Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
From all parts of Ondo State, it has been a mixture of reactions, as people take differing positions on Governor Rotimi Akeredolu’s campaign for the promotion of marijuana cultivation in the country.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) has stressed that cannabis cultivation would contribute significantly to Nigeria’s economic development, and urged the federal government to seize the opportunity.
While some individuals have hailed the position of the governor, others have given it outright condemnation. They described the governor’s position as a way of promoting illegality. They urged the governor to stop the campaign immediately.
Akeredolu had said that Nigeria would be shortchanged with an estimated value of $145 billion in 2025, if it failed to tap into the legal medicinal marijuana market. Akeredolu, who described Ondo State as the hotbed of cannabis cultivation in Nigeria, noted that growing marijuana was never a problem in the state.
He said: “We know how to grow it and it thrives well in the Sunshine State. The focus of our administration is on medical marijuana cultivation in controlled plantations under the full supervision of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), and I implore the Federal Government to take it seriously, as it is a thriving industry that will create over 1,000 jobs for the youths and spur economic diversification.
“It is a known fact that Ondo State has become a hotbed for illegal plantations of cannabis in the country, with the plethora of problems associated with the abuse of the plant, especially among the youth.”
But the Presidential Advisory Committee for the Elimination of Drug Abuse, headed by General Buba Marwa (retd.), has called on Akeredolu to halt his campaign with immediate effect. The committee said drug abuse was a serious offence, which should not be promoted by any Nigerian.
Marwa had, in a statement, said: “It is disturbing that at this time when about 10 million Nigerians are abusing cannabis, anyone or group will be considering or advocating for Nigeria to legalise the growing of marijuana for economic or whatever purposes. Our committee has spent the last six months going round the country to obtain first-hand information about the dangers of drug abuse and how to combat it, and we have been faced with the stark reality of how deep the menace has damaged and is still damaging lives, especially the youths.”
Reacting to the development, Akure-born constitutional lawyer, Mr. Kayode Ajulo, said: “Physiologically, cannabis causes euphoria, relaxes the muscles and increases appetite. On the downside, the drug can impair motor skills, cause anxiety and paranoia and decrease short-term memory.
“Under the NDLEA Act, which came about by the promulgation of Decree 48 of 1989, the possession or smoking of cannabis, or even allowing one’s premises to be used for dealing in cannabis, can result in a prison sentence, from 15 years to life. Its precursor, the Indian Hemp Act, was even harsher, carrying a maximum sentence of death.
“While it is important to note that many countries, including Nigeria, have enacted harsh laws against the cultivation, possession or sale of cannabis. In fact, dealing or using marijuana in countries such as Singapore, China, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia could land one from four years in jail to public beheading.
“But in recent years, some nations have adopted a different strategy of decriminalising marijuana usage as a way of combating it. These societies have also often reduced the penalties for possession of small quantities of cannabis, so that it is punished by confiscation or a fine rather than by imprisonment. The idea has been to focus more resources on those who traffic the drug.
“Despite the facts that the mischief, which several stringent laws against narcotics seek to prevent, is the harm they do to human health, recent medical studies have also indicated that marijuana can also be beneficial to health.
“Having considered the benefits accruable to the production, sale and use of marijuana, it is hereby recommended that the National Assembly should be lobbied to amend the provisions of the NDLEA Act and other relevant laws in order to make room for the legal production, manufacturing, sale and use of marijuana in Nigeria, which in turn can boost the economy of the nation as a whole. The NDLEA should also enforce the provisions of 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.”
Also, a financial expert, Dr. Kenny Segun, said: “We should look at the economic importance of the product and not any other implication. The governor gave an analysis of the financial benefits of the product and that is the centre of attention to any economist. We are not saying that marijuana should be planted for the purpose of consumption but for the purpose of its economic gain. I think that is what Governor Akeredolu is advocating.
“Having visited Thailand and some other countries of the world, the governor only suggested that planting marijuana would enhance Nigeria’s economy and he added that his own state of Ondo has fertile land for its planting. There is nothing bad in that and we should not read meanings to what he said.”
However, the convener of Yoruba Rights Advocacy Group, Iyanda Omotayo, said the statement credited to Akeredolu should be condemned.
According to Omotayo, “Since the country’s law forbids drug abuse, there should not be any excuse for planting marijuana in any part of the country. It will amount to an illegal act if it is discovered that marijuana is being planted anywhere.
‘Nigerian law does not allow it and, whatever it is, no governor should come out to promote an illegal thing. It is bad; it is unfortunate and unexpected of a governor like Mr. Akeredolu, a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, who is expected to understand the laws of the land.”
Also, a student, Babaleye Oluseye, said it would amount to an act of illegality for any individual or group of people to plant or promote the planting of an illegal substance, “regardless of its economic or financial benefit to the country or any of the states in the country.”
He urged the governor to halt his call for the promotion of planting of any illicit drug and focus his attention on other legal ways of generating revenue for his state. He also advised the federal government on seeking more legal means of increasing its revenue.