BY WINIFRED OGBEBO
Drug abuse is a dangerous and costly venture which is fast becoming a trend in our society. The need for it to be halted cannot be over-emphasised because of its harmful effects not just on the body and brain, but also the finances. WINIFRED OGBEBO writes on the efforts of the wives of the northern governors to break the culture of silence over drug abuse in the north and rescue those already in its grip.
addam Saidu, 21, is one of the strong voices against drug use and abuse in the northern part of the country. At the age of 13, he was already using marijuana, and by 15, he had graduated to using cocaine. He had been to rehabilitation centres on more than three occasions and after each visit, he always had a relapse.
But with the support of his parents, especially his mother, he was able to overcome the habit. It is not easy getting out of drug addiction, determination, discipline and lots more come into play in the battle to secure one’s freedom from it. Saidu’s case is not an isolated one as there are quite a number of youths all across the country with similar experiences.
Happily today, Saidu is free from the addiction and has committed himself to getting the youth to shun the dangerous culture as well as rescuing those already addicted.
Drug abuse amongst the youth has continued at an alarming rate with northern states being at the top of the table of states in the federation worst affected by this malaise. Over time, the problem has even become very common with women in this northern part of the country, as it has been reported that an increasing number of mothers and young girls engage in drug/substance abuse, with codeine being the most abused drug among this group.
It is so disturbing that the northern governors’ wives under the aegis of the Northern Governors Wives Forum (NGWF), last year, had to raise the alarm over what they said was a growing culture of silence over the malaise because of stigmatisation. They accused many families of faking ignorance of the problem and hiding victims within them.
The governors’ wives said the increasing abuse of substance and drugs among the youth and women across the 19 northern states in the country was making them unproductive and needed to be halted in the interested of the people and the society.
“We have found out that a lot of our youths and women are taking drugs, and unfortunately people don’t talk about it, and this is something that we need to properly address as mothers in our various states,” the chairperson of the forum, Hajiya Asma’u Abdulaziz said.
The trend prompted the NGWF to make it one of its intervention priorities. The forum, in partnership with two consultant organisations, namely Reconnect Health Development Initiative (Reconnect HDI) and House of Recovery. put up a-three-day training on drug awareness and advocacy against substance abuse four days ago in Abuja.
Reconnect HDI is an international non-government organisation (NGO) that works with individuals, institutions, groups and communities to provide support to people who are affected by mental illness and substance abuse problems.
This initiative is an off-shoot of Synapse Services, a centre for psychological medicine that provides psychological and drug rehabilitation services. The medical director and founder of Reconnect HDI and Synapse Services, Dr Vincent Udenze, on the occasion, called for a holistic approach to tackling drug abuse in the country.
Udenze, a mental health specialist, said there had to be a national agenda for tackling the problem, pointing out that the responsibility should not be left for the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) or psychiatric hospitals to handle.
“We have a moral conscience to engage the government to make a statement. The truth is that addiction is now common and our youths and women are dying out there. We don’t have an excuse anymore,” Udenze stated.
Painting a disturbing picture of the scenario, the chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum and Bornu State governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima who was represented by the secretary to the state government, Abba Shiwa, noted that the issue of the intake of illicit drugs had reached an alarming proportion, especially in Borno State since the invasion of Boko Haram.
“Borno was not known as a drug infected state, nor did it have any relation with drug trafficking, but we have now found ourselves within the region of illicit drug consumption by men, women and children at an alarming rate, and we need help to curb the menace,” he cried out.
Calling for a holistic framework to tackle the menace of drug abuse among women and youths, the wife of the president, Hajiya Aisha Buhari, said the drug abuse was solely responsible for the increase in school drop rates, crimes and violence escalating in various parts of the country.
The president’s wife, who was represented by the wife of the speaker of House of Representatives, Gimbiya Yakubu Dogara lamented that drug abuse and addiction has now become a serious health and social issue rendering its user unproductive and dangerous.
Unfortunately, she said a considerable number of victims of drug abuse are young people and alarmingly women, who if not treated and counseled, would have little chance of development.
She said, “I call on private owners of schools to include teaching against drug abuse in their curriculum, so that the children can be enlightened about the vice to stop the abuse.
“Parents need to talk to their children about the dangers of drug abuse which is a lot easier than losing a child to drugs, young people need to shun drug abuse and be masters of their destiny”.
The chairperson of the forum, Hajiya Asma’u Abdulaziz Yari said, in real essence, everyone, in one way or the other, was affected by drug or substance abuse because we either have a loved one, child, brother, sister or uncle who might have been affected by drug abuse.
“We noticed that a lot of people in the north don’t want to come out and say that they have a last born who is a drug addict because of stigma, so because of that, a lot of people don’t address that as an issue or a disease, and we have found out that a lot of our youths are taking drugs, and unfortunately people don’t talk about it, so that is why I said that this is a silent killer, and this is something that we need to properly address as mothers in our various states,” she pointed out.
She said the forum chose drug abuse as a project, to fight it in the northern part of the country because of the realization that they had to lend their voices and speak with one voice to expose this hidden menace which, according to her, has become a disease kept silent with people rarely taking about it.
“This is the only way we can come together as mothers and leaders of our respectful states to fight this cause and say no to drug abuse, intake or addiction, and ensure we fight this to the very last,” she stated and called on all stakeholders to join them to promote productive youth, and women of northern Nigeria.
Hajiya Abdulaziz Yari added: “We call on other stakeholders to support our humble course which is to eliminate drug and substance abuse in northern Nigeria.”
Also, the wife of the Niger State governor, Hajiya Amina Abubakar Bello, emphasized that the training was to enhance and better equip them in the NGWF to perform advocacy and sensitization across the 19 states of the federation. She noted that the training was to teach them how to give the correct information on substance abuse and drug addiction in the country.
According to her, they will work with stakeholders from the ministries of health, education, women affairs and youths, representative of the governor’s office, and representatives of respective NGOs, who were part of the training to achieve their objectives.
“We will be trained on how to go about this advocacy, in a proper and uniform way so that it is acceptable across all the 19 northern states.
“Now, we are focused on the northern part of the country, but we are going to create other programmes that are going to affect everybody in Nigeria and even those in the south can key into our programme and benefit from it.
“So we are not restricting it to the north but we are restricting our activities to the north, because this is our home states, we are hopeful that the effect of our work will affect other states,” she further said.
Meanwhile, the NGWF said it would set up a secretariat, an office space donated to the forum by the wife of the president, Hajiya Aisha Buhari, where all forum activities would be coordinated.
Its chairperson said some of the interventions the forum would carry out included running an outreach and awareness campaign with the theme “Breaking the culture of silence: Is your loved one an addict?” across all northern states, establishment of a-24 hour language sensitive helpline and a fundraising dinner to fund the project.