Gombe in endless battle against drug abuse, barons

Sola SHITTU, Gombe


UMAR is nearing the age of 60. He sat wearing a mournful look in front of his consultant at the Psychiatry Department of Federal Medical Centre Gombe. He had lowered his head in a gesture of regrets. By the time he raised it up, it was tears that rolled down his cheeks.

His lips mumbled some incoherent words in Hausa language. Then he asked in Queen English: “Doctor, please what can you do to help me get my life back again?”

Umar’s was a sad tale of a spoilt child who got from his parents all the good things that life can offer. Like his siblings, he had the opportunity to study some of the best of courses in citadels of learning around the world. But four times he tried and four times he failed all because he was addicted to cocaine.

His parents who had offered him protection had died, leaving him a lot of properties to make something out of his life. But within a short period, all the properties were gone. Without wife or children and now without property, Umar sat in front of Doctor Rotimi Oyedun, a consultant psychiatrist at Federal Medical Hospital Gombe, asking the one million dollar question: “Doctor, can I get back my life back? Please help me.”

Umar was one of the numerous psychiatric patients slated for counseling for the day. After more than an hour in the counseling room, Umar walked out with his head lowered to face the scorching sun of Gombe and continue his life of regrets. But he was not alone in this condition. “There are many of them,” said Doctor Oyedun.

A few minutes later, another patient, Amina, walked into the counselling room with face, hands and feet that looked very clean. But other than these, the other parts of her body were riddled with boils caused by the use of needles to inject pentazocine.

Emmanuel is a member of a popular Pentecostal Church in Gombe. He was a fervent worker in the church until he suddenly developed a change in attitude and was brought to the Psychiatry Department of the FMC. Unknown to the church, Emmanuel had been involved in substance abuse, namely cannabis, for some time. But unlike others, Emmanuel recovered with the same speed he got caught in substance abuse.

Umar and Amina were not that lucky. In some cases, drug addicts develop ulcer in the limbs, which may lead to amputation of the limb as the wound may refuse to heal.

According to Dr Oyedun, commonly abused drugs are classified into opiate, stimulants, depressant, hallucinogen and others.

He said: “Opiates are drugs like morphine and pentazocine commonly called “penta” or “vectra”. Vectra is 225mg of tramadol. There is almost no medical indication for that single dose but it comes like that in tablet.

“Usually, doctors will prescribe 50 mg or 100 mg once or twice a day, but people are using 225mg of it. Usually, it is very difficult to even get it for prescription in the hospital, yet it is sold across the counter at 225mg.

“Depressants like common valium are also known as “D5” or “yellow boy” in this area. Then we have stimulants like benexol and coatine called “exol”. Apart from the alcohol which comes in various forms, the common one is pentazocine.

“A lot of people are injecting pentazocine. They also do mix amphetamine in soft drinks. A lot of people take tramadol because they believe it enhances their sexual performance, but in the long run, it destroys their sexual organs.”

Substance abuse, which is the abuse of psychoactive materials that exert their major effects on the brain resulting in sedation, stimulation or change in the mood of a person, is a universal social problem. According to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report, substance abuse is a major public health problem all over the world. Thus, an estimated 208 million people or nearly 5 per cent of the world‟s population between the ages of 15 and 64 years consume illegal drugs.

One hundred and forty-four million people abuse cannabis (marijuana), making it the most prevalent illicit substance, followed by amphetamine type stimulants, opiates and cocaine. Thirty-five million used amphetamine type stimulants, 16 million are opiates and 13 million are cocaine users (Naqshbanndi, 2012).

Substance abuse does not only expose the individual to major health problems but also serves as a predisposing factor for crimes. The need to control the supply and reduce the demand for narcotic drugs in Nigeria led to the establishment of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in January 1990 by the then Ibrahim Babangida administration.

According to a survey conducted by a group of sociologists from Federal University, Kashere Gombe; Gombe State University and Federal University Dutse Jigawa State, led by Haruna Mageed Oshogwe, on substance abuse among youths in Kashere town, Gombe, the main causes of substance or drug abuse among adolescents and even teenagers are multifaceted. They include high level of illiteracy among parents and children, inadequate or lack of skill among the youths, lack of awareness on the dangers of drug use and abuse, decaying moral values, broken homes due to divorce and, above all, lack of effective crime prevention measures such as effective partnership, especially among the stakeholders in the area.

The first sign of a disturbing situation in substance abuse in Gombe State was first noticed by Governor Inuwa Yahaya during his governorship campaign throughout the state in 2019. Governor Yahaya noticed a high and disturbing level of misbehaviour among the youth, which was traced to substance abuse. He had since then made up his mind to address the situation once he became governor.

Lamenting the ugly situation of drug abuse in the state, the Special Adviser to Governor Yahaya on Drugs and Narcotic, Mr. Birba Samu Godfrey, said: “I am really bordered by the situation and I think that is the passion his Excellency has for the youths who are into drugs. That is why he established the office of Special Adviser on Drugs and Narcotics so that we can go out and find the best way of solving the problems of youths who are into drugs in the state.

“It may interest you to know that this is the first time that government is establishing such an office in the state. In this office, we collaborate with traditional rulers, the NGOs, youth agencies and the NDLEA to find ways of reducing the problem to the minimum level if not eradicate it.”

Already, the office has located some places where cannabis are grown in Balanga, Dukur, Yamaltu-Deba and some parts of Shomgo Local Government Area of the state. The growing of cannabis is common in most of the hilly areas, some of which are not easily accessible by road. According to the Special Adviser, some of these places have been located and arrests have been made through the cooperation of traditional rulers, hunters and local vigilante groups in the areas.

However, in the Gombe metropolis, most of the hard drugs are sold in pharmaceutical and patent medicines stores, but most guilty of the sale of illicit drugs are the patent medicines stores, according to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency NDLEA, which recently organised a sensitisation workshop in collaboration with the Nigerian Association of Patent and Proprietary Medicines Dealers (NAPPMED) Gombe State on their role in curbing the abuse and trafficking in controlled and psychotropic substances.

The Chairman of NAPPMED, Salisu Mustabi, said right now, there was no member of the association involved in the sale of such illicit drugs to members of the public. He said although there was such an incident sometime last year, the person involved had been apprehended and handed over to the police.

“There has not been a single arrest of any of our members for illicit drugs this year. The one you are talking about happened last year, and since we have arrested the person and handed him over to the police for prosecution, we have not had any record of such thing again.

“Our Governor, Inuwa Yahaya has also invited us and talked to us on this matter. He said he does not want such a thing in the state again, and since he is the father of everybody, we have no choice but to listen to him. That is why you see us collaborating with the NDLEA for this sensitisation programme,” he said.

According to the NDLEA, Gombe is rated number three among the high risk drug abuse states in the country, even though it has a small population of about 3.5 million people. Already, seven spots have been located within Gombe metropolis, but the problem is how to arrest them because of the sophistication of the drug barons.

According to Godfrey, “most of the time, the barons got information of the plans to arrest them even before the arrest is made, because they often hack the mobile phones of the operatives involved.

“We have made several attempts but because of the technology involved, by the time we are going, they have already got the information and then conceal the exhibits, and you may end up getting nothing.

“In one instance, we met a boy of seven years in the drug shop. What can you do with a boy who does not even understand what you are talking about? That is to tell you how smart these barons are in Gombe. And normally if you don’t get the exhibits, the case is as good as dead.”

According to Mr. Segun Ishan, the Principal Legal Staff Officer of NDLEA in Gombe State, the agency has successfully prosecuted no fewer than 12,000 cases all over the country with 35 prosecutions made in Gombe last year alone out of which only one was a female.

He observed that the issue of drug abuse had gone beyond abuse to commercialisation of the case, and that is why, according to him, the case is common among men than women.

He said: “It has become a commercial enterprise, and that is why I think it is more on the male side than on the female. Now, drug offence is mostly an offence where people want to make money. So it is not just a case of the abuse itself but the commercialisation of the offence.

“In the whole country, Gombe is not in Class A or B. It is in class C because of its population.”

The programme Officer of Drug Free and Preventive Care organisation (DFPC) Gombe, Mr. Abba David Ali, said that more than 20 per cent of the youth in the state are involved in drug and substance abuse, and this made the state to be ranked as the number three among states with high prevalence of drug abuse.

According to him, “drug abuse is common among both sexes, but it is most prevalent among men because they are the ones we see mostly outside while the women are usually indoors.

Gombe NDLEA State Acting Commander, Mrs Rosana Nnodim, while speaking with NAPPMED members in Gombe, the state capital, said the agency could no longer condone the conduct of some NAPPMED members which she said had led to the destruction of some youths’ lives and insecurity in the country.

She said: “If you look at it very closely, the root of all the insecurity and youth restiveness in the country today can be traced to the use of illicit drugs which are made available by some of your members.

“I speak to your conscience today, those of you who are engaged in the sale of all these outlaw stand wrong prescriptions, what goes around will surely come around. Whatever you wish for the children of other persons that you sell those drugs to so as to make money will surely one way or the other come back to you.”