Stories of Hope: Responding to the Drug Use Epidemic in Nigeria: Series 5

Abuja, 7 June, 2021-In recent years, Bmuko village, a community on the fringes of metropolitan Abuja has been grappling with a growing drug use epidemic, in particular among its youth. While the drugs of choice are cannabis and tramadol, in reality most users will consume anything that helps them to even temporarily forget about the harsh economic realities, unemployment and poverty.

For several years, community leaders have been seeking to address the drug use situation. “We have done our best to address this issue by setting up vigilante groups with support of youth, community and religious leaders, [as well as] the use of policemen in cases of crime. This approach has helped to reduce the crime rate but not the drug use situation in our community” says Ibrahim Dangama, traditional ruler of Bmuko village,

Drug use in the community appears to also go hand-in-hand with an increase in mental health issues, sexual abuse, as well as discrimination and stigmatization against drug users. “Anytime I see a drug user, I classify him/her as someone who is not reasonable, [someone] we want to distance ourselves from”.

However, the community experienced a turnaround when Mandate Health Empowerment and Initiative (MHEI) a civil society organization supported by UNODC with funding from the European Union, started to carry out drug use sensitization programs in Bmuko community targeting traditional, religious and other community leaders, including Ibrahim Dangama.

“After the training, I summoned my chiefs and revealed to them the new way of addressing the drug use situation by providing support and care. To reinforce this, I helped Abubakar Hassan, a 27-year-old who was dependent on alcohol, tramadol and cannabis to stop using drugs through regular counselling on the effects of excessive drug use. I gave him a job as a security officer in my palace. The young man has experienced a change in behavior leading him to completely abandon drug use,” says Dangama.

“The village head treats me like a son. I don’t want to disappoint him. Now I no longer take these drugs,” says Hassan.

For Dangama, the impact of the sensitization training and his personal experience in successfully helping Hassan to quit drugs has been profound. He continues to monitor the drug situation in his community by using the local zonal coordinators to spread information on the dangers of drug use.

World Drug Day 2021 will be commemorated on 26 June under the theme “Share Facts on Drugs. Save Lives”. It is, thus, an opportune moment to congratulate both Ibrahim Dangame and Abubakar Hassan encourage all of us to continue saving lives by sharing facts about drugs.