CODEINE DIET The story
In Nigeria, nearly 1 in 8 persons (24 million people) has suffered some form of consequence due to another person’s drug use.
We’re talking psychoactive substances like cannabis (weed), the non-medical use of prescription opioids (tramadol, morphine), cough syrups (containing codeine, dexomethorpan), heroin and cocaine.
1 in 8? No, I don't think it's that bad.
Oh, it is. Numbers don’t lie so let’s look at some stats. According to a 2018 report by the National Bureau of Statistics and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime:
The percentage of the global adult population who use drugs = 5.6%
The percentage of the Nigerian adult population who use drugs = 14.4%
And as for the unholy trinity of Cannabis, Opioids and Cough Syrups:
An estimated 10% of the population have used cannabis in the last year with an average age of 19
An estimated 4.7% of the adult population have used opioids (tramadol, morphine etc.) for non-medical purposes in the last year
An estimated 2.4% of the adult population engaged in non-medical use of cough syrups in the last year
Even more damning, NGOs report that Nigerian drug users have deviated from known substances and have started using human grey hair, used sanitary pads and herbs to get high.
This is depressing. Why always us?
Except it isn't just us. There’s pretty much a drug abuse wave across Africa. Our neighbour, Benin, is the second largest destination for tramadol globally. In Gabon, high school teachers are struggling to contain a “kobolo” (tramadol) crisis. In Egypt, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found 100,000 people with an opioid dependency. Even worse, as a result of the drug abuse wave, persons with legitimate medical needs are suffering.
So why is 14% of the Nigerian population on drugs?
That’s a complicated question that depends on who you’re asking. Regardless, we asked around. For some users, drug abuse is a response to Nigeria's harsh economic conditions. For instance, when asked why he thinks drug abuse is prevalent in Nigeria, Paul* from Abuja said “…pressure. There is no job. Everywhere you go you are going to be stressed by this or that…people want to take something that will numb the pain…”
For other users, the numbers reflect just how normalized drug use is becoming in Nigeria. Peter* from Lagos alleges that “funny enough even the security operatives are involved. Most smoke marijuana.”
Keke Hammond, activist and founder of Rue 14 Studios, recently staged a play titled “High” about the drug abuse epidemic. In a conversation with us, she stressed that the drug crisis “cuts across all classes,” and pointed the finger at social media, which, she claimed, “brings [pressure] all to the forefront.” As a result, her studio (targeted at kids and teenagers) sets out to address important social issues such as drug abuse to raise awareness and educate the younger generation before they become apart of that 14%.
The short is a 23.1% unemployment rate; a high poverty rate; a three-month-long Federal University strike; the glamorisation of drug abuse by music, etc. are among the factors causing Nigeria to experience its own version of the American Cocaine 80s.
But there are measures in place to end this right?
For one, “This is Nigeria”; and there is a major gap in the availability and accessibility of drug addiction treatment services in the country. The NBS report indicates that although 1 in 5 people who used drugs in the past year is suffering from drug use disorders, 40% of high risk drug users reported that they had wanted help or treatment for their drug-related problems but were unable to get it. This is because of the cost of treatment and stigma attached to drug use. As Keke Hammond poignantly put, “we don’t have enough rehab centres…capable people to help addicts…it is definitely not enough. In the North, I hear that 1 in 3 teens are addicted to a substance. That is scary.”
But the government is going to do something right?
Well yes and no. There are measures in place such as arresting and prosecuting drug offenders and a ban on the importation and production of codeine-based cough syrups in Nigeria; but there is also a clear disconnect between the older generation that create drug policies and the predominantly younger generation who these policies affect.
What do you mean by disconnect?
To quote Mike*, a casual drug user from Bayelsa, “it’s really not a big deal, we are not all addicts.” So while the general national sentiment about drug use is alarm, there is a distinct nonchalance about the extent of their dependency and the epidemic by the younger generations. What they do believe according to Peter* is that “for the older generation, I don’t even think most of them are up to date about the drugs…I don’t think it [the epidemic] can be handled if people in my generation are not involved.”
Maybe we just need harsher drug laws?
Not necessarily. Studies™️ have shown that harsher drug laws do not necessarily lead to reform. Plus, people like former President Olusegun Obasanjo have suggested that the government overhaul the drug laws, decriminalize personal use of some drugs e.g. marijuana and focus instead on the prioritization of treatment and fighting the large scale trafficking of opioids and drugs. The rationale is simple, “prison does not reform, if anything it hardens.”
Note: Asterisks denote that the interviewee's name has been changed for anonymity reasons.
A WHOLE THREE MONTHS The Story
The Academic Union of Universities (ASUU) went on strike on 4 November 2018. On Thursday, after three months, the Union suspended the strike.
ASUU strike? That sounds familiar..
That’s because it is. Since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, the Union has conducted fourteen nationwide strikes. This keeps happening because lecturers’ demands are never fully met.
Each ASUU strike is caused by variations of the same problem: insufficient funding for universities in Nigeria. The UN recommends that governments allocate at least 26% of their national budgets to education. Yet in 2018, Nigeria allocated only 7.04% to education. In fact, this strike was because of the Federal Government's failure to implement a pending Memorandum of Understanding that was made with ASUU in 2012 and 2013 as well as a Memorandum of Action signed by the FG in 2017.
“Every time ASUU embarks on a strike whether for 1 week or for 4 months, students are the ones who pay the price” says a 21-year-old International Relations student at UNILAG. For students, the effects of the strikes (especially the longer ones) are both personal and academic.
For 22-year-old Stephanie, she just wants to be able to plan trips over the summer without worrying about missing classes. Moni, also 22, wants to be able to apply for summer internships. These strikes don't occur in isolation, they have a domino effect on the entire school calendar. After speaking to five Law students, it was clear how compounded the ramifications of the university strikes are. Many students are forced to take a year out because they were unable to finish their syllabus in time for Nigerian Law School admissions.
Do we blame the lecturers?
According to one of the students we spoke to, we shouldn't.
“I saw their salaries and I pitied them,” said a Politics student at UNILAG. Instead of lecturers, according to this student, the real issues are the lack of respect the government has towards academia, the poor state of the education sector and the negligence that public universities face.
So why did ASUU call off the strike?
Because once again, the Union has reached an agreement with the Federal Government over the revitalisation of universities. The word 'suspended' is key however because the suspension is predicated on the FG's compliance with the demands of the agreement.
Will ASUU strike again?
Well...the re-emergence of another ASUU strike is not unlikely. The strikes are responses to the systemic neglect of education in Nigeria. The problem is structural: Nigeria's 2019 education allocation is still lower than the UN recommendation and education is clearly still a low priority to the FG.
As the world celebrates the shock victory of 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts, Qatar, over Japan on 1 February, it seems fitting to remind everyone about the shocking exploitation of the human rights of migrant workers in Qatar.