Amplifying the Silent Voices of Drug Addicts in Nigeria

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After months of personalised investigation of drug users and repentant addicts, Sunday Ehigiator writes that until government and the society at large begin to address the underlying circumstances leading to the usage of hard drugs in the first place, eradicating the menace may be near impossible

“I was on crack cocaine for 29 years. If I add that to the pills, marijuana and all of that, it would be about 33 years I was into drugs. For everyone who goes into drugs there are some predisposing factors. For me? I wanted to belong. I wanted to have a secure environment, build a wall around myself because I used to be very smallish in stature. And I was being bullied by senior students. And I see other people that are not being bullied yet we were in the same class. And I wanted to belong to that class of people that weren’t bullied.

“I had always known and believed that smoking cigarette, marijuana, etc. was bad, but the quest for what I wanted (security), made me be around such people. So I joined a secret group back then in secondary school. And there was no way I could be in that group without doing what they were doing. That was how I got involved.”

The above story was that of a now repented drug addict, Mr. Babatunde Pelemo, whose involvement in drugs, would waste 33 years of his life, and the death of his wife.

Drug Abuse Statistics in Nigeria

According to a very recent survey led by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Center for Research and Information on Substance Abuse with technical support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and funding from the European Union (EU), over the past year alone, nearly 15 per cent of the adult population in Nigeria (around 14.3 million people) reported a “considerable level” of use of psychoactive drug substances.

Statistically, it is reported that about 10.6 million Nigerians abuse cannabis, 4.6million deal in opioids, 2.3 million abuse cough syrups, and less than a million people use sedatives, cocaine and heroine.

Looking at the statistics, one can’t help but beg the question why people abuse drugs in the first place, and the consequences of abusing same. Perhaps, when we learn the why before the consequences, we are better informed of how best to curb the spread of drug abuse in the country.

Addicts in the Making

Understanding the reason why anyone indulges in drugs or abuse any substance surpasses a surface answer. It varies from addicts to addicts. For some, it could be peer group influence or a need to feel secure like Pelemo, or even low self esteem, while for others, it simply could be a family trend, or frustration or even family betrayal or disappointments from relatives like Sam (full names withheld).

The story of Sam, a 35 years old drug peddler, who is currently under self-imposed rehabilitation at a popular rehabilitation center in Lagos, is one that is pulls at the heartstrings.

Sam who had been abusing and peddling drugs for about nine years on the streets of Lagos before challenging himself to turn a new leaf by seeking help in a rehab said, “I started taking cocaine when I was 26 years out of disappointment. I was the only son of my parents, and I was being treated with such glamorous treatment of an only son. Unfortunately, they died earlier than I had imagined. I was just 15 years when both of my parents died the same year.

“My father’s brother (uncle) took me in after taking possession of every of my father’s properties. Unfortunately, I became disappointed with them in the manner at which they began to treat me. They starve me sometimes for days if I commit any little offence- like breaking a dish, beat me up with sharp objects like a slave, and even stopped me from schooling. It got to a stage I couldn’t bear it any longer, I ran out of the house and started squatting with touts on the streets of Lagos.

“They introduced me to hard drugs, marijuana and the likes as a way of life. They also taught me how to drive forklift vans, which we drive for construction companies. They taught me how to use codeine, tramadol, refinol and use injection (opioids or heroin), which started to give me sight challenges.”

Luckily, of his own volition, Sam decided to check into rehab and has been there for about eight months before THISDAY met him. His sight is also being treated, but his uncle is yet to visit him at the centre, even after he reached out to him severally from the rehab center.

It is a different situation for 21-year-old Ifeanyi who still struggles from the addiction of cocaine. When THISDAY engaged him in one of the drug notorious areas within Lagos state, his desire to reunite with his siblings was strong, but for the addiction to cocaine, which seems stronger.

Speaking with THISDAY, Ifeanyi who grew up in Benin Republic, and the first of three brothers, said he started taking drugs when he was about 16 through the influence of friends. According to him, he started from cigarette to marijuana, then moved to taking pills, codeine and now, cocaine. He claimed to have been in his first year in a university in Benin Republic when he decided to leave the country to Nigeria, as his parents refused to send him extra pocket money in school after discovering he was using it to satisfy his cravings for the substance.

He then followed his friend, a co-addict to Lagos where they now work in a car wash but peddle marijuana along side. He ended by saying he wished to go back home and reunite with his siblings, but “my parents won’t allow me take drugs again if I return home, and I could just die”.

For Taro, his addiction is Indian hemp and alcohol. According to him, “I started taking it when I was in junior secondary school in Delta State. I wanted to fit in. So peer pressure led me into it and I got addicted. I smoke it till date. It is a struggle. Sometimes I would stop, but after a while, I will find myself going back to it. I am 41 years old now, I could tell you that I have wasted over 26 years of my life which I seriously regret because at 41, I still can’t boast of any significant achievement I have made in my life due to this addiction.

“I wish I had known better before I ventured into this. But hopefully, a reverend father that suddenly picked interest in the way I work in church later found out about my addiction, and has recommended me to a rehabilitation centre. I would be resuming there any moment from now, and I am hopeful it will help”.

For Baby Tosin, whose mother (name undisclosed) was caught in an unaware shot deeply smoking Indian helm while breastfeeding her, she has no choice but to inhale the substance passively, and also through breast milk.

Consequence

Truly, every action comes with its own consequence either sooner or later. It is then wise at this juncture to highlight the turning point of a repentant addict, especially for the benefit of the society who are fond of shaming addicts. This mostly forces them to cling on to the substance for fear of not being accepted by the society, or condemned.

For Pelemo who is now over 60 years old, the consequences of his decision to go into cultism, hard drugs and alcohol addiction at a very tender age, didn’t only cost him his spot in the university, his wife’s life, or 30 meaningful years of his life, but also earned him the name ‘Wicked’, as he became a terror to the society at large.

Narrating his ordeal, Pelemo who has also now become the head of Rehab and a ‘caregiver’ at a private rehabilitation center for about 18 years after he repented said, “Incidentally, I stopped schooling at 400 level. I was a student of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU). I was a cultist as I told you, and during the Alli must go riot, I used to be one of those cultist that made the university very violent to stay and restless. So the government started to pick some of my former co-members in the cult group, and I knew that they would mention me, so I fled and never returned to school. My cult name was ‘Wicked’ while I was in ABU. I never went back to school afterwards.

“Aside losing my spot in school, I also lost my wife at a point. And it was as a result of my addictions. She was pregnant for our third child, and they were to do CS. And, I needed some money which I got. But on my way going to the hospital to pay the money for the operation, I met a guy who was my friend, whom we do drug together. So I asked him to enter the vehicle let me drop him off at the junction before I continue my journey to the hospital. Unfortunately, I did not leave that place till the next day. We were just there drinking, and getting high on drugs.

“By the time I got to the hospital, though I still had more money, but I got the unfortunate news that she had passed on. And that now made me to be more daring instead of backing out. I felt, this is the worst that can ever happen to me, so I am going to give the society the worst. Hence, I became more criminally minded than I was, and thought that the society must pay for the death of my wife.

“So anyone I met at that time, I ensured I inflicted them with pain. Be it man or woman, boy or girl, young or old. I said to myself that they must all cry, since they made me cry, they too must cry. And that was what I was doing. I ventured into fraud; particularly money doubling. I know how to manufacture fake currency, turn real money to paper and all of that. And that was what I was doing back then and I was making good money out of it but squandering it on cocaine, because cocaine is a very expensive habit, unlike alcohol.

“You can take alcohol and get drunk, but for crack-cocaine, the more you take, the more you want to take more. And the more you have money, the more you take more. So it was consuming so much of my money, but I never minded.”

Finding Purpose

On how he overcame his addiction, he said, he didn’t stop until he met a man, who is now the Director General of Christ Against Drug Abuse Ministry (CADAM), Mr. Dokun Adedeji. According to him, “when I met him, I saw for the first time, somebody accepting me for who I am. The first day I met him, he hugged me. Mind you, I was a Muslim before I met him. And I saw someone of different religion hugging me for who I am for the first time, instead of pushing me away like others has been doing. He didn’t know me from Adam before then.

“And I said to him that I have a problem and I narrated all my challenges to him, but he said it wasn’t a problem. And that was how he got my attention. Because several other people who have tried to talk me out of drugs come to preach to me, but I wouldn’t listen, perhaps because they would always argue with me that I have a problem and would just start preaching, unlike Mr. Dokun. So I decided to give him audience, and we got talking.

“I saw from my conversation with him, there was no point from which he condemned me, either in his talk, expressions, or actions. There was no point at all that he condemned what I was doing, and even didn’t tell me to stop it. But he instead talked to me about purpose. He asked me if I have considered my purpose of existence at any point. Why am I a man and not a woman, etc. so that caught my attention and I told him I would come visiting him again.

“So, that made me to always go to see him, and talking to him. One day, he spoke about this ministry he works with to me, and detailed me of their upcoming rehabilitation program. And he asked me if I want to stop, but I replied no, I don’t want to. And truly I never wanted to because; there was no reason for me to. I used to tell people now that, If you have malaria and you use paracetamol, and you malaria disappears, and next time, you have same malaria and someone says to you not to use paracetamol, how will you look at that person?

“So, if drugs helps me, satisfies, takes care of the problems I have, why will someone tell me to stop it and is not providing something else? And that is one of the reasons why a lot of rehabilitation programs in this country have failed. Because they don’t provide what those individuals need. They are just trying to tell them to stop without an alternative. Somebody told me drug kills, and I replied, but car kills too, so stop driving your car because cars also kill.

“So they weren’t really speaking to me until I encountered this man who spoke to me about something else and I decided to give what he spoke to me about (purpose) a try. Then I asked him that, this purpose, how will I discover it. Then he advised me to join the CADAM program. So I didn’t enter the CADAM program because I wanted to stop taking drugs, but because I wanted to find my purpose. So in the program I was made to realise that, to discover my purpose, I must first know the creator of my purpose, just as every products have a manufacturer and only the manufacturer can tell the purpose of creating the product.

“So, I decided to know God, so I can learn about my purpose from him, and that made me to begin to study the scriptures of the bible, and in that process, I found some things that triggered my attention. That made me born again and became a Christian. Then one day I was going through the scripture, and I found II Corinthians chapter one verse three, and after reading it, a loud voice from within told me, ‘this is your purpose’. The scriptures read that ‘God has comforted me through all my troubles, so I can comfort others going through same trouble, with which he had comforted me’. I knew this was God speaking to me directly.

“And that was how I got saved from all my addictions, and in the process of the program, I found my purpose and since then, I have been pursuing purpose. Since when I joined the ministry immediately after my rehabilitation as a caregiver till now, I must have rehabilitated over a thousand people, because the home was just a year old when I joined them.”