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Winning the war against drug abuse

His Group Points Average (GPA) showed a steady excellent performance, making him the envy of his colleagues. But his dream of an excellent graduation came…

His Group Points Average (GPA) showed a steady excellent performance, making him the envy of his colleagues.

But his dream of an excellent graduation came crashing few days before the third year examinations when the authorities expelled him and many other students for alleged drug abuse and cult-related activities. Back home, a repentant Izundu could only blame himself for allowing some friends to lure him into experimenting with illicit drugs.

The ‘friends’ had made the use of such drugs a prerequisite for admitting him into their cult.

“I remember that I began the habit casually. Somehow, I thought I could stop anytime I wanted, but I soon got addicted to the habit,’’ he said.

According to him, his mother suspected he was into drugs and pleaded with him to put a stop to it.

“But I kept denying until the school sacked me,’’ he said.

Today, Izundu leads a group of youths who move from one social event to the other campaigning against drug use among youths.

“I try to tell the youths to learn from my experience and drop the drug habit,’’ he said.

Analysts, even while sympathising with Izundu, say he is lucky to be alive to tell his story as many others like him were killed by illicit drugs use.

Worried by the menace, especially its devastating effects on youths who are the most productive segment of the society, the United Nations General Assembly, via Resolution 42/112 of December 7, 1987, adopted June 26 as International Day Against Drug Abuse.

The day is set aside to specifically remind stakeholders in UN member states on the need to create an international society free of drug abuse.

As a signatory to the Resolution, Nigeria has joined the war against drug abuse and trafficking by establishing the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) via decree 48 of 1989.

The agency, which is mandated to protect the country from the dangers of hard drugs, had since recorded some modest successes.

Its record in 2009, for instance, showed that it apprehended 2,789 suspected drug traffickers between January and May. Of the figure, 2,586 were males, while 203 were females.

According to the document, a total of 37,668 kilogrammes of various narcotic and psychotropic substances were also seized from the illicit drug traffickers.

It said that cocaine seizures were recorded in 14 states among them Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Enugu. Others included Imo, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Niger, Ogun, Rivers and the FCT.

Alhaji Ahmadu Giade, the Chairman, NDLEA, while speaking on efforts to rid the nation of drugs, described illicit drugs as “alien’’ to Nigeria.

According to him, cannabis, which is now locally grown in most states of the federation, was introduced to the country by foreigners.

Giade said that the West African sub-region was facing a serious challenge of illicit drug trafficking. He lamented that drug syndicates were targeting the region.

“We are doing everything to frustrate their desire to turn West Africa into a a drug-colony,’’ he said, adding that the situation was a threat to national security, development, the rule of law and public health.

According to him, drug trafficking has, over the years, gradually emerged as a serious global problem with devastating implications like money laundering, terrorism, militancy, arms dealing and a host of horrible crimes.

The NDLEA Chairman said that the agency was collaborating with regional and international organisations in finding a durable solution to curbing the menace.

“Collaborations with the AU and ECOWAS are beginning to yield positive results,’’ he said.

He added that an expert group is working on the validation and implementation of a Regional Action Plan to address the growing problem of illicit drug trafficking, organised crime and drug abuse in West Africa.

Giade blamed the worsening trend to the availability of the drugs; ignorance among the users; and the quest for experimentation.

Other reasons for the drug spread, he said, were unemployment and peer pressure.

“Unfortunately, while it may be easy to become an addict, the chances of coming out of drug addiction are very slim,’’ he said, adding that two per cent of Nigerians were grappling with drug abuse problems.

Delving into the effect of rug use, he said that some addicts could suffer permanent brain damage and untimely, death.

“There is also the risk of damage to body organs like the heart, liver and kidney, in addition to opening up the victims’ system to HIV and AIDS”.

Giade advised Nigerians whose relatives are addicts, to seek the agency’s assistance to rehabilitate such persons, adding that the agency would not prosecute them.

According to the NDLEA Chairman, the drug trade has remained attractive to criminals because of the light sentences passed on most drug convicts.

He said, however, that the agency was seeking an amendment to the NDLEA Act to impose stiffer penalties.

Ms Dagmar Thomas, the Country Representative of UN Office for Drugs Control (UNODC), who spoke on the menace, lamented that Nigeria was one of the largest cannabis herb producers in Africa.

According to her, Nigeria is also one of seven African countries with higher than eight per cent cannabis abuse prevalence among the general population.

“Nigeria is also one of the top five countries in terms of annual cannabis seizures with an increase of 60 per cent from 126 metric tones in 2005 to 210 metric tones in 2007.’’

That figure increased by 62 per cent in 2008 as 335 metric tones of seizures were recorded.

She said that overall seizures, including cocaine and opiates for 2008, went up by 62.84 per cent, while cocaine-related arrests increased by 20 per cent.

“Generally, the current national figures from NDLEA indicate some dramatic increases of the problem, and some laudable successes of enforcement authorities,’’ she said.

According to her, Nigeria is strategic toward combating the problem of cannabis cultivation, abuse and trafficking.

She said that the country was also crucial to help the African region and support less advanced countries being targeted by traffickers.

“NDLEA, NAFDAC and the National Financial Intelligence Unit have standards and capabilities in place that can actually support and guide other West Africans to win the drug war,’’ she added.

To win the war, she suggested the upgrading of preventive interventions as well as the integration of drug treatment into public health programmes.

According to her, the WHO and UNODC will continue to work with governments and other partners to scale-up drug treatment worldwide.

“I will also urge full implementation of the UN convention against Transnational Organised Crime and the UN Convention against Corruption.

“These instruments can help in the effort to prevent and control drug-related crimes which are posing a serious security threat in many parts of the world,’’ she said.

She called for “greater development assistance and a strengthening of the rule of law in countries vulnerable to the cultivation, production and trafficking of illicit drugs’’.

As if reacting to her suggestions, Mr Michael Aondoakaa, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, said Nigeria has signed the National Drug Control Master Plan.

“We want to make sure that Nigeria is no more a hub for illicit drug transit,’’ he told newsmen recently, adding that the plan would take care of the period between 2008 and 2010.

According to him, the plan takes into account all the obligations and treaties required of Nigeria as a nation.

The Minister warned airline operators against making their facilities accessible to drug couriers, adding that any aircraft in which illicit drugs were found would face the full wrath of the law.

Aondoakaa added that drug convicts would henceforth forfeit their assets to serve as a deterrent.

But as stakeholders work toward a drug-free society, experts say that winning the war will be made more difficult as the perpetrators cut across age, class and gender.

They say, however, that success is possible with the right laws and their full implementation.  (NANFeatures)

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