By Kate Halim And Vivian Onyebukwa
At a secluded spot by the beach, they congregated, each girl engrossed in her own world. They took long drags on fat wraps of weed, smoked shisha without a care and guzzled assorted concoctions of substances soaked in gin. And the curious thing is, they were all teenage girls.
The endless case of drug abuse among Nigerian teenagers has become a cause for concern. If you visit different beaches in Lagos, clubs, neighbourhood beer parlours or attend birthday parties that last till dawn, you will see adolescents smoking, consuming different drugs and introducing their friends to the fold.
Chidinma Ojukwu, the alleged killer of Super TV CEO, Michael Usifo Ataga confessed that she was high on drugs when a fight ensued and she allegedly stabbed the man to death.
Drug abuse among young girls in Nigeria has become frightening. Some of the substances largely abused by these teenagers include tramadol, codeine, black tea soaked in regal gin, candies soaked in fizzy drinks, dry pawpaw or plantain leaves, Rohypnol, methylated spirit in codeine or coke, gum, marijuana soaked in gin and more. Majority of these substances can be cheaply purchased for as low as N100.
Last Sunday at a popular beach in Lagos, some teenage girls were seen drinking a strange looking substance from a transparent bottle. This substance was moved from one person to the other. Whenever one person takes a sip of whatever was in the bottle, the rest of the girls would cheer the person, hit their table and burst out laughing. It went on for a while until they finished whatever was in the bottle.
When the reporter started a conversation with one of the girls, she revealed that she is having the time of her life. This girl, who identified herself as Ruth Inyang, stated that she didn’t care what was in the bottle because it made her high and she felt good afterwards.
While walking along the shores of the beach with the reporter, Inyang revealed that she is 19 and is from a family of five. Her parents, she noted, are struggling to make ends meet.
“I dropped out of school this year because my parents couldn’t pay my school fees. I don’t feel bad about it because I don’t have the brains for school in the first place,” Inyang said.
When asked why she was taking substances she didn’t know, the girl said she trusted her friends more than her parents, insisting that the friends would not give her something that would hurt her.
“I’m high. As I’m taking to you, I feel like doing something I haven’t done before. This is what you feel what you take what we enjoy everyday. Do you want a sip?”
Inyang told Saturday Sun that she started taking drugs last year. She was introduced to weed by her uncle’s friend who visited her uncle regularly at their neighbourhood in Lagos Island, she informed. The first time she took Rohypnol popularly known as ‘roofies’, she slept for over 12 hours. The second time she took it, it didn’t have too much effect on her. Today, she takes it without feeling anything, except getting high.
Another teenage girl in the group at the beach who identified herself simply as Agnes told Saturday Sun that she didn’t see anything wrong with getting high once in a while with the candy sweet melted in a bottle of a popular fizzy drink.
Clad in a bikini barely covered with a transparent white gown, Agnes confessed that her parents didn’t know she abuses drugs. In her words, they think she’s still an innocent girl because of the way she behaves at home. The first child of her parents, Agnes was introduced to drugs by one of her classmates two years ago.
Puffing a wrap of weed, Agnes laughed when asked if she was afraid for her future because of the way she abuses drugs. She got up, twirled around and told the reporter that she was not afraid of anything. She said she she loves getting high on different substances.
“Afraid for my future? Not at all. I just take weed and mix some cocktails just like my friends. There’s no big deal about that. I haven’t tried cocaine yet but I attended a party once where some girls were sniffing it. Some girls sniff ten-day-old urine to get high,” she said.
Along the popular Adetola Road in Aguda, Surulere, it is common to see young girls loitering around hotels and beer parlours looking to have a good time with different men. These teenage girls are not afraid to down some drugs for added measure when they meet up with some guys.
One of such girls is Ibukun Adeoye, a student of Aguda Grammar School located on Brown Road, Aguda. She said taking drugs is now her reality. She is 17 and was introduced to weed last year during the lockdown by a bachelor in her compound, she told the reporter. There were problems at home as her parents were always fighting, so she sought solace in recreational drugs. Adeoye is in SS 2 and hopes to become a doctor.
“The thrill I feel whenever I take cannabis is inexplicable. I forget the troubles at home. I numb my emotional problems with weed. I also take codeine if I want to fly in the sky,” Adeoye confessed.
While taking shots of a concoction she refused to name, Adeoye recalled how she started this journey into the world of recreational drugs. “It happened unexpectedly one evening when my parents were still out. Our neighbour invited me to have a drink with him. I took a sip of what he was drinking and started feeling light headed. Afterwards, I then felt different.
“I liked the way I felt after drinking what he gave me. The next day, I begged him to give me the drink again but he said he had something else for me. He wrapped weed and gave to me to try. That was how I got hooked to weed and other drugs,” she said.
Some experts have been advising parents on how to prevent their wards from getting into drugs.
Prof Omololu Soyombo, a sociologist at the University of Lagos, said there should be enlightenment by parents. “They should educate their children on bad effects of drugs so that if they are aware of the consequences, it will draw them away from the use of drugs,” he said. He advised parents to monitor their children’s friendship groups to ensure that the people they move with have good character. He also advised that parents should be friends with their children.
He added that if there is a sudden change to their behaviour and attitude parents should take immediate action. He also counselled school authorities to always be at alert.
Dr Sarah Chukwukere, a psychologist, also reeled out some of the steps parents should take to steer teenagers away from substance use. “Educate your child about drugs and drugs abuse. Send a clear message that drug use of any kind would not be tolerated, and there should be laid out consequences for breaking rules.”
She advised that parents should keep communication open with their children so that they can come to them with their problems or issues. “Try not to get angry or overreact when they bring up uncomfortable topics. Remember, if they don’t get the answer from you, they will get it elsewhere. Instead, build trust by having regular conversations. Be involved in your child’s life and stay alert. Know their friends, help them with homework etc. This increases the bond and will also help you spot something amiss. Boost their morale and self esteem with positive affirmations as this helps with their self-confidence, which in turn helps them withstand peer pressure. Be a good role model. Do not drink excessively, get drunk or use drugs especially in the presence of kids. Watch out for signs of stress, bullying, withdrawal, unusual erratic behaviour or other signs that show that they are or maybe on drugs,” she advised.
Chiegboka Patricia, a consultant clinical psychologist with the Psychiatric Department of the Ministry of Defence Reference Hospital, Yaba, said parents should start from when the children are still small. “You catch them young while they are growing by showing them the bad effects of drug, the pictures of the people who had smoked and ended up dying as a result of complications from drug or substance use or abuse, like people who have died of kidney failure, liver mental breakdown or mental illness, and some congestive heart disease which comprises diabetes and hypertension.
“You sensitise them also by exposing them to education on drugs or substance use and their disorders. You start by telling them that even the Bible does not approve much use of substances, whether alcohol, or never approves other types at all.
“Occasionally get to their rooms, turn it up side down, check under the carpets, above the curtain rails, inside their cupboards, mattresses, under their pillows or beddings, and boxes. Even sometimes, corners in your compound where they can hide these things. Enter their rooms without notification sometimes. Often times snooze around to see if you can inhale any ugly odour. Check their bodies- laps and hips if they are injecting themselves. Check their lips if it is getting dark. Check the fingers they use in smoking to know if it is getting dark. Sometimes watch out for their eyes if it is getting reddish. Occasionally take them for drug use test. We have some kits we use in detecting drugs in individuals, whether adults or children.”
Maymunah Yusuf Kadiri, Medical Director and Psychiatrist -In-Chief, Pinnacle Medical Services, said according to findings, majority of individual who have a substance use problem generally, started using before they clock 18, and they tend to get dependent on drugs by the time they are 20.
If you are a parent and your teenagers are lucky enough to be free from drug abuse, the following guidelines by Kadiri would be helpful in steering your teenagers away from drug abuse.
One of the solutions Kadiri provided is effective communication. “Be encouraged to establish an effective communication pattern with your teenager. Communicating with teenagers don’t involve talking, yelling, pushing blames or showing your displeasure via verbal or non-verbal cues and thinking you have communicated with them. It would only make them withdraw important information from you and rather prefer to talk to their peer group outside, some of which might be drug addicts. It entails active listening and responding in a way they will understand. They love to be treated as adult, and if you can understand that tactics, you can be sure that your teenager will open up well to you, when they feel they can be listened to without being judgmental.”
She equally told parents to educate their wards early. “That is, raise the topic of drug use first in an open conversation and invite your teen to share his or her views. Creating a congenial and trusting atmosphere will encourage your teen to be more relaxed, honest, candid and open to understanding your point of view. Keep the conversation going throughout his or her teen years”.
Kadiri said it is important that your teen knows your expectations of his or her behaviour on a regular basis. Not having clear and firm boundaries will make it easier for your teen to overstep them, she said. As difficult as the teenager may prove to be, they are also smart because once they sense that almost all their activities are being monitored by parents and also know that when rules are broken, consequences will be enforced diligently, they tend to behave.
“Encourage your teen to develop and articulate their own sensible opinion on a variety of issues including drugs. Teach your teen how to be firm yet polite in saying “no” and how to walk away from uncomfortable situations with dignity. Also, consistent encouragement helps teenagers feel good about themselves and also boast their confidence.”