A national survey conducted in 2018 confirmed the massive scale of Nigeria’s drug problem. According to the survey, nearly 15 per cent of the adult population in Nigeria (around 14.3 million people) reported a “considerable level” of use of psychoactive drug substances—it’s a rate much higher than the 2016 global average of 5.6 per cent among adults.
The survey was led by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse with technical support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and funding from the European Union. It showed the highest levels of drug use was recorded among people aged between 25 to 39, with cannabis being the most widely used drug. Sedatives, heroin, cocaine and the non-medical use of prescription opioids were also noted. The survey excluded the use of tobacco and alcohol.
Drug use habits in Nigeria have devolved with young people increasingly resorting to potent mixtures of several drugs at the high risk of fatal overdoses. For instance, “gutter water,” a widely consumed cocktail of drugs, is a mix of codeine, tramadol, rohypnol, cannabis and water or juice. Some young adults are also turning to crude concoctions as alternatives, including smoking lizard parts and dung as well as sniffing glue, petrol, sewage and urine as inhalants.
Stemming the flow of opioid imports has proven particularly difficult for Nigerian authorities. Two high-profile raids at the country’s largest port in November 2018 resulted in the seizure of over half a billion tablets of Tramadol, a pain relief drug. The inflow of opioids isn’t limited to Nigerian alone either as UNODC says west, north and central Africa jointly account for 87 per cent of all pharmaceutical opiates seized globally.
To stem the tide of the drug problem, President Muhammadu Buhari recently appointed former military administrator of Lagos and Borno states, Brig-Gen. Mohammed Buba Marwa (rtd), as the chairman/CEO of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). Marwa comes to the job with experience. Marwa had worked as chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee for the Elimination of Drug Abuse (PACEDA) between 2018 and December 2020, along with others to develop a blueprint on how to end drug abuse in Nigeria.
Marwa has since resumed on his new assignment and in one of his interfaces with the staff of the NDLEA he said he would soon propose to the government “the necessity for drug tests for all tertiary institutions resuming students, NYSC members, new workers, all security agencies new recruits and random tests for government appointees. NDLEA is ready to help and we must help.”
What Marwa has proposed is not entirely new. Ahead of the local government election held on January 16th, 2021, Kano State government had vowed to subject all contestants to a compulsory drug test. It was the commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Murtala Sule Garo who announced the development at a workshop organised by National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, (NDLEA). He said the decision was part of government policies to rid Kano of illicit substances. Governor Abdullah Umar Ganduje had also directed NDLEA to conduct a similar test to all his political appointees in 2019 before offering them portfolio. And when the drug test was eventually conducted, 13 local government contestants fell by the wayside.
The Kano State Independent Electoral Commission, KANSIEC, had to replace no fewer than 13 contestants who failed drug tests. Chairman of KANSIEC, Professor Garba Sheka, who made the revelation, said all the 13 contestants were candidates vying for councillorship seats.
Sheka said the parties disqualified and replaced the persons based on a report by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, after they tested positive for drugs. He said a chairmanship candidate was also found to have tested positive, but that further checks revealed that he was taking drugs under medical prescription. According to him, “In fulfillment of KANSIEC criteria, the political parties subjected their candidates to a drug test before the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA. The outcome of the test shows that 13 councillorship candidates tested positive to drug and one other contesting for chairmanship seat.”
What Marwa has proposed is to take the war against drug abuse to our universities and National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Camps and identify the drug users and perhaps rehabilitate them and help them overcome the addiction. It would also help government to identify those with drug problem and prevent their recruitment into the military and other security services where they could pose threat to national security.
Similarly subjecting drug test on new employees of government would ensure that only people with sound minds are recruited in government services.
We support what Marwa has proposed, however such tests should not be used as a discriminatory tool. We suggest that those who test positive should be rehabilitated and when they become ‘clean’ should be prioritized on the next set of recruitments into the security services or civil service. Marwa’s proposal if approved by the state and federal governments would add impetus to the war against drug abuse and the associated criminalities.
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