By Job Osazuwa
It was a sunny day in January. The harmattan breeze furiously spread dust everywhere from the decrepit Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway. Traffic on the Abule-Egba-Iyana-Ipaja-Oshodi route was heavy that fateful Monday.
At about 10am, somewhere at Amje, a community at the boundary between Lagos and Ogun states, a dark-complexion young man in his late 20s sat beside a black container shop opposite the bus stop shelter. Despite the fact that every passer-by and motorist seemed to be staring at the young man, he didn’t care; his concentration was very intense as he gazed at the wrap of weed in his hands. With considerable mastery, he held it in-between his middle and index fingers of his left hand. As if he was communicating with it, he muttered something, intermittently smiling at no one in particular.
His long gaze at the sizeable wrap caught this reporter’s attention. From the vehicle he boarded that was stuck in the gridlock, he patiently watched as the young man took a drag and excitedly inhaled the smoke. Then slowly and skilfully he began to puff it up into the sky. Watching him, no one needed to be told that he must have gathered years of experience to master the unenviable act.
As if on cue, in a jiffy, three other young men emerged from the corner and joined their excited mate. From their pockets, they dug out different sizes of intimidating wraps, lit the bundles and then began what looked like a smoking competition. In a short while, they began to pass the wraps among themselves. Soon, the air around them grew thick with the pungent smell of marijuana.
Buried in some sort of inexplicable conviviality, they began to sing incoherent tunes as the number of the youths, all birds of a feather, kept increasing. They argued over a range of crises pervading the country at the moment. They shouted at one another as they agreed and disagreed.
Despite the inherent dangers in drug addiction and the fight against it by the government and different bodies, many young men in Lagos are addicted to the habit.
Amje is one of many areas in Lagos that are growing in notoriety for the youths’ heavy addiction to marijuana. From Agege to Oshodi, Mushin, Ojuelegba, Ajegunle, Obalende to uptown Lekki and Ajah, the story of open-air smoking remains the same. In those areas, it is common to see hoodlums partaking in jamborees where the substance is freely purchased and consumed.
At each smoking spot, young residents turn out in large numbers every morning to have their ‘hemp breakfast’. Even older people also partake of the unhealthy exercise. Findings have revealed that some of the older men who were born and brought up in these areas have over time become ardent smokers of weed.
Marijuana has picked some local names in different parts of Nigeria. These include igbo, ganja, kukuye, morocco, dangerous plant, weed, herb, pot, grass, bud, devil’s plant and a lot more. It is now like an evil force, which continues to hold many people, male and female, old and yound, who are addicted to it in its grip.
Over the years, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) has put up spirited efforts to curb the menace of hemp smoking, but sales outlets continue to flourish in different parts of the Lagos metropolis. The officials have given many of the dealers and smokers a run for their money. But those that indulge in the habit are unrelenting, as they continue to re-strategize to beat all security checks.
More worrisome to many city dwellers is the manner and impudence with which the smokers engage in the act. For example, Alakuko Police Station is located a few metres away from Amje bus stop. Yet, smokers converge on spots in the area to indulge in the consumption of weed, daring the police. It was learnt that, in some instances, security operatives, too, visit such spots to help themselves.
Many pundits believe that marijuana smoking, especially in the 1980s and 1990s became more popular among the youths who needed to imitate musical icons such as Bob Marley, Fela Anikulakpo Kuti and Orlando Owoh, among other popular artistes, who openly smoked weed and promoted its consumption. They were also said to have encouraged many of their followers to indulge in weed.
For instance, during musical festivals and concerts at the popular Afrika Shrine in Ikeja, Lagos, operated by Fela until his death, it was common to see young men and women hanging outside the venue, smoking Indian hemp. Those who have attended the concerts in the past said smoking of marijuana was common among young people loitering around the area.
Different medical experts, religious leaders, community heads and activists have spoken against the dangers of using hard drugs, misuse and abuse of all kinds of drugs and mood-altering substances.
Unfortunately, marijuana smokers around town are unfazed about the dangers inherent in their habit. Experts have consistently raised the alarm that drug addiction, especially cannabis smoking, contributes immensely to mental illnesses. They have stated that adverse effects range from anxiety, depression, phobia, psychosis, a situation where the addict hears voices, to paranoia and grandiose delusions.
It is believed that the euphoria an addict gets from a wrap of hemp is equal to what four bottles of beer can give a drinker, making it a cheaper alternative for intoxication.
The reporter learnt that most psychoactive substances cause mental illness over time, depending on the quantity of the substance consumed, the frequency of usage, the concentration of the drug and the purpose for which it was taken.
Excessive smoking of weed and use of other mind-altering drugs has pushed many youths into committing rape, fraud, violent crimes and other unthinkable criminal activities.
Speaking against drug abuse in Lagos, a consultant psychiatrist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Ladipo Adepoju, told Daily Sun that he had handled many mental cases in his career that were fallouts of drug abuse, which often led to mental distortion.
He stated that the effects of drug abuse and wrong use do not only take a toll on the individuals and their families but on the society at large. He said many Nigerians, particularly youngsters with brilliant minds who could have positively affected the society, have been wasted as a result of drug abuse.
“We are here so that the society can learn, benefit and curb the scourge, which keeps tearing the fabric of society.
“Drug abuse cannot be separated from psychiatry. Here, we look at the mental and physical state of the mind, and the social aspect of the individual involved. The behaviour of the consumer affects him or her as well as the people he or she relates with in the society. This is why the case cannot be left or treated in isolation.
“I have been a psychiatrist for more than 20 years. Talking from my experience, having worked in the northern and southern parts of Nigeria, l know what l mean when l describe it as a very troubling issue in society. It has wrecked many families and turned some to paupers,” Adepoju said.
On why drug misuse has continued to be prominent among youths, he said the diverse man-made challenges in Nigeria could be a strong factor. He added that the high level of unemployment was also playing negative roles in the lives of youths.
“Another thing is the apparent lackadaisical attitude of a lot of parents who keep pursuing money at the expense of their children’s moral upbringing. It is a direct opposite of raising and mentoring children as we used to have in the past. These children are ready to pick up anything that is available to them, which quickly becomes the norm in their own understanding. Of a truth, there is hardly any other person who can train a child more than the parents will do. The result of this negligence is fraud, cultism and other criminal activities staring us in the face today,” the expert said.
He said it was unfortunate that many drug barons and syndicates were feeding fat on the business but destroying people and the society. He called on all adults to use every platform available to them to keep discouraging drug abuse.
Adepoju also pointed out that the various laws enacted against drug misuse have not been effectively implemented and, regrettably, people have continued to flout them with impunity. He stated that the consequences of drug abuse and the ripple effects on the larger society could not be over-emphasised.
A smoker once said: “When I take it, it makes me feel good. It puts me in a state of happiness and I momentarily forget my problems. I go through a lot of stress on the streets of Lagos every day due to the nature of my work. Igbo is not expensive at all and it doesn’t turn your stomach like alcohol.”
A pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Signs and Wonders Parish, Ile-Iwe, Lagos, Akintola Samuel, admonished Nigerians, especially the youth, to shun drug abuse and all forms of violence that could jeopardise their future.
According to him, God did not create anyone to become useless to himself or a nuisance to society.
Even as he submitted that smoking hemp was not solely a Nigerian problem but a worldwide challenge, he lamented that the major victims of these problems have remained the youth.