Mariam Mohammed, a Kano State based journalist, community development worker and social counselor exudes passion on issues pertaining to women, youths, violent extremism and issues bothering on drugs. In this interview with OLUWATOSIN OMONIYI, she spoke on the impact of drugs and insecurity on the fate of young people especially the girl-child
By your passion and interest in women, what will you say really motivated you, aside your journalism profession?
One thing is that I love reading, love watching films and I love walking about. On such days of moving about, I went into Kano City, one girl caught my attention; very beautiful and as she was walking, she was staggering. So, I looked at her and I thought she was physically challenged but she wasn’t.
The clothes she was wearing were all different, different wrapper, blouse, hair tie and she wasn’t wearing any shoe. So, I followed her and I saw her sniffing something through her nostril.
That’s how I got to know the girl was into drugs. It touched me. I started asking myself what I can do to help people and let them know that it is dangerous to use drugs. I called a friend, who is now late. I told him my interest and he said being a radio person, why don’t you start a program enlightening people and talk about your passion and enlighten the people about it. I went to my line manager who is now late, and I told him. He laughed and said, Mariam you are a newswoman.
How can you now start the program? I said just let it be a trial! He said this is not an area people are interested in but I insisted and he gave me 15minutes slot. The program went on air on 4th of January 2007 and eventually became an established program.
From there, I graduated to engaging with these persons (those into drugs). That was how I started going to streets, trying to draw them closer to myself, talk to them. I remember when I started, some were threatening me that they will do this and that to me but then with time, they started to develop trust in me and I became a part of them.
So far, was there any time you were discouraged or perhaps you wanted to back off from this? What really was the experience like?
There was a time I wanted to interview one person and I met him in dazed condition. Knowing he was alright in his drug addiction state, I decided to look for a quiet place to interview him and counsel him. He said he lived nearby; that we should go there.
So, I went with him to his house. I was looking at him when he locked the door, although nothing came to my mind at the moment. We sat down to start talking and as I was interviewing him, he became violent. He had locked the door. It was just him and me. He was threatening me but what I did was that for people to appreciate what I do, he was on record. While we were still talking, he said he was going to kill me; he will rape, then kill me. I sat there, shivering inside of me and praying silently.
And just then, something came to my mind; I just started praising him. Those praises that I showered on him calmed him down. Later, he just laughed and said “God has saved you.” I said okay, I’m leaving. He said no, stay back and finish the interview. I had to stay back and when I finished the interview, immediately, he opened the door. I ran out as if something was pursuing me. But I made sure I did not edit that part.
I put it on air, so that people can appreciate what I passed through in order to save people’s lives. The next one, I went to a refuse dump area. I was looking for someone to talk to then I saw a boy of about 14 years in age.
He approached me and asked what I was doing there. I told him I want to talk to some people. He replied me that he was the leader of the refuse dumpsite. I was shocked! I asked him how many were they? He said he had about 100 boys under him! Do you know what he did? He grabbed a huge sack, and inside this sack were all kinds of weeds.
He removed one and came closer to me; I moved back with style. He followed me. He saw that I was scared and asked if I was afraid of knife? I said, yes because I am not immune to knives or anything that has to do with that.
He laughed and asked me of my mission there. I told him. He told me he came from another village, came to fellowship with his mates in this part of the state, then go back.
Shockingly, he confessed to me that that day I saw him was the 40th day he has not had his bath. So, I moved back. He said why?
Then, I said I’m in danger if I stay close by you. He told me what he does with the money; “do you know what I do, when I get the money, I go to Sabo- Gari, eat Eba and sleep with women.”
I looked at this 14-year-old boy, how proud and the confidence with which he said all those. I shivered at the realisation that we are all in trouble in this country.
Then, I became determined to save humanity in my own way. I started hammering week in, week out on that refuse dumpsite to be cleared until the government did something about it. I was happy when the government closed the place and chased them all out. They caught some of them and some ran away.
The issue of my interstate started from, what can I do for my community? What do I give back to my country? So, even when I die, people will remember Mariam for something. I can proudly tell you now if you are to go to Kano State, if you are talking about 20 women that are working on drug issues, my name must be mentioned.
For how long have you been carrying on this passion?
Yes, it’s indeed a passion that started from 2007 till 2020, about 13years.
So far, from what you have been doing, will you say drug addiction is on the increase in the north among teenagers?
You agreed that they are more teenage drug addict in the north. What is responsible for this?
To me, they usually use these excuses that because they are school dropouts, they don’t have things to do. So, that is always the problem. If you look at it, they will tell you that they are from broken homes, poverty, school dropout, peer group influence, some want to belong and some for experiment and they think that is easy to stop, not knowing is very easy to go into but difficult to get out.
Why it is like that? Is it that they have access more to drugs than their counterparts in other states?
The issue that bothers me more is not even that of drug abuse but substances abuse because they abuse substances like concoctions more than drugs. At least, if it is drugs to some extent, I’m not saying it is good but it’s better because it has been of their own making-substance.
The issue here is that because of their poverty, another issue, unemployment, and broken homes. There are so many issues that make these difficult but to me. All these issues are not worth endangering oneself.
They are using drugs not a drug per se but substance abuse because they have access to the concoction and, they think using that will make their problems go away but one thing they don’t know is that by escaping from one problem, they are creating another one.
You have been doing this for the past thirteen years now. What will you say is your result? Is it result yielding or more frustrating?
It is more frustrating because day in, day out, people are talking and asking not only me but also people that are into this job, drawing attention to the dangers of using drugs. But people are still going into it. So to me, the onus is on the government at all level to do something urgently about it.
The government, being the head is not interested in that because probably to me, there must be a hidden agenda- a hidden interest. Why I said hidden interest, check for example, the issue of political thuggery.
If you look at political thugs, there is no way they commit atrocities in normal senses-weird and life threatening, certainly, drugs consumption is behind and when these politicians are going for a campaign or whatsoever, they will bring all sorts of drugs substances and give it to these boys.
Going by the number of years you have been on this drug issue, what is your likely projection of these drugs and substance consumption for those taking it, especially the young ones in the north?
Unless something is done urgently, otherwise, we may lose the sanity of our boys/ girls at the end of the day because the girls are now into it, including married women. Everybody I have seen, both young girls of seven years are all taking drugs.
That is the disappointing part of it! Someone came to me by himself. When he came to me and I featured him on my program. At that time, he was 56 years old and he told me he started taking drugs at the age of seven.
So, he was into drugs for the past 49 years and he had never married. He talked about his regret; that because of drugs, he has never gotten married. I’m sure it just dawned on him that he needed a legacy; someone to carry on his name. He began crying that, now he’s old and if he dies, nobody will remember him and that you could see in his body, he has a cut.
He said he could not remember how many times he was taken to prison because of drugs. So, when he came, he asked some people to connect him to me because he wants to share his story with other people. I listened to him talk to people on my program.
He started narrating his life experience on the program. As he was talking, you can feel his pains, the regrets, and how I ended that program was “If you think it is a good thing, you have just heard from the horse’s mouth, if it is a bad thing, you had it all. It’s left for you to decide.
You said that some married women are into drugs. What will be their excuses for going into drugs or substance taking?
It is simple gender base value system.
How do you mean?
Family issues such as violence… the violence could be in any form. It could be physical violence or negligence. For instance, you know our men. So far you are a Muslim man, then, it means you can marry up to four wives.
You will see someone that is not financially okay will go and marry four wives and gave birth to 30 children and then, he will allow the woman to be the one to feed, shoulder the responsibility alone and the man is alive, notwithstanding when he comes into the house and there isn’t any food for him, it will result to problem.
And for the woman to escape from this issue of family conflict, friends will introduce drugs to her, promising her that it will make her forget her problems. From there, they will start taking it and become addicted to it. Another reason is sheer poverty. We have people that do house-to house laundry.
At the end of the washing, she will have to go to other houses to be a maid there. So, she becomes tired after the whole stress. A friend might simply suggest Daga and when she takes it, she feels strong as a horse. She will continue taking it, so that she will be fit for the job.
So, what is the fate of the girl-child now that young girls are joining the drug intake world and are victims of domestic violence?
If we don’t change our mindset in all the things we do, nothing positive will come out and the girl-child will be in a sorry situation because if you look at it, why a girl-child is always at a loss?
It is the way the society looks at her as an inferior being. We have to change our mindset against the girl-child in order for her to enjoy all the respects, encouragement and the pushing that she needs to survive in this kind of hard society. Up till now, whether we like it or not, the truth is that boys and girls are not given equal opportunity. It is general, not only in Kano.
Because of this problem, they are biased in treatment. Some of these girls go into drugs. Again, the issue of I want to belong. The boys also are responsible for making these girls go into drugs.
For example, if a boy uses drugs, he will tell his girlfriend to prove her love for him by trying the drugs also and because the girl has a weak mind and willing to prove her love for him, she will agree to that.
Again, like I said, ‘I want to belong people’ are doing it so as to be carried along with their age grades and friends.