The testimonies by recovered drug addicts on how their addiction robbed them of several productive and healthy years have again brought to the fore the severity of drug abuse in Nigeria. Writes Martins Ifijeh
It was a time of mixed feelings as recovered drug addicts, who through their quest for ecstasy and intense excitement, delved into the use of hard drugs like cocaine, marijuana, heroine, as well as the habitual use of the 21st century addiction substances like tramadol and codeine.
For some, it was a feeling of regrets and sober reflection as several productive years have been lost due to drug life, while for others, it was a time for celebration since not every addict has the luxury of retracing his or her self back to living a normal life without any push from an induced substance.
The occasion was at the 8th graduation ceremony of House of Joy Rehabilitation Centre, where drug addicts are picked randomly among members of the society, rehabilitated for a period of six months with intense psychological, moral, spiritual and goal-driven teachings, and then reintegrated into the society where they are expected to become advocates against drug abuse, as well as become relevant to the society.
For one of the graduands, Sumbo Sowande, a 49 years old building technologist, who started smoking cigarette right from his primary school, life was a living hell when he ‘graduated’ into marijuana, and then heroine and cocaine. The more he tried to get out of addiction, the more he saw himself deep into it.
Going down memory lane, Sowande said he grew from a home where smoking cigarette was not a crime because his father was a smoker, adding that the Reverend Father in charge of the catholic primary school which he attended was also a smoker. “With this, I never saw cigarette as a crime since my father and my spiritual guardian were smokers. That was how I started smoking in my primary school. From secondary school, I was then introduced to Indian hemp, and then cocaine. That was where my life turned upside down. I started stealing, lyings, among others.”
Sowande, who was no longer comfortable with the addiction, started looking for help everywhere. Temporarily, he got solace in Fountain of Life Church, Ilupeju, where the late Pastor Bimbo Odukoya ministered to him.
“After I gave testimony in church one day on how I was no longer addicted to drugs, two movie producers, Fred and Agatha Amata decided to do a true life movie on my addiction story where I was the lead actor. That was how National Drug Law Enforcement Agency saw my story and picked me up as one of their ambassadors. And then I started going with them to speak to youths,” he added.
But, like every other addiction where the habit constantly fights for prominence, Sowande, who went to Ghana courtesy of NDLEA to speak, again got caught in a web of a Liberian cocaine addict, who again, re-introduced him to the habit. He left Nigeria a clean man and an advocate, and then came back with a strong urge to continue the destructive act.
“That was how I left the good books of NDLEA, and the good life I was already building for myself. People were no longer relating with me as a rational person. I lost respect, I lost attention and a lot of opportunities during this period,” adding that, luckily, a friend of his introduced him to House of Joy, where he had spent six months on rehabilitation.
“The first two weeks I started rehab was my most difficult period. There was constant push for me to abandon it and go satisfy my body, but I thank God a month after, that feeling was subdued through the teachings we were getting. Since then I have totally lost the urge for drugs,” he declared.
The case of a 65 years old Professor of French and English Semantics, Prof. Ayo Adegoke-Craig was more pathetic, as his story suggests, hard drugs is no respecter of status or age. “I have learn’t one thing in life now; hard drugs can reduce a Professor or President of a country to the level of a mechanic who is also on drugs. It does not discriminate, it will reduce you to its level until you become a scum to the society,” Adegoke-Craig said.
Adegoke-Craig, who started taking hard drugs from his secondary school days, said when he got admission in a UK University, cocaine intake became part of him 24 hours a day. “Initially when I started taking it, I felt it was helping me to write, it was much later I discovered it wasn’t the reason, I was naturally a good writer.
“A while later, I got married and had a child, but they all ran away when they discovered I couldn’t eat, think or continue discussions without the influence of hard drugs. At a time I had to come to Nigeria to stay,” he said.
Revealing that as a Professor who had made name for himself, he came back to Nigeria again to live as a pauper, a bachelor and a reduced human. “It was at this point I started looking for help, because I was fast losing my pride. Food became my worst enemy, and I could wear one shirt for days because I only had one interest, which was to satisfy my body.
The professor, whose quest for solutions took him to three different conditions, said he first went to Asia where they told him with acupuncture he would be fine and free from the addiction, but the more he takes the treatment, the more he was getting the urge to take cocaine. “I then had to continue my research until I discovered there was a therapy in Bolivia.
Like someone who was dedicated to lead a normal life, I embarked on another journey to Bolivia where I was told the coca leafs would be used for his treatment that can help one out of addiction.
“After the treatment, I didn’t just continue the life, I even bought cocaine in large quantity in that country, which I brought back along with me to Nigeria. I went to Bolivia to get help, but I left there with more cocaine.
“I was becoming more miserable by the day. That was how I bumped into a report by a certain Harvard University professor who said drug abuse was a strong power and that only a higher power could cure it. That was when I knew all I needed was a rehabilitation centre with a touch of God in it, and then I came to House of Joy,” he said.
House of Joy Rehabilitation Centre is owned by the Redeemed Christian Church of God.
The story of 23 years old Jasper Ben, from Abia State is another pathetic one. As a confirmation that drug life only takes away the good side from its victims, making them wretched and miserable addict, the case of Jasper was not any different.
Ben, who was a very bright and promising child, started smoking cigarette and marijuana at a young age of 17, but while he got admission the same year to the university, the addiction of marijuana took a toll on him.
“I started well in class until I had this quest to always remain ‘high’. That was how I decided to look for substances that could give me a stronger feeling than marijuana. I then decided to be living on tramadol, rohypnol and codeine,” he said.
Like the euphoria it gave him, Jasper started missing classes, started spending all his school money on drugs because he needed to maintain the certain level of highness constantly. Exams came and he couldn’t cope until he was advised by the management to withdraw; all within his first year in school.
“Like a second opportunity, I got another admission a year later in Rivers State to read law. But because I had been deep into drugs, it was easier for me to identify drug addicts and cultists in school from the very beginning, and quickly, I pitched tents with them. We were always together constantly living on drugs.
“I would go to class ‘high’, I would read ‘high’, and I would even write exams in the same state. There were times during my exams, I would go to class with so much substance in my blood stream, and the next thing will be that I would sleep off during exams.”
Ben, who spent three years of his school fees on drugs, again couldn’t cope with classes. “While my class mates are done with law education now and are set for their National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) I am still in 300 level in the school because I couldn’t meet up with them because of the lifestyle I was living. I have deferred my admission now because I needed help first to tackle the addiction problem. I just wanted to be free from the addiction that almost ruined me.
“My Dad is a Bishop and I was not just a brilliant child, I was very close to God, but drugs took everything my parents cherished in me away. There were times I even fasted and prayed that God should take this addiction away from me. But while I was fasting and praying, I would still go out to take the drugs on empty stomach. I couldn’t even leave the drug during fasting and prayer time. It became a spirit controlling me until I found House of Joy, and it’s been six months now I haven’t tasted drugs. Even the urge for it is gone totally.”
He advised youths to run from tramadol, codeine and their likes, adding that it destroys lives just like cocaine.
Another recovered drug addict who relayed his story was a 62-year-old civil engineer, Mr. Olabisi Fasawe. During his youthful days God blessed him through his profession, as he was a major contractor in Lagos, especially at the airport where he executed a number of projects.
He was good at what he does until a female friend of his introduced him to cocaine and heroine. “The first day she gave it to me, I enjoyed the feeling and then I continued it with her until I got addicted. I couldn’t live a normal life any more. I would take contracts and then I would end up spending the money to satisfy that urge in me. That’s how I ended up not finishing jobs I was given. I started losing clients and they started fighting me because I had used their money for drugs. My family was crying, because I became a shadow of my former self,” he narrated.
Fasawe, today is a bus driver in Lagos because he had sold everything he had and spent the money on drugs. “Even the proceeds from the bus I was driving before I came to this rehabilitation centre was still going into servicing my desire for hard drugs. “
He said now that he had gone through the rehabilitation process, he would dust off himself, start a new life and set up his former engineering company again.
The experience of 29 years old Ugochukwu Ezenwa, from Anambra State was not any different, It was same story of regrets and wasted years. He started smoking Indian hemp at 17 and then graduated into cocaine and heroine. And this led him to meet like minds who then introduced him to robbery.
“In one of our operations, police caught me while one of us was killed. That was how I saw myself in prison where I was still constantly on drugs until Lagos State granted me pardon through the Chief Justice,” he said.
Ezenwa, however decided to find help by locating the House of Joy Rehabilitation Centre, where he has graduated as an ex-drug addict. He advised youths to stop drugs as it was certainly a sure way to become a nuisance to the society.
While 45 drug addicts got admission into the rehab early this year, only 30 persons however graduated, the remaining 15 opted out of the programme. They couldn’t withstand the addiction pressure.
Speaking during the graduation ceremony, the Pastor-in-Charge of Lagos Province 34, Pastor Sola Balogun, under whose province the rehabilitation centre was established, said this was part of the church’s efforts at dealing with drug problems in the society, adding that it has been involved in the reintegration of the drug addicts in Lagos State since the establishment of the centre.
She said those who graduated were picked from the streets with their consent and taken into the rehabilitation facility, adding that within six to seven months they have been transformed and fit to add value to the society.
“It must be emphasised that our efforts are far from over as we still have a lot to do. For instance, the drug problem is not men’s issue alone, but women also. However, we have not been able to put up a facility for the women folks because of the heavy funding demands of this kind of project,” she added.
She said the centre intends to do more for the numerous drug addicts in the society, stressing that only collective efforts can ensure the programme enlarges to accommodate more people.