• Friday, February 23, 2024
businessday logo


Of rising substance abuse, unemployment, opaque policy direction, and ‘Bettagate’

Of rising substance abuse, unemployment, opaque policy direction, and ‘Bettagate’

A recent revelation by the Commander of Narcotics of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in Borno State, Iliyasu Mani, that the youth in the state have taken to drinking highly fermented human urine to get high is very disturbing and unfortunate.

But the news, while troubling, is not surprising to many Nigerians, including myself. Over the past decade or so, there has been a steady rise in substance abuse among youth across the country. The same NDLEA had in 2021 at one of its annual constituency stakeholders’ meetings revealed that 40% of young Nigerians aged 18 to 35 were “deeply involved” in substance abuse, as reported by a national newspaper.

Scary figures
A survey conducted in 2017 by the National Bureau of Statistics, with support from the United Nations and European Union, on substance abuse in the country showed that over 14% of the population, mostly people between 15 and 64 years, were into substance abuse. This figure is significantly higher than the annual global prevalence of 5.6%. There is little doubt that these figures have risen since then.

Strange concoctions
The ingenuity of the drug users is mindboggling. The fermented urine is the latest in a long line of psychoactive substance cocktails over the years. According to the NDLEA, psychoactive substances in use include: cannabis; cough syrup with codeine; Ice; Pentazocine; Tramadol; Rohypnol; Diazepam; Mentholated spirit in soft drinks; Lipton soaked in gin; skunk; rubber solution; lizard dung; camel urine; glue; septic waste; gutter dirt; toilet fumes; and ‘Mkpuru mmiri’ (Methamphetamine or Crystal Meth).

The most disturbing recent trend in psychoactive substance use recorded in the West Africa sub-region (thankfully, there is no recorded case yet in Nigeria) is the robbing of graves for dry human bones for use in making substance cocktails (dry human bones are said to be rich in Sulphur). These youth want to be high, intoxicated to dull the crushing effects of a poor and crumbling economy as well as insensitive leadership on them.

Harsh economic realities
One doesn’t need to be overly smart to draw a strong link between psychoactive substance abuse and poor socioeconomic conditions in many homes across the country. Official figures released three months ago put the percentage of Nigerians living in poverty at 63%. The country has the highest school dropout rate globally at 20 million children, according to the 2022 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) research report, an increase over the 10.5 million recorded in 2020, and the unemployment figure is well above 30%. Clearly, the country’s most active population group is not productively engaged, so it is no surprise that the group fills its time with crazy schemes to “escape” their misery.

Governance failure
And governments at all levels have repeatedly failed the youth. The current administration rode on the promise to change the economic narrative and productively engage all segments of society. But eight months into the administration, one is hard pressed to identify the government’s policy direction, which has remained opaque at best. Inflation remains high, income levels are low as households continue to struggle, energy prices are trending higher, the forex market is now completely unhinged, corruption seems to have gone several bars higher, and government’s borrowing spree is in cruise control.

Budgetary allocations remain a key indicator of government’s developmental aspirations. The 2024 Budget has indicated a government willing to serve Nigerians more of the same unpalatable dish served by previous administrations. For a budget tagged “Renewed Hope” there is little comfort in it. While politicians, including the president, vice president, and lawmakers, appropriated huge sums to themselves for projects with zero economic and social impact to the people, key sectors such as Education and Healthcare got the usual paltry allocations in the budget. So did infrastructure (5% of the budget) and Social Development and Poverty Reduction Programmes (2% of the budget).

The ministry saddled with the responsibility for social turnaround and poverty reduction, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, is currently enmeshed in graft probes. The head of the ministry, Betta Edu, was said to have authorized a shady transaction involving the payment of N585 million government money into the personal account of a third party.

There is disillusionment across the land and among young Nigerians, and this government has so far done little to give hope. And as things are, the substance abuse problem, unfortunately, may persist. The NDLEA has its work cut out for it.

Time to treat the disease and not the symptoms
The solutions to the pervasive substance abuse are in the problem itself. The government must be seen to be sensitive to the needs of the people; unemployment and poverty must be tackled urgently and the youth profitably engaged to create that sense of shared ownership in the economy.