ANAYO EZUGWU x-rays concerns raised by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) over drug abuse among youths and its impact on the 2023 general election
Despite increased campaign and awareness for youth participation in the electoral process in Nigeria, experts are worried that the consumption of illicit drugs may affect youth involvement in the 2023 general election. The experts are concerned that the high percentage of young people exposed to different kinds of hard drugs in the country is a threat to their involvement in the political space. For instance, facts from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Reports for 2021 and 2022 showed that more young people are using drugs than previous generations. The reports indicated that young people continue to use more drugs than adults and have higher levels of use than in past generations.
The UNODC reports stated that over the past year, around 275 million people have used drugs, up by 22 per cent from 2010 and of the increase, over 50 per cent are youths. It noted that there is a 10 per cent prevalence of cannabis use among 15-16 years old young Africans. Likewise, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Brig. General Buba Marwa (rtd), said that increased awareness for youth participation is good for Nigeria’s democracy but fears that high consumption of drugs may impact their involvement in the country election.
Speaking at the 10th-anniversary lecture of Realnews in Lagos, Marwa said drugs and violence go hand in hand. He said: “We can recall the social upheaval caused in southeast states in the last quarter of 2021 when there was an outbreak of abuse of methamphetamine. That episode gave us a foresight of the kind of instability that could result from the abuse of illicit drugs by young people. With so many idle hands around, some of whom are hooked on drugs, the election will be a testy period. But, let me assure you that the security agencies are aware of this and are working to forestall it.
“With such a huge youth population, you can begin to think that the election in the country will be won by a ‘youth referendum,’ but with so many youths involved in drug abuse, they can hardly make the kind of strong impact that people envisage; just as they cannot hold down a job, they also cannot exhibit prudent electoral choices or execute the civic duty of voting. What you end up having is the phenomenon of selfdisenfranchisement among young people because those who are into drug abuse will readily make themselves available as tools for irrational activities such as electoral thuggery and violence.”
In analysing NDLEA’s activities in the fight against illicit drugs, the former military administrator of Lagos State said the agency arrested 19,341 drug offenders across the country in the last 22 months. He also said that the agency made convictions of 3,111 in addition to the seizure of 5.5 million kilograms of various drugs within the same period.
His words: “To start with, Nigerians are not ignorant about drug trafficking and drug abuse issues. The activities of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency NDLEA, in the past 22 months have given our society a clear picture, certainty and the severity of the drug problem in the country. The arrest of 19, 341 drug offenders and subsequent conviction of 3, 111 in addition to the seizure of 5.5 million kilograms of assorted drugs in 22 months are incontrovertible facts of a deeply entrenched illicit drug subculture. Previously, many Nigerians found it hard to believe that illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin are trafficked in and out of the country.
“But NDLEA has made huge seizures and there is no basis for scepticism anymore. If anything, NDLEA activities since January 2021 have further reinforced the facts of Nigeria being an important hub in the global illicit drug network, and secondly, that our country is not only a transit pipeline but also a market.
“Similarly, Nigerians cannot pretend now not to know that our young people are abusing illicit drugs because youths have an overt drug lifestyle. Youths of today promote the drug subculture. It is common nowadays to hear them say they want to be high. It is there on the street, in songs, in chatrooms, in clubs and at parties. “Many crave alcohol and weed as soon as they run into any emotional situation. To put it in their language, as glorified by one popular music, they tell you ‘I need igbo and shayo.’ It is disturbing that abusing marijuana and alcohol is the new normal for youths, especially the Gen Z and even the Millenials.” Marwa said the empirical facts around speak volumes about how young people are abusing dangerous substances. He said the agency may not have a grasp of the depth of this decadence until it begins to see statistics and other data.
“I will highlight a few facts from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC World Drug Reports 2021 and 2022: more young people are using drugs compared with previous generations. “Young people continue to use more drugs than adults and have higher levels of use than in past generations. Over the past year, around 275 million people have used drugs, up by 22 per cent from 2010. Of the increase, over 50 per cent are youths. There is a 10 per cent prevalence of cannabis use among 15-16 years old young Africans. These facts and figures sum up the situation. But we must also admit that society is partly to blame for the rise in drug abuse among youths.
“Let’s take cannabis for an example, there is no gainsaying that the incident of more youths abusing the psychoactive plant is fuelled by society sending wrong messages to young people. Today, you have all sorts of pro-cannabis groups, movements and activists all over the place. They make it seem as if smoking cannabis is innocuous and not dangerous to health, and, therefore, should be an inalienable right of the smoker. “Even some politicians and institutions, focused on the economic gains of the cultivation of cannabis, are ready to liberalise the commercialisation of the plant. All of these send mixed messages to young people.
We have 10.6 million of our compatriots, mostly youths, abusing marijuana and other cannabis derivatives. Alarmingly, some of them started using the substance between ages 13 and 17, with the largest pool of users in their early 30s. “Still, the activities of the past 22 months in NDLEA have given us further insights and we now know that aside from smoking, they use it for cookies and brownies and also infuse it in drinks. Other dangerous substances, frequently abused by young people in this country include crystal methamphetamine, known locally as Mkpuru Mmri, and pharmaceutical opioids, mostly tramadol and codeine, which are used to produce dangerous mixtures, like skuchies, that they drink at parties,” he said. Despite the obvious challenges posed by the use of illicit drugs and its attendant abuse by youth, Marwa said the agency has been seeking solutions to the drug scourge, especially as it pertains to youths since 2018. He said the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has given the agency unflinching support to address the scourge.
“We remain guided by global best practices. As recommended by the UNODC in the World Drug Report 2022, whole-of-society approaches are needed to ensure that people, young people most of all, have the information and develop the resilience to make good choices. Part of the recommendations includes the development of national drug prevention systems that reach children as early as possible in their devel-opment and focus on building resilience.
“Reaching out to and involving adolescents, disseminating prevention messages on social media and other online platforms and promoting prevention and treatment options for young people who use drugs and young people with drug use disorders,” the NDLEA boss noted. On her part, the Group Managing Director of Futureview Financial Services Limited, Elizabeth Ngozi Ebi, said youth consumption of illicit drugs is a burning issue that needs urgent attention not just for the economy but for the sustainability of mankind. She said: “The current health situation of Nigerian youths is disheartening and worrisome considering their engagement in hard drug abuses. They take hard drugs like Syrup, tramadol, Diazepam, cocaine, Shisha mix among others.
The statistic is worrisome and has shown that the problem had reached an epidemic level in the country. “The societies we live in are predominantly made up of unskilled young persons who indulge in drug abuse and cannot be regarded as healthy and a developed one since the abusers lose their potentialities to this activity. Drug abuse has inflicted immeasurable harm on public health and safety in the country and Africa at large over the years, and threatens the peaceful development and smooth functioning of our societies. Today we will be looking at the implications of drug abuse on the Nigerian economy.
“There are numerous consequences of drug abuse, and it ranges from the volume of untimely deaths such as suicides, road accidents, violent crimes, laziness, mediocrity and subsequent impoverishment. To this end, homes are broken, dreams are shattered, and potential manpower is wasted as drug abusers struggle to sustain the habits embedded in this subculture.
They, therefore, become burdens to themselves, their families, society, and the country at large. Unfortunately, young persons who are supposed to shoulder Nigeria’s future development in terms of socio-economic aspect are constant promoters of this subculture and anti- social activity of drug abuse.” With the concerns raised by Marwa and other experts on the impact of drug abuse among the youths on the forthcoming general election, the security agencies and the NDLEA have their work cut out in dealing with drug abuse going into the election.