Is'haq Modibbo Kawu

April 21, 2016

The spectre of drug abuse in Northern Nigeria

Drug addicts, COVID-19 infection

*Doing drugs and the aftermath

A  SPECTER is haunting Northern Nigeria; the specter of drug abuse. On Sunday this week, THISDAY newspaper carried an interview with Olarewaju Ipinmisho, former DG of the NDLEA. He disclosed that Kano, Kaduna, Borno and lately, Niger, are among states “with the highest cases of constant drug abuse in the country”. Furthermore, “if you take an estimate of 10 boys, particularly in Kano, seven will be on drugs”.

The problem in these areas could spread to other parts of the North, and Kaduna’s proximity to Abuja is worrisome. But even Abuja has its own issues: “Abuja is not an exception because places like Wuse II, especially Banex Junction is a spot FCT Police Command should do something about”. The former Drugs Czar Ipinmisho highlighted that: “you will see young boys and girls openly sniffing substances like fuel, and over-abusing drugs meant for other purposes, like tramadol and codeine, and smoking  marijuana in the streets without care or fear of being arrested.”

Olarewaju Ipinmisho told the truth. The problem is a very serious one in Northern Nigeria. During the 1990s, I reported for the BBC from Kano and I have tracked this problem from that period. Young people sniffed fuel and what they call “solution”; while  some even licked the backs of toads. I did a major report from the drugs rehabilitation centre at Dawanu, in Kano. Marijuana took on the popular moniker. “Mandula” in the 1990s in Kano, and was freely used in many areas of the largest city of Northern Nigeria.

There was an interesting twist to the use of Mandula, that was directly linked to a popular song of the same title by the late blind Kano musician, Ali Makaho, that became a major hit at the time. He seemed to romanticise the use of the drug  in that song; and young drug addicts  turned the song  into a kind of anthem. A military government of the period launched a major campaign against drugs and Ali Makaho, also called Ali Mandula, was recruited for the campaign and requested to do a song against the  use of drugs! But the problem has  persisted as I was also to note when I edited DAILY TRUST.

Girls and cough syrup

We did several reports about young girls in tertiary institutions in Northern Nigeria, who have taken to a  frightening abuse of the cough syrup, Benylin with Codeine. The syrup is mixed with Coca Cola and has devastated many upper and middle class families in Northern Nigeria. A prominent leader recently pointed out that this problem is destroying even the mothers  in homes. As the women have suffered abuses at home, the children have induced their mothers to use Benylin as an escape from their abusive relationships and invariably get hooked. Over the past couple of years the abuse of the cough syrup has become so widespread that even secondary school students use it regularly. A friend once told me that if one noticed a child that seemed to behave with extra respect and seemed to recoil into himself/herself regularly, then there is the need for extra vigilance about what such a child has been up to or might be abusing.

Last month, Kano State raided markets and discovered millions of Naira worth of these “pharma-narcotics”.  The Kaduna state Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, recently confirmed the seizure of more than 5 tons of Benilyn this year alone, adding that a major seizure was from a warehouse whose owner alleged that he got his supplies from Onitsha market in Anambra State and the major upheaval associated with the Boko Haram insurgency has also seen the incredible spike in drug abuse in Borno and the Northeast in general.

There were recent reports of the arrest of drugs dealers even inside IDP camps, while many of the terrorists of Boko Haram have regularly abused all kinds of drugs in order to be able to commit atrocities. The systematic recruitment of young people as thugs by the political elite has also exacerbated the problem in societies that have witnessed the gradual erosion of family values and the alienation of millions of marginalised youths, who often are either not educated at all, or are so badly educated and therefore, do not have the requisite skills for the world of work in the competitive environment of 21st Century capitalism. Nigeria’s neo-colonial, neoliberal capitalism has also left too many desperate people on the margins of its glittering consumerism, and they became dependent on drugs.

Ruling class acquisitive nature

On the other hand, members of our ruling class are lost in the race for acquisition of wealth; they have never had quality time to assist the upbringing of children, who often develop tastes associated with capitalist consumerism. The parents indulge the children with money and luxuries in place of the parenting they cannot provide, as a means of appeasing guilty consciences. These children fall under the influence of peers who often suffer the same problems and together, they enter the world of drugs! It is not unusual to discover that children of members of our Northern elite move from rehab back into the world of drugs; the streets and back into rehab, to the eternal shame of these big men of society. In many cases, their over-abused wives are also lost in the morass of substance abuse!

The abuse of substances is a problem that has concentrated minds and there have been efforts to stem the consequences.

Motion on drugs abuse

On January 27, 2010, a group of legislators in the House of Representatives, that included Hon. Yusuf Maitama Tuggar, moved a motion on an urgent need to check the  incessant abuse of syrup with codeine, including Benylin, Emsoline and Parking. The motion expressed worry that many youths now consumed these syrups “as sedatives, drugs and stimulants mixed with soft drinks”. The motion then resolved to urge government to “place serious restriction on further importation of  these drugs…take positive steps to seriously monitor and sanction any erring local  manufacturing company of these drugs found thwarting the Government efforts”. They also sought a sensitisation programme by NAFDAC on the effect of abuse of Benylin with Codeine. But as we have seen, not much has changed, because these drugs are still being abused, especially here in the North.  Northern Nigeria sits atop a drugs abuse ticking bomb that can explode to destroy the fabric of our society forever!

This 8th Senate and the rest of us

THERE does not seem to be infamy that the Senate of the 8th National Assembly just won’t attempt. When one assumes that there would be lines of decency that cannot be crossed, these Senators launch newer levels of outrage, betraying how little they care for the good order of Nigeria. Bukola Saraki’s trial at the CCT re-commenced this week, with Justice Danladi Umar ruling that it would conduct a day-to-day hearing on the 13-count criminal charge against the Senate President. The court premised its decision on the fact that it was Bukola Saraki that is on trial, not the Senate. Before the close of day, reports filtered out, that the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions had summoned the trial judge over a petition of allegations of corruption against him. They invited Justice Umar, premised upon anger that the CCT decided to hold day-to-day hearing, which the senators saw as a ploy to deny Bukola Saraki the opportunity to preside at plenary throughout his trial. Consequently, they chose to launch a counter-attack against the CCT chairman by revisiting the petition against the judge. Bukola Saraki’s controversial leadership that is still dogged by a court case for forgery of Senate rules has made a habit of fighting back every time it has been called to answer for criminal infractions in the past.

Rapid fire amendment

The step to open up hearing in the petition against the CCT Chairman follows the rapid-fire amendment being undertaken on the law setting up the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). This is a step being taken because Bukola Saraki is facing a criminal trial at the CCT.

Toyin Saraki summoned

Last year, the EFCC summoned Toyin, Bukola Saraki’s wife on the strength of  a petition and pronto, the EFCC Chairman was summoned to face Senate. The same man is not only facing the CCT trial where startling revelations are emerging, the leaked Panama Papers have also shown that Bukola Saraki breached the law by allegedly keeping foreign accounts in offshore tax haven and in recent days, they have taken possession of and distributed 36 jeeps, which Daily Trust on Sunday this week said were bought at twice the official price! For the first time in Nigeria’s recent history we are facing the affront of how an individual  has chosen to use a state institution, the Senate, as a redoubt to fight his personal battles, and has successfully suborned a Senate that is filled with politically exposed individuals, to desperately preserve a political career that seems headed for the rocks.

These individuals shamelessly follow Bukola Saraki to court, close down the Senate and yet get paid for the irresponsible action of solidarity that  ridicules them, because  the  grounds upon which Bukola Saraki has been indicted are criminal. This week a coalition of 28 Civil Society Organisations issued a press conference describing the action of Senate to hastily amend the CCB and CCT laws as a “betrayal of public trust, total disregard for administration of justice and utmost conflict of interest of the 8th Senate”.

The Nigeria Labour Congress has also issued a condemnation of the purchase of vehicles, which it urged the Senate to return as well as demanding that it stops the hasty emendation of the CCB/CCT laws. But these Senators obviously believe that Bukola Saraki’s personal survival is far more important than the legal and democratic order of our country. In truth, what is playing out in political society and the Senate, are the antics an individual who has a long tradition of impunity and a bizarre sense of entitlement that has marked his years in the Nigerian public space. Nigerians have a decision to make. We can remain spectators and thus allow the Senate to become completely suborned to fighting a personal battle; and consequently see the scuttling of the tremendous political capital and the national consensus invested in the Buhari Administration’s anti-corruption drive.

On the other hand, become proactive and insisting that no national institution must degenerate to the level that the Senate has been taken and the speed at which it is hurtling towards the most absurd slopes of infamy, just because it has become an instrument of personal survival. Nigeria’s democracy cannot be held hostage to a Senate that has increasingly become an institution for the desperate need for political survival of its president.