WAITING FOR PUBLICLY FUNDED REHABS

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Emmanuel Onwubiko

I sat down for one full hour today and my job was to reflect on what ways can a citizen of Nigeria ever say without exaggeration that he or she has benefitted as citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In virtually every nation on earth, the role of government includes provision of social welfare and dedicated care for the less privileged and children.

My thinking then transported me to the early 1980’s when yours faithfully can still remember how beneficial my going to public schools in Kaduna State used to be. I can beat my chest with pride and say that I benefitted from the educational goodwill of the government and people of Kaduna State of the early 80’s.

Although there were small evidences of discriminatory practices meted out to those who were considered as non-natives of Kaduna State or what is generally classified as indigenes and non-indigenes.

It took a turn for the worst when some students born by Igbo parents for instance, went through the involuntary and unconsciously conscious baptism of fire by adopting native names to win them some concessions. For instance, yours faithfully adopted Nuhu as my middle name and this fetched me straight admission to do the Natiknal Certificate in Education at the Kaduna State College of Education in Kafanchan even before my final results from my secondary school leaving examination came out. But I declines it at the last minutes when suddenly a surge of some priestly vocation rained on me and I opted instead to go to the Catholic Major Seminary Owerri to train to become a Catholic Priest.

However, generally speaking, there were many educational services offered to all students irrespective of State of origin by the then civilian administration and later military administration in Kaduna State. These services were offered free of all charges.

I can remember that as a day student at the Kafanchan teachers college, I ate free two square meals alongside the boarding house students. These delicious meals were served free of all charges.

I remember too that uniforms were practically distributed to us free of charges and the only thing we paid for was some little change paid under the auspices of parent’s teachers Association.

This body of parents and teachers procured many brand new buses which conveyed students to and from school. These items of worthy educational merits were offered to us for free and I did partook in it for five years.

Those luxuries are long gone because, as I write, parents all over the Country pay through their nose to send their kids to school even in poorly equipped schools.

I must also state that my Kafanchan teachers college was fantastically well equipped and we had some of the best teachers including expatriates from Philippines and India. It was such a convivial atmosphere.

But now that I am chasing my golden jubilee, these free items have been commercialised.

Now as you drive to work daily, the streets are littered with kids of school ages whose parents have so little resources that they can’t afford to send these kids to school.

Ironically, the Nigerian government told institutional lies that primary to junior secondary schools are state funded. But even in my village of Arondizuogu, children who go to public schools that have similar looks like where goats are kept are required to pay school fees.

However, these government funded educational services are not our topic of choice for this reflection.

We want to talk about a plan by the Federal government to build and maintain drug rehabilitation centres for addicts. The fact is that drug addiction is as pervasive as catching cold and fever.

If these rehabs are built, they may actually be the first sets of rehabilitation centres to be so publicly funded, if my calculation is right.

Although the current administration in Lagos bragged a few years back that it will build the biggest rehab centre. It is not clear if it has been built.

The News agency of Nigeria last year quoted that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu says his government is currently building the biggest mental rehabilitation home in Nigeria.

“For us as a government, we are building the biggest mental rehabilitation home in the country as we speak so that we can deal with this problem with all it takes and people that require help can be supported,”

Mr Sanwo-Olu disclosed this while receiving members of the Southern Governors Wives’ Forum (SGWF) on a courtesy visit at Lagos House, Ikeja.

The government media mouthpiece recalled that Nigeria’s first lady, Aisha, revealed that President Muhammadu Buhari suffered long-term PTSD following his ordeal as a military combatant, months-long detention and several failures at the polls.

The Lagos governor explained that the mental health rehabilitation home would comprehensively address the menace of drug abuse and provide the necessary care for victims.

According to him, illicit dealing in drugs and substance abuse require serious effort and commitment of all stakeholders to tackle it in the best interest of society.

He commended the governors’ wives for their resilience and support in fighting sexual and gender-based violence and drug abuse in their states.

“I want to thank you all for your efforts, particularly your pet projects to address Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV). It is something that permeates everywhere, and for us in Lagos, we have faced it with all it takes,” noted Mr Sanwo-Olu. “We have a law, and we have also gone further to establish a full-fledged agency so that they can respond faster and they have all it takes to run faster and not be subsumed or delayed.”

The Lagos governor added, “We are giving it the importance that it deserves. The agency is doing a good job, and we acknowledge that there is room for improvement.”

He said it was encouraging that the SGWF was focusing on drug abuse with advocacy and other initiatives to ensure that it remained on the front burner.

“We can see in the papers today where drugs were recovered from a big mansion. A couple of weeks ago, we saw how horrible drugs were uncovered. So, it is something we need to talk about, and we should not shy away from it,” stressed Mr Sanwo-Olu. “It cuts across-drug issues; mental health issues are things we should speak about and deal with.”

The next question to ask is, what are the larger, long term plan by governments at both national and sub-national levels to confront drug addictions which are hydra headed monsters weighing down hundreds of youth? Indeed, 90% of political office holders abuse one hard drugs or the other and so some of them need to be checked into rehabs.

Few years back, The Guardian of London reported about the lack of publicly funded rehab centres and alluded to the fact that religious institutions are now standing in between the gaps. I recall that long ago, Reverend Father Jack Yaki of the then Catholic Diocese of Jos was pivotal to setting up a big rehab home for alcoholics. This Proest later migrated to somewhere in the USA and got incardinated into one of the big dioceses in the USA.

So im not shocked that The Guardian of London of 21st September 2021 reported that with poverty deepening, state services are failing to cope with rising rate of drug addiction.

The British Newspaper then stated truly that Nigeria has been grappling with a growing drug problem for several years, with cases surging since 2016. In its World Drug Report, published in June, the UN recorded a rise in the country’s rate of abuse from 5.6% in 2016 to 14.4% in 2018, with cannabis the most commonly used drug.

Ease of access to drugs, poverty, job insecurity and unemployment have fuelled the increase. Now there are concerns that lockdown restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic have exacerbated the problem.

According to Nigeria’s National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the south-west of the country has the highest rates of abuse and trafficking, with more than 22% of 15- to 65-year-olds using drugs in the past year.

In Ibadan, the capital of Oyo state, hundreds have passed through the same rehab centre as Kola, the Goodworker Ministry International.

As well as accepting inpatients, the Christian-based centre, which says its drug treatment work was “divinely commissioned by the Lord” in 2002, organises outreach programmes to encourage people to bring their relatives to the centre.

Ahmed* was in primary school when he started experimenting with drugs. He began smoking cigarettes, then marijuana, and went on to use opioids and crack cocaine. He explains that there are countless “bunks” (where users go to inject) and “joints” (for smokers) across Ibadan. “In Bere [a central district] alone, the ‘joints’ there are over 40 … and it’s increasing every day.”

After going through the rehab programme, Ahmed also started working at the centre. He says the work helped his recovery because he had little spare time to spend with drug users. “That was what led me out of cocaine and heroin.”

The centre received a rise in calls during lockdown. “Requests for treatment increased by more than 300% but we could not help [everyone],” says its founder, Tunji Agboola, a Christian pastor.

During the lockdown, the centre’s inpatients were discharged to their families. Many relatives were not equipped to care for them and some patients relapsed. “We suspect that it led to the increase in the usage of prescription drugs and substances such as Rohypnol, tramadol and many more,” says Agboola.

“A drug user will not allow the lockdown to make him have withdrawal problems.”

Poverty and food inflation have also increased in the past year – 100.9 million Nigerians are predicted to be living in poverty by 2022 – and so has crime.

“The facts that they were hungrier at that time made them do stuff,” Agboola says. “If anything disrupts their day-to-day activities, they will come at people. That was why crime increased.

“Most of these guys that live on the streets are the engine room for drug demand,” he says. “The children of the rich get their drugs because the children of the poor exist.”

However, all these issues may become a things of the past if the federal government make good plan to build six rehab centres for drug addicts in Nigeria – one each in all the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria. There is not status report on how far the government has gone with this initiative.

However, a report in the media done on 27th October 2031 quoted the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency as saying it will establish six standard rehabilitation centres, one in each geo-political zone of Nigeria.

This is part of efforts to treat the high number of persons suffering drug addiction in the country.

Chairman/Chief Executive of the NDLEA, Brig. Gen. Mohamed Buba Marwa (Retd), said this at the 5th Biennial National Symposium on Drugs and Drug Policy in Nigeria organised by the Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse, in Abuja on Wednesday.

Director, Media and Advocacy, NDLEA Headquarters, Abuja, Femi Babafemi made this known in a statement titled, ‘Drug addiction: NDLEA’ll establish six standard rehab centres across Nigeria –Marwa,’ issued recently. When the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA visited General Marwa to present him a certificate as our man of the year for 2022, he also reiterated that soon, those rehabs will be up and doing.

The media statement aforementioned quoted Marwa, who was Special Guest of Honour at the symposium, as saying, “Substance use and abuse around the world including Nigeria is on the increase in terms of the proportion of the world’s population. Findings from the National Drug Use Survey (2018) conducted by the UNODC revealed that 14.4% or 14.3 million Nigerians aged 15 – 64 years had used a psychoactive substance in the past year for non-medical purposes, meaning that One in Seven persons has used some substances other than alcohol and tobacco.

More worrisome is the finding that among every four drug users in Nigeria, one is a woman. Above findings of the survey by UNODC give a troubling portrait of drug abuse in Nigeria and we can no longer live in denial that Nigeria has a thriving illicit drug culture.”

The NDLEA boss said the construction of six standard rehabilitation centres will begin from next year. He said three of the centres would start next year as already proposed in the 2022 budget.

According to him, “There is no doubt that substance use impacts negatively on the individual, family and the society in general. Substance abuse affects the physical, social and psychological levels of the user and family members. Evidence has shown that COVID-19 infections are higher or more common with people diagnosed with Substance Use Disorders (SUD) hence addiction care must be reinforced in order to avoid complications of SUD and COVID-19

“Reducing the demand for illicit drugs in the society depends to a large extent on the successful treatment of existing drug users. This fact accounts for the shift in global drug policy viz the treatment of drug problems as a public health issue.

Consequently, we have operationalised our Standard Practice and Policy Guidelines, a treatment and rehabilitation document developed in conjunction with UNODC. The document, like a field manual, provides synergy among our counsellors and further boosts our capability at treatment and rehabilitation.”

Other dignitaries who spoke at the event include Hon. Onofiok Luke, Chairman House of Reps Committee on Judiciary; Prof Isidore Obot, Executive Director, CRISA; Representatives of EU, UNODC and Prof. Ibrahim Abdu Wakawa who delivered the keynote address among others.

Without any fear of contradiction, I will say that millions of Nigerians who have continued to applaud the revolutionary approach to combating drugs being adopted by the management of NDLEA headed by General Buba Marwa, believe that this new dimension of setting up rehabilitation centres is a game changer given the notoriety of Nigeria as one of the Countries with unprecedented rate of drug addiction.

On 29th of January 2019, the number of drug users in Nigeria was estimated at 14.4 per cent or 14.3 million people aged between 15 and 64 years according to the results of the National Drug Use Survey released today in Abuja. The data suggests that the prevalence of past year drug use in Nigeria is more than twice the global average of 5.6 per cent.

Based on data collected from 38,850 respondents in the household survey and 9,344 high risk drug users across all states of the country, the report provides for the first time, robust data on the prevalence of drug use in Nigeria at the national level and also by geo-political zones and states.

The report shows that there is a gap in meeting the needs for treatment and care for people with drug use disorders. With close to 3 million Nigerians living with some level of drug dependence, the extremely limited availability of drug counselling and treatment services exacerbates this health crisis.

The findings of the first ever large scale nation-wide survey to examine the extent and patterns of drug use in Nigeria were released by Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Minister of State for Health; Brigadier General Buba Marwa (retired), Chair of the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Drug Abuse; Chairman, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Colonel Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah (retired); Dr. Yemi Kale, Statistician-General of the Federation; the Chairman, Senate Committee on Drugs and Narcotics, Senator Joshua Lidani; His Excellency Mr. Richard Young, Deputy Head of Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Nigeria and ECOWAS and Ms. Miwa Kato, Director, Division for Operations, UNODC.

“Some of the findings of the survey presented today are striking and alarming and call for concerted efforts to mitigate the negative consequences of this rising menace on the health, socio-economic and security of our nation” said Dr. Osagie Ehanire in his remarks.

While noting the considerable work already being done in the country to mitigate the challenges that drug use poses to Nigerians, he welcomed the opportunity to strengthen drug demand reduction strategies with a focus on evidence-based drug use prevention, treatment in the new edition of the National Drug Control Master Plan for the period 2020 to 2024, currently being formulated.

The report elucidates the true extent of prescription opioids use– mainly tramadol and cough syrups for non-medical purposes; with 4.6 million people using these in the past year in Nigeria. This places Nigeria among the countries with high estimates of non-medical opioid use globally. While cannabis is the most widely used drug globally and in Nigeria, use of opioids are responsible for most of the negative health impacts of drug use.

In her remarks Ms. Miwa Kato said that any response on prescription opioids should be mindful of the “need to recognise that they have a legitimate medical use”. She added that there is a need to have a nuanced approach to the issue and that it is “important to ensure that such prescription opioids are made readily available to those who have a medical need”, while ensuring adequate controls to reduce their misuse are in place.

The UNODC Director also mentioned that UNODC looks forward to working with the Government of Nigeria as it continues in its efforts to “employ a balanced approach to drug control … (a strategy that) could not only increase access to drug treatment services, including for women, but also shift law enforcement responses away from the arrest of drug users to focus on targeting mid to high level drug traffickers.”

One more thing to say is to applaud the Lagos State administration for earmarking huge sums of public funds to establish a rehabilitation centre.

Recall that in 2019 during the governorship poll, the then aspirant to the office of governor in the All Progressives Congress Babajide Sanwo-Olu was accused of being a product of drug rehabilitation centre.

The then Governor of Lagos State, as at September 2018 Akinwunmi Ambode, had alleged that another aspirant in the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, is not fit to govern the state.

Mr Ambode, who has been in the eye of the storm, stated this while addressing a press conference at Government House, Alausa, Ikeja.

He said the aspirant was arrested for spending fake dollars in the United States and had undergone rehabilitation at Gbagada General Hospital in Lagos.

The governor also appealed to the leadership of the APC in Lagos to act in the interest of the development of Lagos

He said, “The aspirant being put up to compete against us is not a fit and proper person to take this job.

“I have done everything in the last three and half years to serve people selflessly and to serve the poor.

“This particular aspirant is somebody that has been arrested for spending fake dollars in a nightclub in America, and he has been detained for months.

“He doesn’t have the competence to do what he is being propelled to do. This is somebody that has gone for rehabilitation before. The records are there at the Gbagada General Hospital.”

Mr Sanwo-Olu is believed to have the backing of the national leader of the party, Bola Tinubu.

However, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, a Lagos governorship aspirant in the All Progressives Congress (APC), then had responded to claims made by the then state Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, during his world press conference.

Sanwo-Olu, in a statement sent to the media, called for respect and insisted that “my pursuit of office will continue to be based upon issues that matter to Lagosians and not on attacks against someone’s character, even when he attacks mine”.

He also stated that he has forgiven Ambode ahead of Monday’s primary and “hopes he regains his balance and proper comportment no matter the outcome of tomorrow’s contest”.

The full statement read: “Let it be heard by all that I hold the people of Lagos state with great respect and affection. Their welfare is my utmost concern and it is what drives my pursuit for the governorship nomination of the APC.

As such, I also hold the office of governor of our state in high esteem. I shall never consciously do anything that will undermine the dignity of the office nor will I engage in personal attacks against the holder of that officer.

My pursuit of office will continue to be based upon issues that matter to Lagosians and not on attacks against someone’s character, even when he attacks mine. For anyone to engage in unwarranted character attacks against me, reveals more about that person’s character than it says about mine.

“Thus, I felt sad for Lagos as I watched the Press Conference by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. Many things he said were beneath the dignity of our people and the exalted office he now holds. Perhaps the tension and anxiety of the moment got the better of him.

If given a chance at a cooler reflection of what he said, I am sure he would regret his descent into such low conduct. In this vein, I forgive him and hope he regains his balance and proper comportment no matter the outcome of tomorrow’s contest. After all, we are both here to improve Lagos not to wrestle in its streets.

“However, I must clear up some inaccuracies in the Governor’s statement. His allegation of that I was arrested for spending fake dollars at a nightclub in the United States was untrue. In fact, the governor knows I travelled to the United States just last month. I would not have been allowed to travel or even get a visa if I had been involved in what the Governor falsely alleged.

“That the Governor claimed I underwent some unidentified type of “rehabilitation” at the Gbagada General Hospital was also shameless and untrue. Promulgation of salacious rumor should not be part of the job description of a governor.

This is not the stuff of high office. People should question whether itis ethically right for the Governor to turn what should be confidential medical information about a citizen into a weapon of political warfare? But for the avoidance of doubt, let it be stated that I never received any treatment whatsoever at the Gbagada General Hospital.

“Today, instead of making a convincing defense of his performance, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode sought to sow fear into the hearts of Lagosians.

“But Lagosians are intelligent and brave people. They can see through the smoke and the fog. I am here not to tear my opponent down but to help build Lagos up. With me, you will hear about progress on education, health, sanitation, proper tax levels, economic development, infrastructure, jobs, public services and other things that enhance the lives of people.

I am a serious person and this primary is a serious matter. I have not the time or inclination to attack characters when there are so many real issues to address.

Whatever is the truth, what Nigerians need is to have functional state subsidised hard drugs rehab centres in almost all the States. We in HURIWA will be excited to witness the commissioning of these rehabs promised by General Marwa.

EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

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