30th April, 2019
By Jennifer Okundia/Ayodele Efunla
Substance abuse is an ill that has eaten deep into our society, affecting both men and women especially the youths and a lot of factors are responsible for this menace. Parents are too busy, they have little or no time to listen to their children, the society is quick to judge people, so nobody comes out to state that they were once addicts because Nigeria is a country where second chance is hardly given.
Lizzy, a 26-year old girl was recently rescued off the streets and is currently in rehab under Freedom Foundation by pastor Tony Rapu of This Present House. The schools she claimed to have attended came out to say she was never their student and friends who knew her did not want to be identified with her.
The media has much to do in this area. A better approach and strategy at sensitization of the public needs to be taken to a whole new level. Actors use movies to discourage drug abuse, musicians even release songs to pass deeper messages about drugs with their videos, but these artistes are also into substance abuse, so where do we go from here?
In an interview with Dokun Adedeji of Christ Against Drug Abuse Ministry (CADAM) located at Agidingbi, Ikeja on Monday April 29th, the graduate of Ife disclosed that the society, government, parents, religious organisations amongst others, must work together to reduce the rate of drug abuse in Nigeria.
He stated that the story of Lizzy is one amongst many which could have been better handled by first rehabilitating the young lady instead of exposing her to the public without protecting her image. Adedeji further disclosed that
financial challenges, stigmatization are some of the difficulties rehab centres and addicts face, making it really tough for these persons to be reintegrated into society or lead normal lives.
Read excerpts from the exclusive interview with him here:
Quest: Substance abuse is destroying the lives of people on a daily, the story of Lizzy recently went viral, if you’ve seen it, what are your thoughts on this?
Ans: People dabble into things that I don’t think they have appreciation for. In a country like ours that does not give second chance, we need to be careful how we expose people, how we get that kind of negative exposure. Fine, the girl has not even started rehab, they were just talking to her and then they made a film of her and then put it online and it became viral. Tell me, who is going to touch the girl. Everybody is going to deny her, she is even going to hate herself. I don’t know whether you’ve seen her and the school came to say, hey, she was never a student. You think any school will then claim that kind of a thing to say someone like that had been their student? And then they begin to say, if this person was this student and was getting this, what will happen to our children? I think it would have been better handled. Lizzy needs help, if truly that’s her name. The help should be offered in a manner that would give her some bit of cover, anonymity, so that when she finishes, she has another life to live. With that who’s going to marry her, who’s going to claim her as a family member, tell me.
I mean, these are issues. We’ve had personal issues here before in which I went to talk on Channels Television and then somebody like Lizzy who had graduated from us, who was doing well, become pretty and then I took her with me, then she spoke. Do you know what happened? Thereafter, she was going out with someone, the family of the person were then told by a 3rd party that we saw your prospective wife on tv talking about drugs. Is that who your son is going to marry? Till today, she missed it. I’m talking about like 10 to 13 years ago, I don’t know. For me, I don’t think it was right. There are a lot of Lizzies. Lizzy is being used as just a figure, she represents a dangerous epidemic, we have epidemic in this country, and substance abuse and we must face it. In facing it, the media must give us the facts and do a feature on substance abuse.
Quest: How do people get access to these drugs, are they relatively very cheap?
Ans: There is no place in Lagos that is like Ipodo. Here, the drugs are generally cheap. But you know today, we don’t talk anymore about drug abuse, we talk about substance abuse because if they don’t get heroin, cocaine and marijuana, they will get substitutes. For instance, people take diesel, they inhale it, they inhale petrol, rubber, they inhale stuffs like evostic, methylated spirit and there are other substances. like in the North, there’s something called ”zakami seed” (Datura metel) that can be dried and inhaled and then used in alcohol. Here, there’s something called ”gegemu” which is a local plant that people plant at the back of their house to drive snakes. You could pluck the leaves, cook it like you cook vegetables and then take the liquid that is decounted as another alternative. I don’t know, that plant has a fruit. It’s roughened, they get the fruit, dry it, grind it and use it as snuff or put it in alcohol.
Alcohol is cheap and can be gotten everywhere in Nigeria now, not only in big bottles but in sachet and also some of the drugs that they now take are drugs of prescription like Tramadol which is a hospital prescribed drug for severe and moderate pains. The catch is this, the Tramadol that is on the street is different from the ones in hospitals which are 50 or 100 milligrams and it is used under a controlled environment and under prescription, but the ones you see on the street starts from 250, 500 and 1,000 milligrammes and they are manufactured basically for criminal intent.
Like America knows that the greatest source of Ventinyl is from China. Ventinyl is a synthetic opioid, used also like tramadol. It comes into America. If a few granules is injected, a person can have a heart attack and die. For you to know the potency of Ventinyl, which was what Prince was taking, Prince the musician. It was the overdose of Ventinyl that killed him.
Michael Jackson was prescribed Propofol, which is also a narcotic analgesic that has a bit of anesthetic effect. He was a man that was always scared, he was a man that suffered a lot of pains. So they gave him and he was using it, he even got a doctor to be administering it on him. Then he took an extra dose and he had a heart attack and died. You know the prosecution of the doctor. The thing is, if as a country, we don’t sit down, I am not talking about its addiction or arresting people and putting them in jail. My direction is do we understand the dynamics of substance abuse, if we do, if you jail an addict, that is double jeopardy, he is already a victim, you are punishing him for victimhood which is most unfair.
The thing is, do we understand the problem we need to deal with is sensitization, creating a huge level of awareness that a person can make informed choices. Oh, because of what I know I will not touch it. There is misinformation going on. There is recreational and medicinal marijuana, those are just semantics. Marijuana is marijuana. If we say medicinal marijuana which I don’t have a problem with as a doctor, it is used under a controlled environment, under guidance and direction, and will not be for every patient. If you say recreational marijuana, what is the meaning of recreational, you know Colorado in the U.S. was the first state to legitimize the use of cannabis as recreation, people were planting and has anybody found out? Go and check it, they found out that in the latest survey of people that come into an emergency room, 40% of them are patient with psychosis: consequence to recreational marijuana.
Quest: Majority of our artists take drugs and alcohol and I read that substance abuse affects a person’s coordination, impairs the memory and can affect their focus but most of them are focused on their craft, so when does the consequence start to tell of on them? Is there anything they take to make them seem normal?
Ans: You think they are normal. They are not. What you don’t understand is in anything you do, there is the immediate, short and long term effects. There are some people, because of personal constitution, that it may not show immediately, but you see many a times because we don’t watch them, how many times do we spend with the artists when they play music? Are you with them before they come on stage? Do you know their erratic behaviour before they come on stage? Do you know what they do consequent after the show? Do you know how they live their style at home? We don’t! So we only take their time of exposure as time of sanity, and you know what that does, that is an enhanced situation of performance.
Razzmatazz, razzmatazz, we don’t follow the trajectory of their lives. We will never know the consequences of what they are doing. Why am I saying this, when you see them misbehave, beat their wives or they are cruel, or ride their cars in a funny manner on the road and you think they are just being jazzy, do you think that is normal? When they speak, the kind of lyrics they sing about, you think those things are normal? What those drugs do is to decrease inhibition, so inhibition is gone and they can sing some of the things they sing and some of those vulgar words they use. That is why when in their normal state of non use, they can’t pronounce the words because they feel it’s dirty but why can they pronounce it when they are on stage? Because inhibition has been taken away! Should that be considered normal? I know a musician friend of mine who doesn’t use drugs, and i’ve known him for years – Lagbaja.
Does that take away from his craftsmanship? Anything that you do or take that enhances your performance is wrong. Whether you think it’s positive or not, as long as it isn’t in your natural state, it’s wrong. And what we don’t know is this, they can do music, how long does the musician stay? There’s a prize to pay! We have become a society of now now. Do you want to remember a person like Majek? He was one of the most brilliant musicians Nigeria ever had. I loved his music, I still do. But look at him, look at Michael Jackson, look at him when he was young and look at him before he died, will that be a state of normality? You know we are beginning to take abnormality to represent normality sometimes, oh the things they do, you give them a licence, which is artistic licence to do the things they do because of the things they do.
If a footballer is walking and he kicks cans, we allow it and say it is because he’s a footballer, but I can’t kick cans, if I begin to kick cans, people will say ahh what’s wrong with this man? Messi kicks cans and they see it as something extraordinary! We need to as a people to become very perceptive.
Quest: Are there things that these people use so that the drugs or alcohol they take doesn’t affect their health?
Ans: No, no, don’t think so, there’s nothing they do. Sometime they haven’t gotten to the threshold of destruction, but you see, the things that people don’t know about them is did you know their health history? Have you done any test on their organs to know that they are not having progressive destruction? So when it takes effect, who will link it to the drugs they’ve been taking? When a man takes drugs and later he has dementia: that is the inability to think properly, which I’ve seen happen in people who take alcohol because it destroys the brain cells, do we immediately ascribe it to the alcohol? You see that’s what i’m saying about immediate and insidious effect, it stays there. I mean people take Marijuana and go berserk.
We can link it because this is immediate, but when we see a man who has no motivation, doesn’t want to get up from bed, or do anything, he just wants to lay down and begin to eat and then becomes a problem, do we link it to Marijuana that he’s taken? The thing is we are too quick to want to see immediate, that’s why people persist in drugs. You may not see immediate result but down the line there’ll be a price to pay. But do we wait for that down the line? That is why if we are talking about sensitization against drugs, we must tell people about immediate, the onset and thereafter the mid and long term. The long term, eventually is they become a wreck, they lack motivation, they don’t do anything with their lives, they are just there. Who wants to be like that?
Quest: What would you say the rehabilitation process is like and what is the guarantee that these persons will not go back to that lifestyle?
Ans: You know when people ask me about guarantee, I ask them about a man who goes to church and says he’s given his life to Christ, what is the guarantee that he does not go back? I can’t give you guarantee! What do I mean by that? My joy is that the person completely stays off drugs. One thing we forget is that this is a society that does not give second chance. In rehab, they stop, a lot of them wants to stop and move on with their lives but where’s the support system? The family no more wants to associate with them, even when they bring them back home, they watch them with suspicion. When something gets missing at home, they will look at them and say this thing, we don’t know who has taken it and they are saying it by him.
The guy knows! Do we remind him of what he has done knowingly or directly, and when we do that, we are sending them back to a place where nobody questions them. In their drug world, nobody asks them any question, whether he’s eaten or is going to school or not, but at home we ask them. The thing is, rehab works, I can say that to you. At least I’ve been involved in this for a number of years and I’ve seen people graduate from here, become doctors, lawyers, accountants, some of them work for us, they join us to go and talk to them and say I’m a living evidence of what can happen, but we have seen that the most dangerous period of recovery is a year after rehab.
If they survive, a year after rehab, they are likely going to the future. When we say we teach them in rehab, we need people to understand that it may never be the same again, but you must live within the context of the dynamics of life. One of the things I used to talk to people about apart from drug addicts is how many Nigerians, successful or not know who they are? That is why people steal, that is why a man will be a federal minister or a governor and will be stealing. That is why a person will steal 10 billion Naira and will still keep stealing, they don’t know who they are! They may be doctors, MD’s of companies but they may not actually know who they are in the context of their own character. So, the thing is we have a lot of work to do. There are many people who today are seemingly rich, but there’s a void in their lives because they have not come to the realization of purpose.
Anyone, whether drug or no drug, who cannot say this is my purpose in life, this is why i’m created at a time like this, is lacking purpose and then they will succumb to anything that will gratify the moment, and that is why a lot of young people do drugs. Parents are not there to guide them. I say to parents, your child comes to you and says daddy I want to tell you something and you say oh come back, that child will never tell you the same story again. Go and check it, because you have taken away the spontaneity of that moment so he has gone away, rationalizing the question he wanted to ask you, so he goes to his friend who gives him the interpretation and then he finds the answer.
Parenting must change. Many parents live in a house with their children and they don’t know them. Many of the substances today are done in the homes, without the knowledge of parents. People want to make money, but at what detriment? If the father and mother wakes up at 4:30 or 5 am and then they go out and leave their kids with their domestic staff, and then weekends when they should have time, they go for parties and then Sunday when they should have time, they will say oh i’m so tired and I have to prepare for tomorrow. When do they know their children? How many fathers have been to a PTA meeting in the child’s school? Go to PTA meetings, you’ll see only women, the father says I’m running around to make money to pay your school fees. Many times parents try to bribe their children with gifts like summer holiday, phones e.t.c. they don’t need it, they just need your time and you need to understand that.
Look I’m not saying these gifts are wrong but we all must sit down, each home must decide what is best for their family. Why should anybody today have more than 1 or 2 children? When you don’t have the financial capability and then you are having 6 children and you say God will look after them. These are societal issues and I’ve said it, if the religious organisations don’t get involved in the people’s lives, we are going to lose our young people. Where do you see the largest multitude of Nigerians gather? it’s either in a church or mosque. So, the pastors themselves must know about drugs. I’m not saying take it, if you gather people together today and ask them how much do you know about substance abuse, they’ll be looking at you, they don’t know jack!
The children know more than them because they can order these things online. There’s a lot of work for the media. I’m not saying this for myself. I want people to know that we are sitting on a thing that bursts! I’ve been saying it for years but nobody’s listening. Now the chicken is coming home to roost. If you go to any school today, christian university, and take 10 students at random, girls, boys. If you test them, you’ll be shocked at what you’ll find. If 7 or 8 are not positive, then you are lucky in that school. These are the people that will pass out to work in organisations, go to senate and house of reps, become governors.
Quest: The issue about Lizzy, how best do you think it could have been handled?
Ans: Lizzy should have been taken quietly, rehabilitated and helped and then she can tell her story herself. Not expose her the way they did. She hasn’t even gone for rehab. Look, in our center, as I speak to you, have over 140 beneficiaries, men and women, I won’t put them like that. If you come for interview, I will tell you to block their faces, because they have a tomorrow. The person they meet tomorrow may not be as forgiving as I am, I relate with them, they are my friends. I spend time with them because they know I don’t judge them. We judge a lot in our society, that is why many of our young people cannot come out to say I have a problem with drugs: Ahh! how do you want them to see me in the society? My reputation is gone, you think about your reputation and the life of your child.
Do you know one of the things that helped us in this country about HIV/AIDS was professor Ransome Kuti who came out and said, my younger brother Fela died from the complication of HIV/AIDS and then many people could come out to get tested and get help. Tell me in Nigeria, if anybody should come out to say I do drugs on TV, where would he get help? There’s no room in which we are offering them help, they won’t talk. When they talk, we castigate them. Look at what has happened, now Lizzy’s name is everywhere, her face is everywhere, tell me who will marry Lizzy, which school will admit her if she’s rehabilitated, who will claim parentage of Lizzy? Damage, Damaging a material that has not been produced. She should have been rehabilitated first. There’s no need to make a show of her. Here when we go to talk, I ask my people who have graduated and are working with us, would you like to speak? And again if we want to camouflage it, we do it like a panel, they sit and I sit and other people sit so you don’t know who is who except the person says this is my experience, and then when they take the picture, they see all of us and they don’t know who is who! But when we particularize, we are destroying them. We need to change, we should not consider these things as shows.
Quest: What are some of the challenges your organization faces?
Ans: Our greatest challenge is finance, we need help. I can tell you for free that in a month, because we have a massive center in Epe that the governor opened there and commissioned about 2 years ago, we have 140 people. Our program is free. We house, clothe and treat them when they are sick, we have a skill acquisition center and they live in hostels. We spend in a month, about N15 million, we have about 50 staff because we have people who teach them the craft, and who are facilitators in this field and we have people who live with them, we have people in the office. I have my colleagues there as well and we just restructured so you can imagine the cost. A lady just donated to us 4 buildings in Abeokuta. She donated it for free and we are going to convert that into a place for undergraduates, first time users, occasional users. People sent away from schools are not addicts, we want to separate these ones from chronic users so that they don’t learn more about drugs. So we are starting that in May. We have clinical psychologists, social workers in different areas. I’m a medical doctor, I used to practice medicine, so you can imagine the cost. That is why we are hammering on the preventive. When these people graduate, we need to think about after care, how do we fund them?
The 2nd challenge is stigma! like Lizzy, if someone has used drugs before, they stigmatize them, but people forget. Go and read the book by Barack Obama ”Dreams From My Father.” Obama put it there that he has done drugs before, but does it count against him in America? No, it doesn’t. Clinton said I used to blow Marijuana, he became America’s president. Can it be in Nigeria? Stigma is a huge challenge and then aftercare. Acceptability in the society, and opportunities of going to work. The people that come to us from universities, we’ve certified them, they’ve gone on to become doctors and lawyers but will they be able to tell anybody that they were once addicts? That they used to take drugs? No, they can’t talk. Those are basic things and we must work together as a country.
The fragmentation that I also see in this work is the lack of understanding of government and it is a challenge. The society needs to understand substance abuse and it will make the job easier.Then the next person can walk up to us and say I have an issue, I need help and they can go back to a normal life. Today drugs are available everywhere, when they banned codeine, I said it was a silly thing because they don’t understand. What they’ve just done is push codeine underground. Before it was banned, codeine used to sell for about a thousand, today you can get it for N5,000 to N10,000”.
Christ Against Drug Abuse Ministry (CADAM) is a registered faith based NGO (Non Governmental Organisation) that caters to the treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts – male and female across many nations of the world by preventing and combating the multiple causes and effect of drug abuse, through the development of effective programs and services like preventive care, rehabilitation and after care.
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This is the story of Lizzy who has been begging on the streets of Lagos especially in the Ikeja area for seven years. Dressed in a way to attract sympathy, she begs for money in the busy traffic during the day. At night she resorts to commercial sex work, all in a bid to fund her drug addiction. We took Lizzy off the streets last week to begin her long journey of rehabilitation and hopefully, successful integration back to a normal and productive life. • #Addiction #DrugAbuse #TransformALife #Community #Outreach #MyLagosDiaries #FreedomFoundation #GodBlessNigeria #GenesisHouse #HouseOfRefugeForWomen
Image credit: Ayodele Efunla