There is need to strengthen the campaign against hard drugs

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STILL ON DRUG ABUSE IN NIGERIA

While there may be no means of measuring the effectiveness of the battle against illegal drugs, evidence suggests that Nigeria is not winning the war. Hard drugs, ranging from cannabis (often called Indian hemp) to cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine are increasingly available on the streets and abused by both the young and the old. Abdulmumini Kabir Usman, the Emir of Katsina, recently expressed concern about the dangerous trend. He said many youths, and even married women, are getting hooked on hard drugs and charged the authorities to adopt measures to curb the menace.

Indeed, cannabis, cocaine, heroin and amphetamines, ecstasy and many psychotropic drugs are available on asking on many streets in Nigeria. Nigeria is one of the largest growers of cannabis in the West African sub-region. In 2014 alone, some 54 million kilogrammes of cannabis in farmlands were destroyed, according to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). The irony is that as some of the farmlands were being destroyed, others were sprouting in other areas. Last February, the Kaduna Police Command intercepted 33 bags of Indian hemp and 34 baskets of hard drugs from various suspects in Kaduna.

Since the weed is grown locally, it is easily available, cheap and therefore the most abused of the illegal drugs in the country. About 8 per cent of the population reportedly abuses the substance. Hitherto, it used to be smoked in dark street corners and hideouts. Not any more as the habit seems to be spreading, particularly among the youths who openly wrap the substance, sometimes called “pot” and puff away, anywhere – at car wash spots, at motor parks, and on the streets, to get “stoned” and sometimes with even law enforcement agents looking away. But cocaine, heroin and amphetamine-type stimulants and over-the-counter drugs are also being increasingly abused. Recently the NDLEA arrested four Mexicans who were allegedly helping Nigerians build a “super-lab” capable of producing billions of dollars worth of methamphetamine. Mitchell Ofoyeju, spokesman of the NDLEA, said it was the first industrial-scale production of crystal meth found in West Africa.

The drug agency has discovered more than 10 methamphetamine clandestine facilities across the country since 2011. Mr. Femi Ajayi, a former Director-General of NDLEA, had long attested to the pervasiveness of these mind-blowing drugs, some with evidence of increasing the risk of psychotic illnesses. “We tend to pretend that we are only a transit country, not drug using country,” said Ajayi. “But that is not true. You have so much cannabis everywhere. Same goes for heroine and others, so the problem is here.”

The NDLEA, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) as well as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime had in the past called for the strengthening of legislations and an aggressive public education in the war against illicit drugs in the country. The Senate recently could not help but joined the chorus and urged the police, NDLEA, NAFDAC, the Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria and other regulatory agencies to develop a collaborative approach towards curbing the incidence of drug abuse in the country.

Hard drugs are essentially poisonous and cause serious problems for the user and the society at large. Statistics are hard to come by but there is a correlation between the abuse of drugs and organised crime. Indeed, many of the audacious crimes including vicious robberies and murders, raiding of banks, prisons and churches, kidnappings, and insurgencies in the Northeast and Niger Delta are said to be aided by drugs. Many homes, families, relationships and careers have been shattered by those who find it difficult to wean themselves of hard drugs. Indeed, Dr. Paul Orhii, former Director-General of NAFDAC said that issues relating to drug abuse have increased the public health and security challenges in the country.