Only two weeks ago, a 20-year-old undergraduate allegedly killed his guardian after hanging out with some friends where he took ‘skonk’, a cocktail of some local herbs and alcohol.
A story like this is no longer news as more of our youngsters and students indulge in the use of psychoactive substances.
Obviously, adverse socio-economic factors could explain the recent but scary increase in the abuse of these substances among youths. Besides poor parenting, there is the issue of availability of certain unusual psychoactive substances, which are not within the gazette of drugs that the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency is focusing on.
Despite the current strategies that the NDLEA is deploying, the Nigerian drug culture seems to be more sophisticated and developed. More potent and cheaply available substances are substituting drugs like cocaine, heroin and amphetamines across the length and breadth of this country. Through strong social networks, Nigerians are using certain roots, herbs and concoctions that are capable of altering the neuro-chemical activities of the brain to induce transient feelings of pleasure and distortion of reality.
Young people have equally discovered certain drugs that are sold over the counter that have mind-altering properties capable of impairing judgment. These could be in the form of oral formulation and at times injectables. The development definitely constitutes a challenge for the NDLEA.
The Act that established the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency was to enforce laws against the cultivation, processing, sale, trafficking and use of hard drugs and to empower the agency to investigate persons suspected to have dealings in drugs and other related matters.
This is one of the most important legacies bequeathed to Nigerians by the military government. In the Act, the agency is expected to adopt measures to eradicate cultivation of narcotic plants and to eliminate narcotic drugs and psychopathic substances demand with a view to reducing human suffering and eliminating financial incentives for drug trafficking.
It also involves such measures, which might require the taking of reasonable precautions to prevent the use of ordinary means of transport for illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs.
However, due to the circumstances prevailing at the time of establishing the NDLEA and the behaviour of the world drug market, the emphasis has been on reduction of the supply of illicit drugs with little attention paid to the reduction in demand.
At the inception, we had top military officers heading this agency with NDLEA officers being equipped to do road and port checks in order to check the import and export of these drugs. The NDLEA officials have also confiscated a number of farmlands used for cultivating Indian hemps.
However, the demand reduction strategies have been modestly developed despite the availability of relevant personnel within the agency. They employ also some sporadic non-systematic psychological interventions.
Within our socio-cultural milieu are channels that coordinate and ensure the distribution of these unusual illicit drugs. A good number of these drugs are culturally sanctioned especially during festivals just as some native folks believe that they have healing and supernatural efficacies. Some certain religious activities that require that individuals stay awake for several nights may encourage the use of some of these drugs apart from guaranteeing effective supply.
Globalisation processes may also be responsible for the adoption of prescribed drugs for their mind-altering properties especially among young people in the higher institutions. Abuse of drugs therefore has assumed strong socio-cultural dimensions with facilities of demand and supply transcending traditional and professional machinery of the NDLEA.
This requires that the NDLEA must change tactics and operation in combating the menace of illicit drug use in our society. It has become a multi-sectoral issue requiring the input of many agencies and parastatals. As part of the composition and proceedings of the act, only two representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Health are recommended to be on its board.
The strategy must be all encompassing in a way that involves linkages with relevant ministries at the state level. This should stimulate and broaden the composition of the stakeholders to enlist the heads of families, as well as neighbourhoods, community and religious leaders, heads of institutions, social celebrities, musicians, sports communities in the fight against these substances that are destroying lives and rendering society unsafe. These facilities will be able to engage both demand and supply reduction strategies.