ABOUT 20 YEARS AGO, the Nigerian culture was known for strictly enforcing public decency and rectitude, as a young child was never to be seen with alcohol or cigarettes, let alone hard drugs.

Unfortunately, despite stern warnings from the World Health Organization, teenagers are deeply involved in drug use today.

They have access to drugs through local channels and massive distributions.

Teenagers and young adults use drugs freely and are the most frequent users of substances such as marijuana, codeine, and alcohol, among others.

A visit to a popular abattoir market in Karu village, an Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) community, will persuade any doubting Thomas of this reality, as it did in the case of a Sunday Vanguard reporter who went there to buy goat meat.

A secluded skanky slum, just a stone’s throw from the butchery to the main road, reeked of cannabis and several scruffy looking men and women, perceived to be between the ages of 15-20, were seen.

As I walked into the area, some young ladies who appeared unkempt swarmed over me, asking me to take a quick look at what they had for sale.

A few steps in, the voices of narcotics dealers became audible, and the air smelled strongly of marijuana.

“Fine boy, fine boy, make you come look at my own.” “You go dey alright,” they said, while others made physical attempts to get me to their locations.

Those who had already purchased items were hanged in various locations.

While some were seen wrapping their own marijuana, others were seen puffing away as if it were the most important thing in life.

It was a firsthand look at what appeared to be grave societal decay and how youths are deeply involved in drug use.

Welcome to the world of substance, where people seek solace and relief from emotional pain by numbing themselves with tranquilizers and narcotics.

Others benefit from altered states of consciousness that make them feel “high,” very happy, euphoric, relaxed, sociable, and uninhibited.

Some of the abusers told their stories to the Sunday Vanguard.

Teens

Okezie Chibuzor, also known as ‘Socket,’ is a substance abuser in the neighborhood who narrated with sobriety the turning point in his life at the very young age of 15, after mingling with hood boys his age, said he became a smoker who couldn’t go a day without puffing the air.

Chibuzor, who claimed to be a bright student and was raised as a church kid, never imagined becoming a dropout in JSS 2.

He described himself as a “hardened neighborhood criminal” who had seen the insides of various correctional facilities and was an assaulter on his parents.

The addict, on the other hand, blamed his parents for his lifestyle, claiming that he began down the wrong path when he brought back items obtained from criminal acts, but was never warned by his parents.

He described how he led many other young boys and girls into drug use.

“I have always lived a rough life since childhood, despite being bright and having a calm face,” he says. But I was a petty thief.” My parents are poor, so when I brought those things (I stole) back home, they barely asked where I got them. Instead, they’d ask, ‘Who dashed you?’ I’d also fabricate a story.

“That lifestyle continued for a while until one day when I stole from a group of thieves who caught me.”

“My life changed that day. Everything you see now is the result of my decision that day.

“I had to repay them by stealing whatever they demanded.” I actually thought I was having fun while also helping myself.

“As soon as I impressed them, I was made a member of the team, and we did a lot of horrible things together.” I was also introduced to marijuana.

“When I first took it, I almost died because I fainted.”

“However, after a while, I regained consciousness.” Since then, I’ve used whatever resources I could to become more than just a tough smoker; I now sell to people.

“Because I was careful at home, my parents had no idea I was smoking.”

“I knew smoking was bad for anyone when I couldn’t help but smoke before going to bed.”

“But I was helpless at the time; I had crossed the Rubicon and couldn’t stop myself.” I was unable to complete my JSS 2 exams. Smoking took that away from me because I spent all of my money on smoking, including school fees.

“I was unable to complete secondary school, and my life changed.” I became a habitual smoker. When my parents found out about my lifestyle, it became a major issue in the house. Because the thought of their son, a young child, becoming a smoker was terrifying to them.

“So, I had issues and a series of altercations, and the level of crime I began engaging in increased to the point where my friends, two of whom are now dead, went into robbery.” We stole and then committed house burglary. Yes, we were apprehended by the cops at some point.

“I now sell drugs to people who use them as well as to police officers who come around to buy.” So I’m more of a distributor.”

Chibuzor, who appeared dissatisfied with his lifestyle, claimed he was helpless but advised young people to avoid drugs.

When asked why he hadn’t quit smoking despite realizing he was on the wrong track, he said, “It’s not easy to just unhook from smoking these things.”

“I don’t just smoke weed; I also do a lot of other things, and I’m at a point where if I don’t take it, I’m going to give up.”

“My advice to young people is to stay away from drugs.” Even if I don’t like the way my life is going, that doesn’t mean I can’t quit. I can’t.

“It’s become a part of me, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” Youths should not even venture into this world because they will become so lost.”

JSS 3

Another addict, Awal Abduahi, 19, stated, “I started smoking when I was in JSS 3, and it started at a government school that I attended in Abuja.”

“There are many other young boys and girls smoking in that class, and we were usually not caught.”

“Even in the neighborhood, there were those who smoked and let us try it.”

“That’s how I started, and I don’t do anything else besides weed.” I enjoy weed, and it is also very healthy.”

Cost

These drugs are quite expensive, and in order to sustain the habit, users resort to stealing and even armed robbery, while women abusers resort to prostitution.

Nkechi Paul, 19, who also struggles with substance abuse, told the Sunday Vanguard that most armed robbers were drug addicts, and that addiction is linked to criminal activity.

She claimed that she was involved in prostitution in a minor capacity while still in school in order to earn money to purchase cannabis.

“I started smoking marijuana when I was 15 years old,” she says.

“That’s when I went to a farm with some of my neighborhood friends, and then we went swimming.”

“I was introduced to it somewhere along the way.” It wasn’t pleasant at first, but when I tried it again, I felt completely different.

“Since then, I’ve taken it every day just to be myself.”

“With the right plugs, you will always have supplies.” I have the plug but no money to get the supplies, so I always go out to hustle with men for money.”

Damning consequences

Aside from worsening mental disorders and, in some cases, death, many young people have dropped out of school, lost jobs, and relationships as a result of drug use and addiction.

In a separate interview, 25-year-old Matthew Solomon described how drugs ruined his chance to earn a master’s degree in urban and regional planning.

Despite the fact that he is now rehabilitated and working as a cobbler, he had yet to fully accept the reality of dropping out of school in the final year.

“I got on the wrong side of things and started smoking cannabis,” he explained.

“I felt like it was something I needed at the time.” I was in my early twenties at the time. It had a significant impact on me. It had an impact on my cognitive abilities.

“I wasn’t completely focused on my studies, and my anger management was lacking.”

“It was one of the reasons I dropped out of university at the 500-level.”

“I went through rehabilitation five years ago and haven’t used drugs since.”

“It was a relative who knew I was doing drugs who suggested I go to rehab.”

Nneka’s business had taken off as a university graduate and fashion designer in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, only for her to fall into a deep crisis as a result of crack addiction.

During a conversation with Sunday Vanguard, she recalled her perilous journey through drugs.

“I looked unkempt and was losing weight,” she recalled. I had to smoke marijuana to have an appetite at times.

“Once, someone asked me if I was 70 because my body had shrunk. I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry.

“I once smoked crack for four days straight.” I spent a lot of money on crack in four days. One gram cost between N20,000 and N25,000, depending on the dealer, and I was able to finish it in eight hours.

“Drugs also had an impact on my business.” I preferred a quiet environment after smoking and not sleeping.

“If I went to the shop, customers would want to argue with me, and I could yell at them.” I didn’t go to work, and it ruined my business.”

Tackling menace

Joblessness, poor parenting, and peer pressure have all been linked to substance abuse.

Experts proposed a holistic approach, from social to economic, to address the escalating societal problem.

Prof Michael Ubani, a psychologist, said the prevalence of drug use among youths was concerning due to the negative effects on (mental) health.

“The use of drugs is not a welcome development.” Ubani described it as “evidence of frustration, delusion, and many other things combined.”

“When you become addicted to drugs, you temporarily lose control of your brain, and the result is always harmful and negative.”

“Youths are typically drawn to drugs because of the extra boost in power they provide, but the end to which such energy is directed is always a cause for concern.”

“Some attribute its use to happiness supply, but there has never been any correlation.” It actually makes things worse for you.

The scholar maintained that adequate sensitization to drug abuse was critical to halting the dangerous trend, urging law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders to focus on drug sources.

“Social information dissemination will be the best way out,” he said.

“Inform the youth about the dangers of drug use.”

“It can cause memory loss, permanent brain damage, and can actually deprive one of the functioning of certain parts of the body’s physiological makeup.”

“It can also cause psychological imbalance.” This information should be disseminated as widely as possible and as frequently as possible so that the youth who will benefit from it have access to it.”

Veronica Okeke, a sociology professor at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, also urged parents to keep track of their children, know who they hang out with, and make sure they don’t stay away from home for too long.

“Parents should find out why their children are arriving home late. Find out what the kids are up to; meet with their teachers to see if they are actually in school and how they are doing,” Okeke said.

NDLEA reacts

In many countries, particularly Nigeria, progress in reducing drug abuse has lagged behind population growth, resulting in illnesses and impoverishment.

However, in an interview, Mr Femi Babafemi, Director of Publicity and Advocacy at the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, stated that the agency has done a lot to combat drug abuse.

“At that point, you will see it is not about the NDLEA alone, or even the government alone; it is a collective responsibility of the society beginning at home,” Babafemi added.

“Those kids came from a home.” The fact that they are on the streets indicates that there is a problem with parenting that begins at home.

“Then, if you go a step further, you will see that governments at some levels where those kids are located also have some basic responsibilities they need to provide, such as socioeconomic buffers for them because they are either out of school or have no jobs doing; all of these are beyond the purview of the NDLEA.”

“There are a number of predisposing factors to why those children are living in slums.”

“So it’s not just about the NDLEA.” It is about all of the parties involved. We try to limit access and availability of these drugs as much as possible.

“Daily, we churn out information and figures about how much of these drugs we seized from across the country, and I can tell you that in just a little more than 18 months, we have taken out of circulation more than 3.6 million kilogrammes of assorted illegal drugs, the majority of which is cannabis, which is why we have also stood vehemently against cannabis legalization in our country.”

“We will do everything we can to arrest, prosecute, and ensure that those responsible for the distribution and trafficking of these illegal drugs pay”dearly for it by ensuring that they go to jail and denying their dependants of the proceeds of their illicit trade; that is on the law and on the law enforcement side where the NDLEA is the lead agency.

“It is not enough for us to say we want to arrest them or take them off the streets, but those predisposing factors — the factors where, for example, the NDLEA takes them in for rehabilitation, whether we take them into our own counseling or refer them to some other private or government rehabilitation.”

“After a while, when they are certified okay, if you release them back into society and they are exposed to the same predisposing factors that led them to those drugs, they will go back to it.”

“As a result, it goes beyond what the NDLEA can do.” Other stakeholders must join in and do what is required, such as social welfare at the state and local government levels, as well as providing education for some of these children to keep them off the streets and meaningfully engaged.

“As a result, all of us must work together to address the issue of children and young people being exposed to illegal substances.”

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