For Nigeria, winning the war on drugs is a must

Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, has been in the throes of high levels of insecurity in the past decade. While we do not at the moment know of any study establishing a direct cause-effect relationship between drug abuse and insecurity, anecdotal evidence points in that direction.

In a 2018 study on “Crime and adolescent drug use in Lagos, Nigeria” published in Sociology International Journal, Ayodele Johnson Oluwole of the Department of Sociology, Lagos State University, Adeleke Kazeem Habibat of the Department of Human Resource Management, University of Salford, United Kingdom, and Gandonu M. Babatunde of the Department of Psychology, Lagos State University surmise that “substance use and crime may be causally linked and mutually reinforcing and, thus, drinking and drug use may lead to more criminal behaviour and criminal behaviour may lead to more drinking and drug use”.

Similarly, a security meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and Nigeria’s security chiefs on August 4, 2020 identified the high menace of drug abuse as a key factor responsible for the increased insecurity in the country, including armed banditry, kidnappings and rapes.

The prevalent drugs, according to National Security Adviser Babagana Monguno, include “codeine, opiums, cocaine, tramadol and pertamines and, of course, cannabis sativa”. He added that “tramadol has been the drug of choice for terrorists, bandits and kidnappers”.

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Buba Marwa, chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), reiterated this point recently when he said that to end youth radicalisation, violent extremism, cultism, banditry, wanton kidnapping, insurgency and the like, drug abuse and trafficking must be dealt a decisive blow.

While addressing journalists in Abuja to mark the 2021 International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the NDLEA boss said the agency arrested 2,180 drug traffickers and seized over 2 million kilogrammes of assorted illicit drugs in five months.

“We have filed at least 2,100 drug cases in court, recording over 500 convictions with 1,549 cases pending in court. These results have given us big insights into the magnitude of the drug problem. The work ahead is enormous. NDLEA cannot win the drug war without the help of citizens,” Marwa said.

Last Friday, at an MTN’s ‘Share Facts on Drugs, Save Lives’ programme held in collaboration with BusinessDay, Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi, chairman of MTN Foundation Nigeria, raised the alarm that the scourge of drug abuse in Nigeria is approaching a national emergency level.

Indeed, as much as 14.4 percent of Nigeria’s population or 14.3 million people between ages 15 and 64 had used drugs in 2017, according to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report. This represents a prevalence rate of almost three times of the world average. Globally, about 269 million people, or 5.3 percent of the world population, used drugs in 2017 and over 35 million people suffer from drug use disorders.

Adelusi-Adeluyi feared that a lot more of Nigeria’s youth population could have slipped into addiction to substance abuse in the last 16 months that the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the world.

It is more worrisome that Nigeria has very limited options of recovery from drug abuse-related issues. There are gaps in treatment and care for people with drug use disorders as around 40 percent of abusers who report problems do not have access to such services.

In Lagos, for instance, the Drug Addiction Unit of the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba can only handle 400 core cases of in-patients in a year and at least 20,800 out-patients yearly. Half of these patients suffer drug-related problems, implying that the hospital can only manage 0.5 percent of the South-West’s need to address psychiatric disorders if it were the only hospital in the zone.

This is why we agree that the war against drug abuse should not be left to NDLEA alone but requires synergy “with other law enforcement and sister agencies and stakeholders for maximum impact”. Winning the war needs “the cooperation of all and sundry”.

This is also where the theme of this year’s World Drug Day, “Share Facts on Drugs, Save Lives”, ties in. According to UNODC, the theme highlights the need to take a firm stance against misinformation and unreliable sources while sharing research findings, evidence-based data and life-saving facts – from health risks and solutions to tackle the world drug problem, to evidence-based prevention, treatment, and care.

The war against drug abuse is one Nigeria must win given the high level of insecurity the country faces, but as Adelusi-Adeluyi said, it is a war that “calls for a multi-sector, multi-stakeholder approach”.

Indeed, as the UNODC puts it, “by working together, we can tackle the world drug problem”. Let all hands be on deck.

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