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Checking hard drugs on Lagos streets – Punch

By The Citizen

At the root of the growing culture of violence in many parts of Nigeria today is the easy access many citizens have to cheap hard drugs. This is most common on the streets of Lagos. A recent newspaper report, which confirms previous ones, detailed the ease with which a prospective hard drug user can buy cocaine, heroin, cannabis and methamphetamine on the streets of Lagos. At a time violent crimes such as rape, armed robbery, kidnapping, militancy and terrorism are growing in the country, the report calls for a radical rethink of how to purposefully address the menace. This will require an uncommon resolve.

Although the hard drugs phenomenon had been with us for some time, it gained national prominence in 1984 when the Buhari-Idiagbon military regime executed Bartholomew Owoh, Bernard Ogedengbe and Lawal Ojuolape, by firing squad for cocaine trafficking. A drastic measure by all standards - since Decree 20 under which they were executed came into force retroactively (after the commission of the offence) - the capital punishment meted out to the trio generated intense controversy but it somehow succeeded in reducing the trade in cocaine for a while.

It is estimated that more than 200million people, or almost five per cent of the world's adult population, take illegal drugs worth some $320 billion a year. Sadly, the lack of control has made the hard drugs trade to fester. Although Nigeria was classified as a transit route, it was only a matter of time before the explosion being witnessed on the streets of Lagos today took root. Last year, a large-scale methamphetamine - meth for short - factory was discovered in Lagos, run by some Bolivians. Meth is said to be 'the most powerful, addictive and dangerous' hard drug available around the corner today, yet, it is even cheaper than cocaine. However, nothing concrete has been done since security agents made the discovery, though Governor Raji Fashola said in reaction to the discovery then that, 'since crimes like armed robbery and rape are often committed under the influence of drugs, we must first fight drugs in order to fight crime. At this time of high security challenges, drug control should be a high priority issue. Every society that wants to promote peace and security must fight drugs.'

Since cocaine - unlike cannabis - is alien to Nigeria, that fight must start by identifying the barons behind the drugs trade. More often than not, those arrested by security agencies are just the foot soldiers or the victims of drug abuse. Arresting foot soldiers is scratching the problem on the surface; it will not bring about the desired solution. Also, security agents must identify and block the routes being used to smuggle the drugs into Nigeria. By so doing, the country will be cutting off the source of supply before drugs can get into the streets.

The Federal Government has to refocus the Nigeria Drugs Law Enforcement Agency, which is the agency in charge of combating the menace. Apart from meeting its funding needs, the agency has to be equipped with modern intelligence gathering equipment. The current laxity in enforcing the laws against offenders has to change. Those apprehended must face the maximum punishment.

This is not the time for all tiers of government and non-governmental organisations to pretend or play politics about hard drugs. The issue has serious social, safety and security implications for the future of the country. Easy access to drugs must be seen as a serious socio-cultural concern by all, since it encourages crime and terrorism. While the government must provide honest information to citizens about the health risks of abusing drugs, the National Assembly should speedily review the current laws on drug trafficking, with a view to making them stiffer to deter prospective traffickers. Besides, governments and NGOs have to tackle the health concerns of drugs victims by properly rehabilitating them. The victims are a burden which the society must immediately address as part of its social responsibilities.

The official alibi that the terror war in the North, the militancy and kidnapping in the Niger Delta and South-East, are more serious issues is not tenable. Crimes such as armed robbery and kidnapping, which could often be linked to drug abuse, are rising in Lagos, as the kidnap of the Ejigbo Local Council Development Authority chairman, Kehinde Bamigbetan, on April 15, and a female banker a day earlier in Yaba, shows. The government has no choice but to bare its fangs in holy anger against a phenomenon that is disturbing the peace of the society, scaring investors away and destroying our youths and their future