Stories of Hope: Responding to the Drug Use Epidemic in Nigeria: Series 6

Abuja, August 9 2021-Apata is a community in the outskirt of Ibadan town, Oyo State, where cannabis is primarily sold by criminal hideouts. Law enforcement officers in this community consider drug users as criminals. “People who use drugs are criminals and have to be dealt with according to the law. The Law permits us to arrest anybody with illicit drugs and charge them to court” said Olusegun Ibitoye, Assistant Superintendent of Police / Administrative Officer of Apata Police Area Command, Ibadan, Oyo State.

The police in this area command usually arrest drug users and prosecute them regardless of the quantity of cannabis found on them. Many drug users resist arrest thereby leading to violence and insecurity.

Public hostility and discrimination towards drug users are commonly reflected by the police actions. As with many of his colleagues, Ibitoye stigmatized drug users. “My thought towards the illegal drug users was they were criminals, dangerous... not fit to hold leadership position in decent society. I used to avoid them when there is no criminal evidence against them. If [they] exhibit illicit psychoactive drug, without hesitation, they will be aggressively arrested and prosecuted” said Ibitoye.

This perception of drug users by Ibitoye and his colleagues however changed courtesy of a programme organized by Goodworker Ministries International who received support from UNODC, with funding from the European Union. The support received was to deliver Drug Prevention Treatment and Care Sensitisation training targeting audience within Oyo State. One of such training was for law enforcement officers. This was a 3–day training covering different modules on drug dependence, prevention, treatment and care.

As a law enforcement officer, Olusegun Ibitoye was selected to participate in this training. He reported that the training had such a transformative effect on him, that he now views people who use drugs differently. According to him: “When I see them [drug users], I have compassion and help them physically, psychologically and emotionally. I want to play a vital role to enable them have a better future in the society”.

This training created a lasting impact on him. As a member of the Community Development Association, he decided to cascade this training to officers in 7 other divisions in Ibadan, Agodi Area Command and Apata Area Command.

With an enlightened approach Ibitoye now advocates for a humane response towards drug users. “I found out that drug dependency is a health issue and we have to provide help to them. If perceived dependent on drug use, they should be referred to the appropriate agency for treatment. There is need to extend human rights action as well as medical and psychological support to drug users. Drug dependency is not a moral issue but a health issue,” said Ibitoye.