IT is exactly a year ago, on July 2, 2021 that this column made a call for urgent social re-engineering in our dear country. (See www.vanguardngr.com/2021/07/urgent-need-for-social-re-engineering).
Against this backdrop, I must say that the things I saw on our streets as I moved from one part of the country to another in pursuit of happiness, one year after, have neither lessened nor abated. If anything, they are worsening. I speak of the use of psychedelic substances by our youth, and the not-so-young as well; in fact, the use of drugs cuts across demographic belts.
In Lagos and other major towns and cities, it can be said that the use of drugs has assumed pandemic proportions. In the suburbs, where unemployed young men and women are more in evidence than in the upscale areas, it is commonplace to see groups of young men, with ages ranging from as low as 12 or 13 to 30, at junctions and intersections. You might have noticed that at many of these junctions is usually a kiosk, made from wood and corrugated roofing sheets, or burlap, where items like sweets, candles, OTCs (Over-The-Counter) like analgesics, balms, cigarettes, toilet soap, and other similar items are sold.
As such, young men, and the not-so-young stop at these kiosks, light up, and puff away. If you look further around, a woman carrying a plastic basin in which is arranged PET bottles filled with an array of herbs and decoctions derived from liquor will usually be found. In motor parks and bus-stops, alcoholic beverages are available, and with satchet packaging, people now guzzle their liquor on-the-go. With this, the population of alcholics and people that will develop liver issues are bound to increase.
Last Wednesday, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, said that no fewer than 29.4 million Nigerians between the ages 15 and 64 years abuse psychoactive substances and other dangerous drugs. An official of the agency, in fact, its Anambra State Commandant, Mrs. Florence Ezeonye, painted a worrisome picture of the situation when she said that one in every four drug users is a female.
Ezeonye referred to a 2018 drug use and health survey from which she quoted the frightening statistics. Her words: “The drug use and health survey of 2018 captured that 14.4% of the country’s drug use prevalence is almost three times the global average of 5.6%. What is more disturbing is that the drug abuse cuts across all ages, gender, socio-economic status and regions.
“From the survey, 14.3 million Nigerians aged 15-64 years use psychoactive substances such as alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and heroine, while 10.6 million abuse cannabis. Also, 4.6 million others abuse pharmaceutical opioids such as codeine, tramadol, methamphetamine and morphine, among others.
It is worrisome to know that drug use is common among those aged 25-39 years, the age of initiation for heroin was 22 years, while the age of cannabis sativa was 19 years.”
As an ordinary citizen, I am alarmed. As a parent, I am afraid; in fact, jittery, of the kind of future that awaits me as I get older, and the type of tomorrow into which we are taking our children as a collective. As a patriotic Nigerian, I am simply worried about the future of our country. My concerns are deepened by the fact that the power elite — those in power now, those coming into power, and those seeking power — do not seem to have looked in the direction of social issues that are compounding our political and economic woes.
Since active politicking went full blast from “consultations” to party primaries, I do not recall any politician talking about this problem, which in my book, is of gargantuan proportions. All they are talking about is the economy, power, roads, and the usual balderdash I’ve been hearing since I was a child, and still hearing now that I have grandchildren. In any case, shouldn’t the people that need power, roads, light, and other good things themselves be in good condition to be able to contribute their quota towards their development and sustenance?
If so much was spent on the primary elections of the parties and the Ekiti governorship election, and Osun election shortly, and we can’t just find the funds to make ASUU call of its strike, isn’t it clear that nobody, repeat, nobody, is thinking about the youth and their welfare? How could we plan for a future without the people who will live in that future?
However, there is always a silver lining, no matter how dark the clouds get. The coming of General Buba Marwa to NDLEA is a positive development in the war to rid Nigeria of hard drugs. The sheer volume of arrests and drug seizures since the former military administrator of Lagos State berthed at NDLEA gives hope that all is not lost, yet. Marwa and his NDLEA must get all he wants, and more to salvage the future of this country from the ghoulish grips of drug use, misuse, and abuse.
Parents must take their duties and obligations more seriously. Now some people are pushing Marwa back into the political orbit by suggesting he becomes the running mate of a presidential candidate. It is not that I do not wish higher heights for the man, but that is how we reduced NAFDAC to a toothless bulldog when the late Dora Akunyili was taken out of the agency and “rewarded” with a ministerial portfolio. Now, prescription drugs are back as OTCs; we had lost the progress made under Akunyili. We must not lose the progress made so far with Marwa at NDLEA. This is one agency that is delivering on its mandate under him.