Nigeria attracts international attention for many reasons and sadly, Drug Abuse is one of them. The country ranks high on the list of countries known for Drug Abuse; with the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) and the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) confirming after a National Household Survey on Drug Use, that no authentic data is available on the estimated number of illicit drug uses in Nigeria.
Statistics reveal that over 40% of Nigeria’s approximately 190 Million people engage in substances abuse and are under no form of treatment or rehabilitation. Until recently, Cannabis appeared to be the major substance abused in Nigeria; until a documentary titled “Sweet Sweet Codeine” released by the BBC on May 2, 2018 which exposed the codeine addition problem in Nigeria proved otherwise, prompting the Federal Government to ban the product few days later.
Codeine syrup is used in the treatment of cough but it doubles as an addictive Opioid which can cause schizophrenia and organ failure when taken in excess. The syrup was often mixed with soft drinks and consumed by a large number of youths in Nigeria, mostly students to ‘get high’.
The major setback in the fight against drug abuse in Nigeria over the years is the government’s resolve to criminalize drug abuse offenders despite increase calls from stakeholders to employ support oriented and evidence base reforms like decriminalization, harm reduction, rehabilitation, etc. because drug abuse cut across class, religion and personality; thus should be handled as an illness not a crime, and certain areas and people shouldn’t be stigmatized.
The country continues to fight drug abuse with the firm hands of the law through the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) who operate military combat approach that involves arrest, imprisonment and incarceration of drug abuse offenders. The agency operates on a Act which was established on 29th December, 1989 and seriously in need of urgent reviews.
For instance, the ban of Codeine and subsequent imprisonment of Codeine users doesn’t solve the problem; rather, it makes matters worse, as drug users would shift to more dangerous substitutes like Tramadol, Rohypnol, Valium, etc. and also expose random users to wrong influences during their time in prisons and detention centers. Not every drug user is a drug abuser and each case must be treated with individual preference by professionals not the law.
Many NGOs like Youth RISE and IDPC through the “We are People” and “Support, Don’t Punish” Campaigns are currently doing a lot to provide support for drug abuse offender in Africa through rehabilitation and sensitization, but a lot remains to be done and government must take an active role in partnering with relevant stakeholders in passing and implementing evidence based reforms as adopted in countries like Portugal, Australia, Netherlands etc. if we are serious about winning the war against drug abuse and upholding the human rights of citizens in Nigeria.
Professor Obot, who spoke at the YouthRISE Nigeria Drug Policy Training for media practitioners in Abuja, stated that despite criminalizing drug use for many years, this had not achieved its goal of eliminating drug production and use.
According to him, the nation’s perspective about drugs from a criminal justice system perspective needs to be changed to healthcare system perspectives.
Obot, a psychologist, declared that drug use was much more than a criminal issue, but one with many health and social implications, including fighting, violence, and problems in the family.
He said drug use cuts across all social classes and gender, adding that what may be different is what type of drug they are using.
According to him, “data from the world drug report every year has not brought any substantial change at all. And if you look at the number of drugs seized, and people trafficking in substances, not much has happened, so we have not won the war.”
He declared that far back in 2016 at the United Nations General Assembly, there was also a growing acceptance that drug use should be treated a public health issue rather than a criminal issue.
The don, however, said reforming the laws to make at least possession and use not a criminal offence will ensure they could seek help and make Nigeria focus on providing opportunities for drug treatment, counseling, and aftercare.
He added, “The days are over when we wanted to kill them, and then pay attention to those who are bringing in the drugs. Nobody should let those ones off the hook.”