4 February 2008

Nigeria: Ishiagu - Community United Against Illicit Drugs

Lagos — Penultimate Saturday, major stakeholders, including, traditional rulers, religious leaders, taxi drivers, okada riders, security operatives, market women, politicians, town union leaders, among others, met at the Ishiagu community in Ivo local government area of Ebonyi state to take a position against the use of Indian Hemp (cannabis) and other drugs by the people, especially the youths.

The choice of the community, according to the organizers was based on the fact that not only is the substance used in the area, but it is also grown. It is also said that one of the major dealers of the substance is from the community. The dealer is said to have a garden where the substance is planted alongside bitter-leaf, which to some extent would make it difficult for a first-time visitor to the area to differentiate between the two.

The event which was put together by the Chief Whip of the State House of Assembly and member representing Ivo state constituency, attracted, the Commissioner of Police in the state, Mrs. Julie Iroha, Commander of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, (NDLEA), in the state, Dr Ngozi Madubuike, some members of the state Assembly, Commissioners for Youth and Sports, and Information and state Orientation, Hon. Anthony Igwe and Ken Uhuo respectively, the state Director of the National Orientation Agency, Dr Emma Abbah, among other major stakeholders in the prevention of crimes.

In his address, the initiator of the programme, Orji said he was challenged to organize the campaign by the fact that while the clamour was on for education and private sector-driven economic growth and development, some political actors were still devising ways to ruin the youth population through acts of political hooliganism, cultism and hostilities.

The legislator said the programme was part of his vision to tackle the ugly developments adding that he dreams of Ishiagu where "there is security of lives and property, devoid of restiveness and rascality". "It is not in doubt that many of our youths have been ruined by Indian hemp and that they take pride in all forms of social vices consequent on drug use and abuse.

"The rate of consumption of Indian hemp is so great that most of the victims are not in their best mind to think of their education and future. Indian hemp has made them instrument of destruction, crisis, and disrespect for elders. In the secondary school, there is a gang of Indian hemp smokers, in companies, employees use Indian hemp without hindrance, Okada riders use it to influence their performance," he stated.

In a paper entitled, "War Against Hard Drugs: the Challenge Facing Community Leaders", the NDLEA commander noted that drug intake makes serious negative impact on the life of anybody who is associated with it, stating that aside the negative impact it makes on the nation, individuals who are exposed to it often develop physical, psychological, social and economic consequences. While grouping these drugs into three categories, including the socially acceptable ones (alcohol, caffeine and nicotine), prescription drugs (amphetamine, lexotan, valium) and illicit drugs (cocaine, heroin, marijuana), Dr Madubuike stated that her Agency was very much prepared to reduce the intake of such illicit drugs to the barest minimum.

"Some people just see these drugs as food that can easily be taken, but they don't understand the fact that by so doing they are ruining their future. Drug abuse results to overt mental health, causing brain damage, disorder of thinking, illusion, hallucination, impaired judgment and memory impairment. It brings about liver damage, hypertension, excessive heartbeat, chromic bleeding, and damage to unborn babies. Major organs of the body, including the heart, liver, lungs are not spared. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and infections can be rapidly spread through drug abuse. The sharing of syringes by intravenous drug users is responsible for the rapid spread of HIV infection among drug users. Apart from person to person spread of STDs through drug abuse, drugs in themselves weaken the immune system of users making them susceptible to opportunistic infections of all sorts," she disclosed.

She also told the audience of how drug abuse contribute to the rapid increase in armed robbery and prostitution. She tasked community leaders to ensure that they live up to expectation in the battle, adding that community leaders were well placed to support anti-drug efforts in their communities by speaking normative and moral examples, speaking forcefully against drug abuse, promoting drug free life-styles, encouraging community members who have drug problems to seek help, reporting drug peddlers to appropriate law enforcement agencies, putting in place firm anti-drug policies which will clearly define the community's position and the penalties violation would attract, providing recreational centres where young people can make use of their extra time instead of indulging in the act of drug abuse, among others.

Also speaking, the Police Commissioner, Mrs. Julie Iroha said even though the police Act specifies the functions of the police to include the prevention and detection of crime, the challenge for a peaceful community depends on every citizen.

While noting that crimes have continued to be on the increase despite concerted efforts by the security operatives because of the laid-back attitude of most communities who she said had refused to effectively cooperate with the police, the police commissioner added the cooperation of communities was paramount in the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property as well as the due enforcement of all laws and regulations.

While restating the preparedness of the security agencies to rid the country of all forms of crimes, the Police Commissioner who spoke through the Officer in Charge of the Legal department, Police Headquarters, Abakaliki, Roheek Utiezeh, contended that since the word community means the people living in an area, "Ishiagu community has a great role in the fight against crime and hostilities. And this is quite true of every other community in Nigeria and beyond".

She disclosed that search for the extermination of crime and cessation of hostilities in Ishiagu presupposes that there was a time the community was without such developments pointing out that when crime reared its ugly head in an unimaginable dimension and the attendant hostilities created divisions among the people, the community recognized the fact that it needs to be rid of crime and hostilities in order to survive.

On how the community can fight the twin evils Mrs. Iroha declared: "This is very simple. Every person must ensure that his act or omission does not violate the provisions of the nation's laws, once aggrieved by another to report such to the police or appropriate security agency. Report every suspicious movement; surrender every prohibited weapon of violence to the police. Report the presence, sale, distribution or use of any legally prohibited item to the security agencies, avoid bad associations, think twice before you act and acquire knowledge of how to do things that would benefit you and others".

In their separate remarks at the occasion, the state Commissioners for Information and Orientation as well as Youth and Culture, Ken Uhuo and Anthony Igwe respectively noted that apart from the health problems associated with the intake of cannabis, the drug psychologically disorientates youths from future and progressive endeavours thereby making them to commit crimes and endanger their lives.

Describing the campaign as being in tandem with the call for attitudinal change in the state by the Elechi administration, the commissioners discovered that youth restiveness and armed robbery in most communities have really caused a lot of devastation resulting in loss of lives and properties adding that the damaging effects of cannabis use and other hard drugs to the fabrics of the nation cannot be overestimated.

The Director, National Orientation Agency, (NOA), Ebonyi State, Dr. Emma Abbah, stated that since trafficking in narcotics has been found to be a very lucrative business, it is not surprising that big time racketeers behind the illicit trade use the weak-minded and teenagers to achieve their monetary desires saying that even capital punishment may not be an effective deterrence to change the moods of couriers and controlling their appetite.

He argued that there was time enough to evolve more measures for the control of the wave of drug pushing but declared that "this measures need not be directed at the wasted and wasteful generation". Highlight of the campaign was the formal rejection of the use of Indian Hemp by the community leaders, led by the President, of the Ishiagu Community Development Union (ICDU), Chief Ike Cletus Nga, who vowed that they would henceforth track down anybody or group of persons found to be involved in the illicit act and report same to the appropriate authorities for necessary action.

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