The recent Naira Marley and NDLEA exchange is one of the most controversial sensations I have come across in recent times. But pondering on the analyses of several media personalities and even individuals the most apparent learning is that Nigerians are far from removing the stigma that comes with drug abuse in this clime.
Is the credibility of a person’s recovery to be determined by the general public or the person’s decision? Are people saying Naira Marley should not stop using drugs because they cannot see him stopping? Is there a designated personality or look for a person who is allowed to have used drugs and to recover? Maybe this is my most important question. What is the right image? On the same internet, we read about Hollywood celebrities on their way to recovery and their openness about their process and oftentimes, we meet them with empathy. Demi Levato, Robert Downey Junior, and Bradley Cooper; these are people on one end plying the road of recovery documenting their process. But we also have the Whitney Houston, Cory Montieth, Amy Winehouse, whose drug use led them down the rabbit hole of death.
We are aware that substance use is a manifestation of a myriad of things. In one person, it is a coping mechanism, in a community of people it posits a societal ill that must be dealt with. Perhaps when Naira Marley glamourised his coping mechanism, he was not aware of the millions of other people that it would impact – the Marlians. The NDLEA has taken a leap towards the fight against stigma and indeed, Naira Marley has proven to be a powerful ammunition. I wonder how many drug suppliers have cowered in their dens because of this testimonial.
The theme for the 2023 United Nations Day Against Drug Abuse is ‘People First: Stop Stigma and Discrimination, Strengthen Prevention’. I see this as a move by the NDLEA to practice what they preach; to give a voice to recovering substance use dependents to share their experience, to put these people first, and to challenge the country to check its own stigma. What I have found more repulsive is the question “What if he is found using again?”
Surely, if we do not stigmatise, then concepts like relapse would be better grasped. You all say, ‘Let the poor breathe’ but you don’t want the drug dependents who desire change, to breathe. They need empathy and encouragement; not condemnation, stigma and discrimination. Support this audacious strategy by NDLEA and let’s have more Marlians nay our youths come out of substance abuse without the fear of being judged.
Blessing Aliyu, author and youth activist, wrote from Kaduna