By Nnamdi Ojiego
An epidemic has hit Igboland. No one is safe. Gory tales litter the space.
On October 19, 2021, a boy allegedly killed his father in Adazi Ani in Anambra State and took the father’s N50, 000 just to buy Mkpuru mmiri. He was apprehended by youths of the community, beaten to stupor and burnt alive.
Another died in neighboring community as a result of debilitating effects of Mkpuru mmiri. In Umudioka, Anambra, two siblings, after taking Guzoro, chased their mother with machetes and prevented the woman from coming to the family house for three days until the village vigilante officials intervened.
There are numerous trending videos on social media platforms from different communities in Igbo land of young men, and in some cases, women and under-aged, being tied to beams and trees at public squares, beaten mercilessly for dealing in and taking Mkpuru mmiri. Information emanating from the zone shows that many Igbo youths are going insane, even as some have completely gone mad after drug use. And these are the future of the society.
According to population projections by the United Nations for 2020, about 43 per cent of the Nigerian population comprised children 0-14 years, 19 per cent aged 15-24 years and about 62 per cent are below age 25 years. By contrast, less than five per cent is aged 60 years and above. This makes Nigeria a youthful population with a median age of about 18 years, which is lower than African and world estimates of 20 and 29 respectively.
With the above statistics, it is believed that the energy that will power Nigeria into a prosperous future will come from her teeming, vibrant youths. However, with a worrisome escalation in the rate of drugs abuse in the country, this generation of youths may not live to achieve their God-given potentials.
Faced with this existential threat, many stakeholders and prominent individuals of Igbo extraction, including politicians, celebrities, and community leaders, have expressed concerns over the effects of deadly substances and lending their voices for a concerted effort to stem the tide that is capable of wiping a generation of Igbo from the surface of the earth. They are aware that if urgent action is not taken, the Igbo race could be annihilated and the land becomes desolate.
What is Mkpuru mmiri that has thrown the South-East into chaos? It is a hard drug called methamphetamine or meth for short. It is called Mkpuru mmiri or ice in local parlance because it looks like ice block. It is also called Guzoro because of euphoria effect one gets after taking it.
According to Wikipedia, methamphetamine is a potent central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that is mainly used as a recreational drug and less commonly as a second-line treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obesity.
The US National Institute on Drug Abuse described methamphetamine as a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system. It takes the form of a white, odourless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol.
Meth was developed early in the 20th century from its parent drug, amphetamine, and was used originally in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers. Like amphetamine, methamphetamine causes increased activity and talkativeness, decreased appetite, and a pleasurable sense of well-being or euphoria.
However, methamphetamine differs from amphetamine in that, at comparable doses, much greater amounts of the drug get into the brain, making it a more potent stimulant. It also has longer-lasting and more harmful effects on the central nervous system. These characteristics make it a drug with a high potential for widespread misuse.
In time, it became clear that methamphetamine was dangerously addictive. In the 1970s, the drug was added to the Schedule II list of controlled substances and became illegal except when it is prescribed by a physician for a very limited number of medical conditions.
The activities of the drugs addicts and dealers have become so damaging that town unions and youths associations are taking drastic measures to stamp out the menace from their communities. The situation is made worse and dangerous because there is no quick cure or drug for the addiction. The only treatment is behavioral therapy which is not readily available in Nigeria.
Though some people have condemned the manner of punishment meted out to the addicts and peddlers, describing it as barbaric, inhuman and unacceptable, others were of the view that no punishment or measure is too much or harsh for drug abusers considering the havoc the new way of life of some youths is already wreaking in the society.
Miracle Chioma, a concerned Nigerian, in her reaction, described the action as barbaric, stressing that beating the abusers would not stop them from taking the substance.
“These are adults who are already addicted to a particular substance and drug addiction is a chronic disease characterized by compulsive or uncontrollable drug seeking and use despite its harmful consequences”, Chioma stated.
“Addiction is a strong disease and these people can’t stop taking Mkpuru mmiri by this act of beating them.
“Most drug addicts need long-term and repeated care from a behavioral counsellor or a therapist to stop using the drug completely and recover their lives.”
But Ugezu J. Ugezu, a celebrated movie actor and director, in a widely circulated video, supported what he termed ‘Cane Deliverance’ (flogging) and, specifically, urged all communities to adopt it to save Igbo youths.
According to him, town unions should not wait on government but take the bull by the horns in tackling the problem.
He said: “I want to lend my voice to a raging issue in our land and I am urging presidents-general of town unions, specifically, to wake up from their slumbers and take the bull by the horns.
“What I’m talking about is what is called Mkpuru mmiri that our youths are taking and they are neck-deep into it.
“We don’t know how it started or who started it. It could be from those who want to destroy our land and our youths have ignorantly embraced it, little children, especially those who have nothing doing. “Even those that do menial jobs are now into it. You can see it’s not a good thing. So I believe that it is through flogging that the madness can be driven out of them.
“I’m glad some communities have started already and I am saying that if your community’s constitution does not have provisions for flogging errant youths, let the constitution be amended to make provision for flogging.
“If we leave these children on their own, all of them will be useless.
“The Igbo have structures like age grade, Umunna, etc., let’s use these already existing structures to fight and correct these anomalies.
“If we don’t take these drastic measures now, in the next three to five years, we will have a bigger disaster in our hands.
“We are talking of the future of our land, so if we allow them to waste their lives, we will be the ultimate losers. We have to start now and it’s the town unions that will lead this fight.
“We can’t wait for government on this. We must fight this fight ourselves. We must use the cane to whip out the evil spirit in our youths.
“So any child that refuses to listen to good counsel, his body will listen to flogging.”
Speaking in the same vein, a youth leader and Convener of Movement for Grassroots Governance, Comrade Ebelechukwu Ngini, blamed government at all levels for the calamity that has befallen Igbo youths, even as he supported the various measures adopted by communities to fight the scourge including flogging.
Ngini said: “Shaming the drug abusers is getting positive results so far. This may not be the best international practice but it is pragmatic.
“We don’t have the luxury of basic mental health facilities, what do you expect us to do? Speak beautiful grammar and fantasize on lofty psychiatric know how?
“No, we must do something to save a generation. So far, flogging has been discouraging many would-have-been users whilst a lot more dropped the habit automatically after such treatment.
“What other results do you want to see? The flogging more than anything brought the menace of this drug to the front burner of discussion now. We can get better but for now, the flogging continues. Don’t want to get flogged publicly? Avoid Mkpårå mmiri.
“I am beyond worried. I am much afraid that our greatest asset as a people is being destroyed before our very eyes. The future of every race is their youth and here we are talking about young, even teenage boys and girls getting illicit drugs easily and abusing them.
‘I cringe to imagine what will become of us if this plague is not nipped in the bud. The worrisome question is how come meth litters our streets such that even 11-year-olds easily access them like it is Vitamin C? What makes the supply chain this thick and seamless? A question I believe the NDLEA should answer.
State of Emergency
“The cause is primarily the failure of government keeping to their side of the social contract with the people.
“Parents should stop making excuses for errant children and treat children tilting towards bad gangs dispassionately for a stitch in time saves nine.
“That said, I believe we, rather than passing the buck now, ought to declare a state of emergency on the menace.
“I unequivocally commend Anambra youths who have taken it upon ourselves to tackle this hydra-headed monster head-on.
“We must give our best to end the abuse of Mkpårå mmiri before it ends us.
“Many of users turn out to be the worst kind of criminals; gory stories of their escapades are legion. One beheaded his father the other day in Adazi. Many robberies and prostitution there are in a bid to support the illicit drug habit”.
Francisca Ike-Nebeolisa, another concerned Igbo, supported Ngini’s stance, saying: “Hunting them and treating them as criminals have helped so many of them. That is the reason most communities are adopting this means.
“Whatever means any community adopts to curtail the sale of this killer drug and reduce the rate people take it should be encouraged because, once people are unable to access the substance, it will reduce its spread.
Giving credence to the assertions of those in support public shaming, one of the victims, in a testimonial video, stated that the flogging and beating he received saved him from destroying himself and made him a better person.
Ugochukwu, a native of Osumenyi in Anambra, revealed that he was one of those who received severe beatings for indulging in Mkpuru mmiri.
“My town’s youth association apprehended me, tied me up and gave me almost 100 strokes of the cane. That was how the drugs left him”, he explained.
In the video, he professed his newfound life, stressing that he is now humble and working as an apprentice in a barber’s shop.
The victim thanked the youths for dispensing those life-saving strokes and encouraged them to fish out other young boys in need of the therapy that saved him.
An anonymous commentator, who claimed that the situation was worse in Imo, his home state, said dealers should receive stiffer punishment.
“Many guys in Imo are mad right now due to Mkpuru mmiri. Government and communities must go after the dealers”, he said.
“Imo, like Anambra, is also flogging them. A lot of our brothers who are drug peddlers and who usually travel to other countries to destroy their youths are now home destroying Igbo youths.
“If anyone should be flogged, it should be the dealers. I am even advocating death penalty for the dealers and sellers in our land just like it is done in some countries in Asia. “I will never feel sorry for anyone given life or 50 years in prison or the death penalty for carrying drugs in Asia and other nations. They did not want their youths destroyed. Now I know why.”
Experts have attributed the rate at which people abuse drugs to depression.
According to them, the rate of people who suffer from depression is very high these days, and this makes them indulge in anything that seems to make them happy even when some of them are fully aware of the consequences.
Knowing the addicted
According to WebMD, some of the signs of someone with serious meth addiction include tattered dressing and shabby looks, always picking at hair or skin, loss of appetite and weight, frequent moving of eyes, strange sleeping patterns (staying up for days or even weeks at a time), talkativeness (nonstop talking), insolvency leading to selling of possessions or stealing, angry outbursts or mood swings, and psychotic behaviour such as paranoia and hallucinations.
While some Igbo communities have started dealing with drug dealers, others are issuing quit warnings to unscrupulous elements. One of the notices read: “With a heart full of sorrow, Nteje Youths have begun a check on those selling and those buying this hard drug called ‘Mkpuru mmiri’ (ICE)…because it has caused more harm than good to the youths of our land and those involved must be brought to book…”
A public service announcement from Umudioka Improvement Union, Anambra State and signed by the President-General, Hon. Chike Odoji, reads: “This to announce to all indigenes of Umudioka and non-indigenes living in Umudioka that, henceforth, consumption, smoking and sales of Mkpuru mmiri – methamphetamine, Isi na Awa Agu – Colorado (High-level Marijuana), Aju Achu Enwe – Arisona (SK), Stonch – Mkpuru ogwu, Indian Hemp – Marijuana and other substances/illicit drugs have been proscribed in Umudioka and environs.
“Soonest, UIU, in conjunction with NDLEA, anti-cult and other relevant law enforcement agencies, will commence a manhunt for all dealers and consumers within Umudioka.
“You are therefore advised to stay away from any known bunk that deals on the above-prohibited items. We will not spare anyone once apprehended no matter how highly placed.”
Worried about the high rate of drug abuse in the country, Sen. Dimka Hezekiah (Plateau) has sponsored a bill to amend the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) law to check the incidence of light sentencing for drug offenders.
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act Cap. N 30 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 provides for stringent penalties for persons involved in the importation and exportation of hard drugs such as cocaine or heroin.
These penalties range from life imprisonment to 15 years in jail.
Hezekiah, however, raised concerns that although the Supreme Court had held that the minimum penalty for those dealing in hard drugs was a term of 15 years, some judges of the Federal High Court had continued to pass ridiculously light and illegal sentences on convicts.
“Rather than a term of imprisonment of 15 years, the maximum sentence passed on any convict was a term of 3 years for heroin”, the lawmaker said.
“Some of these have been as low as four months imprisonment for 1.44 kg of cocaine.
“Worse still is the fact that when some of the judges pass these light terms of imprisonment, the convicts are further given options of fines, which are not provided for under the NDLEA Act.”
Hezekiah further said that the arbitrariness that was being perpetrated by the trial judges by not following the provisions of the Act could lead to corrupt practices and encouragement of the drug trade.
He added that the proposed amendment would close any loopholes by having a clear, unambiguous and unequivocal provision that judges could not vary the sentences provided by the Act.
Generation at Risk
Supporting the bill, Sen. Istifanus Dung (PDP-Plateau) said the prevalence and menace of drugs and their destructive effects on the lives of citizens, particularly youths, had attained an alarming stage.
“A whole generation is at risk of being lost to drugs. The production and sale of illicit drugs require strong regulation and enforcement powered by NDLEA”, Dung said.
“And this bill is seeking to strengthen and stiffen the sanctions against drug abuse in such a way that it will end in breaking and ending the destructive drug trade.”
Also speaking, Sen. Abba Moro (PDP-Benue) said: “The bill is germane to the circumstances in which we find ourselves here.
“The scary situation in which we find ourselves in this country today emanates partly from a combination of factors of the proliferation of firearms and light weapons. “The second dimension to our very scary security situation is the question of drugs.”
A Ravaging Epidemic – Marwa, NDLEA boss
Meanwhile, the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, Gen. Buba Marwa, has described the problem of drugs in Nigeria as “a ravaging epidemic”, stressing that “it is for this reason that we remained upstanding to do our best with what we have and with the support we have been receiving from the Federal Government.
Marwa, in a recent report, stated that with the support from the Federal Government, foreign partners and stakeholders, Nigeria would win the war against drug abuse and trafficking.
“We plan to go to local governments for sensitisation; we are constrained at this moment with the size of our workforce but with the approval of the President, we have recruited more personnel to increase our size to enable us to go into the local governments so that each local government will eventually have its special command”, he said.
According to him, the Federal Government had produced the improved fourth edition of the National Drug Control Master Plan 2021-2025 with the technical support from the UNODC and EU funding.
The document, according to the NDLEA boss, comprehensively addresses four thematic pillars of Supply Reduction, Demand Reduction, Access to Controlled Medicines for Medical Purposes, and Coordination and Governance.
Addicts Need Help
Continuing, Marwa said: “I must say that the use of drugs is an illness, especially when it gets to addiction. They (addicts) can’t help themselves, they need to be helped. The efforts will not be towards criminalising or penalising them but to help them to be treated, so we encourage those under drugs to seek treatment. Twenty per cent of the drug users in Nigeria have drug use disorder. They need help and we encourage that.’’
Imo Lawmaker Calls for Action
In a related development, the lawmaker representing Ideato North in Imo State House of Assembly, Hon. Innocent Egwim, has voiced his concerns that if nothing was done to checkmate the ugly trend and get the youths of the state to say no to the consumption of Mkpuru mmiri and other such drugs, the future of the state would be in jeopardy.
In a motion titled, ‘To Curb the Menace of Consumption of Mkpuru Mmiri and Other Killer Hard Drugs Among the Youths of Imo State’, and co-sponsored by seven other lawmakers, Egwim said: “The menace of the consumption of Mkpuru mmiri, among others, by the youths of this state is too obvious to be ignored as the non-affordability of the psychoactive hard drugs such cocaine, barbiturate, tramadol, codeine and others has led most of our youths to consume a more deadly, tough and cheaper substance, which they christened Mkpuru mmiri or Guzoro.”
The lawmaker explained that the habitual consumption of Mkpuru mmiri has rendered some of “our youths useless by making them mad and sending some to their early graves as its consumption is often associated with health hazards and risks such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular-related illness, mental health problems, sleep deprivation, brain damage and anorexia to list a few.
“Therefore, if nothing is done to checkmate the ugly trend and get the youths of this state to say no to the consumption of Mkpuru mmiri and other such drugs, the future of the state is in jeopardy in terms of getting good pedigree of youths for leadership succession”.
Egwim urged the House to prevail on Governor Hope Uzodinma to take appropriate steps to address the situation in Imo before it gets out of hand.