‘The consequences of the prevalence of cheap contraband drugs in Nigerian major city centres can be measured by the upsurge of mental health cases in our hospitals, amongst young Nigerians between the ages of 17 and 35. And this is paralleled by the rising cases of homicidal incidents occasioned by children who threaten, attack, maul and sometimes kill their parents or guardians. This is not an exaggeration’
WHEN the report first hit the blogosphere of “breaking news” that Thursday, 17 August 2023, our panelists on the radio talk show, ‘The Vintage Talkshow’, spent few minutes on Saturday, the 19th, berating the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, and the smart Alec that stumbled upon the idea of using notorious pop singer, Naira Marley (real name Afeez Adeshina Fashola) as the poster boy of the agency’s anti-drug abuse campaign. The news of the artiste’s visit to the Abuja headquarters of NDLEA went viral, with several pictures showing him pumping hands and lapping for photo-ops with the chairman of the crime-bursting agency, retired Brigadier General Mohammed Buba Marwa.
Apart from the enormous irony of a self-assured social rebel who didn’t have scruples flaunting the usage of contraband substances like cannabis on social media, including in his musical videos and at concerts; whose disavowal of such irresponsible acts were not known to the general public; it is evidently worrisome to now see the same fellow wearing the toga of a reformed “ambassador” of an agency heavily active in stemming the spiralling epidemic of illicit drug trafficking, and whatever other things people in such disreputable trade indulge in. The optics and the curious messaging from the wild media reports were unflattering to say the least, and borderline self-destructive.
By the evening of that broadcast, the media adviser to the agency, Femi Babafemi, issued a statement that went a fair way to disabuse bemused minds, and nip in the bud what was carelessly spreading across as a morbid joke. The agency’s position and rebuttal appear to set the records in a clearly reasonable manner.
Let Babafemi breathe: “The decision by the agency to encourage Naira Marley, with over seven million followers, half the population of those who abuse drugs in Nigeria, use his platform share anti-substance abuse messages as against using same to promote and glamourize drug abuse with the dire consequence of misleading millions of Nigerian youths into their peril, is to create a balance between our drug supply reduction and drug demand reduction efforts.”
“This is also in line with the agency’s whole society approach to the fight against drug abuse and in tune with global best practices as well as the theme for this year’s World Drug Day; People First: Stop Stigma and Discrimination, Strengthen Prevention.
“When an artiste, who professes marijuana is good to seven million followers turns a new leaf after some serious counselling, do we reject him, turn our back on him and allow him to continue in his old habit, or do we accept him, give him a chance so he can reach out to his followers to quit substance abuse?
“In other words, why should we take our anti-drug abuse advocacy messages to schools, churches, mosques, marketplaces, motor parks, Nollywood, Kannywood, traditional rulers, labour and the entertainment industry, but when one of their members accepts to turn a new leaf, we turn our back to him?
“Indeed, no one is better suited to take the message against drug abuse to the Marlians than the head of the same movement.”
Admittedly, there is a lot of sense in the agency’s clarification, especially if – going forward – his lifestyle, pronouncements and disposition, reinforce the agency’s prayers, and the “born-again” campaigner does not return to his “vomit”, so to say. In any case,we trust the agency will find the means to wipe the mud off its face, if this goes south.
Beyond the distraction of a popular user turned prime reformer, the clear and present danger we face is the ease and speed with which hard and illicit drugs appear to spread across our streets, and seize the minds and senses of our young folks. Virtually every week, we observe the NDLEA officers parade a ceaseless flood of seizures, interceptions, arrests and exposures of hideouts, storage bunks and such other nefarious activities of big-time traders, barons and mules in the drug business.
Often estimated in millions of dollars, we watch with mouth agape at the staggering haul of evidence and exhibits displayed on social media, seized from all sorts of people arrested at various Nigerian airports while trying to smuggle hard drugs and contrabands out of the country; or in raids into opulent residential areas housing suspected barons and traffickers. We recently read the agency’s account of how one of its officers was almost crushed by a fleeing suspect who rammed his way out of capture, using his big SUV, when he unexpectedly alighted upon officers of NDLEA who had surrounded his compound, in highbrow Lekki precinct. He escaped on foot after crashing into a neighbour’s fence, and demobilizing his vehicle. Of course, illicit drugs were found in his apartment. Thank God, the agent survived with a few injuries.
The consequences of the prevalence of cheap contraband drugs in Nigerian major city centres can be measured by the upsurge of mental health cases in our hospitals, amongst young Nigerians between the ages of 17 and 35. And this is paralleled by the rising cases of homicidal incidents occasioned by children who threaten, attack, maul and sometimes kill their parents or guardians. This is not an exaggeration. Knowing our innate craving to keep wraps on our family blemishes, and avoid public disgrace or stigma of cohabitating with full-blown violent drug addicts, statistics would be scarce on the level and spread of this epidemic.
The government still has a lot to do. Yes, the NDLEA is doing a yeoman’s job trying to stem the diffusion of illicit drugs into our society by cutting the principal channels of distribution – freighting, storing, planting and harnessing of illicit drugs. We have to now devise means of shutting the funnel ends for drugs that have evaded the grasp of NDLEA, and now populate our streets. The middleman and hustlers who distribute on the micro levels should be shut down, whatever it takes. Hideouts, shanties, backstreet hotels, and such openings that serve as stalls and shop fronts for selling, smoking, and ingesting drugs in small quantities which are frequented by addicts and adventurous trialists should be identified, categorized, and demolished, or rehabilitated, whichever is appropriate.