Support, Don’t Punish Campaign for Drug Abusers

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Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the campaign against drug abuse should be centered on support for victims, as against punishing them for falling prey to the vice

Wilson Ighodalo is known primarily for his campaign against drug abuse. However stern he is against drug abuse, he nonetheless believes in rendering support to drug victims as against punishing them for the vice.
Ighodalo, who is the president , the Drug Salvation Foundation and Convener NDLEA Celebrity Drug Free Club, is also the focal person, South West Zone, Community Intervention Network on Drugs (CIND) Nigera. CIND is a network of CSOs working on drugs in Nigeria, who are championing the cause of giving support to drug abusers.

Clarion Call Against Stigimatisation

In one of his interactions with Crime Reporters Association of Nigeria (CRAN), the foundation was equivocal in its clarion call to stop the stigmatisation against ex-drug users. According to Ighodalo, there has to be change in the narrative about drug use, as discrimination and stigmatisation cause more harm than one can Imagine. He said it prevents users from seeking treatment/rehabilitation services and also makes reintegration almost impossible, adding that the society should show them love and care for them to overcome the addiction.

Support, Don’t Punish Ideology

He said: “Support, Don’t Punish is a campaign to raise awareness about the physical and psychological consequences of stigmatising people facing substance use disorders. The campaign aims to emphasise that drug addiction is not a personal choice but a public health issue that needs to be addressed as such. Nevertheless many people with substance-related disorders experience social isolation, face stigma and discrimination. Stigma can have multiple impacts: as discrimination and stigimatisation cause more harm than one can imagine.

“Addiction stigma can affect people in the workplace, it can affect their social relations and mental and physical health. Stigma can result in people delaying their decision to enter treatment, and can hinder access to regular or specific healthcare.

Stigma can trigger dangerous behaviours and it can further compound social disadvantages associated with substance abuse and it can trigger further use of drugs and other dangerous substance.

“The Drug Salvation Foundation supports the implementation of policies based on public health and human rights. We call for an end to these repressive policies that only serve to marginalise and stigmatise drug users and reduce their access to the services they need.”

He added that Support, Don’t Punish is a global advocacy campaign to raise awareness of the harms caused by the criminalisation of people who use drugs.

He noted that it aims to: first change laws and policies which impede access to harm reduction interventions for people who use drugs, raise awareness about the need to stop criminalising (punishing) people for using drugs, adding that long incarceration should be reserved for drugtraffickers, not people with substance use disorders.

In all, he posited that sensitisation and treatment are key solutions, as well as the need to raise awareness about the need for greater funding and attention for essential health services and other ‘support’ for people who use drugs.

He added that the campaign also seeks to promote respect for the human rights of people who use drugs and engender public support for drug reform.

He said: “Support, Don’t Punish was conceived by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, the International Drug Policy Consortium, Harm Reduction International, and the International Network of People Who Use Drugs at the Global Day of Action on the June 26, (the UN’s International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking). The campaign statement was released in March 2012 at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Public Health-Based Approach

Stressing that drug abuse is not a personal choice rather a public health issue, he said substance abuse is a call for a public health-based approach to addressing and discussing the importance of building awareness of substance abuse as a public health problem. Public health he said is the science of preventing disease and injury and promoting and protecting the health of populations and communities.

Thus, he stressed that forced rehabilitation of drug users is ineffective as it breeds anger, frustration and recidivism in young people, adding that rehabilitation should be voluntary and done effectively with love and care. I am telling Nigeria youths to stay off drugs by being smart and not starting at all.

Victims of Torture
He said it was quite ironic that some drug users are victims of torture when they are already undergoing torture and abuse from the drugs. He bemoaned the suffering and abuse metted on drug users in the name of the war on drugs and under the guise of treatment and and care for people with drug use disorders.

Policy Window

As part of ongoing advocacy against abuse and stigimatisation, CIND is also championing dialogue with stakeholders that brings together key state institutions in charge of the enforcement of the drug legislation, civil society activist, public health workers, human rights activist, media, lawyers and more importantly the most affected population of the punitive drug laws in Nigeria.

Ighodalo said the campaign in Nigeria is going to be a policy window of opportunity for civil society to strengthen their relationship with government and to get actively involved in the current drug policy reforms currently on-going in the country. He said: “It will help strengthen the relationship of government and civil society and open a great door for civil society involvement in major changes in theNarcotics Control Bill, making great contributions to the new bill and proposing evidence –based policies for the country.

Media Engagement

One of the key groups in this advocacy is undoubtedly the media. Ighodalo therefore called on the media to help change the narrative for better drug policies in the country especially the need to stop criminalising and stigmatising people who use drugs and ensuring that harm reduction services are offered for the most affected population to help address the unintended consequences of the implementation of the punitive drug laws in the country.

Beatrice Odele: I Drive Keke as a Woman but I am Content

Transportation business in Nigeria is a sector, which is stereotypically believed to be fashioned for men only. This is due to the long man-hours involved and the challenges associated with it; ranging from accident, harassment from hoodlums and Taskforce officials, insults from commuters, and stigmatisation from the public. But with the present economic situation of the country, the stereotype is gradually eroding as women are beginning to find their place in just about any business or sector. Meet Beatrice Odele, popularly known as Mama Emeka along the Ikotun to Ejigbo axis. She is one of the few women in the transportation business majorly dominated by men. In this exclusive interview with Sunday Ehigiator, she opens up about how she ventured into driving tricycle also known as Keke. Although orginally from Enugu, she is the wife of a civil servant from Delta State and a mother of three. She is a tricycle rider who boasts of over six years of experience on the job. Excerpts:

What inspired you into driving a tricycle?

I used to sell foodstuffs before but there was no much gain and the business was not even booming. For years, I sold rice and beans, groundnut oil, frozen foods, and the likes. The problem with it was that, there are too many associations in the business, and you must belong and pay dues to all. By the time you are done paying dues in all the associations, you are left with little profit. One day, I got fed up. That was six years ago. My husband returned home from work and told me he saw a business that he thinks I can do. According to him, he saw a woman driving Keke that he thinks I can do it too. He asked me to go and stay in a certain junction at a certain period of the day to confirm what he told me. So the next day, I did. And indeed I saw the woman and I asked to see her. She granted me audience and then, I told her I want to come into this business that she should put me through. The first question she asked me was that, am I ready? And hope I am no longer bearing children. She said if I was still bearing children I shouldn’t do this job because of my back. I could develop pains.
I told her I was ready, and I was no longer bearing children. I have three children and the last born is about 10-years-old now. So it was the woman that introduced me to the business. She taught me all I needed to know before starting. Eventually, when I got my tricycle, I was taught how to ride it by some male folks in the business. And it has being good ever since then.

What are the challenges associated with the business, especially as woman, and how have you been coping?

The major challenge I face is from some abusive and disrespectful passengers. They could be very abusive and temperamental. And being human, I would sometimes react emotionally. They say words that hurts; they would sometimes say to me ‘witch, it is because you have killed your husband that is why you are suffering like this’. I would most times laugh and wave it off, after all, my husband is hail and healthy. Another challenge is from the task force. We pay too much, even when I don’t do as much trips as those men do, they don’t care, and they give me no preference. Sometimes we fight; I mean manly fights. Because that is how rough and rude they can be, I give them no chance to intimidate me.

Any intimidation or harrassment from the police and your male counterparts?

I don’t have problem with policemen at all. They are very compassionate and understanding, especially female police officers. Once they sight me having arguments with any passenger, they are always at my side. And my colleagues too are very awesome. They support me a lot. They don’t oppress me. They protect me whenever the need arises. They encourage me and always show me care and concern.

What is the average number of trips you make daily?

There is no static number of trips. But I make a minimum of N3000 profit on a daily basis after buying fuel. This is because I own my Keke, so I don’t work under pressure. Aside that, I spend time to take care of my family before leaving home, so I start work around 10am every day and don’t work on Sundays. During week days, I would also suspend work to check on my children at home and sometimes go pick them in school. Since I own my own keke, I am comfortable with whatever I make daily as long as I have time for my family.

What have you achieved with this business?

Asides having time for my family, the business has empowered me to be able to assist my family financially. By God’s grace, from this business, I was able to give support to my husband to build the house we live in some years ago, and I am still supporting in taking care of the financial expenses of the family and many more.

What are your children’s reaction to the job?
My children are sometimes discouraging, especially my first son Emeka. Sometimes he rides in my tricycle without other passengers knowing he is my son. So he often witnesses some of the insults I receive and he would quickly react by attacking the passenger involved for talking to me anyhow. And he would end up asking how I allow people insult me anyhow like this. He often tells me it’s better I quit this job but I always beg for his understanding.

If you are offered a better job, would you quit this?
Seriously, I don’t know yet. My husband would sometimes make ask me if I want to be a Keke rider forever and that I should start thinking of what else I can do. I would always shove it off and ask him to leave me alone. Because, seriously, I don’t think there is any other job that can give me this time I have for my family and other things while I still make money.

How about growing the business to a state where you would have people working for you?

I don’t want to do that also. I don’t have strength for problems. Managing people to work for you in this type of business requires a lot. The people are always not sincere, and they could cause troubles for you. I have seen a lot in this business in the past six years I have being here. I don’t think I would ever venture into that. I am okay with this level I am.

Would you advice other women to come into the sector?

Not at all. This job is not meant for women except you are extraordinarily strong. I sometimes get home very late at night. Sometimes I get home and I break down and become unable to do anything at all. Sundays are my resting days and sometimes I am so tired that I am unable to go anywhere for that day. So it is not the type of job I would advise any woman into it except she can cope.

Do you have anything to task the government on especially in relation to some of the challenges you mentioned earlier?

Yes, I want to beg them to be subtle to women in this business. It is not easy for us to thrive in this business as a woman when we make less and you tax us high as equal with the men that make more and can afford to drive extra trips. In fact, the first woman that started this keke business in this environment couldn’t last six months because of Taskforce. She eventually quit. So, I am begging them to be subtle with us. Let them treat us with a bit of consideration to our gender and our disadvantaged positions.