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Inside Sani Abacha stadium, a haven for forbidden drugs in Kano

Amidst a distressing trend of substance abuse and dependence among the teeming population of Kano State, Weekend Trust went undercover to expose the thriving business…

Amidst a distressing trend of substance abuse and dependence among the teeming population of Kano State, Weekend Trust went undercover to expose the thriving business of ‘pocket dealers’ within the prominent Sani Abacha stadium. With a highly addictive stimulant called ‘Ice’ now finding its way into the hands of users in a state with inadequate treatment facilities, experts warn that unless something drastic is done, a great danger lies ahead.

 

Daddy and some youths have claimed a corner within the urban area of Kano, a small enclave amidst chaos, where they gather to escape reality. This corner is in the slummy part of Yakasai, a community tucked between Kofar Mata and Kofar Nasarawa in Kano Municipal Local Government Area of the state.

At their black spot, the air was pungent with the mingling smoky flavour of weed and cigarettes—an aroma that acts as a beacon for like-minded souls. The scent has become synonymous with the area, making it a signature perfume that marks the territory as much as debris and dried faeces.

It was here that this reporter met Daddy, a 23-year-old who indulges in the use of numerous substances like Taba or Wee-wee (a local name for cannabis), different pills, and codeine cough syrup.

Despite enjoying a private education up to secondary school, Daddy said his fascination with the hostile local environment while growing up influenced his first use of substance at the age of nine. “We grew up amidst youths constantly fighting with knives and machetes,” he recounted.

While he puffed out a mouthful of smoke from the wrapped cannabis dangling from one hand, he held a grip to a bottle of codeine in the other hand. Daddy had enjoyed a modest living from his parents, but said the rebellious lifestyle of many youths in Yakasai had robbed off on him, pushing him to begin experimenting with classroom chalk at a young age. Over time, he visited ‘joints’ to collect and smoke remnants. “But now, I buy it with my money,” he said.

The young men appeared carefree at the spot where this reporter met them as they smoked and sipped from a drink diluted with codeine cough syrup.

Like Daddy, 32-year-old Zara’u Sani, a divorced mother of two is a substance user. This reporter met her at the Niger street in Sabon Gari where she narrated how she was introduced to drugs after her divorce. She now lives with her youngest son, among commercial sex workers in a non-conformist part of Kano metropolis.

In her micro apartment lay an unkempt mattress, piled with her child’s clothes. Scattered leftover cigarette filters littered the extreme corner of her room. But unperturbed by this reporter’s gaze, Zara’u, in the company of other ladies, diluted codeine syrup in a soft drink, while the others waited, eager for a sip. “Fate brought me to Sabon Gari in Kano, where I presently live with other young ladies,” she said. She admitted to taking codeine cough syrup and roche; a street name for Rohypnol, and cigarettes for her “peace of mind.”

In the conservative ancient city of Kano, Nigeria’s most populous state and the second-largest industrial centre, stakeholders and experts have expressed concern over the use of and dependence on substances among the youth population.

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But Kano is not alone. The 2018 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report estimates the prevalence of any drug use in Nigeria at 14.4 percent.

In numbers, it shows 14.3 million people aged between 15 and 64 years have used mind-altering substances. The UNODC report states that drug use is prevalent among men, even though it states that one of every four drug users is a woman.

The 2018 UNODC data on Nigeria’s drug prevalence use is significantly high when compared to the global average of 5.6 per cent as contained in the 2016 drug use report.

Kano has become a source of concern in the North-West region as the UNODC report estimates the prevalence of drug use in the region at 12 per cent of the population, or three million past-year users. From the figure, Kano alone has over 1 million estimated users from the seven states that make up the North-west.

In the North-central and North-east, Kwara and Gombe topped the chart with 13 and 21 per cent prevalence, respectively. While in the South-south, South-east and South-west regions, Delta had 18 per cent, Imo had 18.1 per cent, Lagos, 20 per cent and Oyo had 15.3 per cent past year prevalence for any drug use.

Also, in 2021, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) revealed that Kano had about two million drug addicts, which the NDLEA boss, Buba Marwa, said represented a16 per cent prevalence. He added that for every six people living in Kano, one of them is a drug addict.

But experts say economic factors such as unemployment, tied to the breakdown of family values, and political influence, partly contribute to the menace of drug abuse in the state.

Professor Maikano Madaki of the Department of Sociology at Bayero University Kano, agrees with this. “When you look at the situation of the family in terms of the breakdown that has happened through broken homes and inadequate parental guidance or supervision, then the issue of domestic violence and a high rate of divorce, these have all contributed to the menace,” he said.

“Serving as political guards in most cases cannot be done under normal psychological conditions, which makes them predisposed because some of the bad politicians are providing or supplying them with certain categories of substances, and these users are abusing them,” he added.

 

Kano’s modern vs spiritual rehab centres

Fatima Idris’ (pseudonym) got hooked when she experimented with crack cocaine; a highly addictive and powerful stimulant derived from powdered cocaine.

“Initially, I didn’t know what it was. I saw a friend doing it, and I gave it a try,” she told this reporter while meeting for the first time at the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency rehab centre in Kano, where she is undergoing treatment. “It’s called crack. You can smoke it,” she said of the substance that has led her down a dark and dangerous path.

On the day this reporter visited the NDLEA rehabilitation centre, Fatima initially presented herself with a guarded demeanour. Consultant psychiatrist, Dr. Asma’u Garko, explained that her reluctance to speak about her substance use could stem from a reflection of the stigma, which is high among women, especially in Kano; a place where traditional and religious values now meet modern challenges.

As she gradually opened up about her one-month rehabilitation journey, she expressed regrets and said she hopes to make up for lost time.

Similarly, the life of Dauda Auwal (pseudonym), who has been receiving treatment at the rehab centre was once filled with aspirations of becoming a successful businessman. It has now taken a dark turn and stalled his ambition for almost two decades. The allure of cocaine and peer pressure led him down a path that has clouded his once-promising future.

For 18-years, Auwal said he found himself in the grip of cocaine. “It was peer pressure and school parties. We went to parties, and we took drugs, which we thought were for fun, but it became an everyday thing,” he said.

As the likes of Fatima Idris and Dauda Auwal find help in modern rehabilitation facilities, for some, help comes in the form of spiritual rehabilitation that could lead to a reawakening. Kano, with a fully functional Sharia law enforcement agency, has included a spiritual approach to rehabilitation and social control of substances and their users.

Kachako Islamic Medicine Center, a drug abuse and preventive education centre registered with the NDLEA, is a centre, which offers a mixed method of medical and Islamic solutions to drug abuse.

The centre, which opened in 2018, does not chain patients, says its founder, Dr. Yakubu Kachako, who boasts that it graduates at least 20 patients every three months who also learn the Qur’an. “So far, we have rehabilitated and reintegrated over 300 substance users back into society,” he said.

“The difference between our mode of treatment and the conventional one is not much. At the hospitals, they focus on the medical and psychological aspects of the problem. We look at it medically, psychologically, and spiritually here at the centre,” he said.

Dr. Kachako said for every new patient presented to the centre, a specialist is invited to conduct various tests to understand the category of substances used by the patient. But treatment is administered traditionally and Islamically, he said.

On his part, the Director General of the Kano State Islamic and Moral Police Board, Hisbah, Abba Sufi, said the state was tackling the menace of substance abuse, as its main mandate is to discourage bad deeds and encourage good ones.

 

How ‘pocket dealers’ operate openly at Kano stadium

Pocket dealers are the lowest in the drug merchant chain of operation. According to the NDLEA, they are the most accessible, as they are found closer to people in some black spots where they sell drugs to buyers in smaller quantities.

To understand the accessibility and mode of operation of these drug sellers within Kano, this reporter went undercover at the Sani Abacha stadium, posing as a student intending to start the business.

The stadium, which has hosted notable international competitions like the 2000 African Cup of Nations and the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup, has become a hideout and business centre for drug peddlers.

At 5 p.m. on April 28, this reporter visited the stadium, navigating the narrow alleys beneath the tiered structure designed to allow spectators stand or sit when watching football. Under the bleachers was like a place forgotten by time and care, where the only thriving businesses carried out by youths are those that cater to vice. The ground was littered with used plastic bottles of codeine cough syrups, discarded remnants of smoked cannabis, cigarette filters, and empty blister cards.

Getting closer to where the drug peddlers and users were, the air was thick, not just with humidity but the weight of despair. In that corner of the world, scary-looking young men keep themselves busy, making brisk business from selling hard drugs, while others consumed what they had purchased.

Vendors, some standing, others sitting on the ground with their illicit substances spread out before them in a brazen display. The ground was littered with an assortment of small packages of cannabis, various pills, and syrup bottles, each containing substances.

Like seasoned merchants, they extol the virtues of their forbidden goods, their voices low and urgent as they negotiate prices and quantities. The scene unfold like a traditional marketplace amidst the chaos of vendors and shoppers

This investigation by Weekend Trust revealed that some of the substances being sold at the Sani Abacha Stadium include: Max Coff Codeine Cough Syrup, Bronclear Codeine Cough Syrup, Cannabis, Kush, and different types of pills like Rochi (Rohypnol), Exol 5, Tramadol, and Diazepam.

Further findings reveal that Max Coff and Bronclear codeine cough syrup are sold at N6,000 to N7,000; pills like Rophynol are sold for N1200 per card; Exol is sold for N50 Naira per pill; and Diazepam is sold for N200 per pill.

Pharmacist Kim Bot, the Executive Secretary of the Plateau State Drugs and Medical Commodity Management Agency said all the drugs are off-the-counter drugs which are only given out on a doctor’s prescription.

The pharmacist also revealed that Diazepam is used to manage alcohol withdrawal and depression, while Exol is used to treat irregular contraction of the muscle. As for Rohypnol, “it is completely illegal to possess it. Even its prescription is given a second thought because it can cause total blackout or death.” Incidentally, these life-threatening drugs are being sold openly to users in need, without any medical advice.

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Psychiatrist raises alarm on ‘Ice’ as NDLEA vows clamp down

Substance use and dependency is a serious problem in Kano State, revealed Dr. Asma’u Garko, a consultant psychiatrist with the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH), and a member of the International Society of Substance Use

The consultant psychiatrist also revealed that a new substance called methamphetamine, commonly referred to as ‘Ice’,’ is on the increase and could pose a grave challenge to the fight against substance use.

“The major problem with methamphetamine is that it is a synthetic stimulant that has more addictive properties than cocaine. It is much higher on impact than cocaine—about four times higher,” she said.

“Since my residency as a young doctor, I have never seen any positives for meth despite having a column for it on the toxicology test form. But the scariest thing now is that we see a lot of positives for methamphetamine. Out of a total of seven patients in the ward, I have about four who were solely using methamphetamine,” she said.

The Kano State Commander of Narcotics, Abubakar Ahmad, in reaction to the issue of substance use, told Weekend Trust that the seizure of psychoactive substances has become rampant, adding that the agency seized a significant amount of psychoactive substances, including five million tablets of Tramadol in the first quarter of 2024.

He revealed that about five tons of various illicit substances were seized, and 319 major dealers, including 14 female dealers, had been arrested in the state.

“Out of the seizure, 2,321,000 kilograms were cannabis, and the other 2,446,000 kilograms were assorted psychoactive substances like codeine, tramadol, D5, diazepam, and pentazocine injections.

“The volume of what has been removed from society, which is almost five tons in just three months, is a high number. Imagine the kind of havoc it would have caused if that quantity of substance had swayed into society,” he said.

However, the Kano NDLEA boss said the agency would continue to ensure that those found wanting face the full wrath of the law.

 

What government must do- Experts

The Chief Medical Director of the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital at Dawanau, Kano State, Prof. Auwal Salihu, said eight months into its use, the current human and material resources at the new facility cannot handle a quarter of patients with mild and moderate problems in the state.

“Both the public and private beds for treatment cannot accommodate even 10 per cent of the people with severe problems that require admission at the hospital,” he said, urging the government to do more.

“We need more beds, and we need more facilities that can offer this care and treatment for people with substance abuse. Hopefully, in the coming year, we can have a dedicated place for admitting patients with substance use and increase the number of beds and personnel.”

The CMD called for the introduction of the dangers of substance use and dependency right from the primary school curriculum, saying exposure to substances begins at the age of nine.

“Many countries have included it in their curricula. We do physical health education. In health education, we can add the issue of mental health and substance abuse, where we teach children at the right age not to even like these things,” he said.

Also, Dr. Asma’u Garko, an internationally certified addiction professional, while lamenting the rise of methamphetamine and other substances in Kano, said the number of specialist psychiatrists working in the state cannot handle the number of substance users.

Kano, with its about 20 million population according to the NBS, the psychiatrist said, “is like a hub for accessing medical care. But we have about eight to 10 specialist psychiatrists in just two hospitals (AKTH and Dawanau) to handle the patients.”

In the area of accessibility to health care, she revealed that geographically and financially, access to care is difficult for underprivileged families and women who require special needs.

“We don’t have anything concerning care for substance abusers, which is specific for women here in Kano State. The barrier to care is greater for women than for men. We have an addiction ward specifically designed for males, but we don’t have one for females. We have to accommodate them in the normal open ward for other psychiatrist patients despite their special needs,” he said.

On his part, the founder of the Kachako Islamic Medicine Center, Dr. Yakubu Kachako, called for the disconnection of the reformatory institute in Kiru from the Kano State Ministry of Women Affairs. He advocated for a need to turn it into an agency or directorate with proper adjustments being made, in order to strengthen reformation of substance users in Kano.

 

Glimpse of hope

Drug users can fully recover from substance dependency as in the case of Sani Sani, a member of the Youth Awareness Forum on Drug Abuse (YAFODA), a local organisation offering free interventions to users in Kano State. Sani who wasted five years to crack cocaine told Weekend Trust that he is on his first year as a recovering addict.

“It wasn’t easy, but I took the bold step by reducing the quantity of the substance I used,” he said. Sani, who now runs a successful phone business at the prominent farm centre market in Kano, added that he had reduced his 10-times daily dose of rocks (small pieces of crack) to five, then three, before he completely gave it up. During that time, I always had the urge to go back to it, but I didn’t. That was the most difficult part for me,” he explained.

With Sani’s positive testimony, the Director of Social Welfare at the Kano State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Binta Yakasai, said the government was putting structures in place, including the renovation and expansion of the state-owned Kiru reformatory institute to address the menace.

This reporter had visited the Kiru Reformatory Institute in April and observed that it was undergoing rehabilitation. Security personnel at the centre had informed Daily Trust that the inmates had been discharged to ensure the renovation and expansion.

Weekend Trust’s investigation revealed that in 2019, the then administration of Abdullahi Ganduje said it spent N128 million for the expansion and renovation of the institute. The current administration has equally embarked on renovating the institute with N107.6 million.

However, Yakasai said Governor Abba Kabir, had, on his first official assignment, visited the reformatory institute to check its fitness for the challenge ahead.

“During the visit, he lamented the high rate of drug abuse among the youths and promised to make efforts towards eradicating the problem,” she said.

She said that once fully renovated, the institute would achieve the intended results in line with global standards.

“There will be skills acquisition training for inmates in areas like computer education, carpentry, tailoring, welding, poultry, and other business activities that will help them become self-reliant after graduating,” she noted.

The director warned of strong measures against drug pushers in the state, saying the state government would work with relevant stakeholders to fight drug abuse.

 

This investigation was produced with funding from Daily Trust Foundation with support from MacArthur Foundation.

 

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