Addressing drug abuse in Ekiti beyond rhetoric - NIGERIAN NEWSORBIT


Thursday, March 25, 2021

Addressing drug abuse in Ekiti beyond rhetoric

A few days ago, several national newspapers, including The PUNCH reported on a one-day town hall meeting themed, “Walk away from drugs”, organised by the Ekiti State Government in collaboration with the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency. Both state actors agreed among other strategies that intending couples in the state henceforth might be required to present officially issued drug-free certificates as part of the pre-requisites for solemnisation of marriages. According to the communiqué released after the meeting, other strategies identified as panaceas for drug abuse in Ekiti State, include establishment of community-based multi-stakeholder drug control prevention groups across the state as well as promotion of activities that will restore the value system.

The high-level meeting had in attendance the deputy governor, Otunba Bisi Egbeyemi, who represented Governor Kayode Fayemi, the chairman of the NDLEA, Buba Marwa and other key state functionaries such as the legislature, traditional institutions, youth and women groups. Town hall meetings, especially an inclusive one as this, provide great opportunities for individuals and groups to be around the table to offer experiential solutions to issues that affect them. Impact of drug abuse on Nigeria over the decades has been extremely injurious and distressing in all facets of sociopolitical and economic ‘wellness’ of the nation. Vices associable with drug abuse include, dislocation among household members, violent conflict escalation, protracted mental ill-health, intractable communal distress and mayhem due to breakdown of the value system.

However, this write-up is necessitated by the nature of key decisions agreed at the meeting, as reported by the media, including establishment of multi-stakeholder committees in all communities and tracking drug abusers during solemnisation of marriages among intending couples. The question is, how feasible are these ideas in terms of implementation and impact? Following its establishment in 1989, over three decades ago, the NDLEA has not been able to effectively curtail exportation, importation, use and cultivation of hard drugs in Nigeria, despite its vision of becoming a leading African Drug Law Enforcement Agency and among the best in the world.

Therefore, to frontally address a problem as big as drug abuse in Ekiti or any other state for that matter, there should be practical and combined efforts of everyday persons and experts. The first issue is asking intending couples to provide drug-free certificates. To what extent will this prevent or genuinely reduce abuse of drug in Ekiti State? What is the percentage of intending couples in the state annually? What about possible hard drug users or drug abusers in existing marriages? Who will track them and how would they be tracked? How is the state planning to prevent intending couples from acquiring and presenting fake drug-free certificates, as we have witnessed with ‘yellow fever card’ vaccination certificates for international travellers and more recently, for COVID-19 test certificates. Also, will this apply mainly to marriages conducted at the state’s registries or during traditional marriages? Answering these questions will help in the assessment of the relevance of this entry point into addressing drug abuse in Ekiti State. However, it would not affirm whether drug abuse would be significantly addressed considering the small population of users and/or abusers that might be reached through solemnisation of marriages.

Secondly, establishing community-based committees of all stakeholders – youth, women, royal fathers, faith-based organisations, civil society organisations, parents and opinion leaders purposefully on drug control prevention is like reinventing the wheel. What is the process to establish such committees across the state? What is the cost implication in terms of finance, time and other resources? What provision is on the ground for overall coordination of such committees in all communities, including in hard-to-reach communities? Ekiti State can work with existing community-based associations to integrate drug abuse prevention into their everyday activities, rather than get engrossed in this duplication.

Another suggestion on the way forward in the communiqué is integrity test for political office holders, students, high level and newly recruited civil servants. This is laudable on paper. Its bane may also be the possibilities of target audience acquiring fake documents to scale the hurdles. Though there are other measurable recommendations from the meeting that may be used as entry points, including the call for reintroduction of drug abuse prevention clubs in schools and so on.
It is imperative that the state government’s good intention of curbing drug abuse within its locality be painstakingly assessed to ensure that proffered solutions are real, practicable and affordable, that is; what will really work in view of the state’s political culture and other national indices as they relate to policy and practices on drug abuse in Nigeria.

Olumide Olaniyan is a writer and social inclusion specialist. [email protected]

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