By Kalthum Alhassan

About four weeks ago, the news was all over the media that members of the Governors Spouses Forum, during a two-day Drug Abuse Prevention, Treatment, and Care (DPTC) training held on February 13, 2024, unanimously called on the Federal Government “to declare a state of emergency on illicit drug use and trafficking pandemic with a view to mobilising resources to tackling it.”

The first ladies’ demand, contained in a communiqué released after the DPTC training organised by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), was not the first call for a state of emergency on drug abuse in recent times.

Sometime in November 2023, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Narcotics, Senator Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo, said on the floor of the Senate during plenary, that members of the committee and the relevant bodies and authorities would consider the possibility of having an emergency summit on drugs because of the seriousness of the issue. Several individuals and institutions have echoed similar sentiments in the past six months.

Now that various institutions of the state are waking up to the need to take the drug problem seriously, it is about time that society gives this subject matter the attention and treatment it deserves as an urgent issue of national interest.

The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) is working hard to tackle the country’s unusually high drug use prevalence. So far, the agency’s efforts to reduce drug supply in particular has yielded positive results.

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Between January 2021 and December 2023, NDLEA announced the arrest of over 40,000 drug traffickers, including 40 barons, with over 6,668 tonnes of illicit drugs worth over N635 billion also seized. The agency has been consistent and diligent in its mandate, to say the least. However, the Nigerian drug problem requires more aggressive whole-of-society measures to tame it.

Lest we forget, the drug abuse situation in Nigeria has been a source of worry since 2018, when a UNODC-supported national health and drug use survey showed that the country has a drug use prevalence of 14.4 per cent which translates to 14.4 million Nigerians abusing drugs. The same study showed that Nigeria has the largest number of users of cannabis in the world, estimated to be 10.6 million.

In the past six years, more worrying facts have emerged from NDLEA arrests and seizures and other drug-influenced crises (such as the Mkpuru Mmiri epidemic in the South East in 2021) to show how deep abuse and trafficking of illicit drugs have become entrenched in our society. Just recently, there was a seizure of heroin worth 50.9 kilograms. This was barely 18 months after over 2,000 kilograms of cocaine were seized in Lagos.

When all facts are added together, there’s no denying that illicit drugs are a serious problem in Nigeria and the situation has reached a tipping point where the declaration of a state of emergency is an appropriate response.

With calls coming from the Senate and the Government Spouses Forum, it is about time the Federal Government pays serious attention to the country’s ‘silent drug pandemic’ before it gets out of hand and endangers more Nigerian lives.

Alhassan writes from Tudun Wada, Kano State.