As of Friday, various worrisome images and video clips suspected to be those of Chidinma Ojukwu, an undergraduate of Mass Communication Department at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, who is alleged to have murdered the chief executive officer of Super TV, Michael Ataga, surfaced on the social media.

One of such clips shows the 21-year-old smoking what looks like cannabis, and puffing intermittently.

Though PREMIUM TIMES could not independently confirm the identity of the smoker, but the suspect confessed on camera that, alongside the late sugar daddy, she had taken some intoxicants before struggles over sex led her to stabbing Mr Ataga to death.

That this matter takes the centrestage of public discourse in Nigeria few hours to the 2021 edition of International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, is a confirmation of the experts’ view that the country, and Africa by extension, sits dangerously on a keg of gunpowder over rising cases of drug use and drug abuse.

Various research outputs by experts and relevant national and international organisations have consistently revealed the dangerous rising cases of drug use in the country and the damaging consequences of violent crimes, abuses and health complications.

Today, like all over the world, the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime (UNODC) says many Nigerian adolescents no longer see the harmful effects of cannabis despite its biting consequences.

Global statistics

On June 24, ahead of today’s celebration, UNODC launched its 2021 World Drug Report, noting that “around 275 million people used drugs worldwide in the last year, while over 36 million people suffered from drug use disorders.”

According to a consultant psychiatrist at 68, Nigerian Army Reference Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, Akin Oguntuase, some of these substance-induced disorders include; delirium, dementia, amnestic disorder, psychotic disorder, anxiety disorder, sexual dysfunction, among others.

The report added that within the last 24 years, “cannabis potency had increased by as much as four times in parts of the world, even as the percentage of adolescents who perceived the drug as harmful fell by as much as 40 per cent, despite evidence that cannabis use is associated with a variety of health and other harms, especially among regular long-term users.”

Highlighting the implications of the dangerous trend, the UNODC executive director, Ghada Waly, said; “Lower perception of drug use risks has been linked to higher rates of drug use, and the findings of UNODC’s 2021 World Drug Report highlight the need to close the gap between perception and reality to educate young people and safeguard public health.”

The report observed that between 2010 and 2019, the number of people using drugs increased by 22 per cent. It linked the increase to the growing global population, and that following the demographic changes, it is projected that by 2030, the number of people using drugs would have further increased by 11 per cent.

Nigeria’s worse situation

In 2019, the 2018 National Drug Use Survey, a joint research by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse (CRISA) with technical support from the UNODC, was launched.

The document gives a damning account of rising drug use in Nigeria, noting that as of the time of the research, 14.3 million Nigerians aged between 15 and 64 years engaged in drug use.

Of this figure, the survey added that about three million were drug dependent and suffering from substance-induced disorders.

But the latest report by the UNODC hints of a sharp degeneration above the global average in the near future.

According to the report, instead of the expected 11 per cent increase in the global number of drug users by 2030, the projection is 40 per cent in Nigeria, and the whole of Africa.

“In Nigeria, this would signify that the country will have to grapple with approximately 20 million drug users by 2030, further deepening the public health and public security challenge,” the report stated.

The statistics also says 11 million Nigerians took to cannabis as of 2018 while 4.6 million and 2.4 million others were said to have used opioids and cough syrups, respectively.

Other substances said to have been commonly taken in Nigeria include tranquilisers and sedatives, solvents and inhalers, among others.

According to the data, the prevalence of drug use in Nigeria on a geopolitical zonal basis reveals that the South-west tops the chart with about 4.382 million users amounting to 22.4 per cent of Nigeria’s total figure of 14.3 million users. The South-west comprises Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti states.

The North-west zone, comprising Kano, Sokoto, Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina and Kebbi States closely follows the South West with 3 million drug users as of 2018, while the South-south region of Edo, Delta, Rivers, Cross River, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom States ranks third with 2.124 million users.

The country’s region that is already ravaged by long years of conflict, that is, the North-east, comprising Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Taraba, Adamawa and Gombe States, recorded 2.09 million users to rank 4th on the log.

The South East zone of Abia, Imo, Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi States recorded about 1.55 million drug users while the North Central zone of Kwara, Kogi, Benue, Niger, Nasarawa and the federal capital territory recorded 1.5 million users to take 5th and 6th positions respectively.

Expert presents worse reality

Mr Oguntuase, who is the head of the psychiatric department at the military hospital, explained that the statistics may have recorded less than what seems obtainable in the country, especially in recent time.

According to the psychiatrist, about 90 per cent of the patients on the beds in his hospital have their cases linked to drug use one way or the other.

“The reality today, unlike in the past, is that we now experience more dual diagnosis for our patients because in one way or the other, they have something to do with drugs,” he said.

Mr Oguntuase said apart from conventional drugs taken by many Nigerians, those who are illiterates and poor now take to other substances including sniffing petroleum, septic tank, drainages, latrine or burning rubber materials.

“When you notice that your children or house helps are in the unusual habit of taking the keys frequently to wash your cars they may be sniffing fuel,” Mr Oguntuase cautioned.

Reasons for rising statistics

The expert listed many reasons for the rise in the cases of drug use and abuse in Nigeria to include poor economic condition, rising cases of illiteracy, marriage crisis, polygamy and large family, among others.

He said findings through the patients have shown that anywhere the male parent is absent or has less economic power, which he described as super-ego, the children tend to take substances.

The immediate past registrar of the University of Lagos, Taiwo Ipaye, linked the crisis to the breakdown in the country’s socio-cultural values. She said the family value is no longer entrenched as was the practice in the past.

“The father is headed this way; the mother is headed that way. The grandparents are also too busy, and so we no longer have time to look over our children. This is dangerous and the consequences are here with us,” she said.

To Mrs Ipaye’s colleague at the university and the acting director of international relations and partnerships on the campus, Ismail Ibraheem, the unguided use of technologies by young ones has also contributed to the significant rise in the challenge.

Damning consequences

Mr Oguntuase said the consequences are already here with us in Nigeria, adding that since drugs breed crimes, the surge in criminality across the nooks and crannies of the country cannot be dissociated with the increasing drug use among Nigerians.

He said the multifarious violent conflicts rocking the country are also part of the byproducts of the abuse of substances by individuals.

He said; “Even the craze for wealth among the politicians and civil servants might not be unconnected with drug use. This is because once you are on drugs, you have an exaggerated view of yourself and you lose your feelings with a tendency to hurt without remorse.

“When you loot public wealth blindly, it shows you no longer have a feeling that you are hurting others because the wealth you are accumulating illegally should be for the good of others.”

Mr Oguntuase, therefore, said he agrees with the call for the medical examination of Nigerian politicians and those he described as kleptomaniac civil servants, to check whether they are drug users.

Coronavirus worsens situation

Meanwhile, the global drug report by UNODC has said the coronavirus pandemic may have contributed to the ugly future outlook, noting that the economic crisis that accompanied the series of lockdowns imposed on countries is a contributory factor for more demands for drugs globally.

“While the impact of COVID-19 on drug challenges is not yet fully known, the analysis suggests that the pandemic has brought increasing economic hardship that is likely to make illicit drug cultivation more appealing to fragile rural communities.

“The social impact of the pandemic –driving a rise in inequality, poverty, and mental health conditions particularly among already vulnerable populations– represent factors that could push more people into drug use,” the report noted.

Cannabis legalisation

Mr Oguntuase also kicked against those clamouring for the legalisation of the cultivation of cannabis by the Nigerian government, saying the possible implications on the people’s health far outweighs the financial gains.

Some Nigerians including the governor of Ondo State, South-west Nigeria, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, has consistently advocated the legalisation, saying the medical and economic merits of the use of cannabis outweigh its demerits.

Speaking recently at a ‘stakeholders’ roundtable on the benefits and opportunities of cannabis plant Nigeria, Mr Akeredolu said “cannabis is a multi-billion-naira industry that can help diversify the Nigerian Economy if judiciously utilised.”

He reportedly said; “The planet earth has a constant period of darkness and light every 24 hours which we call night and day, in like manner, just like every other crop or plant, Cannabis Sativa has both CBD and THC content which we can put it to good and bad use,” Mr Akeredolu said.

“Products with extract of Cannabis Sativa are already in our pharmaceutical sales outlets across the country. They are being imported with foreign exchange, and sold at exorbitant prices with additional, but avoidable stress on our Naira.”

He said he witnessed the transformation to the business of cannabis in Thailand, and urged the nation’s legislature to review the law and legalise the plant’s cultivation in Nigeria.

But Mr Oguntuase said Nigeria cannot afford to legalise cannabis, insisting that even drugs that are sold over the counter are abused in Nigeria.

He said; “Whether we like it or not, cannabis increases mental health problems. People who claim other countries are legalising it don’t even know that there is nowhere they give blanket approval to cannabis cultivation.

“Those with TAC and those with CBD look alike but they are different and mean different things to those who cultivate them. But Nigerians don’t have the knowledge to differentiate the two. Even the over-the-counter drugs that are legalised are seriously abused by Nigerians. I don’t think we need to complicate our problems.”

Mr Ibraheem also shares Mr Oguntuase’s views, saying the social and moral side of the matter should be considered.

“The negative effects of cannabis are very glaring for us to see. So I will not support its legalisation,” he said.

Way forward

As part of its recommendations towards averting the projected glooming future, UNODC recommended increased awareness campaigns.

This year’s annual awareness campaign is themed: “Share facts on drugs, save lives- end drug abuse”.

The global body said; “COVID-19 has triggered innovation and adaptation in drug prevention and treatment services through more flexible models of service delivery. Many countries have introduced or expanded telemedicine services due to the pandemic, which for drug users means that healthcare workers can now offer counselling or initial assessments over the telephone and use electronic systems to prescribe controlled substances.

“In Nigeria, 130 healthcare professionals trained by UNODC under the EU-Nigeria Partnership Project “Response to Drugs and Related Organized Crime” formed DrugHelpNet providing over-the-phone counselling and assistance to more than 1800 drug users during the height of the COVID-19 related lockdown. This innovative approach to providing much needed help to drug users often in desperate situations also constituted an important step toward reducing the stigma associated with accessing drug counselling and treatment services, in particular for women and girls.”

While a senior assistant registrar at the Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH), Lagos, Saheed Saliman, enjoins religious institutions to preach to their disciples the dangers inherent in consuming intoxicants, Mrs Ipaye wants schools’ curriculum to accommodate issues of attitudinal change.

Mr Saliman, who is one of the deputy imams at the YABATECH mosque, said Islam forbids the use of intoxicants and that any substance that intoxicates must be avoided by Muslims, as a matter of faith.

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