Poverty as driver of substance abuse
The upsurge in abuse and illicit trafficking of drug in the country is posing heinous threat to human lives, national development and security, writes AKEEM NAFIU
About 33 years after Messrs Batholomew Owoh (26), Bernard Ogedegbe (29) and Akanni Lawal Ojuolape (29) were executed at the Kirikiri Maximum Prison in Lagos, for being in possession of various quantities of cocaine, cases of drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking are on the rise in Nigeria, posing threats to human lives, national development and security.
The three men were on April 10, 1985, gunned down by six marksmen at exactly 9.32a.m., upon their apprehension, at different times, by security operatives at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos, for trafficking in the illicit drug.
The men were caught up with Decree 20 of 1984 which was promulgated by the military government of the General Muhammadu Buhari. During the period, drug traffickers were sentenced to death by firing squad based on the law. They were the first to be executed for the offences under the law. Owoh was arrested on May 26, 1984, at the MMIA for being in possession of cocaine while Ojuolape was also picked up by security operatives at the same place on June 18, 1984, over the same offence.
Court cases on drugs trafficking
Cases involving individuals and firms allegedly involved in trafficking of illicit drugs were never in short supply at the Federal High Courts across the country. These are the only courts that can try the offence.
One of such numerous cases currently being treated at the Federal High Court in Lagos involved nine individuals and five firms accused of importing banned substances weighing 9,091kg using a 20ft container.
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) is currently prosecuting the accused and firms for dealing in banned substances of Methamphetamine and Ephedrine, weighing 9,091kg before Justice Ayokunle Faji of a Federal High Court in Lagos. They were said to have imported the substance using a 20ft container.
They were arraigned before the court by the agency on an eight-count charge of conspiracy, unlawful attempt to export banned substances, unlawful possession and distribution of banned substances.
The nine individuals who were arraigned alongside the five firms are: Ubah Harris Alaekwe aka Etochukwu Alaekwe Weuba, Tochukwu Victor, Nnamdi Ubah, Chibueze Ubaka Gabriel and Chibueze Alex Izuchukwu.
Others are: Ugwu Nnaemeka Bertrand, Onyeka Jasper Chika, Okoliechukwu Francis Chidozie and Dahiru Bwala.
The five firms are: Visochi Resources Limited, Tovic Marine Services Limited, Chazmax Pharma Industries Limited, Impact Pharmaceutical Limited and Chidomerit Pharmaceutical Limited.
In a charge marked, FHC/L/519c/2015, the NDLEA alleged that all the accused and the companies had on or before November 18, 2015, without lawful authority, conspired among themselves to export 266kg of methamphetamine, a narcotic similar to cocaine, heroin and LSD, and 310kg of ephedrine, a controlled substance, through drug consumption, traffickingthe Apapa Sea Port.
They were also alleged to have between 2011 and 2015, unlawfully distributed a total of 7,825kg of ephedrine.
The offences were said to be contrary to the United Nations Single Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances 1989 and Sections 19, 20(1)(f), 20(2)(a) and 14(b) of the NDLEA Act Cap. N30, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
All the accused pleaded not guilty to the charge and they have been granted bail on various terms.
In another instance, a businessman, Ezeanwu Ifeanyi, who allegedly imported container load of fake drugs into the country, is currently facing trial before Justice Hadiza Rabiu-Shagari of a Federal High Court in Lagos.
In a charge marked, FHC/L/38C/2018, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) alleged that the businessman imported a one by 40ft container loaded with fake and banned drugs of Tramadol, Ibamol, Heogra and others.
The businessman, a resident of 2, Rumak Street, Satellite Town, Ojo, Lagos, was said to have been found in possession of the said container which housed Tramadol Hydrochloric tablets of 225mg, Tramadol tablets of 250mg, Royal Tramadol of 225mg, Ibamol tablet of 50 mg, Heogra tablet of 150 mg and Diarrhea capsule.
The offence is said to be contrary to Section 1(a) of the Counterfeit and Fake Drugs and Unwholesome Processed Foods (Miscellaneous Provision) Act Cap. C34 Law of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, and punishable under Section 3(1) of the same Act.
For trafficking in 100g of cannabis sativa, popularly called marijuana, a teenager, Sabiu Musa, was recently sentenced to two years imprisonment by a Federal High Court in Lagos presided over by Justice Mojisola Olatoregun.
The judge handed down the verdict after the NDLEA had reviewed the fact of the crime against him.
Musa was arrested by the operatives of NDLEA on October 24, 2017, at Owo Street, Marcas area of Agege, while unlawfully in possession of the said banned weeds.
The convict, who did not engage any lawyer to defend himself, pleaded with the court, to have mercy on him, and promised not to engage in the act again if given the opportunity. He also begged the court to tamper justice with mercy in sentencing him.
After listening to the plea of the convict, Olatoregun sentenced him to two years jail term with hard labour. The judge, however, gave the convict an option of N2 million fine.
The 19-year-old convict was first arraigned before the court on November 27, 2017, on a one-count charge of unlawful possession of 100 grams of cannabis sativa, a narcotic drug similar to cocaine, heroin and LSD. The convict had pleaded guilty to the charge when he was first arraigned.
The offence, according to the NDLEA, is contrary to and punishable under Section 11(C) of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act, Cap N30 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
Concerns over delays in trial
The Federal High Court has the exclusive jurisdiction to entertain drug cases. However, there are issues regarding the inadequacy in the number of judges handling these cases which are usually in large volume. This has also been militating against their speedy hearing. The NDLEA is already pushing for the appointment of more judges to handle its cases at the Federal High Court.
Director, Technical Services of the agency, Mr. Femi Oloruntoba, made the appeal at a public hearing organised by the Senate Joint Committee on Drugs and Narcotics and Health in Abuja. The public hearing was based on a motion entitled: “The need to check the rising menace of pharmaceutical drugs abuse among youths in Nigeria.”
He said: “The fact that only the Federal High Court has jurisdiction to try drug cases has occasioned some challenges. The cases could not be prosecuted in Magistrate’s Court and most of the time the Federal High Court is choked and a lot of cases are not moving.”
Oloruntoba also disclosed that the agency had seized 159 million tablets of Tramadol at Apapa Port in Lagos. He added that 50 tons of Tramadol was recently destroyed in Kano State alone.
Earlier, the Chairman of the Senate Committee, Joshua Lidani, disclosed that the use of illicit drugs, trafficking and other pharmaceutical drugs abuse, particularly among women and youths, was worrisome and was increasing by the day.
He said: “It behooves stakeholders to strengthen and redouble our efforts to tame it, and where possible, strengthen the capacity of agencies charged with the responsibility of enforcing relevant laws to enable them to discharge their responsibilities effectively.”
In his submission, the President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Ahmed Yakasai, called for the drafting of a prescription policy to curb drug abuse menace.
“We are trying to see where we have prescription policy. If we have this prescription policy, we will know who is doing what,” he said.
Origin of drug trafficking in Nigeria
The origin of Nigeria’s drug trafficking problem can be traced to the period just after the Second World War. Nigerian soldiers who had served in Burma, India, came back with seeds of the cannabis sativa plant. They went ahead to experiment with its cultivation and discovered that the plant does very well in some parts of Nigeria, and this led to a rise in the cultivation of the plant. The most commonly trafficked drugs are cocaine, heroin, morphine, cannabis sativa (Indian hemp) and crystal methamphetamine. Some of these drugs are also subject of abuse.
A 2016 report by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) indicated that the increase in drug trafficking through the international airport in Lagos, was reportedly associated with a steady growth in passenger air travel. According to the summary report on the Nigerian aviation sector published by the National Bureau of Statistics of Nigeria on 1 May 2016, the total number of passengers who travelled through Nigerian airports in the third quarter of 2015 was almost 4 million people, an 8.5 per cent increase relative to the second quarter of the same year. More than 30 persons were arrested at Lagos airport between January and March 2016 for drug-related offences. The report also revealed an increase in local manufacture of synthetic drugs destined mainly for Asia in Nigeria within the period.
Agencies against drug abuse
One of the agencies against drug abuse is the NDLEA which is saddled with the task of eliminating the growing, processing, manufacturing, selling, exporting and trafficking of hard drugs. The agency was established by Decree Number 48 of January 1990.
On its part, the NAFDAC was established by Decree number 15 of 1993 (as amended) as a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Health with the mandate to regulate and control quality standards for foods, drugs, medical devices manufactured locally and distributed in Nigeria.
Laws against drug abuse
*Decree 20 of 1984 was promulgated and the penalty for anyone arrested and found guilty of drug trafficking is death sentence.
*Decree No. 21 of 1988 prohibits the sale and distribution of counterfeit, adulterated and fake drugs or poisons in open market without a registration licence.
*The National Drug Law Enforcement (Amendment) Decree No. 33 of 1990 prescribes a jail term of five years for persons caught abroad for trafficking in drugs through Nigeria.
*The Poison Pharmacy Act, Cap 366 of 1990 regulates the sale, distribution, supply and dispersion of drugs.
*Food and Drugs Act Cap 150 of 1990 prohibits the sale of certain foods, drugs, cosmetics and devices as treatment for certain diseases. It prohibits the importation, exportation, distribution and sale of specified drugs. It also prohibits practices such as misleading packaging, labelling, advertising and manufacture of food and drugs in unsanitary conditions.
*Drug and Related Products (registration) Decree No. 19 of 1993 prohibits the manufacture, importation, exportation, advertisement, sale or distribution of drugs, cosmetics or medical devices unless it has been registered in accordance with the provisions of the decree.
*The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act, Cap. No 30 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
Drug abuse cases
NAFDAC recently confiscated expired drugs worth over N5 million from a drug dealer in Ariaria Market, Aba, Abia State, following a tip-off.
Speaking on the development, the agency’s Coordinator in the state, Olisa Okeke, said the dealer said to be at large (names withheld) was engaged in stocking expired drugs, changing their expiry dates and selling same to unsuspecting members of the public.
According to him, following a search on the dealer’s shop, NAFDAC officers successfully confiscated many common drugs with March 2017 expiry date and awaiting re-validation.
He said: “We are working hard to clean Aba. So, we are asking the residents to come forward and give us information on persons who do suspicious businesses. We got a tip-off concerning expired drug sale in Ariaria, and successfully investigated a particular shop we heard stocked expired drugs awaiting revalidation.
“When we went, we got many cartons of expired drugs earmarked for re-validation by the suspect; the drugs are worth over N5 million. The expired drugs include common drugs such as antibiotics, anti-emetic and anti-malaria drugs.
“The investigation is ongoing but the shop owner has been on the run. We are monitoring the market, immediately we arrest him, we will move him to our enforcement office in Lagos.”
Okeke added that NAFDAC had sanctioned more than 50 bakeries in Aba for claiming to be out of operations while functioning secretly for four years and refusing to renew their licences. He said the bakers had been given commensurate administrative charges to pay for failing to abide by the rules.
In the northern part of the country, concerns have also been raised about how drug abuse has threatened the ‘Not too young to run’ project.
A university lecturer and former Director-General, Societal Reorientation in the government of Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano State, Dr. Bala Muhammad, while raising the concern, noted that the majority of those that should benefit from the project were youths who engaged in illicit hard drugs’ consumptions.
Speaking during a summit on peace, advocacy and development organised by the Hamisu Magaji Foundation in collaboration with the Centre for Effective Leadership Development and Conciliation, Muhammad, who is also a lecturer at the Mass Communication Department at the Bayero University, Kano, noted with dismay that “80 to 90 per cent of households in the North are having youths that are indulging in illicit drug abuse”.
He said: “A random check and continuous sampling of data collections show that the majority of youths that are into drug consumption are doing so because of lack of what to do, and this is after they might have graduated from the university, some with even first class and 2-1 results and in trying to calm their nerves, they decided to go into drug abuse”.
Some young inmates at the Lagos State Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Centre, Berger, who shared their experiences with New Telegraph, regretted indulging in excessive consumption of illicit drugs which had affected their lives negatively.
A 20-year-old inmate, who gave his name simply as Adewale, said he was led into Indian hemp consumption by some of his friends in school.
Adewale disclosed that his family brought him to the rehabilitation centre after he started misbehaving following the excessive consumption of the illicit drug. He said he had spent close to two years at the place.
“I am the last born in my family. We were four altogether. I have being smoking Indian hemp since my primary school days. My friends at the boarding school led me into it. The thing has really affected my life negatively and I regretted my action,” the boy said.
Another inmate, an undergraduate, also blamed peer-group pressure for her action. The lady, while speaking under the condition of anonymity, said she was fond of attending parties with some of her classmates while in school. She added that she was lured into hard drugs’ consumption in the process.
She said: “I lost my sanity in the process of consuming the hard drugs. I thought I was enjoying myself while taking these drugs not knowing I was destroying my life.
“A lot has been spent by my family since I was brought here 15 months ago. My family pays N10,000 monthly for my upkeep and the most unfortunate thing is my education which is now in jeopardy. But, I thank God I am gradually regaining my sanity. I have learnt my lessons and hope to return to school as soon as possible.”
Speaking on the menace of drug abuse, a clinical psychologist, Mr. Akin Gabriel, noted that a number of reasons could be adduced for hard drugs’ consumption.
According to him, hard drugs are not just consumed for the fun of it; there must be a reason behind it.
Gabriel listed such reasons to include worries, modelling, lack of composure and inferiority complex, among others.
He said: “People don’t just abuse substances; there must be a reason why they do so. The drugs or substances are actually providing services for the particular individual who are using them. That is why people are consuming marijuana, cocaine, heroin, codeine, etc.
“Fears and worry may be factors responsible for drugs’ consumption. Many people believe that by the time they take substances, their fears and worries will be put under control. Those individuals should have better been advised to face their problems squarely instead of compounding them through use of drugs.
“People also use drugs when they have certain inadequacy like lack of composure and inferiority complex. Instead of dealing with these issues naturally, they believe that taking drugs would confer the required boldness on them.
“Then taking of drugs could also be traced to modelling. It has been found out that one or two of individuals who are into drugs might be following the footsteps of a relation.
“Besides, we can also talk about the level of acceptability of these substances in some societies. In such places, it is even mandatory to have some substances in some occasions. On this, you can talk of local and dry gins. In some countries, it is marijuana.
“Another factor is the issue of ignorance. A lot of people are oblivious of the dangers and negative impacts of using these substances. As far as they are concerned, once they see anyone taking it, they too are free to take it.
“Checkmating the menace will involve educating young people on the dangers associated with consumption of these substances. Topics on this issue can be incorporated into schools curricula. Besides, I also want to advocate for more regulations and sanctions against drug abuse.”
In her own comment, a social worker and clinical psychologist, Mrs. Titi Tade, linked the abuse of drugs to availability, ignorance, self-medication, among other reasons.
Tade called for more awareness on the dangers of drugs abuse as a way of stemming the rising tide.
She said: “In the olden days, people were linking substance abuse to poverty. The belief was those who are poor are less likely to be educated and informed about the ill effects of substances. But more and more, it was discovered that those who are educated and informed also engage in drug abuse. In essence, there are people who are not really aware of the side effects of taking substances. At that point of consumption, they are only concerned about the immediate pleasure they derive from it.
“Another reason behind the consumption of these substances is availability. Drugs are cheap and easier to get nowadays. Look at how cheap marijuana is, it can be gotten at every corner in Lagos. People can walk into any shop and purchase drugs that are not supposed to be sold over the counter. Besides, for young people, there is also the peer group pressure factor. Most of them want to do what their mates are doing. Some of them might even be following the footsteps of their parents. In this wise, it might not even be substances, it could be alcoholic drinks. We can also talk about the case of people with mental illness. Some of them, in their quest to self-medicate, take substances. Rather than going to the hospital, they prefer treating themselves at home using substances because of the stigma associated with mental illness.
“Another thing that aide the upsurge is the inadequacy in the punitive measures. The punishments are not enough to serve as deterrent to others. On this, I am referring to those who are involved in trafficking these drugs.
“However, for those who consumed these substances, there is effective treatment. But there is lack of good medical facilities in this country to take care of these people. For instance, we don’t have enough rehabilitation centres, support groups and places where these individuals can go to and be assured that they are not going to be stigmatised. How many mental health professionals like the psychiatrists, psychologists, social health workers and so on do we have? Even the few that we have are concentrated in the big cities. Bad economic situation in the country is also not helping matters.
“One of the ways by which we can stem the tide is through continuous education. This should be done right from the smallest possible age, probably from primary school.”
Some members of the Bar have also been commenting on the reasons behind the upsurge in illicit drug trafficking.
Commenting on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Hakeem Olatunde Afolabi, noted that the menace was a reflection of the myriads of problems confronting the country.
He said: “The issue is just a reflection of the problem we are having in the country. We are witnessing a situation whereby the working population is not gainfully employed while so many were even jobless. By and large, people are so frustrated in the system and the problem is that in instances like these, there is the possibility that people will be looking for unlawful options to survive.
“Of course, people are making a whole lot of money in drug business and that is why you see Nigerians getting involved in drug trafficking even in countries where penalty for such offence is death. People are so frustrated and dejected to the extent that they have lost hope on the country.
“However, the bad situation of things in the country should not be the justification for anyone to go into illicit drug business.
“Farming should be a better option. In this wise, government at all levels has a lot to do. The enabling environment must be created for people who are jobless to go into farming. Government can establish farm settlements and as well financially support those willing to go into agriculture, particularly graduates.”
In his own submission, a former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Adekunle Ojo, linked the upsurge to increase in poverty level among citizens. The lawyer, while noting that the menace of illicit drug trafficking (IDT) poses heinous threats to human lives, national development and security, was of the view that the upsurge in IDT might not be unconnected with the fact that most of the nation’s borders were porous, therefore, giving room for easy influx, movement and exit of drugs.
He said: “Well, I think it has to do more with the high poverty rate in the country. If you check the cases of people that are caught, they are not the real drug barons but just like the couriers.
“In fact, a good number of them are first timers. A check into how they get involved may also reveal that it may be because somebody said I will pay your school fees or I will give you a thousand dollars and so on. I think the upsurge is due to the fact that things are not working the way they should. Poverty has actually eaten deep into so many homes in Nigeria and I think that is the core reason why people are engaged in some of these nefarious activities.
“To curb the menace, government must attend to growing the economy in order to better the lives of the citizens. I believe that when actions are taking in this regard, there will be changes.”
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