THE disturbing report that drug abuse has infiltrated primary schools should catch the attention of parents, school officials, advocacy groups and law enforcement agencies in re-directing their educational and enforcement efforts. The Governor of Katsina State, Ibrahim Shema, who sounded this alarm bell recently, lamented that drug abuse had crept into primary schools and urged all stakeholders to nip the problem in the bud. This calls for aggressive campaign to educate young people about the harm associated with substance abuse.
The story is not just about substance abuse by even kids, but about a subculture that borders on sociopathy enveloping the country. No doubt, some of the heartless killings of innocent people through armed robbery, kidnapping and suicide bombings crippling the country could have only been done by people under the influence of stimulants such as hard drugs. We have reason to fear for our future if this is what life has come to for a significant part of the next generation.
The social, economic and health implications of drug abuse are so huge that Nigeria cannot continue to treat the matter with levity. The United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime launched this year’s Drug Report in Abuja on June 27, 2012. According to the report, around 230 million people or five per cent of the world’s population (aged 15 to 64) are estimated to have used an illicit drug at least once in 2010. In West Africa, including Nigeria, cannabis is said to be the most abused drug. The rate of abuse among children in Nigeria is not very clear. But young people commonly abuse drugs in such big cities as Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja. And the drugs commonly abused are cocaine, heroin and cannabis.
The UNODC Country Representative in Nigeria, Ms Mariam Sissoko, was quoted recently to have said that Nigeria stood the risk of becoming a hub for methamphetamine smuggling as most of the stimulants intercepted in East Asia allegedly originated from West Africa. Between July 2011 and February this year, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency reportedly discovered two clandestine laboratories meant for the production of methamphetamine in Lagos.
Some children are attracted to the abuse some of these illicit drugs for different reasons. For some of them, it is a way of identifying with habits that are erroneously believed to be for sophisticated and fun-loving people. These children see some of their peers smoking, drinking alcohol and using drugs with relish. They watch television and home movies and encounter people who use illicit drugs as if it were a positive thing to emulate.
At home, some parents even become bad influences. Children are impressionable and usually learn and do what they see their parents do. What this means is that a drug-addicted parent will very likely raise a child that will grow to become a drug addict. Sometimes, children from broken homes who have no good parental upbringing engage in this bad habit just to escape from the pains of a worthless existence.
The result is that these children, once addicted to drugs, do not conform to the norms of an ordered society. Some of them contemplate suicide when the drug they are used to is not readily available. They grow up to become irresponsible adults, join bad gangs, engage in armed robbery and terrorist attacks and even indulge in rape and illicit sex.
The UNODC estimates that, globally, there were between 99,000 and 253,000 deaths arising from illicit drug use in 2010.
The onus is on parents, guardians, teachers, government and the society generally to join hands in tackling this problem. For instance, parents need to be observant about behavioural changes in their children. A child who is into drugs may likely begin to keep late nights; perform poorly in school; exhibit signs of sullenness and intoxication, and even indulge in some criminal tendencies. The person’s health may also begin to deteriorate.
Noticing these early signs requires that parents or guardians must brace themselves to the challenge. First, they should examine their lifestyles to determine whether they are the cause of their children’s wayward behaviour. If they too are into illicit drugs, it behoves on them to stop it and show good examples to the young ones. If they have been neglecting the welfare of their children, it is time to show them love, for a child who feels loved will hardly go into crime.
Both parents and teachers should enlighten their wards about the dangers of using illicit drugs and monitor who they associate with. If they notice that the child is already using drugs or associating with drug users, they owe it as a duty to curtail the child’s contact with such bad characters and even prescribe appropriate punishment to discourage further contacts.
Government at all levels should step up action to guard against further spread of this malaise. The National Orientation Agency and the NDLEA could embark on a collaborative campaign to sensitise people, especially pupils, on the dangers of using illicit drugs. The lives of our children are too precious to be wasted by dangerous drugs.