By Aminu Abubakar (AFP)
Kano — Drug abuse in northern Nigeria’s largest city has been on the rise in recent years, with anti-narcotics officials and experts warning of serious social consequences if the problem is not tackled.
Kano has the country’s highest drug abuse rate based on the number of seizures, arrests of addicts and convictions of arrested dealers, according to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).
“It is a painful fact that Kano tops the drug abuse chart in Nigeria, a trend that all hands must be on deck to change if we are to save our upcoming generation from ruin,” the Kano commander for the NDLEA, Garba Ahmadu, told AFP.
“The use of hard drugs, especially among the youth, has become a real social menace and cuts across all social strata, with children from both rich and poor backgrounds deeply into it.”
On December 6 the NDLEA destroyed more than 10 metric tonnes of drugs, including cannabis, cocaine and methamphetamine, with an estimated street value of some $1.4 million (1.02 million euros).
The Hisbah, Kano’s so-called “morality police” which enforces Islamic law, separately impounded 100,000 cartons of glue during a raid on a city warehouse.
More unconventional drugs are also being used, not just codeine-laced cough syrup which has become popular among married women, but solvents and powerful horse stimulants.
Unemployment, broken marriages blamed
According to Mairo Bello, who runs a youth charity called the Adolescent Health Information Project, high divorce rates and a resulting breakdown in family values contribute to drug use.
Hundreds of factories in Kano have closed in the past two decades because of power supply problems and competition from cheaper Asian goods, putting many out of work and leaving them unable to provide for their families.
Unemployment rates in Kano, which was famous for its textiles and tanneries, are the highest in Nigeria, according to the government.
In 2011, the National Bureau of Statistics said as many as two-thirds of the population (67 percent) were out of work.
“The government needs to resuscitate dead industries by providing the needed infrastructure to get the youth employed and off drugs,” said Nu’uman Habib, who teaches sociology at Kano’s Bayero University.
Kano, like the rest of northern Nigeria, is majority Muslim, with men allowed to take up to four wives, which has also contributed to social problems.
High birth and divorce rates compound financial burdens and often see families on the streets when marriages break down, Bello said.
As a result, children often turn to drugs to blot out hardships.
“I’m from a broken home,” said 23-year-old Usman Umar. “My parents divorced when I was nine and I continued to live with my father, who remarried.
“My stepmother treated me harshly. She would molest and insult me but my father would not do anything to protect me, which forced me to stay outside the house most of the time and hang out with friends I made in our neighbourhood.
“They introduced me to drugs, starting with cigarettes and moving to hashish, cough mixture with codeine and other psychotropics.
“A lot of young men take drugs to get high and forget their frustration. When you take it you feel happy and your worries disappear.”
Reconciliation, rehabilitation, mass weddings
The Kano state authorities and the Hisbah have responded to the use of drugs because of concern at the extent of their use.
Last year, the state governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso launched a programme to target fake and illicit drugs while the manufacture, sale and consumption of codeine-laced cough syrup was banned to curb its abuse.
“It is no longer drug abuse but substance abuse as drug users now experiment with anything that will get them high,” Habib said.
The state government has established a sports institute and vocational training centres for young people and set up a drug rehabilitation centre for addicts.
Children sent to the city by their parents from impoverished villages, who often find themselves on the streets, will be sent back when a ban on begging comes into effect.
The Hisbah has in addition set up a Matrimonial Dispute Resolution Office to try to reconcile warring families.
Mass weddings of divorcees have also been held to help keep children of divorced parents from ending up on the streets and turning to drugs.
In the past year alone, more than 2,000 women have been married off in this way.