To protect life, stop hard drugs

By Emmanuel Onwubiko

Certain occurrences compel the rational thinker to locate the reason for them within the context of altered state of mind or under some influences such as alcohol or hard drugs.

Two of those happened yesterday in Lagos and Enugu, simultaneously.

In Enugu, former capital of Igbo region of Nigeria, No fewer than 10 persons reportedly died in a ghastly motor accident along Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, Enugu State. The immediate and remote causes are interwoven and located within the faultline of the driver who had momentary loss of visionary judgment probably impaired by some external influences not unconnected with drugs.

It was gathered that the accident happened around 9am near the CBN Bus Stop, in Enugu.

The 18-seater bus with Enugu registration number, XL884 ENU had collided with a trailer truck carrying cement.

An eyewitness told the media that the two vehicles were driving on a single lane due to potholes that have dotted the other lane of the road.

According to the eyewitness identified as Ifeanyi Ejike, the bus was filled with commuters from Abakpa, in Enugu East Local Government Area and was heading to New Market community when the accident occurred.

“The driver whose name we have learnt is Simeon was coming from Abakpa and made attempt to overtake another vehicle in his front that was emitting too much smoke from it’s exhausts. This circumstance could have led to limited vision of the driver.

“As he made an attempt to overtake the vehicle, the trailer was very close and the next thing we heard was a loud sound and the bus was completely damaged. I don’t know how many survived but I counted eight dead bodies on the floor,” he said.

Meanwhile, victims and deceased bodies have been rushed to Enugu State University Teaching Hospital, ESUT-Parklane.

The second scenario happened in Nigeria’s former political capital of Lagos State. The Lagos State Emergency Management Agency and the Nigerian Railway Corporation have blamed the driver of a Lagos State Government staff bus for a fatal train accident which killed six people and injured 96 in the PWD area of the state on Thursday.

Tragedy struck in Lagos a few minutes before 8am on Thursday when a passenger train collided with a fully-loaded staff bus belonging to the Lagos State Government at the PWD rail crossing, off the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway.

Giving reasons for the deadly crash, the Permanent Secretary of LASEMA, Dr Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, told journalists that the bus driver ignored signals from the NRC officials as he was in a hurry to cross the rail.

Also, the NRC, in a statement by its Deputy Director Public Relations, Yakub Mahmood, said the bus failed to obey the instruction of the corporation officials as he overtook other vehicles waiting for the train to pass.

The ill-fated bus with registration no 04A- 48LA was navigating its way to connect the Government Residential Area, Ikeja en route to the state secretariat, Alausa, when it collided with the train at the PWD rail crossing.

The bus was said to be coming from Isolo while the train was heading to Ido from Ijoko, Ogun State.

According to eyewitnesses, the train dragged the bus on its rail for about 100 metres from PWD to Sogunle before getting stuck.

Some panic-stricken passengers of the bus, especially those close to the exit doors, reportedly made frantic efforts to jump off the bus being dragged by the train.

By the time the train and the bus finally stopped on the rail, the bus passengers fell upon one another in their attempts to find their way out of the trapped vehicle. Six passengers died.

What these tragic stories of fatal accidents tell us is the need for sanity on the part of drivers of commercial and publicly owned vehicles. Train drivers also need to be drug free.

The behavioural pattern of the Lagos bus driver as graphically depicted by Lagos government officials and that of the bus driver in Enugu as narrated by eye witnesses, perfectly reminds us about the need for drug free professional and private operations of vehicles on our roads.

This conclusion can easily be deduced when probing question of how a fully functional mind driving a fully loaded bus with over one hundred passengers made up of men, women, children and aged, could have decided to go ahead of a rail crossing fully aware that a speedy train was approaching.

Add it to the fact that the driver of that ill fated Lagos State Government’s staff bus, failed to obey a signal by Railway staff urging him to wait just like many other vehicles before him, but he navigated and proceeded on this tragic accident which is wholly as a result of poor mental judgment that most probably is altered by certain substances, if critically examined (I stand to be contradicted).

This can only be possible if the functionality of the mind is altered and the fastest way to reach altered state of mind is probably through inhalation of hard drugs.

This is why supporting the works of the Brigadier-General Mohammed Buba Marwa –led National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), is pivotal to achieving safer roads and rails, and fundamentally reduced crime rates.

There is no doubt that the efficient protection of life in accordance with the Universal principles of Human Rights encapsulated in both the Universal Declarations of Human Rights and chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution, can be actualised if we combat drug addictions vigorously.

The NDLEA by introducing two things out of the many, has signalled her readiness to help protect life.

The establishment of rehabilitation centres and the 24 hours free telephone centres for drug addicts, are measures that must be sustained and adequately funded by both government and private businesses that have distinguished themselves as patriotic and transparent brands.

Besides, the issue of the expansion of sophisticated crimes that are aided by hard drugs is a global phenomenon. Some recent events points this fact succinctly.

Just a few examples from other recent events around the World will suffice to establish the nexus between hard drug addiction and sophisticated crimes or avoidable errors in Human judgement.

In Greece, a train station manager permitted two trains to travel from the opposite sides of each other at the same time. The result of course was catastrophic to a level that the President of Greece had to publicly apologise to families of the victims, ordered the arrest and prosecution of the train station manager and then the transportation Minister who also apologised profusely for the accident, resigned from his public post.

Thirty six passengers of the train in Greece, died just as report says the Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis resigned Wednesday, saying he felt it was his “duty” to step down “as a basic indication of respect for the memory of the people who died so unfairly.”

The cause of the crash near the Vale of Tempe, about 380 kilometers (235 miles) north of Athens, was not immediately clear, but the stationmaster in the nearby city of Larissa was arrested Wednesday. The police did not release his name.

Media accounts from Greece, say, another two people have been detained for questioning.

Greece media reports that It’s unclear at what speed the two trains were travelling when they ran into each other just before midnight Tuesday, but state broadcaster ERT said it was more than 140 kilometers per hour (87 miles per hour).

However, survivors inyerviewed by the Press in Greece said the impact threw several passengers through the windows of train cars. ERT quoted rescuers saying they found some victims’ bodies 30-40 meters (100-130 feet) from the impact site.

One of the eye witnesses Stefanos Gogakos said it felt like an explosion, while from his rear carriage flames could be seen at the front of the train.

“The glass in the windows shattered and fell on top of us,” he told ERT. “My head hit the roof of the carriage with the jolt. Some people started to climb out through the windows because there was smoke in the carriage. The doors were closed but in a few minutes train staff opened them and we got out.”

Sadly, multiple cars derailed and at least three burst into flames. On Wednesday, one carriage lay atop the crumpled remains of another two.

Earlier today’s morning, a mass shooter killed about 7 Jehovah’s witness worshippers in a hall in Hamburg, Germany. They said the gunman acted alone in Thursday’s attack, and is also thought to be dead. His motives are unknown.

Within this week too in the border area between the USA and Mexico, some drug gangs seized four US citizens who were in Mexico as medical tourists and report said two of those kidnapped were killed.

Sky News reported that the group of four US citizens had travelled from South Carolina so one of them could get a tummy tuck from a Matamoros doctor.

Two others were rescued alive by the Mexican police and taken back to the United States of America.

Specifically, the train accident in Greece, the kidnapping of the Americans in Mexico, and the mass shooting in Germany, can all be located within the context of violent crimes occasioned by most probably by hard drugs.

This is because, it can only take a demented but altered mind, for someone to violently kidnap, open fire in a crowded church or for a train station manager to authorise simultaneously two trains to travel into and out of same station on the rail track at the same time.

Readers can now note that we began this reflection with two tragic accidents in the Nigerian cities of Lagos and Enugu. We then zeroed in on certain similar events that happened within this same period. We then hazarded a guess that the genesis of all these can be traced to drug abuses. We also argued strongly for continuous public support of the incredible works that the NDLEA is doing.

Those facts aforementioned will inevitably lead us to another major documentary on hard drugs in a part of Africa as done by the British Broadcasting Corporation on March 7th 2023. The lesson for us is the need to be vigilant and never allow any government st every level in Nigeria tolerate the control of the public space by drug cartels and barons. The Guardian of Nigeria reported thus: “Known for its coral reefs and beautiful beaches, Seychelles, a tropical paradise located off the coast of east Africa, is visited by thousands of tourists. Yet, beyond the country’s multi-million dollar tourist industry, BBC Africa Eye shines a light on its heroin epidemic.”

In a new investigation by BBC Africa Eye, ‘Seychelles, Heroin and Me’ pieces together a complex picture of how political and socio-economic factors, including poverty and a lack of rehabilitation centres, are contributing to what is now a drug epidemic.

According to Seychelles’ government, based on population, Seychelles – which is made up of 115 islands – has the biggest heroin problem in the world, with around 10 per cent of Seychellois dependent on the drug.

Presented by Joseph Fady Banane, the Seychellois support worker was one of the 10 per cent. Now free of heroin, he uses his experience and role as a support worker to show viewers the true extent of the drug epidemic, while confronting his own painful past and reconnecting with the people he loves.

Meeting drug users, dealers, government officials and the communities caught in the middle, the film captures Fady’s journey as he gains first-hand access to their stories.

He told BBC Africa Eye how he was introduced to drugs: “I was 27 when I first took heroin. Business was not picking up. Sitting outside, I decided to try my first couple of smokes, and that was it for five years. I still don’t know why I started smoking heroin, but part of it was just because I could – drugs were everywhere.” He added: “I became a stranger to my own mum, and my son was taken away.”

Throughout the film, individuals share details on the grueling ripple effect of drugs in their communities and families.

Ravinia Jean, a mother, shares the impact of her son’s death, Tony, who was heroin-dependent and a friend of Fady’s.

“It is hard…it’s very painful.” She revealed her second son, Jude, is also using heroin and has been in and out of prison, where he is still able to buy the drug on credit. She said: “Parents have to pay for it because they will send people to collect the money…Of course, you’re scared. They threaten you. They said they will kill him.”

However, there is still hope for drug-users like Jude. The documentary follows Jude’s journey towards recovery as he finally visits a councillor with hopes to recover from heroin-dependency.

The documentary also captures the common reality of drug-dependency passed from parents to children. Two brothers, Stefan and Roy (not their real names) are heroin-dependent – so was their mother. Stefan’s drug usage started from around the age of 12.

These aforementioned realities of the consequences of drugs that permeate the families over time is not strange to us in Nigeria.

During a recent anti drugs sensitisation programme my organisation-HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) did with support from the NDLEA, we heard first hand from pupils of primary schools in Aba abd Owerri who narrated how their poor parents engage in drugs and do drugs in their presence.

This is the reason for urging Nigerians in their millions to back the NDLEA’s two way methodologies of combating this addiction to hard drugs By way of setting up Counselling centres through free phone services for drug addicts and the setting up of drug rehabilitation centres across Nigeria.

Chairman/Chief Executive of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Brig. Gen. Mohamed Buba Marwa (Rtd) had said that drug users and addicts no longer have excuses not to seek treatment with the commissioning of a modern 24/7 call centre set up to attend to Nigerians having drug challenges from all parts of the country.

Marwa spoke at the commissioning of the NDLEA call centre with a toll-free helpline manned by professionals and experts in counselling, psychotherapy, psychology and psychiatry among others in Abuja on Thursday, June 30, 2022.

According to him, “the provision of this toll-free helpline is a milestone in our resolve to broaden access to quality health care for drug users in the country. This has become a necessity and a strategic intervention in our determined effort to bring under control the increasing cases of drug use disorder and related health concerns.”

He said though the country has treatment centres, while NDLEA has 26 treatment facilities across its commands, they are nevertheless grossly inadequate in the face of statistics of drug users and those suffering from drug use disorder

“NDLEA recognised the importance of providing a safety bubble for users who ordinarily cannot access the conventional treatment services at established rehabilitation centres due to poverty, social stigma and the resultant discrimination attached to being an identified drug user in society, among other factors. Therefore, the inevitability and the utility of a toll-free helpline that guarantees anonymity, confidentiality and safety, as a motivation for those in need of health help to freely seek such.

“The NDLEA Call Centre is manned by a team of licensed and credible clinical psychologists, counsellors, support workers and mental health professionals who would provide the needed support in aiding recovery, managing social and emotional problems, improving quality of life and enhancing performance and productivity of the users of the service. With its state-of-the-art equipment and its team of highly trained professionals in substance abuse disorder, this centre offers a teletherapy service according to global best practices.

“The benefit of the Call Centre is manifolds. Aside from helping us in providing telephone-based psychosocial support and addiction services in the War Against Drug Abuse (WADA), it will at the same time provide us with information that will deepen our understanding of the country’s dynamics of drug use and potentially put us ahead of the game.

“To those in need of help, we open a new chapter today, whereby help is just a phone call away. We have simplified the helpline service by making it language-sensitive whereby callers have the choice of language including English, Pidgin, Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. And very importantly, the helpline is open 24/7. A call to the helpline, 0800 1020 3040, elicits a prompt response from professionals, regardless of the time or geographic location.

The calls open the door to engagements with counsellors, followed by service orientation that leads to case management, at which point the engagement moves from telephone assessment to follow-up therapy sessions and referral. This seamless process ends in Resolution and Aftercare Follow-Up. Given the simplicity of the process, there is no valid excuse for not accessing treatment by drug users and their concerned families. We expect those concerned to take advantage of this opportunity.”

Also, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) says it will establish six standard rehabilitation centres in each geo-political zone of Nigeria starting from 2022.

The Chairman/Chief Executive of the NDLEA, Brig. Gen. Mohamed Buba Marwa (Rtd) disclosed this at the 5th Biennial National Symposium on Drugs and Drug Policy in Nigeria.

Marwa, who was the Guest of Honour at the symposium, said that the decision was part of efforts to treat the high number of persons suffering from drug addiction in the country.

He said that when established, the centres would complement various efforts by the Federal, State and Local Governments.

Marwa said that three of the centres would start next year (this year 2023) as already proposed in the 2022 budget.

“Substance use and abuse around the world including Nigeria is on the increase in terms of the proportion of the world population.

“Findings from the National Drug Use Survey (2018) conducted by the UNODC revealed that 14.4 per cent or 14.3 million Nigerians aged 15 to 64 years had used a psychoactive substance in the past year for non-medical purposes.

“This means that One in Seven persons has used some substances other than alcohol and tobacco.

“More worrisome is the finding that among every four drug users in Nigeria, one is a woman.

“Above findings of the survey by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) give a troubling portrait of drug abuse in Nigeria and we can no longer live in denial that Nigeria has a thriving illicit drug culture.”

General Marwa said that the agency had also appealed to state governments to build more habitation centers, as existing ones were inadequate.

The NDLEA chairman added that there was no doubt that substance use was impacting negatively on the individual, family and the society in general.

“Substance abuse affects the physical, social and psychological levels of the user and family members.

“Evidence has shown that COVID-19 infections are higher or more common with people diagnosed with Substance Use Disorders (SUD).

“Hence, addiction care must be reinforced in order to avoid complications of SUD and COVID-19.

“Reducing the demand for illicit drugs in the society depends to a large extent on the successful treatment of existing drug users.

“This fact accounts for the shift in global drug policy viz the treatment of drug problems as a public health issue.

“Consequently, we have operationalised our Standard Practice and Policy Guidelines, a treatment and rehabilitation document developed in conjunction with UNODC.

“The document, like a field manual, provides synergy among our counsellors and further boosts our capability at treatment and rehabilitation,”Marwa said.

He enjoined all stakeholders and individuals to join NDLEA war against the growing threat of substance in the nation, saying that NDLEA could not do it alone.

There is the need for government agencies such as the Road Safety Commission, the Nigerian Railways, the Nigerian Police, Correctional centres and the Youths ministry including the NYSC, to find a way to partner actively with the NDLEA so road users caught in conflict with the law are examined for drugs, police operatives examined for drugs before each operation that involves handling of weapons and Railway drivers also need to undego compulsory drug tests. Nigerian prison institutions are saturated with hard drugs. This phenomenon is a disturbing scenario but not so much is done by government and ironically, both the staff of Correctional homes and inmates are in deep unholy communion to commercialise hard drugs amongst inmates. The NDLEA needs to also work on sanitising the prisons of drugs.

Conclusively therefore, supporting the NDLEA to execute their mandates is a patriotic duty and indeed a civil duty for all law abiding Citizens of Nigeria. I suggest that amongst the priority areas for determining who wins national honours in Nigeria is the underlying need to make it mandatory that nominees show causes they have executed regarding the campaign against hard drugs.

*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

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