Conversations about the realities of the nations’ policies against drugs was at the centre of discourse at a recent annual conference organised by Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an international grassroots network of students in Virginia, United States of America. Writes, Funke Olaode
What is the effect of drug on the youth, young adult, future generations and especial the social-economic wellbeing of a nation? Is it a cultural thing? Or a norm. Is drug abuse an addiction or health issue? And why are the government policies to combat it counterproductive? These are questions without a definite answer as many societies still grapple with the effects of drug and there seems to be no end in sight winning the war.
No doubt, the drug war is an age-long war that has survived many generations. Most leaders of the world and anti-drug agencies spend fortunes every year battling the use of drugs with some of the wealth that could be utilised to better the lives of citizens. The fact still remains that the impact of drug abuse has on the communities is enormous and the war on drugs is failing this generation.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a non for profit organisation as an international grassroots of network of students is committed at providing education on harms caused by the war on drugs and at the same time mobilises and empowers young people to participate in the political process, pushing for sensible policies to achieve a safer and more just future, while fighting back against counterproductive drug war policies, particularly those that directly harm students and youth. With a vision to develop leaders who advocate for policy changes based on justice, liberty, compassion and reason. The SSDP holds annual conference where young people meet to have open and honest conversations about the realities of the drug war.
Between April 15-18 this year, the organisation converged on Holiday Inn Roselyn, Arlington, Virginia, United States of America. The 2016 SSDP conference brought together over 400 students and young people from all over the world and largely America. Being a youth gathering, it was a weekend of fun, serious talks, meeting, networking and sharing ideas. Nigerian chapter of SSDP were represented by Blessing Aigbe Davids and Ononuju Okwaraogoma Silver who also shared the Nigerian experience.
While the conference lasted, the participants noted that several anti-drug policies and laws are in enactment but unfortunately, the war on drugs is failing by the day as drug abusers continue to feel our courts, hospitals, and prisons noted Blessing Aigbe Davids.
“The drug trade still causes violent crime that ravages our neighborhoods, children of drug abusers are neglected, abused, and even abandoned. The only beneficiaries of this war are organised crime members and drug dealers. A question to ponder on this: Is why some drugs are legal and other drugs are illegal today? When many are currently illegal drugs, such as marijuana, opium, coca, and psychedelics have been used for thousands of years for both medical and spiritual purposes. It’s not based on any scientific assessment of the relative risks of these drugs – but it has everything to do with who is associated with these drugs.”
While many countries adopt several measures to counter this menace, the United States has focused its efforts on the criminalisation of drug use. The government has, to no avail, spent countless billions of dollars in efforts to eradicate the supply of drugs. Efforts of interdiction and law enforcement have not been met with decreases in the availability of drugs in America. Apart from being highly costly, drug law enforcement has been counterproductive.
On efforts being made by the Nigerian government on its crusade against drug war, Davids said over the past five years, as stated by Alex Klein, in his book- Review of Nigerian Political Economy No 79:51-73, the Nigerian government has taken dramatic steps to improve the country’s reputation as an international drug trafficking centre, as most of the emphasis has fallen on low enforcement and repression, there has been a sharp increase in arrest rates and the prison population.
In spite of such severe measures, she noted that a correlative fall in consumption has not been registered. “There is a danger that Nigeria is not only repeating the unsuccessful strategies employed by the U.S but is also failing to take account of the very different conditions in the local drug scene. It follows that the ostensible outcome of drug control-reduced consumption and trafficking- has become secondary to the manipulation of drug law enforcement for the extension of state authority and to effect societal and political control.”
In recognition of this failure, Davids stressed it has become expedient that a new approach to drug use and the war against it is sought. “There is a need for a fundamental shift in the nation’s and indeed every nation of the world’s policies against drugs. Drug policies should be formed and reformed based on health, compassion and human rights. Current drug laws that criminalises drug use and addiction need to be relaxed and nations need to shift spending from law enforcement and penalisation to education, treatment, and prevention,” she said.
In another Nigerian participant’s view, Ononuju Okwaraogoma Silver, he was of the opinion that drug use and related issues are cultural-based even though concerns about the effects of drug policies on drug users are general. He said it was cultural-based in the sense that Africans view drug involvement from an immoral perspective. “It is a child that is not properly guided that becomes wayward and by peer influence, gets into drug use and addiction. With this in mind, Africans are mindful and careful to steer clear except in cases that are out of their control. While this may be the case for westerners too, the level of immorality associated with drug use in Africa is not the same in the western world.
“The level of freedom and advocacy for human rights in the West has made the use of drugs and eventual addiction a norm. This of course is responsible for the resultant effects that drug use and addiction has on both the users, their families and the communities they live in. With this, the reason for American government’s commitment and very likely many governments of the western world in creating a war on drugs through funds and various harmful policies is not far-fetched.”
At the end of the conference, the participants agreed that harmful policies have never and cannot end the drug war. And this is why SSDP members agreed in unison that irrespective of the cultural background, they stand together to say policies should be formed based on love, care, support, compassion bearing in mind that drug addiction is not a crime but a health issue.”