It is not news that many performers in the entertainment industry glamorize drug abuse and make
it seem hip and cool. A notable example is Naira Marley and his crew, ‘the Marlians’, with
Mohbad as a member of that crew too. Without prejudice to the outcome of the autopsy into his
unfortunate and untimely demise, one of the differentials would have to include the possibility of
drug overdose. Indeed, several global icons have gone that route with notable examples
including Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse etc.
However, in the controversies surrounding the sad demise of Mohbad, what is currently missing
is a focus on the crisis of drug abuse that is ravaging our society and especially targeting our
youth. There is hardly any family without a member struggling to overcome a drug addiction. A
2018 nationwide survey by the United Nations Organization for Drug and Crime Control
(UNODC) reported a 14.4% national prevalence rate of drug abuse among 15 – 64-year-olds in
Nigeria. To put this in context, this is nearly triple the global rate of 5.6% for the same age
group. Thus, it is not out of place to say that we have an epidemic on our hands.
A cursory visit around psychiatric hospitals across the country will illustrate the ticking time
bomb we are sitting on now. Addiction wards are filled to overflowing and there are no bed
spaces anymore. People are on waiting lists to get treatment for drug addictions. From Yaba to
Calabar to Aro to Barnawa, to Uselu and to Maiduguri – the picture is the same.
How did we get here?
First, this is a global problem and a major crisis. And a major factor is the lure of huge profits
and money to be made. It is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise with global networks facilitated by
money. Imagine having customers who not only need to keep buying from you, but also increase the quantity they buy continuously over time. That’s a good customer. So, all the sellers simply
need to do is go to parties and serve them for free, as a form of fishing expedition. Those who
enjoy the euphoria will keep coming back for more as they get addicted, while they smile to the
bank. Unfortunately, the target market of these “traders” is our youth: your sons, daughters,
brothers, sisters etc. They want to make money off the destruction of our youth and society and
they simply don’t care. They have the money, and they are very aggressive and innovative about
pushing out the drugs to vulnerable youth.
Second is the prominent role of the entertainment industry which unfortunately appears to
glamorize and encourage drug use and abuse. Celebrities like Naira Marley, Mohbad, and tons of
others make it seem cool and hip, and thus entice our youth to act like them. The ‘Marlians’ are a
good case in point.
Third is the increasing evolution and sophistication of available drugs on offer. While it was
mainly plain cannabis, cigarettes and alcohol a few decades ago, we now have several
experimentally enhanced variants of cannabis that makes them more potent, cause greater
euphoria as well as making it more addictive…to ensure they get hooked and they struggle to
stop, once initiated.
Fourth is the unbridled availability of the drugs. They are simply everywhere. There is hardly
any street in Nigeria where you can’t get drugs to buy. The National Drug Law Enforcement
Agency (NDLEA) has made giant strides in recent times but has their work cut out for them.
Fifth is the adventurous nature of youth who are very open to peer pressure, and to
experimentation. Thus, many will go to a party and be gently nudged to try something, and they
simply go along so they won’t be seen to be weak.
Lastly, we also need families to be very hands on and engaged with their children, especially as
they hit adolescence. Many of these misguided youth simply feel empty and lonely and end up
seeking acceptance and company with the wrong crowd.
Where do we go from here?
The prevailing situation across the country with drug abuse among our youth is simply untenable
and we cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand, like the ostrich. We should care. It is a crisis.
And it should be everyone’s business: Parents, schools, media houses, the entertainment industry,
religious leaders, and especially the government. It is also a no-brainer that where there are high
rates of drug abuse, crime rates and insecurity will also spike. Concerted anti-drug abuse
campaigns are needed to educate and change the perception of youth while reducing access and
availability via the NDLEA and the government. We simply cannot afford to fold our arms and
watch our youth being destroyed. The Asido Foundation is a mental health advocacy
organization which promotes mental health awareness and will be running anti-drug abuse
campaigns soon. We hope it will gain traction.
Dr Jibril Abdulmalik
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 28th September 2023