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High Times: Nigerians on using Drugs and Surviving Nigeria

Nigerian man smoking weed
A Nigerian man smoking marijuana

If you’re a Nigerian who has lived in Nigeria for at least five (5) years, you will have likely come across someone who uses drugs for either recreational or some other purpose. Teenagers and young adults are among the top users of drugs ranging from marijuana, crack, pills, and in recent times, almost anything that can alter their sober state. For many of these Nigerians using drugs, it was somehow bound to happen.

A lot of effort seems to be made to curtail the use of drugs by Nigerians, as the National Drug and Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) alongside the Nigeria Police force constantly chase down drug dealers and users across the country. Nonetheless, drug use in Nigeria continues to be on the rise.

The war on drugs is dated far back as the ’80s and isn’t just in Europe and America, but extends to African countries as well. Research via several publications has revealed that countries in Africa are giant hubs for drug use and trafficking. As of 2016, over 15 Meth labs had been discovered and destroyed in different parts of the country.

This poses a question. Why does a country that currently ranks as the country with the most people living in extreme poverty (according to the  End poverty organization), turn out to be so dependent on drugs? According to a UNODC report, Nigeria ranks as the top user of opioids in Africa and third-highest user of opioids in the world. See world rankings here.

Another report by the UNODC shows that over 14 million Nigerians use one form of opioid or another, and have the most level of prevalence in the world as of November 2020. This number is projected to increase rapidly if the situation of drug abuse in Nigeria persists.

Nigerian youths using drugs in the open
Nigerians using drugs

For a country where drug use remains illegal, it puts a growing curiosity as to why drug use and abuse are on the rise, and the drug market remains flourishing in a country with over 43% of its citizens living below the poverty line.

RadrAfrica reached out to several Nigerians across the country to get their thoughts and comments on drug use, and causes of the prevailing drug abuse in Nigeria.

This report has been lightly edited for clarity.

Anthony, 29

Current user (Marijuana)

I started smoking weed when I gained admission into the university. We weren’t rich, but we were okay for most of my childhood years. I lost my dad to a plane crash and that’s when things changed. In my second year, my mum took ill and I had to hustle for her health bills and as the first and only son, I had to take responsibility for my mum and sister. It was tough, like very tough and I remember I would come back from class with nothing to eat because I had sent all my money to my sister and mother. The only thing that made me feel like life had any meaning was weed. I wasn’t even smoking loud then oh, normal pappy J, but trust me, it was my best friend at some point. If not, maybe I would have committed suicide.

Right now, if you are not close to me, you may not know that I smoke Loud. But honestly, even with my current income, I do not see myself going a week without smoking Loud. It is the only thing that keeps me sane in Lagos. The stress of Nigeria is too much. If I wasn’t working 9-5, I’m sure I’d smoke every day. Weed should be legal in Nigeria, it will create a lot of jobs and income for people if they put a good structure in place.

Theresa, 25

Former user (Crack, Codeine, Ecstasy)

Currently using (Marijuana)

Drugs are bad. Yeah, I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m smoking a joint and telling you drugs are bad. I’m just 25 years old, but you can see that I look way older than my age. I could have looked worse. I’m 2 years clean from crack and lean (slang for codeine) by God’s grace. It is quite funny because I hear a lot of people say marijuana is a gateway drug, but I can tell you it is the safest drug to use and remain a normal human being. I have been smoking since I was 15, and on my sixteenth birthday, I did crack for the first time. That’s when I almost ruined my life. Those years were the worst. Sometimes I think about it and almost cry.

I used to steal money from home just to smoke crack with my friends. I sold my mum’s jewelry and my dad’s watches until they both relocated to the US and then I started scamming them without limit just so I could smoke crack and get high. I hated school so much, I wanted to do music, but you know Nigerian parents, they wanted me to become a Lawyer. So, I would skip classes, stay back at my private hostel with my friends, and do drugs till we pass out. Then I started going on trips with my Ex-boyfriend just to do drugs and have sex in different locations. It was crazy.  My best friend tried to help me, but my Ex was rich so there was money to do what we wanted even when my parents stopped sending me money as they used to. When I watched a video of myself naked, picking bread crumbs from the floor to smoke with particles of crack, I told myself I needed help. My best friend tried for me. She was the one that put me in rehab twice and tried to get me clean after she quit smoking herself. We both started smoking again last year, but it’s just kush. We are stuck with Kush because we lost a friend to codeine and tramadol, so I don’t advise anyone to take pills.

We are both models, and with the kind of things we face as female models, I’m sorry, but I just need to be high most of the time. If I stay sober, I might just lose my mind. The world is crazy, this kush (showing me the bag of marijuana she attempts to roll another joint from) and God is the only thing keeping me sane. I can’t survive in this country without smoking every day.

Tina, 34

Current user (Codeine)

I started taking codeine when I was in university. I used to have difficulty sleeping, so my boyfriend at the time introduced it to me. What made me love it was the way I slept the first time I had it. I don’t like tablets or medicine in general, so whenever I fall ill, I hardly tell anyone or I’ll take injections most times. That particular evening, I told my boyfriend that if I didn’t sleep that night, it felt like my eyes would fall out. So, he told me he was coming (he didn’t want me to know because I used to tell him to stop smoking weed and drinking codeine) so, he came back with Ribena, and told me that it helps kids sleep. I drank it, but I noticed it tasted a bit different so I asked what was in it and he told me he just put little codeine in it but that I should not worry that it wouldn’t do anything to me. That evening, I slept like a baby.

Since that day, I have been taking codeine. At least one bottle a day, because I can’t let my husband find out that I take it. But I’ve calmed down now. Sometimes I can take half a bottle in my drink and use it for the day. If I take more than one bottle, he will find out. So, I take it when I get to my shop and use it during the day, by evening when I’m back, it would have kicked in fully, and help me sleep well at night.

When asked if she doesn’t worry about the effect on her health and if she will stop, here’s her response;

This codeine is okay for me. If I don’t take it, I won’t be able to sleep and there’s one back pain I normally have, but when I take it, I just feel relaxed and the pain goes away. That’s my own. I can’t say about other women, because there are plenty of women that take this codeine here in Adamawa. But what I know is that plenty of people are suffering and the government is not helping, so most people just take things that make them survive the bad situation and help them relax. As I’m talking to you now, some of the young girls and women you see here have taken codeine this morning, or have it in their bag or their drinks. It makes me calm and I don’t want any wahala at all, so that is why I like to take it. You see how I’m talking and smiling, that’s why.

Rotimi 25,

Former user (Rohypnol, Tramadol)

Current user (Marijuana, codeine)

I have been self-medicating (maintains a stand that he doesn’t abuse drugs) since I was 14. I grew up in the UK, so I had friends who put me on to lean (slang for codeine). When I returned to Nigeria to school, I made new friends who shared similar dreams at the time so we did things together. We partied a lot and those parties involved lots of fun and what made the fun wild for us was the pills. We had orange juices looking like wine cos of the pills we put in them. We would pop pills and literally forget our sorrows. I started using trams (short for tramadol) when I was dating a girl that liked sex too much. I wanted to keep her so I would take 2 or 3 pills to last as long as she wanted me to. But that shit killed two of my guys so I stopped using it.

Now I just smoke kush and drink codeine once in a while. That shit is so expensive now, and I need to be productive so my kush does that for me.

When asked why he hasn’t stopped codeine and marijuana, here’s his response;

Stop kush? Lmao! Bruv, make I no lie give you, as long as I’m in this naija, I Gatts smoke. I never see anybody wey no dey take anything wey still dey okay. Naija will frustrate you, you will still now be sober thinking about how to survive? You fit mad now. I don’t drink alcohol, so I have to smoke because Nigeria can get you high on a normal day, so this smoke is my medication. I don’t stress anybody and make nobody stress me. I smoke, hustle and live my life. I won’t advise anybody to go and do other drugs, but this one, if I don’t smoke, I can’t even eat or sleep. So you self check am. I need it.

Mayowa, 24

Current user (Molly, MDMA, Marijuana)

My drug use is not a problem. It’s the situation I find myself in. This country is a nonsense place, and I can’t even imagine myself not being high everyday. I’m on molly right now because I like the feeling when I take it. It gives me the ginger to hustle the way I want to, and when it hits, it can be mad, so the loud (marijuana) is to smooth the high and make everything soft.

Sometimes I take MD when my babe is around or I want to have deep conversations with my guys. I’m an artist, so when I’m on MD, I can say what I truly want to say from my mind. It’s a dope feeling, but it’s not cheap, so you need to be making money to be doing these things.

When asked if he plans to stop or the impact on his health, here’s what he had to say;

Me, I can’t say I will stop smoking because the problem in this country is too much. Smoking is the way I calm myself and just live my life. Maybe later I might stop Molly if they stop making it (laughs). But for now, there is no stopping. Even the politicians are on something now. How do you think they cope with everything going on? They are on cocaine and some of them smoke loud (marijuana) too. If I take you to places in Lagos where people come to do cocaine, it will burst your head. Police self dey smoke so who doesn’t? Any drug you want to take right now is in Lagos and Abuja, don’t worry.

Tobi, 26

Former user (Codeine, Rohypnol, Molly)

Current occasional user (Marijuana)

Well, this may sound weird or funny to you, but I’m a graduate of medicine and surgery, and I occasionally smoke marijuana. You may wonder how I do that when I should know about drug use and the effects and all of that. Yes, I know about them, so I will tell you why I still smoke once in a while. When I was in school, getting drugs was easy for me because I had access to them and my mum’s a doctor so I easily got drugs with prescriptions (without her knowledge). I would supply my friends with codeine syrup and pills, Rohypnol, and sometimes tramadol.

I had a female friend that had surgery one time, and she always had to deal with intense pains that over the counter painkillers like paracetamol and panadol couldn’t help with, so I usually got her stronger pills until she got addicted to it, and I lost her to an overdose in 2017. That’s when I decided to stop using and selling those pills myself. Initially, I got them for friends because I had access to them, but later I saw that a lot of people were becoming dependent on stronger painkillers, so I would get and sell them, but the demand became too much. My mum found out one day she entered my room and saw me and my friend passed out on the floor after using a large amount of codeine and Rohypnol pills. She put me in rehab for 6 months. It was one of the toughest times of my life, but I’m grateful for it.

I think a lot of young people do drugs because they want an escape from their reality. The pains, suffering, poverty, depression, and peer pressure make a lot of people get into drug use and shortly after, drug abuse. The high influx of these drugs by importers and local dealers also contributes to the high demand.

When asked why he still smokes marijuana here’s what he said;

Medically, there are lots of health benefits of cannabis (marijuana), like pain relief, insomnia, seizures, anxiety, and lots more. When I got out of rehab, part of my recovery was having nothing to do with pills of any sort. So, I used a specific amount of marijuana via edibles, whenever I experienced body pains or couldn’t sleep. Until much later when I smoked a joint, but it’s very occasional, mostly when I hang out with friends and it’s not all the time.

After careful analysis of conversations with Nigerians, and reports on the increasing number of drug users in the country, it is crystal clear that there is a huge drug problem in Nigeria. It is gradually becoming a pandemic. Over 90% of individuals who responded to a survey on why they used drugs in the country had a common response, Nigeria is too hard not to be high most of the time”, I can’t stop doing this because how do I want to survive in this country?”

An anonymous user responded when asked why drug abuse is on the rise despite multiple arrests said; “As far as I’m concerned, the war on drugs is not happening here. The police aren’t chasing drugs. They aren’t fighting the growing drug use pandemic. They use drugs as a pretext to make a living, using blackmail, often targeting cannabis (marijuana) users.” 

This user may not be far from the truth. Several arrests have been made by the NDLEA on tons of cocaine and heroin coming into the country, but there’s still a shit load of illicit drugs flooding the country with readily available users.

Although a survey led by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Center for Research and Information on Substance Abuse with technical support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) showed that marijuana is the most used drug in the country, sedatives, cocaine and heroin were also listed as rising among Nigerians.

Number of people using drugs in Nigeria
Statistics of drug users in Nigeria as at 2020

An evening drive around hotspots in cities like Lagos and Abuja will have you see the drug business flourishing. It doesn’t seem like it will end anytime soon. As the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency tackles imports of these substances, Nigeria also faces an internal problem with corruption at major local pharmaceutical companies boosting the illicit supply of codeine-based cough syrups to drug users at relatively affordable prices. It is troubling.

Meanwhile, as the widespread illicit drug use lingers, there are major gaps in Nigeria’s healthcare system in meeting the needs for treatment and care for people with drug use disorders.

Now, what is the fate of the high-risk drug user that amounts to about 40% of two-thirds of the drug use population? Untimely heart attacks and sudden demise. This is because there is not enough proper health care available for people with drug use problems. Very few government hospitals and rehabilitation centers are equipped and staffed to provide treatment for drug users. The private-owned centers are very expensive for many who need the treatments.

For most drug users in Nigeria, their drug use is more of a coping mechanism than being able to conveniently afford the lifestyle. They just want to numb the pain and suffering that comes with “surviving Nigeria” and they fall into a quicksand of illicit drug use.

Arshavin Ephraim
Arshavin Ephraim
Host of #RealTalk show on Twitter. I am passionate about talent and creativity. Arshavin is a writer who doubles as a mental health advocate and part-time relationship counselor.

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