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!