By Omoyemi Bankole
When Governor Abiola Ajimobi exits Oyo State Government House on the eve of May 29, one major achievement he will be remembered for by the people of the state, is securing the length and breadth of the state, particularly, Ibadan, the state capital and ridding it of political violence and hooliganism which, in the past, kept residents and even travellers in transit to other parts of the country in constant fear and trepidation, due to the unpredictability and frequency of their eruption.
The mayhems, which often resulted in bloodbath, arson and destruction of valuables were perpetrated by armies of youths and urchins conscripted and armed by rival politicians to fight their wars and intimidate the populace.
The presence of these hoodlums to be found in various hideouts and black spots, motor parks, uncompleted buildings and drinking/smoking joints in slums and inner city of Ibadan and its suburbs naturally created thriving market for Indian hemp and other illicit drugs demanded by these youths to sustain their roguish lifestyle.
It also led to an upsurge in criminal activities- mugging, rape, cultism, murders and armed robberies! During this period, Oyo State was virtually an annex of hell with the average resident on edge night and day!
But Ajimobi’s coming in 2011 checked the trend and for the eight years he was in the saddle, the outgoing governor firmly kept the crime wave to its lowest ebb and restored a sense of security for social and economic lives to thrive, save, perhaps for a resurgence of political violence in the dying days of the administration that threatened to blight this otherwise impressive record.
The genesis of the rot
The ugly recurrence of sporadic public clashes by rival street gangs resulting in arson, vandalisation, stealing, robbing, killing and molestation of innocent members of the public witnessed in the last two years, especially in notorious areas such as Popoyemoja, Beere, Kudeti, Born foto, coincided with a phenomenal growing epidemic of illicit drug and substance abuse in the megalopolis, rated the largest in West Africa.
Quite surreptitiously, the worm of the scourge, currently ravaging many urban centres in the country notably Lagos, Port Harcourt, Benin, Abuja, Kano and Kaduna, had bored into the city and festered with devastating effects. Not only did erstwhile underground network supply chains of cocaine, heroin and cannabis (Marijuana) spiraled, many retail joints of the illicit weed and hard drugs, were revived in motor parks or sprout in other black spots and neighbourhoods, where traffickers and smokers openly sold and puffed away. Inevitably, the old troublesome gangs gradually regrouped, giving birth to even more vicious cells. Obviously, Ajimobi had only scorched the head of the serpent, the deadly reptile was yet alive.
At the same time, the taste of other users, particularly in the elite class, were being cultivated for ‘Skunk’, ‘Pawpaw’, (both combo of hemp and some chemicals), ‘Tramadol’, ‘Codeine’, or ‘Skushi’ (a cocktail of these substances, Marijuana, Lacasera and other hard drugs flavoured with water melon and other fruits) at pubs, night clubs, brothels and relaxation joints across the city. The latter substances were the new rave of stuffs “in getting high” being introduced into the drug circuit and they were fast gaining ground due to their perceived high level of potency and relative cheapness.
The drug epidemic and Ibadan map
Today, Oyo State, according to Prof. Oluwatoyin Odeku, Team Leader, the General Mohammed Buba Marwa- led Presidential Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Drug Abuse (PACEDA), South-West Zone, has the next highest prevalence rate of drug abuse in the Zone with 23 per cent of the entire population in the zone, coming only after Lagos’ 33 per cent. Sadly, the victims are mostly- yes, youths between ages 15 and 35, although some men of 40 years and above are also involved in the harmful act.
A knowledgeable source in the industry said students in higher institutions in the city constitute the bulk of patrons of ‘spots’ where ‘Skushi’ and these illicit drugs were sold, with unemployed youths and working class making up 20 per cent of the users respectively.
What would alarm health experts, sociologists, security and narcotics control authorities, perhaps, is that these illicit drugs are available, retailed or consumed by fun- loving addicts, who sit singly or in groups, under the guise of ‘hanging out’, smoking or drinking at night clubs, bars and recreation joints in virtually every corner, street, and avenue in Ibadan.
However, Saturday Sun’s investigations revealed that major dealers in the illicit drugs have found haven inside Trans Amusement Park, Agbowo; while the open space of Technology Incubation Centre/Expoyo grounds near Ventura Plaza at Sango and a popular joint on Alao Akala Road are also notorious spots where large crowds of customers-young men and women, daily throng. There is also another located around the former Oyo State Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO) a church and a filling station along Eleyele Road.
Addicts flocked these venues in the evenings, some on foot and others in Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and other luxury cars- Toyota, Honda, Mercedez Benz and assorted brands. The fervid customers, however, Saturday Sun learnt, are mostly young internet fraudsters otherwise known as Yahoo-Yahoo Boys who often drive in with their tartly dressed female partners in tow. The girls, from their looks, are mostly in their teens. Saturday Sun reporter was shocked to find a girl barely 15 years in a company during a recent visit to the Expoyo joint, which at night assumed the form of a mammy market or carnival. There was a din all over as music blared from giant speakers of a musical set. At the centre of the open ground, which actually crested a drive-up hill from the main road, the UI-Sango Road, was a concrete shed which served as the bar. Munchies – Asun (stewed goat meat), roasted chicken and shawarma were prepared and served to customers who sat in groups around tables arranged all over the place. One ‘Juwon Skushi’ is said to be the baron here.
On the average, a litre and 5 litres of ‘Skushi’, (standard measurement, in which the hard drink that tastes like Chapman, comes) depending on quality and location in the city sells for N1,500 and N7,000 respectively, while ‘Skunk’ and ‘Pawpaw’, which are also smoked at these joints go for N100 and N1,000 per wrap and parcel respectively.
The latter two, a user explains to Saturday Sun, are costlier than Marijuana which sells for mere N50 and N500 per wrap and parcel respectively, because they are considered to have stronger effect, having been baked and mixed with other substances. ‘Pawpaw’ is actually a category of smoke, (Marijuana), a higher grade which was produced when it was discovered that ‘Skunk’ itself was not working again. It’s like when Artemisine- based drugs were made to replace Chloroquine in fighting Malaria.
Low income addicts, it was learnt, prefer to team up to buy in parcels (which serves 10), and later share, as this was considered cost effective. Although many of them are able to fund their addiction due to their access to free or illegal money, the toll of sustaining this expensive and pocket- draining habit could sometimes be challenging on the part of the elite counterparts of these illicit drug users too, forcing them to group together and buy in bulk and share. Thus about 10 men sometimes choose to buy and share a 5-litre keg to save money.
Oftentimes, the customers buy and sip the ‘Skushi’ there at the sale point or as ‘take-away’.
Many of those who buy and take the ‘Skushi’ home, were, Saturday Sun learnt, mostly ‘Yahoo boys’ who used it to help them stay up all night as they worked on their laptops, soliciting ‘business.’ There are occasions when the stuff is bought for party celebrations too.
Sore thumb and alleged official connivance
Although there have been pervasive advocacy and onslaught by security agents to check hard drug peddling and abuse in the state capital, the menace, rather than go away, appears to worsen, bulging into an ogre and digging a cesspool that daily claims and sucks more victims into its vortex of death, evil, bankruptcy, depression, despair and destruction.
Although experts and stakeholders agree there are several factors responsible for the worrisome prevalence of this scourge, observers have highlighted perceived corruption, complicity, half-heartedness and inefficiency on the part of security agents in enforcing control laws and prosecuting offenders as the bane and greatest obstacle to winning the anti-drug war.
Besides indicting police and Customs officials for the proliferation of smuggled drugs and those illegally manufactured in the country, stakeholders accuse security operatives of running a protectionist racket for illicit drug barons and dealers, whereby arrested suspects are released and back in business soon after bribe has exchanged hands.
Although there had been several raids of night clubs, recreational joints and hideouts where illicit drug trade thrived in the past, people of the city, especially neighbours unhappy with what went on, express worry that it took only few days or at worst weeks for the operators to regain their freedom and resume business in full swing. The latest of such crackdown was carried out by the state command of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in January.
But, barely three months after, business is back in some of these places! One of the culprit outfits is the Expoyo joint near Ventura Plaza, Sango. The place gained from the loss of its counterpart at the Trans Amusement Park which was temporarily shut down last year, following a fracas in which one of the customers was shot dead during a raid by operatives of the Oyo state special security outfit code named ‘Operation Burst’, which comprises military and police personnel. The deceased was said to have been killed by an accidentally discharged shot, which went off when another regular said to be “high” struggled with one of the officers in apparent bid to disarm him. After the incident, the erstwhile customers simply relocated to Expoyo, which is only a shouting distance to the mega recreational facility.
Although the place has since been reopened, the old patrons did not bother to return for fear of being disturbed by raids. The new haunt has since been booming as the owner reportedly “settles” the police and other security agents in the area on a regular basis to ensure the customers indulge their passion unmolested and in peace. Even when some overzealous policemen visited or make some arrests, this drug peddler who allegedly make about a million naira weekly, sources said, often bragged that “those arrested will return in a matter of hours!”
“We cannot hope to break the cycle and stop this dangerous phenomenon this way,” remarked Mojeed Komolafe, a shop owner close to one of the notorious ‘Skushi’ joints in town. “Government is not serious about eradicating the problem. How can you arrest criminals destroying people’s lives and free them to continue their nefarious act, because you have collected dirty money or because some barons lobbied in the background for them to be freed? Aren’t you encouraging them? Aren’t you giving them wings? Such people over a time simply get emboldened and can spread their business, knowing with little money he would be left undisturbed!”, Komolafe said.
Elsewhere in the slummy parts of the city such as Beere, Popoyemoja, Gbodu, Bode, Kudeti and red-light district of Central City/Ago Tapa in Mokola, Fijabi-Orita Merin-Oja’ba Road, putrid stench from whiffs of Marijuana smoke fill the air as miscreants, some sporting dreadlocks, mill around in the evening. A tour of these neighborhoods, by Saturday Sun during the week showed that traffickers and smokers alike were having a field day, despite Demola Omo Alhaja, a suspected weed supplier who held sway in the area having closed shop. The socialite was said to have folded up the business after he was released from prison on the orders of the governor a few years ago, when some prominent Ibadan indigenes pleaded on his behalf. His quitting the infamous trade was one of the conditions for his pardon, sources said.
However, the collapse of this mega supply business network ‘headquarters’ shifted the power base and the rise of another in Molete referred to as Car Wash, due to its contiguity to a popular car wash service in the area. The new central pool, sources said serviced other retailers as well as dispense to individual users.
However, the stuff is only sold to customers on personal recognition for fear of security men. “Nobody will sell to you there unless you are a regular. If you go there and ask, they will just pretend they don’t know what you are talking about” a street-wise guide who accompanied Saturday Sun reporter on the tour at the weekend warned. Once, he said, he went to buy some wraps for a friend, he was ignored by the people he met there. But when he persisted with his request, some of them fled until someone who knew him ordered the boy in charge of the store to attend to him: “Haha, smallie, o o m’Egbon ni? Wole ko lo ta’ja fun won jo.”
Just a stone throw from this spot, opposite the Molete flyover bridge, is the Molete motor park adjoining the vast estate of the late strongman of Ibadan politics, Chief Lamidi Adedibu. An uncompleted structure sits on this parcel of land. While it serves as office for National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) during the day it turns into a den where hoodlums and weed smokers indulge their passion at nights! Ironically, it was being built by Chief Adedibu and was to be donated to the Nigeria Police to host a police station before he died. The proposed police station was one of the many public benefactions that raises curious questions about the contrasting image of the old maverick politician renowned for his legendary philanthropy, albeit the grand master of political thuggery and violence. Could Adedibu have really meant it to curtail the swarms of criminals and their activities, which was very rife in the area then, or was it just to humour the society, knowing it would be as powerless as the entire police command in the state was in his grip?
Whatever the case, the monument, with the criminal use to which it is now put, stands a mocking accusation and indictment of the security authorities, as they could not claim ignorance of the nefarious activities that go on there.
Saturday Sun wondered why it has not occurred to the police to establish a permanent presence or to constantly patrol these vicinities well known to them as black spots.
Wale, who lives in Bode, a contiguous area replies with a half ironic, half contemptuous smile. He gestured at a spot on the Gbodu- Bode Market road where the police reportedly usually parked their vehicle and said: “Oh they do come once in a while in their patrol vehicle, but only to collect their dues from the drug peddlers!” One Muili, who sells the weed in Bode area allegedly pays monthly toll to keep the officers’ prying eyes away from the shady ‘business’ in the area.
‘Skushi’ is apparently sold here too, as Saturday Sun encountered a group of youths sauntering along the road, close to the mosque on Epo Akara junction beside the family house of former Sports Minister, Prof Taoheed Adedoja in Popoyemoja. Three boys in the group numbering about seven, clutched plastic water bottle containing the suspected zobo-like hard drink.
A national emergency
Stakeholders have expressed concern and rung the alarm bell on the need for an urgent, decisive, comprehensive, coordinated and consistent campaign to curb the worsening epidemic of the drug problem, which, they describe as a ticking time bomb that can unleash grave and devastating consequences for the security and development of the country.
Dr. Victor Makanjuola, a Consultant Psychiatrist at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, said there has been an increase in the number of patients with drug-related mental health disorders seen in the teaching hospital in recent times. Although a lot of them require admission, the hospital takes only two or three on a weekly basis, due to inadequate bed space in the ward, while the rest are managed by doctors as out-patients.
Makanjuola implicated Marijuana, Tramadol, Codeine and alcohol among the prescription and non-prescription drugs whose chronic or excessive use cause both physical and mental challenges seen in the health facility. “Unfortunately”, he remarked, “Majority of the victims are of the younger generation. If nothing is done urgently, the future of these young people and that of the country looks disturbing, because most of them are in the universities and secondary schools. If they are unable to get degrees, we are looking at an army of poorly educated, drug addicted youths in their 20s in another 10 years, who will be useless to themselves and the nation and who will be ready tools in the hands of any mischievous individual or group who wants to destabilize the country.
He describes the Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, herdsmen killing, kidnapping and other security and social crisis convulsing and wreaking havoc in the north as the spin-off of similar drug problem that gestated and bred within a decade youths with such unproductive and anti-social behaviours responsible for the crisis in the region. “It’s important that the southern part of the country takes this issue seriously now and break the cycle from extending and repeating itself here,” the renowned psychiatrist says.
The UCH boss’ warning may not be more timely. With the statistics on the crime graph climbing up, as evidenced by scores of arrested suspected kidnappers, robbers, fraudsters and other hues of criminals paraded every week by the police at the Eleyele police command and ever growing menace of street urchins (Area boys) stalking and extorting money from VIPs and other guests at social functions and public places, or fighting over the sharing of such largess, Ibadan may be loading the cannon for a regional explosion!
At one of such incidents- a grand society party at Mapo Hall, Saturday Sun watched the weed- smoking miscreants idle and harass guests as they came out or tried to enter their cars, getting abusive and hostile to anyone who appeared uncooperative.
A palace official says the youths, whose activities are most prevalent in the area, have become a nuisance and security threat at the royal court of the Olubadan, the city’s paramount ruler. “You won’t believe it, but they take advantage of the peculiar nature of the geography of the area which makes it easy for any passer-by to access the palace from the street or any of the neighbouring compounds to troop in and ambush visiting dignitaries. And there’s hardly anything Baba can do about it, because they are family compounds all related to the occupant of the stool. We are only just now trying to seal of some entrances and admit all visitors only through the main entrance,” the official discloses.
He says the monarch in partnership with an ICT firm and a host of other outfits tried to tackle youth unemployment and delinquency in the city by offering 47,000 youths free computer training courses. “Only few of them showed interest, even after the programme was extended to cover the 33 local governments in the state,” said the palace aide, stressing that many prefer the idle life of begging for money which they spend on hard drugs.
Makanjuola says the nation already has an emergency on its hands, as the health system is critically under resourced to cope with the present challenge, not to talk of envisaged boom if not stemmed. According to him, aside infrastructure deficit, Nigeria’s mental care sector is grossly understaffed with only one psychiatrist to I million Nigerians, less than one clinical psychologist to 1 million Nigerians and even less than that ratio of psychotherapists and nurses to Nigerians! The sad thing, Dr. Makanjuola regrets, is that “More of these medical personnel are travelling to take up jobs in Uk, Canada and other countries.”
He calls for reforms and diligent enforcement of anti-narcotics and other drug laws by relevant regulatory and security agencies including National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), NDLEA, police and Customs Service. “The Customs need to do more in securing our porous borders and confiscating smuggled drugs so they don’t’ get to quacks or unregistered pharmacists from whom addicts buy some of these prescription drugs over the counter. Then, we need to ensure pharmacists comply with guidelines and regulations of the practice, like selling these drugs only based on doctor’s prescription. There should be greater and constant monitoring and surveillance of the local environment to reduce if not entirely cut off production and supply of these harmful drugs- both synthetic and illicit.”
In this connection, Makanjuola advocated greater funding of the drug law enforcing agencies, which, he notes, have hitherto been embarrassingly and chronically underfunded.
The medical doctor also recommended treatment, counseling and rehabilitation to get addicts off drugs, as well as advocacy and education to prevent new people from picking the habit. He canvassed massive investment into these efforts, saying they would help curb demand and by extension asphyxiate demand for the drugs in the long run.
An added advantage, says Makanjuola, is that the initiatives can help break the cycle of drug-related crimes, in which those engaged in crimes are into it in order to get money to sustain their addiction, while they depend on the drugs as a booster for their criminal tendencies.
Research studies on the problem in Nigeria have established a nexus between increased prevalence in hard drug and substance use and crime rate. In the last one year 14.3 million (14.4 percent) Nigerians aged between 15 and 64 years are reported to have abused drugs indicating that the most populous black nation hitherto known as a land of hard drug traffickers has joined the league of nations of drug addicts! What an unflattering image!
Ibadan, with its status and strategic position in the South West, may be a good starting point to begin a major clean-up of the national drug mess. While it will be the lot of the incoming government of Seyi Makinde to evolve creative strategies to locally fight the daunting challenge, it will, no doubt, require federal assistance. Essentially, however, the law enforcement agents, observers say, must convince Nigerians of the integrity of their character: Prove that they are not like the security guards in renowned playwright, Prof Femi Osofisan’s epic satire, Aringidin And The Night Watchmen, who eagerly offered to protect the village against pillage by marauders out of pretentious indignation and outrage, only to be unmasked by the light of dawn as the greedy traducers behind the clan’s woes!
FG steps in
The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Drug Abuse, PACEDA, Gen. Buba Marwa, (retd), told Saturday Sun that two generations were in the process of being wiped out in the country as a result of hard drugs, if not for the urgent intervention by President Muhammadu Buhari in setting up the committee. He said since the inauguration of the presidential committee months ago, the panel had gone round every part of the country meeting stakeholders and seeking inputs on how to bring an end to the menace. “We are very confident that the present administration is concerned and will effect changes rapidly to end the surge.
At the level of the committee, we have done extensive work by breaking into sub-committees that visited the zones to involve relevant stakeholders at state level even as far as local government and communities levels and they are now bringing back their reports. Any moment from now, we will be collating our reports, with recommendations based on our findings and I can assure Nigerians that the President Buhari administration is more than determined to bring a lasting solution to this scourge”, Marwa stressed.