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Yetunde Oladeinde, in this piece, captures stories of Nigerians formerly caught up in the abysmal web of drug addiction, now playing huge part in the campaign against the habit.
It’s a few minutes past midnight. The neighbourhood is calm and serene. Almost everyone has gone to bed after a very hard day’s work. But suddenly the serene atmosphere is disrupted. A loud noise, screaming, shouting as someone throws stones, bottles and other items around.
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Welcome to the nightmare that now trails the Adeyemi’s, a quite, hardworking couple who have sacrificed so much to give their son good education and a better future. Unfortunately, the young man swapped all this for a street drug introduced to him on campus by his friends. Ever since, it’s been tales of frustration, confusion and rejection.
He is not alone. In fact, there is a largely deadly drug epidemic sweeping across the country at the moment. Nigerian youths have become addicted to different types of drugs, which they consume daily at street corners, schools and bus stops.
While a few are lucky to get off the hook, a huge number run into depression, mental illness and end up in the drug wards of psychiatric hospitals for treatment and rehabilitation.
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Getting a bed space in a drug ward is now a herculean task, with the number of drug addicts clearly attesting to a pandemic situation. From their escape from real life to getting addicted to substances like cough syrups with Codeine that has a sweet strawberry taste which makes them high, tempts them to go for more and hooks them, they degenerate and overtime, get killed.
Michael Onuwaje is one young man who has been down this road, and he goes down memory lane to recount his experience.
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“It is prevalent in our society now. Basically, I would say that is the situation of things in the country today. I was a victim of that circumstance too. For me, it was idleness. When a man is idle, the devil takes advantage of it. And the truth about the matter is that the nation does not care about the masses. So, young people find themselves frustrated and stranded. That is the cause of the drug pandemic”.
You want to know how he got lured into the habit and he goes on to tell his story. “Nobody lured me. I found myself first with alcohol, and at a point this took a very large chunk of my life. But by the grace of God I have been delivered from alcohol, weed smoking, night crawling and gambling”.
Trying to impress others, usually, is the bait for many. For Onuwaje, it was a life of ignorance that got him exploring the weed option. “I was just having fun. I was living a life of ignorance, thinking I was living the good life. As soon as I made any cash, I would call my friends and lavish it on alcohol and drugs. Then I didn’t know it was a waste of time and talent.”
The experience almost ruined his life. “I found out that all the money that I was making for about a decade could not be accounted for. So, I told God to deliver me and God delivered me”.
The turning point, according to Onuwaje, happened about three years ago. “I slept on my bed one night but when I woke up the next morning, everything about me had changed. I saw a cut on my forehead, my eyes were swollen and my nose was bent. Initially, I thought I was dreaming but I later dis covered it was for real. That was a terrible encounter and looking back now, I know I could have died.”
Onuwaje then made up his mind from that point to save himself before it became too late. “I started seeking for righteousness till I found people who could help me. Sadly, the drugs are everywhere now, on every street corner. It is so easy to get them and you even find despatch riders coming to deliver them to people”, he laments.
Anthony Abakporo is the initiator of United Breeds Foundation and he and his team have been caring and reaching out to survivors to rehabilitate them and get them back to the society.
He also has passed through that road but was lucky to have retraced his steps, survived the odds and motivated to stand in the gap for others, rescuing and transforming the lives of young people lost in the throes of drugs and crime through his organisation.
“Yes, I did drugs and alcohol. I wasn’t really into women but had few women friends. I loved drinks far more than women. The lifestyle I was into was too bad that if I’d added women, I would have had several baby mamas. I had a son outside wedlock in 2009 September and, thankfully, got born again”. One thing that however makes Abakporo sad is the alarming rate of addiction today amongst youths all over the country.
His words: “We usually reach out to them on the streets and engage them every day because we know this is also a mental health issue and we need to transform them mentally first and foremost. We have used several strategies, including engaging them via sports, free ICT training, free skills acquisition programmes and financial
Abakporo adds that: “We do all these and more because we know it’s not wise to take the substance or drugs away from them and not engage them positively. That would be leaving a vacuum that might make the situation worse. Like we all know, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, hence it behoves on us to ensure they are properly engaged”.
Going down memory lane, he recounts some of his experiences, stating that it can be a torturous journey for the victim, family and loved ones. “We meet every day, except Wednesdays and try to meet immediate needs of some of these people as well as feed them – all these without a steady flow of funds.”
Most of the empowerment and other financial responsibilities have all come from us and few family members and friends who believe in what we’re doing”.
Even though the odds are many, Abakporo believes that there is hope and many lives have been transformed in the process. “All hands must be on deck to making things work in Nigeria, especially the politicians. Parents must parent better; we as Nigerians must uphold and respect law and order. Say ‘yes’ when we should say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ when we should. Nothing good happens without the enforcement of good thinking. We must develop good characters and this way, our minds would begin to execute processes for a better Nigeria”.
He adds: “Also, lack of jobs in Nigeria is not helping matters. This, couple with lack of basic amenities and opportunities for those who want to do business, is another fuel for interest in indulgence. Also, bad content from entertainers play a part. Imagine what some of these artistes say in their songs? ‘Mo ma jaye, mumu kumu fafa ku fa baba so me o,’ meaning, I will enjoy life, drink anyhow, smoke all sorts, God help me.
“Imagine what a youth is singing and no one is calling him out or asking for it to be banned. It’s very sad how we are all tolerating immorality publicly. Bad parenting and family background is also a factor that breeds this helpless state of drug use and abuse.
For Mr. Onyema Onyenakeya of the Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), hard drugs and other substances that are dangerous to the health of Nigerians, especially young people, are everywhere.
“We have not even scratched the surface of the problem. We know places where the thing is freely given and taken. It is sad that even those who should curtail are involved, everyone is involved.”
His organisation, he informed, has done enormous work as a commission within the Catholic Church. “Before, it used to be in the tertiary institutions but now it is all over the place – from primary school to secondary schools, amongst business people as well as artistes. I think something needs to be done and it should be the work of Everyone: parents, religious people, everyone.”
He added: “What we have done so far in terms of awareness is just a tip of the iceberg. We need to do so many awareness programmes in schools.”
Folarin Adebisi has been to hell and back. His journey from a gentle young man in his neighbourhood caught many by surprise. His mum was a widow and she struggled to raise her three children doing menial jobs. When Folarin, her only son got admission into the university, she heaved a sigh of relief, thinking she would soon cross the Rubicon.
His first two years went smoothly because he was very intelligent but by the third year on campus, Folarin’s romance with hard drugs hit her badly. She ran helter skelter but the weeks, months and years that followed opened chapters of failure, frustration and nightmare.
“It was not just drugs because it leads you from one thing to the other. I was also into cultism and later joined the Yahoo boys in the neighbourhood, desperate to make quick money.”
He recalls how he was lured into it by a friend. “I had some friends in the neighbourhood; we used to gist, go to parties, play football and hang out together. Initially they would tell me tales of the bad things they were doing running strange errands for seniors and I would advise them to change their ways.
One day we went to a party and they gave me free drinks and at a point I passed out. It was later that they told me someone added something to the drink that I was given. This continued and gradually I became part of the group, craving for free drugs and drinks.”
Folarin recalls that he sank deeper and deeper and gradually the addiction tore his life to shreds. “From the street gang, I met another set of friends on campus. I started recruiting others into drugs, cultism and other vices. I craved for terrible things and was stealing just to get the drugs. I also joined friends and associates and became a Yahoo boy. My life was in shambles and I forgot about the classroom completely. I failed woefully and it got to a point where some of us were asked to leave the university”.
Folarin practically lost everything and became a shadow of his former self. He moved first into depression and gradually sank into mental illness.
“Everyone ran away from me. I dressed like a lunatic and became a great source of embarrassment to my family. There are so many scars that remind me of that phase of my life. I’ll never wish it for even my worst enemy. I practically lost everything “.
It was at that point that a Good Samaritan stepped into his life and they whisked him to a psychiatric hospital. “I was on admission for months and gradually I began to pick back the pieces of my life that had been shredded away by drugs once more. I got there looking like a skeleton; months after, I had grown so robust that many couldn’t recognise me or imagine it was me”.
At the psychiatric hospital I met, fellow addicts and every day and night, we shared our stories, consoling one another and praying never to go back again. Of course, we were not all on the same page. It is not an easy route to change; you need a lot of determination and support to have a new life after being an addict. It is worse without a job, without support and being haunted by the past”.
Some survivors were lucky but not everyone made it. Injections, hospital drugs and hallucinations riveted in their minds. “The drug was very inspiring. The matrons were stern but caring. Our counsellors gave lectures, monitored our progress and medical history. The recurring message from them was that the final decision lies with the individual that it has to be a personal conviction never to go back again”.
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