They sat, quietly with a subdued mien. A camera man panned across the hall. Majority of the people seated were in their forties and fifties and if the venue wasn’t a church, it could have been written off as a gathering of the middle-aged.
The House of Joy Drug Rehabilitation Centre is a spiritual reform centre for persons who had been dependent on drugs, certainly, non-prescription types. It was another day for admitting new members, fresh from the streets who desire to quit drugs. In their midst sat Pastor Keji Hamilton, a man whose life story can be summed as “been there and done that”.
Hamilton, who was a dreaded street man and former keyboardist with the legendary Afrobeat musician, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti accepted the spiritual healing that transformed his life. In turn, he had extended the same invitation to others by dedicating his time and resources to the healing process of drug dependent individuals.
Every year, the rehab centre admits fresh intakes who have agreed to be healed spiritually through prayers and counseling, beginning in 2009, as Hamilton recalled.
“Since 2009, we have graduated seven sets. This is the eighth set now and we have a 45-bed facility. When they come in, we take them through prayers and deliverance. That usually takes two weeks. After that, we have a curriculum that consists of 36 subjects made up of spiritual topics and vocational training. We have 21 lecturers who happen to be Area Pastors, as well. After that, they write exams and a baptismal class follows.
“Afterwards we have a graduation in which the housemate is detoxified. That means the mind of that one has been removed from addiction. The graduation is not compulsory. Some of them would want to learn a skill. They usually go home for a week after the exams before returning to learn a skill from August to December. They learn to make shoes, belts, bags, leather chairs. Others learn catering while some choose to go to a computer school,” said Hamilton.
One major challenge with the programme is funding. It means the rehab, within the stretch of the church’s financial limit, can only contain 45 persons. Meanwhile, there are other such centres spread across Lagos. And after admission, not all intakes complete the rehab sessions.
“When you admit them into the hostel, you will want to think that the entire 45 persons will go through with the programme. Unfortunately, the highest we have had is 32 graduating from the programme. After two days or even two weeks, some of them just leave. But by the end of three weeks, there will be no more drop out,” Hamilton revealed.
Before admitting fresh men to the rehab, they are screened to examine their readiness for the healing process. It is not uncommon to see persons who have come only to please their family members who had worked too hard to change their lives for good.
Emmanuel Edeh, who voluntarily enrolled for the maiden session of the rehab in 2009, recounted the circumstances that led him to make that crucial decision.
“I was born into a family of nine,’’ said the 37-year old. “I am the third born, very brilliant. All of a sudden, I got hooked on drugs through friends. It was in J.S.S.2. I started with cigarettes and I indulged in alcohol and marijuana. I managed to pass from one class to another. After my secondary school certificate examination, I was left at home doing nothing. My dad wanted me to go further in my education. Subsequently, I gained admission into the University of Calabar and that was where I got involved in cultism. I even worked for one of the past state governors as a hired assassin.”
That sounded scary. More dreadful too was his experience as he arrived in Lagos. Without a place to stay, his new acquaintances made him comfortable in the wealth of drugs; upgrading him to a cocaine addict.
“I was curious to know what it felt like having done other hard drugs. I did heroin too and it wrecked my life. I was like a mad person on the street, walking around for a week without bathing. I wanted to cure myself but I couldn’t. One day, I was in a joint working and a girl that we used to smoke together came in to tell me that one of us had died. I was scared. I kept looking for a way out until someone told me about Pastor Hamilton and I was taken to a Redeemed Christian Church of God where Pastor Sola Balogun ministers. When Pastor Hamilton shared his testimony, I was moved,” he recalled.
For Emmanuel, giving his life to the Most High was better than getting high. The former Calabar prison inmate even graduated as the best student in the bible college and joined the ministry on a full time basis.
“I share this testimony with other addicts, gave them food and water. Then I will preach to them. They are in Ketu market and some of them are here with us. When they are high, they don’t listen to anybody. So, I feed them physically first. Sometimes, when you go to them, they will shout at you,” he observed.
Drug dependence is so powerful. It has destroyed homes, careers and relationships, to say the least. The worst part of the wrestle against drug dependency is relapse. Emmanuel believes that it is only the power of God that can break that ungodly bondage, not even parental love.
“It is the worry about my drug problem that killed my mother. She died and I was not even at her burial because I was at a joint. I had to send the pictures of my new self to convince my father that I had changed. He was so happy to hear that. My family loves me so much now that if we have any family meeting, I would be the one to lead the prayer. I have a say in my family now. My new friends are Christians. Although, I still see my cult friends, I only preach to them. They gave me a nickname which I have no problem with as long as they listen to the Word of God,” he said.
Olawale Taiwo (surname withheld) also enrolled for the rehabilitation programme after several years of dependence on drugs. He couldn’t count on himself to make the change. Born of good pedigree, he got involved with drugs as an undergraduate of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife where he studied architecture.
“I was in my 400 level then between 1983 and 1984”, he began. “I was introduced to drugs by a senior colleague. I was in the cult then and within a very short time I rose to become the Capone of the confraternity. The Capone is the captain and it is a position that is vested in someone who has the brain to carry out many operations for the cult.
“I graduated from the university. But I was totally hooked on drugs. I didn’t take so much of heroin. Meanwhile, I was still doing well financially because I was practicing. It didn’t show. I had a girlfriend then at school. Although she didn’t really know the extent of my involvement in drugs, her mother ended the relationship. But I had another one much later.”
Asides drug indulgence, he was also an alcoholic. Despite joining the Alcoholic Anonymous, his temperament has spun out of control.
“As soon as I got some money, I would squander it on drugs. I wanted to control my mother’s properties. Once, I squandered N200,000 on drugs. When I got tired, I packed my load and moved out of the house. I refused to see my sisters. But they didn’t leave me alone,” he recounted.
Through his sister-in-law, he met Pastor Hamilton and after the rehab session, he joined the church for construction work. His designs are part of some of the Church’s structural pieces. Still, he has some regrets from the past that haunt him.
“I have two children. But one of them, his grandmother has sworn that as long as she is still alive, I will never see my son. So we are not communicating. But the second child is a girl,” he said with misty eyes.
Gloria Okpuvurie, who accompanied her brother-in-law to the church premises, said that she’d met a child protection lawyer, Taiwo Akinlami who helped them to meet the pastor’s wife.
“I was lucky to meet Pastor Keji’s wife who happens to be my friend. I saw a newspaper that published the graduation of last year. Later, my brother came to me and after discussing with his wife, we decided to seek help for him. My brother has a wife and children but he is in Lagos. He used to be a cab driver in Warri but when he had drug issues, my mother went to bring him to Lagos because the police were after him,” she revealed.
The best option is not to wait till it’s too late to get help. And in the case of drug dependence, the best help is self-help.