By Emmanuel Onwubiko
In the early 80s when we were in the college, some deviants amongst the boarding students used to play around with the idea of garnishing their Jollof rice with Cannabis and they do spread the idea that this practice was one of the fastest ways for them to get high.
The 1980’s Nigeria was however not known for the notoriety in which we now see millions of youngsters abuse all sorts of illicit drugs with many now in the bad habit of garnishing all kinds of soups and foods with illicit drugs.
Few days back the Chairman, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Brig-General Buba Marwa lamented the rising cases of drug abuse among Nigerian youths.
General Marwa said a lot of young people who engage in the consumption of the illicit and dangerous drugs now infuse cannabis in cookies and brownies, pepper soup and drinks.
He added that NDLEA’s activities since January 2021 had further reinforced the facts of Nigeria being an important hub in the global illicit drug network, and that the country was not only a transit pipeline but also a market. Marwa made the assertions yesterday, in Lagos, while delivering a keynote paper at the Realnews Magazine’s 10th Anniversary Lecture and Hall of Fame Investiture.
He spoke on the theme: “Drug Abuse among Youths in Africa: Implication for Nigerian Economy and 2023 General Elections.”“So what do we have today? We have young people vaping, inhaling cannabis-infused shisha and experimenting with synthetic cannabis and other potent variants such as Loud and Colorado.
“Alarmingly, some of them started using the substance between ages 13 and 17, with the largest pool of users in their early 30s.“Still, the activities of the past 22 months in NDLEA have given us further insights and we now know that aside from smoking, they use it for cookies and brownies, pepper soup and also infuse it in drinks,” Marwa said.Noting that drug abuse had been on the rise globally and poses serious danger to the world, he said Nigeria in particular cannot afford to trivialise the menace in light of the country’s illicit drug statistics.
The widely acclaimed charismatic head of the NDLEA however, said every opportunity for public discourse on the subject matter was highly appreciated because keeping drug issues on the front burner in society was one way of catalysing solutions to the scourge.To start with, Marwa stated that Nigerians were not ignorant about drug trafficking and drug abuse issues.He pointed out the activities of the NDLEA in the past 22 months had given the Nigerian society a clear picture, certainty and the severity of the drug problem in the country.
Marwa said during the period under review, the agency arrested 19,341 drug offenders and subsequent convicted 3,111 in addition to the seizure of 5.5 million kilograms of assorted drugs, adding that the 22 months had shown incontrovertible facts of a deeply entrenched illicit drug subculture.He said NDLEA’s activities since January 2021 further reinforced the facts of Nigeria being an important hub in the global illicit drug network, and that the country was not only a transit pipeline but also a market.
“It is disturbing that abusing marijuana and alcohol is the new normal for youths, especially the Gen Z and even the Millennials. For parents who are adept at using social media, Snapchat offers graphic details of what our young people are doing with alcohol and psychotropic drugs.“The empirical facts around us speak volumes about how young people are abusing dangerous substances. However, we may not have a grasp of the depth of this decadence until we begin to see statistics and other data,” Marwa stated.
According to him, the society was also partly to blame for the rise in drug abuse among youths, even as he argued that there was no gainsaying that the incident of more youths abusing cannabis was fuelled by society sending wrong messages to young people.
He said, “today, there are all sorts of pro-cannabis groups, movements and activists all over the place, who make it seem as if smoking cannabis was innocuous and not dangerous to health, and, therefore, should be an inalienable right of the smoker.”“Even some politicians and institutions, focused on the economic gains of the cultivation of cannabis, are ready to liberalise the commercialisation of the plant. All of these send mixed messages to young people.
“Knowing that young people abuse drugs is alarming, but knowing the kind of consequences such action will bring on them and the country, will leave us all in a perpetual state of anxiety”, the NDLEA boss said.However, Marwa said the economic cost of drug abuse by youths was not easily calculable for the country, explaining that the economic cost of the menace in Nigeria would be grossly underestimated.
He advised that all stakeholders should take the issue of drug abuse serious and ensure that young people are kept away from dangerous substances.
Just as a quick reminder, the NDLEA is a federal law enforcement Agency established by Decree No. 48 of 29th December 1989. The promulgation of the decree was chiefly in response to the rising trend in the demand for and trafficking of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances which adversely affected the international image of Nigerians and Nigeria in the 1980s. Since then the trafficking of illicit substances has become an organised criminal activity that undermines the security and development of the country and therefore demands urgent attention and priority from the government.
NDLEA is in charge of drug policy and control in Nigeria. Within this purview, the Agency has the mandate to curtail illicit production, importation, exportation, sale and trafficking of psychoactive substances. Employees of NDLEA carry out interdiction and destruction of narcotic drugs and other illicit substances. They also engage in preventive drug abuse activities such as advocacy and counselling, and rehabilitation of drug users.
In fulfilling the mandate of the Agency, thousands of expert narcotic operatives and well-trained support staff of NDLEA work across Nigeria with a visible presence at international airports, seaports, border crossing and major highways. Committed to keeping society safe from the dangers of illicit substances and their purveyors, NDLEA operatives are actively engaged in the tracking, arrest and prosecution of traffickers of dangerous substances under the various relevant drug laws of Nigeria.
The reason for this reminder is not unconnected to what the Chairman of NDLEA said that the society and most especially the older members of the Nigerian society owe the youngsters the obligation of ensuring that drug habits are seriously frowned at. Few days after the NDLEA’S head gave this general charge, a ranking Senator made the most shocking statement urging the NDLEA to spare the entertainment industry of the war against hard drugs. The civil rights group that this writer coordinates known as the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) immediately tackled that Senator as the following paragraphs will show.
As aforementioned, the Prominent civil rights Advocacy Group:- HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) said that the alleged call by Senator Francis Fadahunsi for the National Drugs Law enforcement Agency (NDLEA) to allow entertainers do drugs if they choose to, has been described as the ‘greatest disservice’ to the youth of Nigeria even as the Rights group rejected the proposal.
HURIWA has also cautioned against voting into political offices persons with links to hard drugs trafficking or addiction even as the Rights group said Nigeria will become like Columbia or Mexico and be termed a pariah state should anyone with even the remotest link to a harddrug related court conviction in any part of the World and especially in the United States of America is declared the winner of the next year’s Presidential poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
HURIWA recalled that news report citing an interview grabtedto a natiknal daily, has it that a senator representing Osun East Senatorial District, Senator Francis Fadahunsi, had urged the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency not to take the drug war to the entertainment industry.
HURIWA recalled that the news report quoted Fadahunsi sas saying that entertainment was the only viable sector in Nigeria that had been a source of inspiration to the youth which had kept them busy amidst the depressing economy.
HURIWA also recalled that while lamenting that the youth were not willing to do anything productive, Fadahunsi said the government must continue to let them drive the economy through what they had chosen just as the senator was quoted by thecmedia report to have affirmed as follows: “The elite must encourage the youth to return to farms so they can start somewhere. Many youths already mismanaged the COVID-19 stimulus package shared because they thought it was free money. We don’t want our youths to embrace banditry and kidnappings because it is not a ‘booming’ business for those in it. “The only area that youths are doing well is in the entertainment industry. That’s why I’m pleading with the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency not to go to their side. Nollywood and the entertainment industry generally is the largest recruiter of labour at the moment. “the NDLEA puts fire to the industry, the youth will revolt and it will be too dangerous for our country. Many people will run away because we have millions of youths in the entertainment industry.”
Reacting, HURIWA through the National Coordinator Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko said the alleged sympathetic posture to addiction to hard drugs by some entertainers in Nigeria, has shown that the time has come for a legislation to be made compelling all would- be political office holders to undergo drug tests periodically especially before they go for election. HURIWA reminded the Senator that even international USA which is the global epicentre of the entertainment industry, anti hard drugs regulations and strict laws are followed.
HURIWA therefore encouraged the NDLEA to use law based mechanisms to sanitise the Nigeria’s entertainment industry of any addiction to hard drugs and illicit substances by any practitioner just as the Rights group said the setting up of rehabilitation centres by the NDLEA if carried through and the national toll free call centres if adequately administered will go a long way to help any entertainer who is mistakenly gets hooked to hard drugs. The commitments towards assisting NDLEA wage war against hard drug abuses by the youths was recently reinforced by HURIWA with support from the management of the NDLEA.
The foremost Civil Rights Advocacy Group- HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) as aforementioned, had recently embarked on school-to-school sensitization/educational programmes on dangers of hard drugs in South East of Nigeria just as the Rights group found out that some of the Students are not aware of the negative implications of engaging in hard drug habits.
A team of officials of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA led by Barrister Izuagba Chidinma Onyekachi were at the Owerri City Secondary School Wetheral Road Owerri, the Imo State Capital even as another team headed by the South East Focal Person for HURIWA Miss. Obilor Gracecliffs EbubeChukwu headed to Ndiegoro Community Secondary School Ulasi Road Aba, Abia State South East of Nigeria whereby hundreds of students enthusiastically participated in the programme just as the students requested that HURIWA sets up a Students club to campaign against Hard drugs.
At those lectures, the Students were told thus: “Let us talk about the Hard Drugs habit, Drug Abuse, and the implications they have for your future as a student. Doing drugs is the worst thing that can happen to any student. Some drugs may not be bad in themselves if properly used. It is the abuse, especially the abuse of hard drugs or even alcohol that can ruin the life and future of any student. More importantly, you shall learn how to avoid getting hooked on any drug, and what you can do if you indulge in drug habits already.
We are here to prove to you how your life and future can be taken away before your very eyes by hard drug habits. If you pay attention just for a few minutes you will learn what drug is, what hard drugs are, what drug and substance abuse and addiction is, drug dependence, and how they develop in the individual regardless of age.
You may not know, but a child can be born with drug addiction for the reason that the mother was a drug addict while pregnant. Hard drug habit is that bad and that serious. Drug abuse can have many short- and long-term negative effects including physical and mental health problems, legal consequences, and impairment in many areas of a person’s life, from school to work and interpersonal functioning and physical wellbeing.
HURIWA has taken up drug education among students because young people, particularly students, are faced with many influences to use both licit and illicit drugs. HURIWA believes that drug education can play a counterbalancing role in shaping a normative culture of safety, moderation, and informed decision-making. The knowledge they say is power.
Drugs change how the brain is wired and people with a drug use disorder continue using despite the harm caused to their health, relationships, and careers. Drug use affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This part of your brain gives you the power to think, plan, solve problems, make decisions, and utilize self-control over impulses. This part of your brain is the last part of the brain to mature, making teens most vulnerable. The student population is in danger and is here to help you.
There are two main types of substance use disorders: alcohol use disorder and drug use disorder. Some people abuse both substances, while others are addicted to one or the other.
People with alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism, exhibit compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over how much alcohol they consume, and experience withdrawal symptoms when they are not drinking. Binge drinking (consuming a high amount of alcohol in a single day) and heavy drinking (consuming high amounts of alcohol several times per month) are two types of problem drinking that often lead to alcohol addiction.
Also referred to as a drug addiction, drug use disorder can include illegal drugs, prescription medications, or a combination. Cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, benzodiazepines, steroids, and inhalants are all highly addictive and can lead to a substance use disorder very quickly.
Personality traits such as impulsive behavior, a desire to seek sensation, and difficulty delaying gratification can contribute to an addiction. This category of students is particularly vulnerable and needs help.
Students free of hard drug habits can influence others to avoid getting involved in drugs by being good role models and staying drug-free yourself. Such students shall be HURIWA DRUG EDUCATION AMBASSADORS and we have plans to set them up as School Clubs to help others understand the negative consequences of using drugs.
- Drug and Hard Drugs
Let us begin by understanding what drugs are before delving into the understanding of hard drug habits and their consequences. The drug is any substance (other than food) that is used to prevent, diagnose, treat, or relieve symptoms of a disease or abnormal condition.
A hard or soft drug is as per classification from country to country but generally, a hard drug is a psychotropic or psychoactive substance that acts on both the brain and body; for example heroin, cocaine, amphetamine, ecstasy, and GHB.
- Drug Abuse
Drug abuse is the use of illegal drugs or the use of prescription or over-the-counter drugs for purposes other than those for which they are meant to be used, or in excessive amounts. Drug abuse is known to lead to social, physical, emotional, and job-related problems.
The World Health Organisation, WHO, also describes substance abuse as the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs.
- Drugs often abused in Nigeria
Heroin, Crystal methamphetamine (what is called Nkpurumiri in the Eastern part of Nigeria), Cocaine and crack, Opioids, Ecstasy, Ketamine, Hallucinogens, such as LSD, Cannabis products (hash and marijuana), and Central Nervous System Depressants (Benzos), amphetamine-type stimulants and inhalants and solvents such as glue
• Note also that even some beneficial soft drugs can create the same effects as hard drugs when deliberately abused as we see in the case of cough syrups and even sleeping pills and sedatives such as Valium and Seresta.
- Effects of Hard Drugs on Students
Generally speaking, Drugs affect how the brain and the rest of the body work and cause changes in mood, awareness, thoughts, feelings, or behavior. Going by this general effect, hard drugs can affect reality and our perception (how we see things).
Drugs affect a part of the brain known as the limbic system. This is the area responsible for processing our emotions. Drug-related changes in this area can cause depressed mood, mood swings, emotional outbursts, and persistent irritability. This is what usually leads to quarrels and fights among people abusing drugs and substances, especially among younger and immature folks.
The importance of drug and alcohol prevention cannot be overemphasized. The harms associated with drugs and alcohol, including accidents, injury, and violence, particularly among students. Other side effects of hard drug habit and addiction may also include increased strain on the liver, which puts the person at risk of significant liver damage or liver failure. Seizures, stroke, mental confusion, brain damage, and lung disease. For a student, there are also big problems with memory, attention, and decision-making, which make daily living more difficult. For a student, this can mean the end of her academic pursuit, and ultimately dropping out of school may result from the consequence of not being able to cope with the academic requirements.
Worse still, drug abusers are a high suicide risk. Drug users are at risk for suicide because most drugs are depressants and amplify negative emotions such as bizarre and suicidal ideations. The depressing effects of these drugs often lead to poor judgment and depression. Hard drugs are super destroyers and students must understand this fact and run away from drugs. As students, you are mostly adolescents. What that means is you are still mentally and physically growing but research has proved that Drugs and alcohol abuse can also interfere with the developing adolescent brain permanently and negatively.
Each drug causes different physical reactions, depending on the type of drug. Some will make you feel more awake, alert, and energetic. Others will give you a calm, relaxed feeling.
However, hard drugs alter perceptions and can cause delusions and hallucinations (seeing or hearing what is not out there.) Drug users see dangerous things and dangerous situations differently. These situations can be altered by hard drugs. For example, over-speeding or confronting somebody holding a gun or a dangerous weapon may no longer appear as a danger to one under the influence of hard drugs.
- Characteristics of Risk for Drug Addiction
If you have touched any drug including alcohol, cigarette, and marijuana you are at risk of addiction if you are experiencing the following:
1: The numero uno (no1) red flag indicating you are heading to addiction, if you are not addicted already is: Inability to stop despite the negative effect on your health and social well-being.
2: If you are preoccupied with substance use and prioritize it over daily needs such as food. This is called drug use dependence.
3: If it has changed your normal behaviour. This change can be seen in the ways you talk and act and reliance on the drug to keep acting the same way maybe because it makes you feel high, bold, and more sociable.
4: If your use of the drug or substance is increasing and you are craving it.
6: If experiencing withdrawal symptoms like irritability and itching.
- Behavioral Signs of Drug Abuse
If you see these signs in people using any drugs, then drug abuse is very likely:
• Increased aggression or irritability and Changes in attitude/personality
• Lethargy and Depression
• Sudden changes in a social network and Dramatic changes in habits and/or priorities
• Involvement in criminal activity like stealing.
- How You Can Avoid Getting Involved in Hard Drugs Habit
There are ways a student can say no to drugs: Make an excuse to students trying to invite you;
Use a little humor to avoid bad blood; Change the subject to something more productive; Act like you’re too busy; Explain the dangers of drugs and alcohol
Keep saying no to the suggestions and insist you do not have to use drugs to be a big boy or a big girl; Students Say No to Drug…
Use these Slogans:
Choose Life, not Drugs; Don’t do drugs, and don’t be a slave to chemicals. Finally, Nigerians need to give unconditional support to the NDLEA under the current activist leadership so the menace of addiction to hard drugs is fundamentally minimised and eventually eradicated.
Also, voters must never elect persons known or convicted as drug traffickers to lead Nigeria in the coming election.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.