The use of restricted drugs or substances and trafficking in them have undoubtedly gained notoriety among some Nigerian youths, with many being caught in the web of its negative consequences.
Records of drug offences in Nigerian courts show how deep drug abuse/trafficking has eaten into the fabrics of the society.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, defines drug trafficking as an illicit trade involving cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of restricted substances.
Drug abuse is the use of illegal drugs or the use of prescription or over-the-counter drugs for purposes other than those for which they are meant to be used, or in excessive amounts.
Medical experts constantly warn that drug abuse may lead to social, physical, emotional and job-related problems.
In Nigeria, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, established by Decree 48 of 1989, is charged with eliminating growing, processing, manufacturing, selling, exporting and trafficking in hard drugs.
According to NDLEA, any drug with psychotropic effects is listed as restricted.
Some of the prohibited substances in the NDLEA Schedule are cannabis sativa, heroin, cocaine, codeine, tramadol, metaphetamine, rophynol, extol 5, diazepam and ephedrine.
These drugs are considered to be of high psychotropic effects and are restricted in usage.
Unfortunately, many more youths appear to have found solace in the use of hard drugs for personal and commercial gains.
The National Drug Use Survey 2018 indicated that 14.3 million Nigerians representing 14.4 per cent of the country’s population used psychoactive substances aside from alcohol.
Among the effects of hard drug use is increase in criminal activities including cyber fraud.
Drug abuse and trafficking is a source of worry to governments, community leaders, parents, schools and other stakeholders.
According to counsel to NDLEA, Lagos State command, Jeremiah Aernan, the rate of hard drug abuse by youths has become alarming.
Mr Aernan calls for collective efforts in tackling the menace.
He blames the ugly trend partly on the influence of social media.
“Distribution of hard drugs has currently been enhanced by social media as there are now online dealers of drugs.
“So, you find that once these youths need drugs, they simply put an order online just the same way one places an order for online shopping items.
“Investigation reveals that these hard drugs are sold with coded names.
“They could say I want to buy pencil and the dealer knows what they are referring to; so you see that the social media has, in no small measure, facilitated trafficking of these drugs,” he says.
Mr Aernan also blames the trend on peer group influence which, he believes, pushes some youths into cult activities with a resultant effect of illicit drug use.
According to him, while some youths go into drug abuse with a view to having an “experience,” due to their inquisitiveness, others become drug barons for financial benefits.
“Unemployment is another cause of drug peddling. Many people have taken drug trafficking as a business; so, it now goes beyond its use to the commercial benefits derived.
“If you check the volume of hemp consumed daily in Lagos alone, you find that it is more than a 100 bags.
“So, if someone selling hemp can make a profit of N3,000 or more per day, do you think such a person will wish to stop?” he asks.
Mr Aernan says while there is control on importation of ephedrine, its abuse is also rampant.
“Codeine is originally used for the manufacture of cough syrups, but the wanton abuse of the drug caused its instant ban.
“Some of these youths go ahead and purchase cartons of codeine and drink directly just to get the `feel’,” he says.
According to him, some hard drugs now have variants which are also consumed by the youth in a bid have new experiences.
“For instance, there is a variant of cocaine called crack which is a combination of cocaine, heroin, metaphetamine and other narcotics used by our youths.
“The drugs recently intercepted in Lagos came in from the high sea, and it was over two tonnes in volume.
“There is now a dire need for orientation of the youth on the dangers of drug trafficking.
“It also calls for checks by parents on the itineraries of their wards and keeping close marking on their engagements,” he advises.
A parent, Osariemen Amadasun, attributes high rate of drug offences to uncontrolled usage of the internet.
Mrs Amadasun says many youths use the internet for wrong reasons.
She believes that drug abuse goes hand-in-hand with cybercrime known yahoo yahoo, which she is convinced that the youth are at the centre of.
“Some of these young men and even women stay awake at night keeping watch on their laptops for the next gullible individual to fall victim of their scams.
“They will ingest substances to keep their minds and body awake. In their slang, it is to be awake like a fish waiting for the next mugu.
“More worrisome is the fact that these young folks even cook their meals with some of these hard drugs, ingest and inject them just to get a deeper feeling.
“It becomes a complicated case trying to rehabilitate these drug victims, as some of them see and feel their body systems shutting down.
“The danger of doing drugs is that, once begun, it is almost nearly impossible to stop; parents must be alive to their responsibilities,” she urges.
A nurse who worked at the Federal Neuro Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos State, Ifeyinwa Nwachukwu, says: “Quite a number of psychiatric cases we find in hospitals are triggered by drug abuse.
“As a psychiatric nurse, I have stayed with drug victims; from how they behave, one can easily tell that they have been on hard drugs.
“Although with medications, some of these drug users become relatively stable, it is better that the youth are properly guided so as not to delve into ingestion of any form of illicit substance.
“Its negative effects are long lasting,” she warns.
She suggests routine seminars and other enlightenment campaigns on the negative impacts of hard drugs as a strategy to stem the wave of drug offences.
Mrs Nwachukwu advises that the seminars can be done in schools, hospitals, health centres and religious centres.
A 22-year-old rehabilitated drug victim, Kings Uzoma, narrates that he became addicted to drugs in 2019 after he established a small business of computer operation.
According to him, his schedule of work made him to have new friends.
“We lived around Agric in the Ojo area of Lagos. When I began to have big-boy customers, who will stay in my shop till evening when I should be closing, I began to take interest in what they were doing.
“I later left my parents’ house in Ojo and went to live with them on Victoria Island, where they introduced me to eating rice cooked with Codeine. From there, we travelled to Ghana.
“In Ghana, I didn’t understand what was happening to me anymore. I woke up one day to find myself back in Nigeria with bruises on my body,” he narrates.
According to him, he was placed on medication by a hospital before he regained senses.
Another lawyer, Emmanuel Ozodi, calls for stringent punishment for drug offences.
According to him, judges give sentences as small as six months’ imprisonment or fine for drug trafficking.
He believes that such penalties have not sufficiently served as deterrents to drug offences.
The lawyer says while Nigeria should not punish drug offences with death sentence, the country should show strong will to tackle the menace through stringent punishments.
The NDLEA Chairman, Buba Marwa had recently called for stiffer penalties for drug trafficking by removing the option of fine for drug offenders.
At the Institute of Change Management annual dinner in Lagos in December 2021, Mr Marwa said, “It is worrisome that we have some of our officers lose their lives in the course of battling with drug traffickers but at the end of the day, some of these offenders when taken to court, are just fined and they later return to the same business.”
According to Mr Marwa, hard drug problem in Nigeria is massive.
“Basically, we have to shut down the pipeline. That is, take traffickers and their barons out of the picture. We have to embark on an aggressive drug supply reduction campaign.
“It is to this end that we launched the War Against Drug Abuse campaign which is meant to, in the long run, help prevent the entrenchment of drug abuse culture among young people in the society.”
Analysts call on parents, guardians, care givers, school management, religious leaders, non-governmental organisations, corporate entities and others to join forces with governments to check drug offences to save the youth – tomorrow’s leaders – from their evil consequences.
They also urge changes in policies and legislation that will stem the tide of drug offences.