists and sociologists, say is a worrisome development and a threat to wipe out the nation’s youth population. The ugly drift, they also claim is a pointer to the increasing incidence of crime in the country.
Robbery, killings, kidnappings, insanity, senseless attacks, avoidable accidents, among other heinous occurrences, are some of the vices linked to consumption of illicit substances.
Indeed, a National Drug Use Survey conducted a few years ago showed that no less than 20 million Nigerians use hard drugs even as close to three million of them suffer from one manner of disorder or other arising from drug abuse.
This comes as the newly appointed Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Buba Marwa, said the agency had seized over N90bn worth of hard drugs in the past five months.
Marwa, a retired army general, who described drug abuse as a national tragedy, added that it was a major cause of insecurity in the country.
Bandits, kidnappers, and many other persons who indulge in nefarious and criminal activities, according to him, are patronisers of hard and illicit substances.
The NDLEA helmsman said, “They not only become addicted to conventional substances such as cannabis and prescription opioids, such as tramadol and codeine, they also experiment with dangerous mixtures leading to novel psychotropic substances such as “monkey tail” and “skooshes”.
Recall that 21-year-old, Chidinma Ojukwu, who allegedly murdered the Chief Executive Officer of Super TV, Mr. Usifo Ataga, the other day in Lagos, initially blamed her action on the influence of hard drug.
Before his murder, Ataga and his mistress, were alleged to have consumed Roofies, also known as Rohypnol. Among other illicit substances are cocaine, amphetamines, heroin, marijuana/hashish, heroin and hallucinogens.
Meanwhile, the apprehension created by the upsurge in the use of hard drugs among youths in the country has sparked worries among many concerned Nigerians.
For the President, African Council on Narcotics, Rekpene Bassey, over 90 per cent of persons involved in violent crime use these drugs substance even as the substances propel many negative traits, especially in youths.
For instance, Bassey explained that cannabis has much more harmful effects than its medical benefits, saying “It fast-tracks the onset of psychotic illness and mental disorders among young people.
He added, “It stirs up suicide or suicidal tendencies, especially among young people. It propels the prevalence of rape cases. It causes acute anxiety and is even more dangerous when the drug is mixed with cocaine, tramadol, and alcohol. It affects memory which is required by the young people to develop.”
The Medical Director of Karu General Hospital, Abuja, Dr. Ede Ojo; Anambra State Chairman of the Nigeria Medical Association, (NMA), Dr. Jide Onyekwelu; NDLEA Commander in the state, Mohammed Idris; and the Chief Consultant Psychiatrist, Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Benin, Dr. Lawani Onivefu, among others corroborated Bassey’s view.
Ojo, a chief consultant psychiatrist, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said hard drug menace among the citizens was devastating the society.
Ojo said, “To say I am worried is an understatement because it is what I see every day. The problem is getting worse and those of us in clinical practice, we are seeing how these drugs are ravaging the people, especially young people.
“There is a high rate of school drop-out among them. There are also those of them with psychotic disorder, meaning they lost their minds because of drug use.
“There are a lot going on in society and I hope we know that drug and crime go hand-in-hand. So, presently drug menace in the country is alarming, mind boggling and really a cause for concern”.
On the mind-boggling figures of youths under the influence of hard drug, Ojo said, “I know the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) did a report on it. The organisation is looking at as much as between 10 and15 per cent of people aged between15 and 45.
“I am talking about youths because they are the leaders of tomorrow. If we have drugs ravaging our youth population, how do you think that we shall have a country to be proud of. You see, a lot of young people start to use drugs before they are 10. I mean at this age, some many of them have started experimenting with drugs. “By the time they are 13 and 14, they would have become regular drug users. And these are young people that are in school.
“It is at this stage that you begin to see behavioural challenges in them. Many of them will begin to join cults; they become truants; they begin to cause problems for their parents at home and their academic performance will begin to decline”.
On how its socio-economic undercurrent, Ojo said, “It affects national development in all ramifications. For example, somebody who is not well because of drug abuse has a mental health condition. The person is not well because drug has taken hold of his brain, So, this person’s thinking, feeling and ability to make decisions, rational decisions are completely impaired.
“This is where you can begin to talk about politicians. The politician who is abusing drugs, how can he make rational decisions? It is like the drug chains the brain and focuses it on the kind of activity that it wants the brain to focus on. And those are activities that surround drug use”.
Toeing the path of Ojo, the NMA chairman in Anambra, Onyekwelu also agreed that many youths get involved in drug abuse quiet early in life. To stem the tide, he counselled, “Parents should be more attentive to their children and know what they do and who they go out with. They should ensure their kids are at the right places at the right time.”
The NDLEA Commander in Anambra, Idris, who X-rayed some of the underlying factors attributed the upsurge in hard drugs to population explosion, unemployment, broken homes, politics as well as social and economic issues.
He said, “If you look at Awka, the Anambra State capital in the last 10 years, the population has doubled or even tripled and people who are from the countryside have moved to the cities.
“Some of them don’t even have an idea of what they want to pursue in life. They are only in the city at the whims and torrents of their environment. If they run into the wrong group, it becomes an easy licence for them to board the wrong social wagon, as it were. And before you know it, they are in contact with drug peddlers and traffickers.
“Again, there are social pathologies issues like anxiety. For instance, somebody who finds himself in a difficult situation, would want to wriggle himself out of that situation. In this regard, he may find himself seeking intoxicants that cool his nerves. And once takes that line, he may find it difficult to retrace his steps”.
On what the government and parents should do to curb the malaise, he solicited the support of all the stakeholders, noting that the anti-drug agency cannot do it alone.
He added, “The authorities at all levels- state, local government, community leaders, parents, teachers should join hands to organise symposia and workshops on this menace. We need to bring the good message to the forefront so that people will know the dangers inherent in hard drugs. Religious bodies should also reach out and educate their members on the implications of hard drugs.”
“Similarly, community leaders should endeavour to keep a tab on people in their neighbourhoods so that they can easily identify those social deviants and report them to the appropriate authorities such as the NDLEA.
“Again, as we create awareness in the radio, television, and other media outlets so that people can be safe, there is also the need to monitor drug peddlers and traffickers.”
Contributing a clinical psychologist, Francis Mark, urged parents to live up to their responsibilities.
Mark, who is a mental health specialist of the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) in Borno State, said, “Drug abuse prevention starts with parents. Drugs, including tobacco and alcohol, are easily available to children and adolescents through their parents.
“As a parent, you have a major impact on your child’s decision not to use drugs. You need to put them through on time, especially when they are still in primary school. Perhaps, from that point, other social groups can take over in creating this awareness which parents have started.
“Again, by using praise and criticism, parents can correct their children’s behaviour without saying the kids are bad. This helps children build self-confidence and learn how to make healthy and safe choices. In time, making smart choices on their own will become easier.
“Above all, the government also have some roles to play by raising awareness in terms of harms associated with prescription of drug abuse. The agencies that are responsible for that could take the lead in developing, implementing, and evaluating prescription drug-related social marketing campaigns that would inform the public about the benefits and harms of using un-prescribed drugs.
Decrying the menace, the Eze Ndigbo in Kano State, Boniface Ibekwe, said it was such that it could inflict the country and deny it of all its future potential.
Ibekwe, who urged the authorities to endeavour to provide employment to the teeming youths, said it was an elixir for keeping them busy and engaged.
The monarch added, “It is also instructive that across the country, millions of youths are jobless. So I also think that creating jobs for them can go a long way in engaging the minds”.
Also, Onivefu, the Chief Consultant Psychiatrist at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Benin, identified peer pressure as the greatest challenge that youngsters face with regard to hard drugs.
He noted, “Peer pressure, desire to experiment and the notion to prove oneself to friends are other contributory factors that lead to drug use. Besides, social issues such as parental deprivations, separation, divorce, and death, exposure to high-risk jobs, and adverts are other factors that influence hard drug consumption”.
On what role the parents and government can play to arrest the ugly challenge, he said, “Parents should have a high index of suspicion and send their wards for full assessment when they establish that their kids were hooked on psychoactive substances.
He added, “Government should train more mental health professionals. It should also prevent the trafficking of psychoactive substances even as it sponsors campaigns that frown on drug abuse.”
For, a Sociology lecturer at the University of Abuja, Prof. Emmanuel Ahansi, parents have a large role to play in ensuring their children were properly tutored about life.
The sociologist said, “Nowadays, many parents are working. The import is that they leave the children at the mercy of the house-helps, and what do you get: the children that are left at their folly. Therefore, they can do what they want.
“At this point, peer group becomes a major role. Imagine Chidinma, at 21, she is already into drugs. At that age also, she has been exposed to men. For me, this is a sad commentary on our society.
“I must add that society has failed these young ones. The government has also failed in its responsibility and duty to ensure that the people should have a focus in what they do. So, I believe government, parents, and our institutions have a big role to play in returning sanity to the citizens.
“We should have role models who can visit and talk to pupils in schools. In this respect, Nollywood actors, doctors, and other professionals should be engaged in counselling them on the right path to life”.