By Supo Balogun, The Nigerian Expression (TNE)
“Sniffing toilet is old-school now. They are mixing malt drinks with Knorr seasoning cube. I hear it is as strong as a big bottle of Guinness. [And] sniffing exhaust pipes of generators.”
That was the alarming revelation as presented by Ibrahim Maigari, a Kaduna-based lawyer and community leader who runs DetoxNation, a non-profit organisation committed to informing and empowering young people against the dangers of indulging in drug abuse.
The threat posed by drugs to successive generations of Nigerians, especially youths, is often underestimated. Today, more young Nigerians are deploying their boundless energies to unveiling new sources of getting high.
Maigari adds: “The craziest I have heard is cobwebs in water. You know those toxic-looking greenish webs? They sweep it off and drench it in a bowl of water so the toxins get into the water and they drink it off. It’s free and simple to mix!”
The use of substances such as whitish end of lizard dung, hydrogen sulphide gas (sewer gas), seed of Zakami, petrol, rubber solutions, nail polish cleaners, pawpaw leaves and seed, Moringa (Zogale) leaves, tear gas, gun powder, mandara (Kafra) and gutter from toilet for nonconventional purpose have all become popular.
A 2014 report by the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) puts Kano ahead of the other 35 states and Abuja in terms of drug convictions. In its 2012 National Baseline Youth Survey report, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) surveyed 46,836 young people with criminal convictions; 75.5% were male and the remaining 24.5% were female.
Among the 32 different crimes committed, marijuana (Indian hemp) smoking had the highest figure, representing 15.7% of the convictions. The survey also put Kano top of the country in terms of the number of drug abusers – 37% of the population.
But more than five years after that report, the use of nonconventional substances has increased exponentially, threatening the social fabric of society. Every day, it is estimated that more than 500,000 bottles of codeine are consumed by young Nigerians across the country. It is the same with the intake of tramadol, rohypnol, marijuana and other opioids, an alarming trend that is stealthily destroying families and creating an army of zombies.
Incidentally, the drug menace is no longer the exclusive preserve of a particular geopolitical zone of the country as copious research studies have successively shown.
In their work published in the journal of Public Health Research on the “Prevalence of Drug Abuse among University Students in Benin City in 2016”, a group of researchers—Adeyemo Florence, Ohaeri Beatrice, Pat Okpala and Ogodo Oghale–concluded that drug abuse has become a disturbing challenge in the region.
The researchers discovered that 46.6 percent of respondents who were in the 20-25 age bracket had taken drugs for non medical purposes at least once in their lifetime. They discovered that some youths depend on one form of drug or the other such as morphine, heroine, ephedrine, madras, caffeine, glue, barbiturates and amphetamines for various daily activities.
In another seminal work published in the International Journal of Scientific Research in Education and entitled “Drug Abuse: A study of Selected Secondary Instututions in Bayelsa State,” Stephen Ekpeyong of the Department of Sociology, Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, had concluded that Nigerian youths will experiment with drugs at some point in their life time.
Frightening, however, is the fact established by the study that 31.4 percent of the student respondents had positive perception of drug abuse. The study also revealed that 33.8 percent of the students admitted to abusing drugs, alcohol and cigarettes frequently, used along with miraa, bhang and other local substances grown by farmers and which experts said could lead to mental complications.
In Delta, the NDLEA uncovered a methamphetamine-making laboratory in Asaba, the state capital. Eight suspects, four of them Mexicans, were apprehended. Incredibly, the NDLEA says the methamphetamine-making laboratory resembled those in Mexico and has a capacity to produce between 3,000kg and 4,000 kg of methamphetamine per production cycle. Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant which could result in disturbed sleep patterns, delusions of power, increased aggressiveness, insomnia, hallucination ans paranoia among others.
Lamenting the development, the agency says “Nigeria’s methamphetamine is now competing with others in Asia and South African markets. The super laboratory does not need ephedrine because it uses the synthesis method. ”Drug cartels are now shifting from simple method of methamphetamine production to a more complex process.”
In spite of these startling discoveries, it is in the conservative North, however, that the drug menace is assuming somewhat of a regional epidemic. A recent research by a non-government organisation, Saving Youths, shows that there is a growing use of tramadol, benylin and shisha among young girls in Nigeria. The study conducted in four northern universities showed that most of these opioids are mixed with beverages.
Another report in 2016 by icirnigeria.org reveals that while drug abuse, especially cannabis, has been a long time problem among male youths in the North, codeine cough syrup is the “emerging cancer ravaging women and girls in the North from Kaduna to Borno and Yobe to Nasarawa.” Codeine syrup, the report says, has become the favourite drug of abuse by all classes of girls and women in the north, but most especially the daughters and wives of the wealthy.
The smallest bottle of codeine syrup costs up to N600, while some cost as high as N1,000, with some of the girls admitting they could take up to eight bottles in a day.
Taiwo Lateef- Sheik, a psychiatrist and Chief Managing Director of the Federal Neuro-psychiatric Hospital, Kaduna, says more women and girls in the North are becoming prone to drug and substance abuse. He says the major drug abused by Northern girls and women is codeine cough syrup which they take in quantities that would make them tipsy and almost impervious to pain.
“Ten years ago, for every four or five men, we see one woman. But today, for every four or five men, we see four women. That shows a trend that suggests increase in the number of women that come with substance abuse problems, especially now that the type of substance people abuse is also changing. Twenty years ago, we don’t talk about things that people buy from the chemist and take home. Today, that is what we’re struggling with, cough mixtures. And that is the one that women abuse most,” he says.
A professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Nelson Ochekpe, also says a recent research suggests that over 60 per cent of substance abuse occurs in Northern Nigeria, with Kano State being the major hub.
A consultant psychiatrist, Bayo Aduwo, believes that of the over half a million bottles of codeine consumed by Nigerians daily, about 300,000 are sold in the North alone. So serious is the crisis in the North that a former Director General of NDLEA, Olarewaju Ipinmisho, once raised the alarm that seven out of 10 youths, especially in Kano, are on drugs.
This was further affirmed by the wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, who during a visit to Kano, said many Northern youths, including women, were wasting away their lives due to drug abuse. The confirmation by Gov. Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State recently of the seizure of more than five tons of Benilyn and the discovery that a major seizure was from a warehouse whose owner alleged that he got his supplies from Onitsha Market in Anambra underline the depth of the drug scourge.
But in Abuja, the nation’s capital, the drugs of choice according to reports are heroin, methamphetamine (crystal meth), cocaine, Rohypnol (also known as the ‘date rape pill’) and Viagra (‘the blue pill’).
The increasing resort to unconventional substances remains a ticking time bomb waiting to explode if decisive actions are not taken by stakeholders. Prof. Ayo Adegoke-Craig, a former drug addict, offers an insight into the import of this crisis facing the nation: “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.”
A Senior Registrar at the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Dr Mustapha Maruf, says use of psychoactic hard drugs has reduced the quality of lives of many users, with social interaction and societal relevance depreciating over time.
“The consequences of drug abuse are in phases. Not everybody who tries drug for the first time is addicted. Not everyone who gets addicted requires hospitalisation. Not everybody who gets hospitalised recovers from it. So the consequences come in different forms for different people. You will find out that such a person won’t do well in school. He or she may have difficulty holding down jobs. The person may start stealing, keeping bad company and probably having a forensic file, and then gradually, the person starts to decline socially.
“What this means is that the person who is supposed to be a goal getter will start becoming a nuisance and will not achieve optimal capacity for his or her life,” he adds.
He says apart from several physical and mental health consequences of such drug use, including pyschosis, liver cirrhosis, asohyxia, respiratory distress and even death, the social economic and economic impact are enormous, resulting in rising crime wave, poverty and marked reduction in the quality of life.
“What substance abuse does is that it rewires circuitry of the brain in a semi-permanent way, especially at the frontal lobe, the part of the brain responsible for planning, judgment and other higher executive decisions. Every thing the brain will be thinking about will be how to obtain psychoactive drug so it can continuously get that feeling. This is the science and neurology of addiction, and this makes it clearly a medical problem, not a behavioural or spiritual problem,” he says.
The drug problem, he says, is widespread due to lack of awareness of the inherent dangers of drug abuse and the alternatives to illicit drug trade. He called for partnership with the media to bring the anti-drug message to the door step of all Nigerians. The Federal Government, he says, must also provide considerable budgetary allocation for effective drug awareness campaign.
A music producer, Kelly Wise, says many teenagers and young adults in Nigeria are attracted into substance abuse because they see their super stars regale their audience about how drugs give them inspiration, warning that this must be checked. You see them openly smoking and drinking in their musical videos. Fans adore these guys to the point they want to do what they are doing. I can tell you for sure many young Nigerians are into drugs because their super stars openly glamourise it. “They make it seem cool,” he says.
Many musicians now, he says, put drugs such as codeine, tramadol and other opioids in water bottles and mix them with beverages to sip on stage. This is becoming a huge challenge; these substances they add to water or their soft drinks is very accessible and affordable.”
For Pastor Dare Adanri of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, worship houses must be involved in the anti-drug campaign and not leave it to government alone. “We are beginning to get to the point where preachers and parents should be involved in researches on drug abuse and how to prevent them.”
For Nigerian journalist, Jamila Fagge, the challenge facing the north is latently peculiar, saying the region lacks a guidance culture for youths weighed down by depression and peer pressure. “There’s an inherent culture in the north that you can’t share your feelings [because] it’s not cool. Unfortunately, northern Nigeria culture does not embrace going to the mosque for counselling, so people are left to solve their own problems,” she says.
DetoxNation’s Maigari shares the same sentiment, saying the challenge starts from home: “Most parents look the other way and blame a neighbour’s son instead of looking inwards. Some do not spend enough time with their kids to know their worries. Regarding the women, some are victims of arranged marriages, divorce or emotional violence.
“The easy way out for a normal Hausa or Fulani female who is probably Muslim, is to start taking anti-depressants to take her mind off the problems, and next thing, she is fully addicted. Then self-denial sets in and everyone ignores or hides her until something worse happens. It is a society so hypocritical and so detached from its values,” he says.
Ipinmisho, the former NDLEA boss, believes government needs to do more for the anti-drug agency to enable it fulfill its mandate.
“Government should empower the agency saddled with the responsibilities of tackling illicit drug trafficking. If I send you to Lagos to get me something worth N300,000 and I give you N70,000, would you be able to deliver? No. The problem then is that we have well trained agents but no resources enough to function. The government has actually spent over five billion naira to train these agents with no resources to function. For our country, the parents have to take the lead and the government follows too as a matter of priority. Not minding getting finance for power, road, etc; by the time the roads and power are fixed, there may be no peace to enjoy it and without peace, development will stop and may affect everywhere in the country,” he says.
In the midst of this gloom, is there cause for cheer in the private rehabilitation centres springing up to provide some sort of succour for the afflicted? Fatima Magaji, one of the resident psychologists at a private rehabilitation centre set up in Abuja by the parent of a former addict, says, “Most of [the patients] are in for a three-month rehabilitation programme and we typically have between 10-18 patients at one time.”
“We normally have more males than females, and typically patients are in their early to mid-20s with a few exceptions. But even for those who manage to get treatment, the long-term success rate is low,” she says.
While DetoxNation’s Maigari estimates that seven out of 10 [users] relapse after rehabilitation, he believes his organisation’s new approach of sensitisation offers a more rewarding outcome. “We have to accept that it is a problem before anything concrete can be achieved. At Detox Nation, we have decided to do something simple and effective but very different from rehabilitation. Why wait until a child is addicted before spending time and resources to rehabilitate?” he asks.
Now the group is setting the pace by taking its campaign against drug use to secondary schools across Kaduna and developing informative tools for parents and teachers. It also provides regular training on prevention and detoxification for guidance and counselling officers in schools.
It will be profitable for other stakeholders to draw from this inspiration.