UNDERCOVER: Inside Lagos community where hard drugs reign supreme
In Nigeria, the burden of drug abuse is on the rise and becoming a public health concern. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said 14.3 percent of Nigerians are presently engaged in drug abuse. CALEB IJIOMA, writes as he visited a community in Lagos state, to uncover drug activities and how it is contributing to the increase in drug users.
Ijegun, Nigeria – It was 12:00 pm when I stepped into one of the biggest drug dens in Ijegun community, a northern suburban community in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos State. I have previously heard about drug activities in some parts of Lagos state, especially at Mushin, and this was one experience I was willing to have, uncovering drug activities and other crimes in this particular drug den.
I walked alongside Kunle (pseudo), a middle-aged man, who walked me through the entrance of the den of drug dealers popularly called ‘Boola”, situated close to Akwuiwu street. Kunle has been a resident of Ijegun community for more than 4 years and even lived most of his life at Ikotun, not too far from Ijegun community. His involvement in cannabis and other illegal substances has earned him a top place among other people in this den, and other dens, in the Ijegun community, and at any time I tried to enlighten him on the effects of hard drugs, his response would be “boss, life is hard and young boys are suffering, this makes me calm”. Calm? Oh really, I would ask while nodding my head in astonishment.
Kunle’s involvement in cannabis and Crystal Meth started in 2020, influenced by peer pressure and now he’s willing to help me having seen the effects of hard drugs on young people in this den.
As we entered the den, the environment was very unhealthy, you could literally see the cans, nylons, food remnants, and feces, disposed of inappropriately at the center and each corner of the environment. This place is largely inhabited mostly by the Hausas who live there in shacks, built on both sides of the environment. They call it a home of struggle. But it is also a place of relief for young boys, homeless kids, and lost souls to find haven in the comfort of different hard drugs, as they opt to get away from the harsh realities of life and the Nigerian economy.
Residents here are mostly metal scrappers. The environment is littered with metals, irons, and discarded equipment. The metal scrapping business together with soft drinks stores put out a strong cover-up for what is actually going on. Kunle told me not to mistake their hard-work for living on drugs.
From what I heard about the place, I knew we should not walk more than our legs could take us. Our preparation included the kinds of dress to fit in among our hosts. Eyes were strongly fixed on us as though they smelled the police. With Kunle who is a popular figure, everything was under control. I had dressed the part of a drug user but to act the part took so much strength and madness. It would be bad to be caught at this point.
The Drug Business
Kunle, who has spent a reasonable amount of time in the den, told this reporter that Cannabis (Igbo) and Ice (Crystal methamphetamine/Crystal Meth), a highly addictive stimulant drug, similar to cocaine and primarily heated and then smoked in a glass pipe, are being sold and bought in large quantities. According to him, crystal Meth is being sold in grams and smaller portions, and one can get up to 4000 grams of the substance. He also disclosed that cannabis is being sold in large quantities here. The substances from other parts of Lagos; Mushin, Alaba, and Ajegunle are bought in large quantities and distributed to smaller dens in the Ijegun community.
“The drugs sold vary from different amounts, and sizes. Addiction causes more people to get in bigger quantities” he said
This reporter in a bid to verify if Crystal Meth is being sold approached a young man, who would be in his 20s, popularly called ‘small’, known to be a supplier of the substance.
Every person who enters the shack is presumed a drug user. Before it became too noticeable that I was only surveying the area, I made some oral and bodily gestures to Small who delivered a small transparent nylon from his bag. The nylon contained a little of the substance and sold for #500. (This is the least price you can get crystal meth here)
When this Reporter asked if he can get it in large quantity, like 1 gram, ‘small’ said it was available and sold for #4000 .
Kunle took me inside a shack where we saw people sitting, his friends, this was just a few minutes after getting his usual ‘igbo’ from one of the vendors inside one of the shacks. Everyone here was smoking and Kunle introduced me as his guy. I swallowed my saliva and made some body gestures affirming what Kunles said. “How e dey be” (How are you) I asked while greeting them one after the other and bouncing as I walked. A few minutes later, a girl walked in, she was so popular among the guys seated, she came with Ice (Crystal methamphetamine, and the pipe, ready for the day’s job.
She sat, and made little effort in lighting it up using the pipe ( one of the instruments used for consuming ICE). You would know this lady was a pro with how she handled the pipe. As she consumed her ice, she was hailed by other guys, she was the only female in our midst, but was strong to compete with others who were burning their igbo happily.
I fronted a strong face with Kunle signaling that I should hold it in. We can’t be caught, and Kunle especially, cannot be found to be bringing someone like me into a place like this. As the flames burst into the open air, our noses embraced the choking scents and it was obvious they were living in a different world.
Prostitution, Stealing, in the Den of Drug Abuse
The intake of drugs and other substances has led so many young girls to find happiness and freedom in this den. Sex-for-drug is another activity in this den, leading to unwanted pregnancies and children’s exposure to hard drugs. This is an issue especially as Nigeria faces difficulty trying to actualize the United Nations’ sustainable development goals on the decrease in the rate of adolescent births.
The most recent data on teenage pregnancy can be found in the 2018 demographic health survey, which is conducted every five years.
From August to December 2018, 8,448 girls aged 15 to 19 were questioned around the country. The participants were asked if they had given birth to a live child or expected a kid.
According to the poll, 19% of young women had started having children. This was recorded at 23 % in the 2013 and 2008 editions of the poll, down from 25 % in 2003. According to the DHS, the rate was 28% in 1990.
Female teenagers in Nigeria’s north-west geographic zone were nearly five times (29 %) as certain to have had children than their counterparts in Nigeria’s south-west region, according to a 2018 poll (6 percent).
Only 1% of adolescent women in Lagos State, the country’s commercial metropolis, had begun childbearing, as opposed to 41% of adolescents in Bauchi state in North East Nigeria.
Speaking on adolescent births and stealing in the den, Kunle said “Many of the Young Girls have resulted in stealing to get money for drugs, some turn out to be successful, but many have had to pay the price. Prostitution and theft are two things that occur in this place. Many have had to raise their kids single-handedly and some find a way around it in other to go on with their lives”
Worrisome statistics of hard drugs
Cannabis legalization in parts of the world appears to have accelerated daily use and related health impacts, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)’s World Drug Report 2022.
According to the report, around 284 million people aged 15-64 used drugs worldwide in 2020, a 26 percent increase over the previous decade, it also noted that an estimated 34 million people used amphetamines in 2020, representing 0.7 percent of the global population. Young people are using more drugs, with use levels today in many countries higher than with the previous generation. In Africa and Latin America, people under 35 are the majority being treated for drug use disorders. Globally, the report estimates that 11.2 million people worldwide are injecting drugs.
Also, the trafficking of methamphetamine continues to increase in volume and spread. The number of countries reporting seizures of methamphetamine rose from 84 countries in the period 2006–2010 to 117 countries in the period 2016–2020, suggesting a significant geographical spread in the trafficking of the drug.
These drugs have had diverse degrees of effects. In many countries in Africa and South and Central America, the largest proportion of people in treatment for drug use disorders is there primarily for cannabis use disorders. Also, Of the 920,000 people who inject drugs in Africa, around 100,000, or 11 percent are living with HIV.
People are dying from drugs
Millions of people are dying from drugs globally according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)’s World Drug Report 2022. Drug use accounts for 5% of all substance-related deaths in 2019.
Crystal Meth is deadly
According to DrugFreeWorld, a nonprofit public benefit corporation that empowers youth and adults with factual information about drugs, meth and crystal meth create a false sense of well-being and energy, making a person push his body faster and further than it is meant to go. Thus, drug users can experience a severe “crash” or physical and mental breakdown after the effects of the drugs wear off.
It noted that the effects of Crystal Meth are short and Long-range damage. In the long term, meth use can cause irreversible harm: increased heart rate and blood pressure; damaged blood vessels in the brain that can cause strokes or an irregular heartbeat that can, in turn, cause cardiovascular collapse or death; and liver, kidney, and lung damage. Users may suffer brain damage, including memory loss and an increasing inability to grasp abstract thoughts. Those who recover are usually subject to memory gaps and extreme mood swings.
On the short-term damage, it said Meth can result in Loss of appetite, increased heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, Dilation of pupils, Disturbed sleep patterns, Nausea, Bizarre, erratic, sometimes violent behavior, Hallucinations, hyperexcitability, irritability, Panic and psychosis, Convulsions, seizures, and death from high doses
With the 29.4 million Nigerians aged between 15 and 64 years who abuse psychoactive substances and other dangerous drugs, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), has made some impressive efforts in reducing the abuse of drugs and also punish drug offenders.
In the 2019 Annual report of the NDLEA (the last released report) more than 16,000 people were prosecuted between 2009-2019.
Also, an arrest of 9,444 persons, male and female, were arrested in 2019 across different geo-political zones in the country.
WITHIN NIGERIA gathered that from January 2021 to July 2022, NDLEA secured the arrest of 18,940 suspected drug traffickers (comprising 17,444 males and 1,496 females and including 12 barons), also the Conviction of 2,904 offenders to various jail terms in court. Seizure of 3. 6 million kilograms of narcotic and psychotropic substances while 691 hectares of cannabis farms were detected and destroyed across six states.
Following the outbreak of abuse of crystal methamphetamine, in 2021, the agency mobilised all operational assets to locate and dismantle illicit meth laboratories in the country. Recently, two laboratories in Victoria Garden City, Ajah, Lagos and Nise Community, Anambra State, were discovered and dismantled with the owners and the chemist/cook arrested. Illicit drug funds that were investigated and seized include Final Forfeiture―(i.) One million, three hundred and nineteen thousand, four hundred dollars ($1,319,400) (ii.) one hundred and two thousand pounds (£102,000) (iii.) Fourteen million CFA Francs (CFA 14, 000, 000)― and Interim forfeiture of two hundred and fifty-two million, four hundred and seven thousand, seven hundred and twenty-six naira, twenty Kobo, (N252,407,726.20).
Nigerian Legislation to address drug abuse
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) Act No. 48 of 1989 (as amended) established the NDLEA to be responsible for preventing illicit cultivation, production, manufacture, trafficking in, and abuse of drugs.
Also, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) Act No. 15 of 1993 which set-up the NAFDAC, is a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Health, to authorize (control) the importation and exportation of narcotic drugs, psychotropic and other controlled substances, to ensure that their uses are limited to medical and scientific purposes. NAFDAC is also mandated to collaborate with NDLEA in measures to control drug abuse in the country.
The Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended), addresses the problem of drug money laundering, and Other relevant legislation includes the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1935; Indian Hemp Decree, 1966 (as amended); Food and Drugs Act, 1976 (as amended); and the Counterfeit and Fake Drugs and Unwholesome Processed Foods (miscellaneous provisions) Act, 1999.
The National Drug Control Master Plan (NDCMP)
In September 2021, the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari disclosed that the National Drug Control Master Plan (NDCMP) 2021-2025, a collaborative framework by relevant agencies, ministries, departments and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), will employ a balanced and multidimensional approach to drug control issues It also proposes critical interventions to regulate controlled medicines and substances, strengthening mechanisms for increased inter-agency coordination, and also improving the efficiency and delivery of governance institutions.
The master plan has four strategic pillars namely Supply Reduction, Drug demand reduction, Access to controlled medicines for medical and scientific purposes, and Governance and coordination, all targeted toward reducing the abuse of drugs and other crimes in Nigeria.
Expert Wade In
Dr. Abraham Hope, the President of Vanguard Against Drug Abuse, an NGO that raises awareness of drug abuse and its consequences across all age groups, said following the 14.4% statistics of people engaged in drug abuse in Nigeria, it is likely to have a negative trend to the future of the country.
Hope said efforts should be made right from the home front to fight the war against drug misuse in Nigeria, and Preventive measures should include identifying the root causes of the burden for targeted intervention.
“ Aside from the onerous task of drug supply reduction as manifested through the hard handed operations against drug traffickers by the NDLEA and her officials, efforts must be multidimensionally directed towards Drug demand reduction which includes massive evidence-based awareness and sensitization programs for different focus groups, counseling outreaches, integrated approaches, treatment and rehabilitation support programs for sufferers of drug use disorders,” he said
What does the law say?
Nigeria has enacted one major drug law which is the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) Act, CapN30, Law of the Federation of Nigeria of 2004 which established the NDLEA, Alalafia Qudus, an Abuja-based lawyer told Within Nigeria.
He noted that this Act criminalizes every kind of activity connected with the production, processing, distribution, sale, use and concealment of illicit drugs.
“This Act imposes a punishment of imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term not less than fifteen years and not exceeding 25 years as the case may be. Section 20 of the NDLEA Act not only punishes the production, processing, distribution, sale, use and concealment of illicit drugs but also punishes anyone who has in his possession or engages or purchases any narcotic” he said.
Speaking further Qudus said “ Speaking further Qudus said “ There are other Legislations enacted in Nigeria to curb Drug abuse such as National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) Act No. 15 of 1993 which set up the NAFDAC and also prescribe punishments for any contravention of the provisions of this Act by providing that any person who contravenes the provisions of any regulations made under this Act is guilty of an offense and liable on conviction to the penalties specified in the regulations and also that where no penalty has been specified, the person shall be liable to a fine of N50,000 or imprisonment for a term of one year or to both such fine and imprisonment.
“Also, the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2022 addresses the problem of drug money laundering and also prescribes punishments for any money laundering offenses which includes illicit drugs by providing that a person who carries out the offenses laid down in subsection 2 of the Act is liable on conviction to imprisonment of a term of not less than 4 years but not more than 14 years or a fine not less than five times the value of the proceeds of the crime or both. See also Dangerous Drugs Act, 1935, Indian Hemp Decree 1966, Food and Drugs Act, 1976 (as amended) and the Counterfeit and Fake Drugs and Unwholesome Processed Foods (miscellaneous provisions) Act, 1999”
Qudus however noted that only the Federal High Court has the jurisdiction to entertain matters on Drug abuse and related offenses in Nigeria.