EGWUNYENGA AND MULTILATERAL APPROACH IN FIGHTING ILLEGAL DRUGS
By; Jerome-Mario Utomi
It was in the news that Professor Egwunyenga, on Monday, January 15, 2024 in his office when he received a high powered team of the Delta State Command of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA)., underlined the need for the country to adopt a multilateral approach which includes stakeholders such as government agencies, non-governmental organizations, medical groups, religious bodies, educational and other institutions in the fight against illegal trade and use of drugs.
Aside from emphasizing the need to engage the students in the language they understood through constant advocacy and the establishment of drug-free clubs which would draw their attention to the destructive effect of illicit drugs, also relevant to the discourse was the Professor of Parasitology and Public Health’s admission that the poverty and deprivation under which the students lived, as well as the overpowering influence of social media were contributory factors to the social menace of drug abuse in the academic community and far beyond.
Essentially, while this piece aligns completely with the VC’s position, it will of course highlight two separate but silent takeaways from the visit.
The first is Delta state specific and centres on the reported declaration by the Delta State Commander of the NDLEA, Barrister Abubakar Wada, that cannabis stevia and tramadol are some of the drugs often abused in the state, identifying Abraka, Agbor, Asaba and Ughelli as high risk areas. For me, this is a revelation that the Delta state government must pay attention to, and act on.
Like the first, the second point has to do with Professor Egwunyenga’s reported emphasis on the need to carry out research in different aspects of the drug problem with a view to proffering solutions.
From the above observation by the erudite Professor, elicits the following solution-oriented questions; what is drug? At what point is the crime of drug abused considered to have been committed? Who are the most culpable? What are the effects of such crimes? And most importantly, how do we ensure that we don’t fail future generation by leaving them a society destroyed and far diminished socioeconomically?
Beginning with the meaning, a drug going by what health professionals are saying, is any substance other than food or water which when taken into the body affects the way the system functions. Drug abuse on the other hand simply means the act of substance consumption in amounts or methods not authorized by medical professionals.
Reports also indicate that there are but three main forms of drug abuse. They include the use of; mood-altering or psycho-active drugs, performance-enhancing drug and dependency drugs.
While mood-altering or psychoactive drugs such as Codeine, tramadol affect people’s reasoning ability and give the abuser wrong sense of wellbeing, performance-enhancing drugs give extra stamina or energy to the abuser.
Dependency drugs on its part typify drugs people abuse in the course of trying to overcome some health issue or challenges or taken to maintain a particular lifestyle.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), explains that drug dependency is both physical and psychological.
Take as an illustration, in physical dependence, the person using a drug over a period of time would have developed an intense reliance on drugs, often to avoid difficult withdrawal symptoms. The person will often crave (strong desire) to use the drugs despite the damaging consequences to their physical, mental and social wellbeing. Drug users can also experience psychological dependence in which they believe it is necessary to use a drug to function sometimes just at social gatherings or all the time.
The situation also says something tragically unique.
Living with an active drug abuser –for example, a husband automatically makes the wife a passive substance abuser, of which the adverse effect resulting from such an arrangement in most cases appears more pronounced on the passive abuser.
This stunning awareness in my views has made getting to the cause of this social challenge more compelling.
Certainly, as a public affairs analyst who has witnessed this ‘controversy’ from both sides, it is evident that negative peer influence, unemployment and erroneous efforts to escape from societal worries are the major reason why Nigerian youths take to drugs.
Also, the deliberate desire by these youths and some adults to hide their weaknesses, failure on the part of the family to train the youths on the way they should go, broken home influence, and pressure to succeed at all cost also promotes this social menace.
Regrettably, a common fact that abusers fail to remember is that aside from the wide belief that throughout history more people have silently been destroyed by substance abuse than any other cause, drug abuse according to psychologists, has never helped any individual involved.
For instance, it is factually supported that drug consumption in amounts or methods not authorized by medical professionals have in the past led to mental disorder, disrupted the abuser’s education and future, poor attitude to work, health problems such as lung disease, heart disease and deaths among others.
As to the effect on the larger society, in addition to drug abuse being a major influencing factor for all forms of crimes, youth’s involvement in drug has brought about an unprecedented breakdown in societal and family values, increase in school dropout, and low productivity- damage that will make it very difficult to curb.
This challenge from what experts are saying is further nourished by our not being ready as a nation to confront the underlying cause(s) of drug dependency and other associated behaviours. Our unwillingness to collectively assist the abusers to focus on un-learning such negative behaviours and in its place develop the required skills and positive attitudes to achieve a drug-free society as currently preached the world over.
In abandoning this responsibility, one fact we fail to remember is that drug dependence is not based on a personal weakness or lack of morals on the part of the abuser but a chronic relapsing medical condition- a reality that in my opinion qualifies these people for our love and not vilification or abandonment.
For a better understanding of the plights of the abusers, we must begin to imagine what it would look like if those drug abusers were to be from our families. We can imagine ourselves participating in the funerals of our dear ones that passed on, no thanks to substance abuse.
Sincerely, our failure to love and care for these drug addicts in our society, make us more socially sick than the real victims.
From this standpoint, it is a clear socioeconomic problem that we collectively as a nation have to determine how to solve- as the future strength of our nation depends on these young people.
Catalyzing this process will among other solutions require the government and its agencies to come up with effective reforms and teamwork that will tackle the challenge from its roots. This piece holds opinion that what the government is doing presently in this direction is but a palliative which only relieves temporal distress, but leaves the disease and its ravages unaffected.
To succeed in this job, an effort expected from the government must have skill development and job creation for the youths at its centre.
Re-orientation on our cultural values by faith-based organizations and the civil society groups will assist the youths to drop illicit consumption of drugs and unwholesome behaviours that endanger their lives and threaten the society.
Parents and guardians on their part must strive to influence which people capture their children imaginations and always be aware of who their friends are and what places they frequent. And always put the youths in the presence of people of great accomplishment whom they want them to emulate.
These in the words of Ben Carson are things that used to be done quite routinely by caring guardians but now many young people derive their identity from their peer groups and their social network which can be extensive.
In a similar manner, youths should recognize that ‘the future is full of promises as it is fraught with uncertainty. And should, therefore, develop the capacity to seek activities laced with highest values
Finally, the abuser must recognize that drug abuse has both short and long term effects, but unfortunately, both lead to one destination- death.
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy) at Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org/08032725374.