The story has been told of an Abuja slum where young Nigerians do drugs very freely.
It goes with out saying that only about 20 years ago, the Nigerian culture was strictly known for enforcing public decency and rectitude as a young child was never to be seen with alcohol or cigarette not to talk of hard drug.
Sadly, today, however, teenagers, despite stern warnings by the World Health Organisation, WHO, are deeply into drug.
Drug is accessible to them through local channels and massive distributions.
Teenagers and young adults do drugs with impunity and are the highest abusers of substances like marijuana, codeine and alcohol among others.
A visit to a popular abattoir market in Karu village, a community under the Abuja Municipal Area Council, AMAC, will convince any doubting Thomas on this reality as it was in this case of Sunday Vanguard reporter who had gone there to buy goat meat.
Just a stone-cast distance from the butchery to the main road lies a secluded skanky slum, from where a thick smell of cannabis reeked the atmosphere and several scruffy looking men and women, perceived to be within the age bracket of 15-20, were seen.
As I walked into the area, some young ladies who appeared unkempt swarmed over me, asking me to take a quick look at what they had for sale.
A step or two in, voices of narcotic sellers became audible, and the atmosphere greatly smelled of marijuana.
“Fine boy, fine boy, make you come check my own. You go dey alright”, they called out while others made bodily attempts to get me to their spots.
Those who already bought stuff hanged here and there.
Whereas some were seen wrapping their own marijuana, several others were puffing away you would think that is the most important thing in life.
It was a first-hand experience on what looked like a grave societal decay and how youths are deep into drug.
Welcome to the world of substance where people seeking solace and escape from emotional pain by numbing themselves with tranquilizers and narcotics get their stuff.
For others, it helps to alter their state of consciousness such that they feel “high”, very happy, euphoric, relaxed, sociable and uninhibited.
Some of the abusers told Sunday Vanguard their stories.
Okezie Chibuzor, otherwise known as ‘Socket’ and one of the abusers of substance in the neighborhood, who narrated with soberness the turning point in his life at the very young age of 15, after mingling with hood boys about his age, said he has become a smoker who could not survive one day without puffing the air.
Chibuzor, who claimed to be a bright student during his school days, and one who was brought up as a church kid, never thought he could become a drop-out in JSS 2.
He described himself a “hardened neighborhood criminal” who had seen the walls of different correctional facilities, and an assaulter of his parents.
The addict, however, blamed his parents for his lifestyle, adding that he began to take the wrong path during his early days when he brought back home items obtained from acts of crime, but was never cautioned by his parents.
He narrated how he led many other young boys and girls into drugs.
His words: “I have always lived a rough life from childhood even though I was bright and had a calm face. But, I was a petty thief. “My parents are poor, so when I brought those things (I stole) back home, they hardly asked where I got them from. Instead, they’d ask me, ‘who dashed you?’ And, I’d put up a fake story.
“That lifestyle continued for some time until one day when I stole from a set of thieves who caught me.
“That very day, my life changed. Whatever you see now was as a result of my decision on that very day.
“I had to pay back by stealing whatever they asked me to. I actually thought I was enjoying it and also helping myself.
“Soon, when I impressed them, I became part of the team and we did a lot of horrible things together. I was also introduced to weed.
“When I took it at first, it almost took my life because I fainted.
“But, I regained consciousness after a while. Since then, I crossed whatever available help I could get to becoming not just a tough smoker but I now sell to people.
“My parents did not know I was smoking because I was careful at home.
“Whenever I couldn’t help but smoke before going to bed, that was when I knew smoking was bad for anyone.
“But, then, I was helpless, I had crossed the Rubicon and I couldn’t help myself. I could not finish my JSS 2 exams. Smoking took that away from me because I spent all my money, including school fees, on smoking.
“I could not finish my secondary school and my life changed. I became a chain smoker. When my parents got to know about my lifestyle, it became a very serious problem in the house. Because the idea of, you know, their son, a young child, being a smoker was horrible to them.
“So, I had issues and series of altercations, and the level of crime I started engaging myself in became heightened in the sense that my friends, two of whom are dead now, went into robbery. We stole and later went into house burglary. Yeah, at some point we were caught by the police.
“I now sell drugs to people who use them and even to policemen who come around to purchase. So, I am more like a distributor.”
Chibuzor, who appeared unhappy with his lifestyle, said he was helpless but advised youths to stay off drugs.
When asked why he had not stopped smoking despite realizing that he was toeing the wrong path, he said: “It is not easy for one to just unhook from smoking these things.
“I don’t only smoke weed, I also do a lot of others and I am at a level where if I don’t take it, I would feel like giving up.
“My advice to children out there is to stay away from drugs. As much as I don’t like the way my life is, does not mean I cannot quit. I can’t.
“It is part of me now and there is nothing I can do about that. Youths out there should not even dare go into this world because they will become so lost”.
Another abuser, Awal Abduahi, 19, said: “I started smoking when I was in JSS 3, and it started from a government school which I attended in Abuja.
“There you will see many other young boys and girls smoking in a particular class and we were usually not caught.
“Even in the neighborhood, there were those who smoked and allowed us to have a taste of it.
“That was how I started and, for me, I don’t actually do more that weed. I love weed and it is very healthy, too.”
These drugs are quite expensive and, in a bid to maintain the habit, users resort to stealing and even armed robbery while women abusers go into prostitution to sustain the habit.
Nkechi Paul, 19, also into substance abuse, confirmed to Sunday Vanguard, that most armed robbers had the habit of taking drug and, as such, addiction has connection to criminal activities.
She said that, while even still studying, she was into prostitution in her little way just to earn money to purchase cannabis.
Her words: “I started taking weed when I was 15 years old.
“That was when I joined some of my friends in my neighborhood to visit a farm, from there we went swimming.
“Along the line, I was introduced to it. At first, it was not very nice but when I tried it the second time, I felt so different.
“Since then, I take it every day just to be myself.
“Getting the weed or anything you want to take is not easy because it is expensive and not easy to get.
“When you have the right plugs, you will always get supplies. I have the plug but I don’t have money to get the supplies, so I always go out to hustle with men just to get the money.”
Aside from deteriorating mental disorders and deaths in several cases, many youths have dropped out of school, lost their jobs and relationships due to drug use and addiction.
In another interview, 25-year-old Matthew Solomon narrated how drug shattered his chance to become a graduate in urban and regional planning.
Though now rehabilitated and works as a cobbler, he had yet to fully reconcile with the reality of dropping out of school in the final year.
He stated, “I got on the wrong side of things and started smoking cannabis.
“I felt it was something I needed at a point in time. I was in my early 20s then. It really affected me drastically. It affected my cognitive level.
“I didn’t have total focus on my studies and my anger management was poor.
“It was part of the reason I dropped out at 500-level in the university.
“I underwent rehabilitation five years ago and, since then, I have not returned to drug.
“It was a relative who knew I was doing drugs that advised me to go for a rehab.”
As a university graduate and a fashion designer, Nneka’s business had started growing in leaps and bounds at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, only for her to slip into a deep crisis as a result of addiction to crack.
Now rehabilitated, she recalled the perilous journey through drug during a conversation with Sunday Vanguard.
She recounted, “I looked unkempt and was losing weight. Sometimes, I had to smoke marijuana so I could have appetite.
“Someone once asked me if I was 70 years old because my body had shrunk. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.
“I once smoked crack for four days at a stretch. I spent a huge amount within four those days on crack. One gram was about N20, 000 to N25, 000 depending on the dealer and I could finish it within eight hours.
“Drug also affected my business. Once I smoked and I had not slept, I liked to be in a quiet environment.
“If I went to the shop, customers would want to discuss with me and I could shout at them. I didn’t go to work and it killed my business.”
Among others, joblessness, poor parenting and peer group pressure have been linked to substance abuse.
To address the worsening societal problem, experts canvassed a holistic approach, from social to economic.
A psychologist, Prof Michael Ubani, said the prevalence of drug use among youths was unsettling amid its deleterious effects on (mental) health.
“Use of drugs is not in any way a welcome development. It is an evidence of frustration, delusion and many other things combined”, Ubani said.
“The moment you are addicted to drugs, you temporarily take leave of your brain and the outcome is always injurious and negative.
“Youths will normally be drawn to drugs because of the extra lift they give them in terms of surge in power but the end to which such energy is directed is always a cause for concern.
“Some people ascribe its use to the supply of happiness but there has never been any correlation. It actually leaves you worse off.
“Use of drugs is, by no means, something that should be encouraged but again youths of all ages have always been drawn to drugs. The prevalence is always a cause for concern”.
The scholar maintained that adequate sensitisation to drug abuse was crucial to stemming the dangerous trend, urging law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders to focus on sources of drugs.
He noted: “Social information disbursement will be the best way out.
“Give the youth enough information about the side effects of drug use.
“It can lead to loss of memory, permanent brain damage and can actually rob one of the functioning of certain parts of the body physiological makeup.
“It can lead to psychological imbalance too. This information should be disseminated as far and wide as possible and be constant so that the youth that such information is targeted at would have access to it and probably make use of it.”
Also, a professor of sociology at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Veronica Okeke, urged parents to always keep track of their children, know the company they keep and ensure they don’t stay away from home for too long.
“Parents should find out why they are coming back home late. From time to time, find out what the children are doing; meet their teachers to find out whether they are actually in school and how they are performing,” Okeke said.
In many countries, particularly in Nigeria, progress in reducing the prevalence of drug abuse has not kept pace with population increases, resulting in illnesses and impoverishment.
But, in an interview, the Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, Mr Femi Babafemi, noted that the agency has been doing so much to stem drug abuse.
Babafemi added: “At that point, you will see it is not about the NDLEA alone, or even government alone, it is a collective responsibility of the society starting from the home front.
“Those children came from a home. The fact that they are on the streets shows that there is a problem with parenting starting from the home.
“Then, if you take a step further, you will also see that governments at some levels where you have those kids located also have some basic responsibilities they need to provide, like socio-economic buffers for them because it is either they are out of school, or they have no jobs doing; all of these are beyond the purview of the NDLEA.
“So, there are quite a number of predisposing factors responsible for why those kids are in those slums.
“So, it is not about the NDLEA alone. It’s about all the stakeholders involved. As much as possible we try to cut access and availability of these drugs.
“Daily we churn out information and figures about how much of these drugs we seized from across the country and I can tell you it is just a little above 18 months we have taken out of circulation more than 3.6 million kilogrammes of assorted illegal drugs and majority of this like about 70% of this is cannabis, which is why we have also stood vehemently against legalisation of cannabis in our country.
“We will try as much as possible to arrest, prosecute and ensure that those responsible for distribution and trafficking in these illicit drugs pay dearly for it by ensuring that they go to jail and denying their dependants of the proceeds of their illicit trade; that is on the law and on the law enforcement side where the NDLEA is the lead agency.
“But on the other side, where the NDLEA is one of the stakeholders responsible for drug demand reduction, we have also been doing all that we could and part of that was the Drug Prevention Treatment and Care Training, DPTC, we had in conjunction with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, and governors across the country.
“We invited them to Abuja and had this training with them so that they can also key into what we are doing by ensuring that the efforts and initiatives we are putting in place cascade down to the state level, local government level and the communities where you probably have seen some of these people.
“It is not just enough for us to say we want to arrest them, or we want to take them off the streets, but those predisposing factors — the factors where for instance the NDLEA takes them in for rehabilitation whether we take them into our own counseling of our rehabilitation centre or refer them to some other private or government rehabilitation.
“After a while when they are certified okay, if you release them to the society, and they go back to the environment where the same predisposing factors still exist so they are exposed to the factors that led them into those drugs, they will go back to it.
“So, it goes beyond what the NDLEA can do. Other stakeholders must come on board and do what they need to do, like social welfare at the state level and at the local government level, providing education for some of these children so that they are out of the streets, and meaningfully engaged.
“So, all of us need to come together to solve the problem of children or under aged people being exposed to illicit substances.”