By Anthony Isibor
THE 10th Anniversary Lecture of Realnews Magazine on Thursday, November 17, 2022 in Sheraton Hotels, Ikeja, Lagos, was well attended by guests from Abuja and some states of the federation.
For some of the guests, especially from the media industry, it was a unique reunion for lecturers and their former students, while members of the Guild of Online Publishers and the Nigerian Guild of Editors attended in their numbers to honour their President and member respectively.
Some clergymen from the Roman Catholic Faith also graced the event, officials of the Nigeria Police, Federal Roads Safety Commission and representatives of the sponsors and partnering companies and organisations were not left out. Family members, friends and colleagues, especially former staffers of the News Agency of Nigeria and Newswatch Magazine were also well represented.
For the elated publisher of Realnews, Maureen Chigbo, it was a busy and memorable 10th anniversary of the magazine as she was busy attending and welcoming the Guest Speaker, discussants and invited guests for the event of the day. Some of the guests outside the shores of Nigeria and others who are outside Lagos were also not left out as they joined the event which was also streamed live on various social media platforms, including ZOOM, Facebook and YouTube.
In her welcome address, Chigbo raised alarm on the devastating effects of drug abuse among youths in Africa. She explained that Realnews zeroed in on “Drug Abuse among Youths in Africa: Implication for Nigerian Economy and 2023 Elections” because of the deep concern about the nefarious effect of drug on our youths. We watched viral videos of how Mkpulumiri is wrecking the lives of not just young people but old people too.
“We heard stories of how students indulge in anti-social behaviours and some even go to the extent of damaging school buildings to pilfer the roofs to sell to meet their drug needs.”
According to her, drug abuse has been linked to incidents of violence and insecurity in the country. There have also been talks that the psychological wellbeing of all the governorship and presidential candidates and it has been suggested that those seeking public offices should be evaluated and a public report made of all of them to ensure they are drug-free.
She added that all these are genuine concerns given that the World Drug Report 2021 showed that in Nigeria, with 14.4%, the drug use prevalence is significantly higher than the global average.
“Globally, over 11 million people are estimated to inject drugs, half of whom are living with Hepatitis C. Opioids continue to account for the largest burden of disease attributed to drug use,” she said.
Chigbo appealed to journalists in the country to ensure that the message of drug abuse taken from this event “is heard in Africa and beyond”.
She stated that in the past nine years, Realnews has kept faith with its Vision and Mission statements. “We have investigated and published exclusive stories that cover all sectors of our focus, including politics, oil and gas, business and economy, women, youth and environment etc. We can proudly say that we have done and continue to do our job with a highest sense of responsibility,” she said.
Chigbo, however, stated that the modest success achieved by Realnews has come with its share of challenges, “especially in fashioning creative ways to sustain our publication in a difficult economic environment with dwindling prospects for advertisement”.
“Consequently, we would like to invite everyone here, especially those who are not already on our mail list to visit our website and subscribe to our e-Newsletter to enjoy investigative reports on topical development issues rendered in professional style,” she added.
The Guest Speaker, retired Brig-Gen. Buba Marwa, Chairman, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, warned in his address that Nigeria cannot afford to ignore drug abuse among youths in the country.
Marwa, who is the guest speaker at the 10th Anniversary Lecture and Investiture of Realnews, noted that drug abuse “cannot be ignored in today’s world because it is a growing concern for all countries and a problem area for humanity”.
He disclosed that the past two decades “have seen a dramatic rise in drug abuse around the world and more than ever before, the situation is becoming complicated and dire”.
“In Africa, where countries are struggling with development issues, it is recognised that the prevalence of drug use among youths will impact the future of the continent, for better or for worse, depending on how we respond to the trend.
“Therefore, countries must attend to the problem. Just as we devote energy, time and resources to climate change to save the planet, we must also deploy the same strength, sentiment and systems to curb drug abuse among youths to secure the future of coming generations,” he said.
Marwa added that Nigeria, in particular, cannot afford to trivialize the drug abuse menace in light of the country’s illicit drug statistics and “this is why every opportunity for public discourse on this subject matter is highly appreciated because keeping drug issues on the front burner in society is one way of catalysing solutions to the scourge.”
To start with, Nigerians are not ignorant about drug trafficking and drug abuse issues. The activities of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, in the past 22 months have given our society a clear picture, certainty and the severity of the drug problem in the country.
Marwa disclosed that the agency has made 19, 341 drug offenders and secured 3, 111 convictions and seized 5.5 million kilograms of assorted drugs in 22 months.
According to him, these are incontrovertible facts of a deeply entrenched illicit drug subculture in the country.
“Previously, many Nigerians found it hard to believe that illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin are trafficked in and out of the country. But NDLEA has made huge seizures and there is no basis for scepticism anymore. If anything, NDLEA activities since January 2021 have further reinforced the facts of Nigeria being an important hub in the global illicit drug network, and secondly, that our country is not only a transit pipeline but also a market.
“Similarly, Nigerians cannot pretend now not to know that our young people are abusing illicit drugs because youths have an overt drug lifestyle. Youths of today promote the drug subculture. It is common nowadays to hear them say they want to be high. It is there on the street. In songs. In chatroom. In clubs and parties. Many crave alcohol and weed as soon as they run into any emotional situation. To put it in their language, as glorified by one popular music, they tell you “I need igbo and shayo.
“It is disturbing that abusing marijuana and alcohol is the new normal for youths, especially the Gen Z and even the Millenials. For parents who are adept at using social media, Snapchat offers graphic details of what our young people are doing with alcohol and psychotropic drugs,” he added.
Speaking on how the drug menace poses a threat to the Nigerian economy and the 2023 presidential and general elections, Marwa said that since drugs and violence go hand in hand, it would be recalled that the social upheaval in South-East states in the last quarter of 2021 was caused partly due to an outbreak of abuse of methamphetamine. “That episode gave us a foresight of the kind of instability that can result from abuse of illicit drugs by young people. With so many idle hands around, some of whom are hooked on drugs, the 2023 general elections will be a testing period.
“With such a huge youth population, you may begin to think that the election in the country will be won by a youth referendum. However, with so many youths involved in drug abuse, they can hardly make the kind of strong impact that people envisage. Just as they cannot hold down a job, they also cannot exhibit prudent electoral choices or execute the civic duty of voting,” he said.
Marwa therefore warned that the country might end up having the phenomenon of self-disenfranchisement among young people since those who are into drug abuse will make themselves available as tools for irrational activities such as electoral thuggery and violence. He, however, assured Nigerians that the security agencies are aware of this development and they are working to forestall it.
Earlier, the Chairperson of the 10th Anniversary Lecture, Elizabeth Ngozi Ebi, stated that the drug menace, which she described as a burning issue that requires urgent attention “not just for the economy but for the sustainability of mankind”.
She noted that the current health situation of Nigerian youths is disheartening and worrisome, considering their engagement into hard drug abuses. They take hard drugs like Syrup, tramadol, Diazepam, cocaine, Shisha mix among others. The statistic is worrisome and has shown that the problem had reached an epidemic level in the country.
“The societies we live in are predominantly made up of unskilled young persons who indulge in drug abuse and cannot be regarded as healthy and a developed one, since the abusers lose their potentialities to this activity.
“Drug abuse has inflicted immeasurable harm on public health and safety in the country and Africa at large over the years, and threatens the peaceful development and smooth functioning of our societies.
Today we will be looking at the implications of drug abuse on the Nigerian economy. There are numerous consequences of drug abuse, and it ranges from volume of untimely deaths such as suicides, road accidents, violent crimes, laziness, mediocrity and subsequent impoverishment. To this end, homes are broken, dreams are shattered, and potential manpower is wasted as drug abusers struggle to sustain the habits embedded in this subculture. They therefore become burdens to themselves, families, the society, and the country at large. Unfortunately, young persons who are supposed to shoulder Nigeria’s future development in terms of socio-economic aspect are constant promoters of this Sub-Culture, and anti- social activity of drug abuse.
According to her robbery, burglary, rape, vandalism of public properties kidnap and arm bandits etc. are associated with drug abuse, the congestion of penitentiaries where the government spends more in the maintenance of prisoners, and the growing numbers of destitute, which our social welfare administration system cannot carter thereby depleting government’s budget.
The economic effect looks at the loss of potential manpower, low productivity, and creation of an unfavorable environment for investors which of course will affect the Gross National Income as well as the internally generated revenue.
And to tackle the menace of drug abuse, she said that the communities have big roles to play in the prevention of drug abuse. Individuals, families, communities and the entire society should ensure that moral values are inculcated in the youths, by getting involved with the government in the fight against drug abuse.
She suggested that institutions like the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, should be empowered to squarely deal with Drug Barons as well their traffickers, peddlers, and conduits. This is because at times, their performances are undermined by the threats they get as well as the purported connections such barons and the traffickers have with people in high places.
According to her, the mass media should support the government’s campaign against drug abuse and avoid such thrilling advertisements and jingles like those of tobacco and alcohol, Liquor. She also said that Non Governmental Organisations should be involved in the sensitization campaigns against drug abuse as well as engage in rehabilitation programmes, while educational Institutions at all levels whether public or private should organize workshops, lectures/symposiums to enlighten the students on the dangers of drugs and substance abuse.
And the panelists, who threw more light on the theme “Drug Abuse among youths in Africa: Implication for Nigerian Economy and 2023 Elections”, included Otunba Lanre Ipinmisho, Former Director General and Member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Eradication of Drug Abuse, PACEDA, Dokun Adedeji, Director General, Christ Against Drug Abuse Ministry, CADAM, and Nkemamolam Ndionuka, consultant Psychiatrist and Medical Doctor, Tranquil and Behavioural Health.
The Guest Speaker, Brig-Gen. Marwa, the Chairperson, Ngozi Ebi, and the discussants, Ipinmisho, Adedeji, and Ndionuka were inducted into the Realnews Hall of Fame, for their contributions to the growth and development Realnews and the society in general.
In her closing remarks and vote of thanks, Chigbo paid glowing tributes to the Guest Speaker for his services to the nation and accepting to deliver the keynote address. The chairperson, the discussants as well as the esteemed guests were duly appreciated for making the 10th Anniversary Lecture of Realnews a huge success. Some of the distinguished guests included: Mustapha Isah, President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Veteran journalists Ray Ekpu, Reuben Abati of Arise TV, Paul Ejime, who joined virtually, Martins Oloja, Managing Director and Editor-In-Chief of The Guardian. Others were Goddy Uwazuruike, President of the Credibility Group, Charles Onyewuchi Anyiam-Osigwe, Chairman of Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe Foundation, Samatha Gifty Bukari, Consul General of Ghana High Commission, Prof. Ralf Akinfeleye, Council member of the World Journalism Education Congress in the U.S representing Africa, Dauda Biu, Corps Marshal Federal Road Safety Corps and Ted Iwere, Founder, SME Media Limited.