His name was Philemon. When I called him Phily-Phily, he would smile. If I add Phily D Nigger, more smiles would follow. None of us knew his surname, we did not know his middle name.
I recall the first time I met him. It was a Sunday. He was fair and tall, a little lanky and lively. That first day, after we spoke, I promised to get him a few shirts, and I did the following day. We became friends, somehow, strangely, he became like a son.
Philemon started doing cheap brewed alcohol, the type you could get a bucket for N200. It progressively got worse; we all spoke to him, counselled him, advised and scolded him. The brew would eventually slow him down ridiculously, for a dude who was a little over 25 (we didn’t know his real age), the brew had done enormous, almost irreparable, damage.
I was the first to complain that Philemon would not wash your car but simply romance it. However, no one ever complained of theft or any misdemeanor. He drank. He got drunk. He talked trash; but that was it. Philemon would never lie. He never stole, not even the loose change that one would leave in the car. Philemon was honest. If only our politicians were like Philemon, who never stole, things would be good.
Every time I looked at Philemon, he was the tragedy of Nigeria, so much hope, yet little in delivery. I would tell colleagues that, imagine, he was born and there was a dedication and prayers were made. There were expectations and all ended where it did, as expected, just expectations. He reminds me of Nigeria and how we have failed to redeem on the expectations of this great elephant.
I gathered Philemon’s father, a cop, also was guilty of the bottle, and I know what you are thinking. A year ago, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and, after we intervened, he would be given drugs, but the dude wouldn’t still take them. We had to pin him down.
Philemon in one year lost three jobs because of the abuse of the calabash, in Uncle Chris’s words, “if only he took better brewed beer!” Sadly, he was a victim of the poison that has taken hold of the Nigerian youth.
From cannabis to tramadol, burukutu, ogogoro or akpatashe or codeine, we are losing Philemons at every corner.
As Philemon’s drink problem worsened, we tried to make sure that he had less access to cash, but it was a difficult call. We would pay for his food. All he needed to do was go pick it up. If he came to the house on Sunday to do chores for me, we fed him and bid him farewell with takeaway food but no money.
Elections are just days away. Politicking is on the high. Nigeria is busy playing politics with Lagos-Ibadan, Abuja-Lokoja, Port Harcourt-Aba-Enugu roads for over 30 years or so. And no one cares. Sadly, not one candidate is taking about our drug problems, especially as it has tortured our young people.
Over the past year alone, nearly 15 per cent of the adult population in Nigeria (around 14.3 million people) reported a “considerable level” of use of psychoactive drug substances — it is a rate much higher than the 2016 global average of 5.6 per cent among adults.
The survey was led by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse with technical support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and funding from the European Union. If the above is not scary, then listen to Dr. Aliyu Abubakar of Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Zaria, who, in a paper he titled “Drug Abuse in Nigeria: Causes, Effects and Solutions,” said: “According to a recent study, 85 per cent of mad people in Nigeria are youths within the age bracket of 18 and 38 years.
“The major cause of mental challenge in Nigeria has gone beyond drug abuse as the youths now inhale lizard faeces, putting their noses into pit toilets, smoking matches, smoking dried horse faeces and mixing lizard faeces with dye powder,” he said.
He recalled that, in Nigeria, it was recently reported that about three million bottles of cough syrup containing codeine is consumed daily in Kano State and about six million bottles consumed in the North West.
Abubakar added that, in 2016, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency reported that about 40 per cent of Nigerian youths engaged in drug-abuse.
The medical doctor stressed that the consequences of drug abuse include mental disorder, liver cirrhosis, lethargy and cardiovascular disorder, among others. He added that those abusing drugs, mostly drop out of school, engage in cultism, violence, robbery, thuggery, rape, lawlessness and murder, and are culturally disorientated.
Philemon was a good lad, a nice dude, but we came to the office, and he was reportedly bleeding. He was rushed to the hospital and referred to the University Teaching Hospital and by the following day Philemon had passed on.
Philemon died, he was buried the next day. It was while making arrangements for him to be buried that it occurred to us all, no one had a picture of Philemon, so he didn’t get the customary obituary poster. Philemon died. In fact, it hit me hard but what could I have done? Did I do enough? We are celebrating several containers of codeine and tramadol seizures by the Nigerian customs, but do we know how many millions come in through various other means?
Or I should have bundled him to rehab? What if he was my son? I loved Philemon but I’m not sure I did enough. So, Muhammadu Buhari, Atiku Abubakar and others may love Nigeria, but do they have enough of that love to really tackle the issues? The drug and alcohol abuse cuts across class and status. We are sitting on the proverbial keg of gunpowder. Philemon is gone.
• Dickson is a development and media practitioner; Email: [email protected]; Skype ID: princecharlesdickson.