”We are sick, tired of doing drugs, prostitution”
By Chioma Obinna
Playing Ludo as early as 10 am, it was obvious that all was not well with these young Nigerians. Mostly in their thirties, none of them seemed to be in a hurry to leave. Although they were excited as the game went on, it was evident from their looks that . they were victims of drug abuse and prostitution. Some of them are single parents living with their kids in dingy hotel rooms where they chill out to smoke.
They cast the look of desperation, helplessness, homelessness, suicidal and dissolute.
As they played Ludo, there were arguments and counter-arguments. Then the presence of our correspondent was announced by one of them: “We have a visitor”.
Getting their attention was not a problem as our correspondent was introduced as an NGO worker that had come to help them. Meanwhile, they insisted that ‘something’ should be given to each of them before they could tell their stories. After that agreement, they became eager to narrate their ordeals, frustrations, regrets and hopes.
From Rose, 27, to Bola, 26, Blessing 18, Ebele, 30, Grace, 25, Ngozi, 30, and Busayo, 26, among others, their stories betrayed emotions. Some of them had rashes on their skin while some looked older than their ages. Some had frail frames while you may mistake some for people set to be used for money ritual. But one thing is certain: They are among those who consume the over $1.25billion worth of drugs trafficked in Africa annually, according to a report of the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime, UNODC. As the chat with Sunday Vanguard commenced, their children were seen running around.
“I used to look beautiful like you with succulent body but, today, I am a shadow of myself, no thanks to prostitution and cocaine. All I do is sleep with several men all night long and spend the proceeds on drugs. Unfortunately, I cannot stop myself,” Busayo said.
Busayo, who dropped out from Lagos State Polytechnic, LASPOTEH, is a single mother of one, and had lived a rough life since her school days before she eventually joined the league of drug users. Her quest for money and enjoyment lured her into prostitution, following which she abandoned her studies.
Narrating her heart-rending story, she said: “I was into school runs, enjoying prostitution when a friend introduced me to a man called Fricke. Fricke told me that if I could take Gucci (cocaine), I will be paid 100 dollars and I needed money badly. I jumped at it. It became a money-spinner for me. I felt good. I was on top of my game.”
Then Fricke, according to Busayo, dumped her and free money stopped coming. But she had become hooked on drug and would do anything to get it. She began to sell
everything she owned including family properties just to get drugs.
Today, Busayo has abandoned her only child.
“As we speak, I do not know the whereabouts of my child. I wish it is possible to turn back the hand of the clock. I left home after I sold my mother’s refrigerator and other properties.
“I take cocaine and sometimes mix it with cannabis. When my body doesn’t get cocaine, it lusts for it. Sometimes I will be vomiting, stooling and sweating. Drug addicts like us will do whatever we can to avoid it. You will be forced to steal to get drugs.”
Lamenting the stigma and discrimination associated with drug abuse, Busayo said she was tired of her life as an addict.
Busayo now lives in the dingy hotel room where she joins others like her to smoke and beg for alms. “I am full of regrets; even my mother was disappointed when she discovered I was into drugs. I want to quit but I cannot. My mother invited me for prayers and fasting for seven days but I ran away from home. I cannot imagine myself going home like this because people will feel I have been used for sacrifice,” she stated.
“What I need now is an accommodation to chill out, food and treatment that will wash drugs off my system. They say there is something known as detoxification that cleans drug from the system. If I can be helped with rehabilitation, money for food and clothing, I will go back to learn some trade because I cannot go back to school again. Besides, I have nobody to pay my school fees.”
Drug addicts, prostitutes are doomed – Ngozi
For 30-year-old Ngozi, prostitution, drug are a dangerous mix because “the moment you get involved, you are doomed for life”.
Ngozi, who was a club girl, was into marijuana, popularly known as Igbo, before a man she met at a hotel in Apapa area of Lagos introduced her to cocaine in 2003.
Full of energy and ready to explore, Ngozi, out of ignorance, jumped at the offer and became addicted to hard drugs. She became so much attached to it that she, in the process, got pregnant for another drug addict.
Unfortunately, neither Ngozi nor the boyfriend could control each other. Ngozi kept the pregnancy but smoked throughout the period of pregnancy without visiting a doctor.
Like a sheep without a shepherd, she was able to carry the pregnancy for nine months even under the influence of drugs.
Describing the life of a drug addict as bad, Ngozi lamented: “It is a big setback. It is a life of begging because all you have will go into drugs. Drugs’ use makes you dependable; it makes you desert your family and loved ones. People discriminate against you. You are abandoned as nobody will help you. People assume that every kobo they give will be spent on drugs. It has happened to me, and I was ashamed but I don’t feel guilty. People are not free with those that do drugs; they don’t want to associate with them; that is the height of the situation. Everybody has the impression that you are a thief.”
On how she became addicted, she narrated: “I was doing Indian Hemp before one useless man came and damaged my life with cocaine. I never knew he was planning to damage my life. I thought it was all enjoyment. What is killing me today is that I cannot be a mother to my son”.
She further explained: “Right now, I move from one bunk to another. Once it is night I go for hustle (prostitution). Sometimes I wash for people to raise money for food and drugs.”
Ngozi, who spoke with rage in her voice, told Sunday Vanguard that not being able to take care of her son was her greatest regret.
“My child was taken away from me a month after I had him because I kept taking drugs while breastfeeding. My boyfriend’s mum who took me to hospital to be delivered, collected my child from me after a month.
“I advise people to avoid illicit drugs. Government should try and provide more jobs because idleness causes people to go into drugs. If there are enough jobs, there will be less people doing drugs”.
I began to do drugs at age 11 – Blessing
18-year-old Blessing cried her eyes out as she told Sunday Vanguard that her journey into drugs began some seven years ago.
Blessing, who is the youngest among the occupants of an hotel in Mushin area of Lagos, was full of regrets when she opened what seemed like her can of worms.
“I did not drop out of school because I lost my parents but because of drug”, she started.
She was introduced into drugs by a classmate at a time she didn’t know there were other consequences of drug abuse apart from making people high.
After her first and second trial, she began to enjoy the game. Today, she can no longer stop the habit. Narrating her story, she said: “My friend in secondary school taught me how to do drugs. She would bring weed and tramadol and, after taking them, both of us will become high. We usually did it at the back of the school.
“My parents were not aware till they died; even my grandma who was very close to me was not aware. I want to stop but I don’t know how to go about it”.
Blessing is disposed to being treated in one of the centres provided by Centre for the Right to Health, CRH, in Lagos.
According to her, she understood she will be helped to control the number of times she takes the drug. “I am into drugs but not into prostitution. If I receive assistance today, I will stop it. I started doing drugs when I was eleven years old. I need help.”
‘I am tired of being a drug addict, prostitute’
Meanwhile, 25-year-old Grace says if she had known and had not followed a friend to her bunk, she would have been a better person today.
Grace, a former student of a public secondary school in Iyana-Ipaja area of Lagos, never bargained for what she got as a result of drug abuse.
Introduced to drugs while she was in Junior Secondary School I, Grace is pregnant for the second time without knowing where her next meal will come from or where she can lay her head after the child is born. Grace ran away from home after her mother discovered she was into drugs. She now lives in one of the drug bunks in Mushin.
One pathetic thing about Grace’s case is that after she had her first child, her boyfriend’s family forcefully collected the child from her and pushed her away. Today, her fate hangs in the balance concerning the upkeep of the unborn baby.
Narrating her story to Sunday Vanguard, she said: “My friend tricked me to accompany her somewhere unknowing to me that she was going to the bunk where drug addicts relax and smoke. When we got there, she started to smoke. I asked her what she was doing. She said I should taste it to discover the secret. Out of curiosity, I decided to taste it. From there, I started smoking Igbo. When I was fed up with my mother’s harassment, I left home in Iyana –Ipaja for a bunk in Yaba, where I met the boy who impregnated me the first time. From the bunk, we moved to his house as husband and wife. Even under that condition, I graduated from smoking Igbo (cannabis) to cocaine mixed with Igbo. I have smoked for four years now. I was in JSS1 when I dropped out of school.
“After they collected my baby, I ran to Ghetto where I am staying now. I even smoked all through my pregnancy till I gave birth to the baby. I cannot count how many wraps I take in a day.”
Unlike the boldness shown by colleagues at the mention of their families, Grace could not hold back but pour out her emotions. “I feel bad each time I remember my family. I was told my mother is sick now and has been taken to Abuja all because of me,” she said.
“Living with my baby in a bunk is hell for me.”
I can no longer stand my daughter’s presence – Rose
27-year old Rose is faced with the challenges of catering for her four-year-old child in the bunk. “My pain is that I watch my daughter living with me in the bunk where awful things happen. I go everywhere with her.”
Frustrations and pains were written all over Rose as she lamented her continued stay with her baby in the bunk. Rose, introduced to drugs by her house-mate in Ajao Estate, Isolo area of Lagos, is looking for a good spirited Nigerian who can pay her transport back to her village. “I have been in this God forsaken business for just two years”, she stated.
“I am doing nothing other than prostitution to feed my baby. The man I had this baby for travelled and never came back. Drug is bad. It has destroyed my life. I have lost many things to drugs. I cannot dress well or eat well. I am homeless. I can no longer live with this child in the bunk. My pain is how to raise transport money to go home and drop the child with my parents. I want to quit but I have no money to take care of myself.”
Drug abuse on the increase in Nigeria – Ekerete-Udofia
Lagos Manager, Centre for the Right to Health, CRH, Mrs. Christy Ekerete-Udofia, told Sunday Vanguard there is rise in cases of drug abuse in Nigeria, describing the trend as a threat to nation-building. A 2015 report of UNODC estimated that 246 million people, or 1 in 20 people between the ages of 15 and 64 years, consumed an illicit drug in 2013. Findings showed that many Nigerian youths are exposed to drugs earlier in life.
Ekerete-Udofia regretted that the society had also made it almost impossible for those already into drugs to come out due to stigma and discrimination.
According to her, there is need for government to build drug abuse detoxification centres as part of the strategies to check the trend and provide services for those affected already. “If you go to the various bunks in Lagos, drug addicts are craving to come out. But they are stuck and need help. Meanwhile, we can’t help because the funding right now is not adequate to detoxify them”, she said.
Also speaking to Sunday Vanguard, a registered nurse and Head, Drug Information Centre, CRH, Mr. Eghe-Igbinidu Aisosa, explained that the centre, with support from UNODC, has continued to provide assistance to drug users.
He stated that in the centre, games are provided for them to play whenever they come and those that are sick are given medical treatment and laboratory test among others.
He said for those wanting to quit drugs, the centre draws a plan for them on how to leave the habit which is called ‘gradual winning’ “because if we do it abruptly, it may lead to withdrawal syndrome which can end the victim’s life.”
Aisosa disclosed that only last year, the centre successfully took care of over 50 drug addicts who stopped taking drugs. “In January this year, 15 people were registered under our care, in February we had 20, in March, 35, then in April we had 56 clients”, he printed out.”
He identified stigma as a major challenge inhibiting integrating those free from drug back to the society. “Nobody wants to assist drug users, most of them are rejected by the society; even the law is against them. So the major challenge is stigmatisation and rejection.”