BusinessDay

The debate over Cannabis

In recent times, the demand for legislation of abortion, prostitution and gay marriages has gained currency in the Nigeria. Perhaps, for the first time, in the history of the nation, sex workers openly took part in the march past on May 1 in Lagos, during the celebration of Workers Day 2019. They wore specially-made attires, and with their banners, demanded better “working conditions”.

Only recently, Rotimi Akeredolu, governor of Ondo State, stirred the hornet’s nest, when he called for the legalisation of cultivation and use of cannabis (Marijuana) locally called “Igbo”, in the country.

Governor Akeredolu premised his campaign on the fact that the product could be a huge foreign exchange earner for Nigeria and provide jobs for the unemployed youths.

Ondo to be precise is said to be a state that harbors many farms of cannabis, although the farmers do so discretely.

Marijuana, also known as Indian hemp or cannabis, is a banned substance in Nigeria.

Akeredolu made the call upon his return from Thailand where he had attended a seminar with the head of the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Muhammad Abdallah, on medicinal cannabis extract development.

Taking to his Twitter account (@RotimiAkeredolu) on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 to shed more light on the trip, the governor said Nigeria would be shortchanging itself by not tapping into the economic value of marijuana.

He said growing the plant, under the supervision of the NDLEA, would create thousands of jobs for Nigerians if seriously considered by the Federal Government.

“We all know that Ondo State is the hot bed of cannabis cultivation in Nigeria. We know how to grow it and it thrives well in the Sunshine State. With an estimated value of $145 billion in 2025, we would be shortchanging ourselves if we failed to tap into the Legal Marijuana Market,” he said.

According to him, “Our focus now is Medical Marijuana cultivation in controlled plantations under the full supervision of the @ndlea_nigeria. I strongly implore the FG to take this seriously as it is a thriving industry that will create 1000’s of Jobs for our youth and spur economic diversification.”

In his response, Shehu Sani, a senator representing Kaduna Central in the Senate, took to his own Twitter account (@ShehuSani) on Wednesday, May 15 to rebuke the governor.

He had urged Akeredolu to perish the thought but to rather borrow a leaf from his other colleague governors who have since gone into production of rice and other good items and cash crops that are beneficial, not only to their states, but to the country at large.

“My brother Akeredolu, Lagos partnered with Kebbi for rice, please partner with Niger for beans, Kaduna for ginger or partner with Benue for yam. Please leave this Indian Hemp matter for now, abeg,” he posted.

Omoyele Sowore, publisher of online news platform, Sahara Reporters, and former presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) in the last election, joined the fray, taking up Senator Sani and supporting Akeredolu’s view point.

Sowore said: “I hate to stand between two Nigerian politicians engaging asinine argument but I am disappointed in you for this tweet.

“Have you ever thought of it that when this idea finally gains legal ground your Afro hair could benefit from a locally produced line of cannabis hair products?”

He also believed that it can be exported to other countries and contribute to Nigeria’s economic fortunes.

Recall that during his campaign for the presidency in the last elections, Sowore had said he would legalise cannabis if elected president.

While speaking at an event organised by the Centre for Social Justice on Wednesday, September 5, 2018, Sowore said Nigeria could make a lot of money from exporting the psychoactive drug which can be used for medical or recreational purposes.

“We have to start taking care of our weed, ‘igbo’, such that we can also contribute to the GDP of the world. Some of the best weed in the world are grown in EkitiState. I’m very serious and people are making billions out of that particular plant that is very potent in Nigeria. We should be focusing on it,” he said.

In what seemed like putting the NDLEA on notice, Sowore said it would no longer be business as usual for the agency on marijuana if he became president.

“Our NDLEA should get the memo in advance that Nigeria will be exporting weed to cure cancer in other parts of the world instead of chasing after people who are growing weed. Whereas, they’re not chasing after our politicians who are smoking cocaine in their houses,” he said.

Some analysts who spoke to BDSUNDAY on the issue said it would be wrong to sacrifice the sanctity of Nigeria on the altar of dollars, euros and pound sterling.

A psychologist, who simply gave his name as Tim, said it was wrong for anybody to begin to campaign for such legislation at this point in Nigeria’s history.

“Nigeria is passing through what I call social trauma. A lot of things are going wrong at the same time in the country. We already have a lot of drug-related cases and issues at our hands. For instance, look at the high rate of social crimes such as kidnapping, killings; rape, suicide, etc. Those crimes are most times drug-induced. Those who commit such crimes do not do them with their clear eyes. They smoke drugs to deaden their reasoning and alter their moods,” Tim said.

According to him, “If a society like ours is the way it is without the legalisation of these harmful drugs, it is left to the imagination what would happen when the floodgate is opened for people to use such drugs without let. I think that money should not be the reason why we must mortgage the sanctity of the country and human lives.”

Speaking in tandem, a cleric who asked not to be named, said: “It is disappointing to hear that a governor is calling for the legalisation of “igbo” in the country just for his state and the country to make money from it. If I may ask; with all the money Nigerians has made from oil over the years, what is the level of infrastructural growth in Nigeria? We are still at zero point. I even heard and read that government is going for billions of dollar loan for infrastructure. So, having wasted all the money from oil, we now think it is money from hard drugs that would help Nigeria; that is self-delusion. After all, the Bible says, ‘what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?’

“So, what shall it profit Nigeria to make billions of naira from cannabis and the country is destroyed; because the crime rate will be doubled. It does not make sense.”

A nurse, who works with a psychiatric hospital, said that those who call for legalisation of such harmful drugs in Nigeria do not have access to the present statistics or data of the ruins hard drugs have brought to the country. “The country is going down, down, down on a daily basis when you look at the rate of drug abuse among the youth. Psychiatric hospitals are seeing increasing cases of drug-related cases nowadays; and it is prevalent among the youth,” the nurse said, craving anonymity.

According to the nurse, “If we have a huge number of youths whose lives have been ruined by the use of hard drugs when it is not legalised, what then do we hope to see if the use of the drugs are legalised? Don’t forget that the challenged economy is helping the rise in drug abuse, because these youths by virtue of being idle all day without work begin to mix up with bad eggs who introduce them to drugs and to other crimes. It is like a chain. One thing leads to the other. Solve the unemployment problem today; I assure you that these social ills will drastically reduce. If you ask me; legalisation of cannabis’ cultivation in Nigeria or its usage except for medicinal purposes is a no, no.”

Sowing the wind, reaping the whirlwind

Some analysts have said that the crusade for the legalisation of the prohibited substance for the simple reason of creating jobs and making foreign exchange amounts to sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind.

Albert Nkemdirim, a trained pharmacist, said: “I read that the reason for the call is to create jobs for the youth; my question is, ‘if exposed to such a substance, even the youths engaging in its farming will begin to abuse it. The problem we have is that people will just go abroad and see how things work properly and they try to imitate without putting the first thing first. In Thailand where the substance is being farmed, have our dear governor and Sowore found out the wage of the farmers and other benefits (conditions of service) attached? If you pay a youth farmer in Nigeria N30.000 or N50,000 do you think he will be contented? That’s no job. By the way, there are laws guiding use of such substances in those places, because everybody is under the law, not here; the laws are made for the less-privileged, and people abuse the laws with abandon. Some ideas are good on the face value, but in practical terms, we are not there yet.”

 

Zebulon Agomuo

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