NIGERIANS IN CHINESE PRISONS
Reports from China that no fewer than 1,000 Nigerians, especially youths, are currently detained in various Chinese prisons is, indeed, disheartening. Minister of Youth Development, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, while disclosing the figure recently in Ilorin, the Kwara state capital, said most of the offences are drug-related. Describing the development as a very 'serious matter,' the minister expressed deep regrets that many Nigerian youths who indulge in drug trafficking do so in a bid to get rich quick, oblivious of the horrendous consequences to their own lives and the image of the country.
The minister said that the Federal Government has written to the Chinese authorities to provide details of the offences. But he was silent on the efforts to get the offenders out of Chinese jails. All the same, the development is disturbing, and the high figure of our youths in Chinese prisons speaks volumes of the increasing involvement of Nigerians in the illicit drug business. This calls for introspection on why the wave of drug trafficking by our youths, both at home and in foreign lands, has reached an alarming proportion.
In this respect, government should take due cognizance of the reasons why our youths who constitute almost 50 percent of our total population are involved in the illicit, though high rewarding activity. This trend, we believe, cannot completely be divorced from the present high rate of joblessness, poverty and inequality in our society and government's seeming inability to initiate concrete measures that could address the plight of the youths. Current statistics bear out the fact that youth unemployment in Nigeria has reached a frightening proportion. Figures from the Ministry of Youth Development put the number of unemployed youths at 28.15 million. This represents 42 percent of our population.
This also tallies with the statistics from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which put youth unemployment at the unenviable threshold of 41.6 percent.
While stiffer penalties for drug traffickers may curtail the number of youths in the illegal and risky trade, our dysfunctional value system needs to be addressed urgently. Undoubtedly, there is a revolting and inordinate ambition to get rich quick among many Nigerians, the youths included. This abnormal societal system has become somewhat deep-rooted as the society does not frown on these tendencies to acquire wealth through the wrong means. We have repeatedly cautioned that as long as our value system does not place premium on hard work, contentment, patience and transparency, so long will our youths put themselves under desperate financial pressures to be like the 'Joneses'.
But beyond putting the youths caught in drug trafficking behind bars, one of the solutions is tracking down the drug barons. They are the ones who need longer jail terms upon conviction. We advise the Chinese anti-drug agencies to collaborate with its Nigerian counterpart, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) on how to exchange intelligence towards getting at the barons. NDLEA should look within its personnel, and purge itself of bad eggs who may be working in concert with drug barons. That is one of the surest ways to stem the current tide of youth involvement in drug trafficking.
We recommend that our judiciary should borrow a leaf from the new guidelines in Britain where judges handling drug-related offences have come to distinguish between those who have been exploited such as youths and those heavily involved in the drug trade. These guidelines followed a recent research in England and Wales into convicted drug moles who admitted to the offence but said they had carried drugs for someone they trusted or feared what would happen if they did not do so. Some confessed that they carried the drug to make ends meet.
More than ever before, there is need to strengthen the administration of justice so that drug offences do not take too long to dispense with.