One afternoon in March, our correspondent set off in search of joints where hard drugs were sold and consumed in parts of Lagos. Along the line, the search led to a narrow street, just off the busy Olowu Street and adjacent to the popular Ipodo Market. Known as Ilo Street, it is lined on both sides with crowded shops on most days of the week.
On this particular afternoon, a number of people, idle men from the look of it, sat at the back of a wooden kioks in front of a storey building. One of the men occasionally passed tiny wraps to the others in exchange for money.
Our correspondent observed the transactions for a while and then, without being noticed by the others, beckoned to one of the men – a gaunt and wrinkled fellow whose bloodshot eyes darted a quick and suspicious glance.
The man gave his name as Yakubu Mohammed. Obviously guessing that our correspondent desired some of the stuff wrapped in paper, he offered to help him get it.
“If you want Charlie or Thailand, I can assist you to get some. Alaye won’t sell to you because you are new here,” Yakubu said in Pidgin English.
Alaye was the fellow who had been passing the wraps to the other men. As it turned out, he was a dealer in hard drugs and the words ‘Charlie’ and ‘Thailand’ stood for the street names of cocaine and heroin.
Our correspondent was able to buy two tiny wraps of cocaine and heroin at N100, but not without attracting curious stares from the other drug users.
“They suspect you may be a policeman or NDLEA official,” Yakubu explained. He cut the picture of a young man whose whole existence revolved around hard drugs. He had just had a fix that afternoon and was clearly a shade too excited.
Like Ikeja, like Mushin
After combing the area for a while, our correspondent discovered more addicted drug users and not less than six dinghy drug joints between Ilo Street and Ipodo Road, obviously the hub of a thriving illicit trade in narcotics in Ikeja.
Further investigation showed that most of the joints were located in filthy surroundings, often near crowded and busy streets, especially in densely parts of Lagos, such as Ikeja, Ogba, Agege, Mushin and Somolu.
Young men and women, some barely in their teens, often loiter around such places, eager to grab an opportunity for a quick fix. In a particular joint on Akala Street, Mushin, a nursing mother sitting on a mat quietly sniffed from a substance in a piece of paper, while her baby yelled for her attention.
“Some of these people you see here have no homes. This place is their home. Day and night, you will find them here. This is where they always hang out. The only time they leave here is when they need money desperately for another fix,” a resident of the street said, on condition of anonymity.
When asked why he had not bothered to report to the police or NDLEA, the man said, “It is risky. Some law enforcement agents are practically on the pay roll of these people. Some come here in disguise to buy drugs, too. What if I go to a police station to report and somebody leaks my identity to them? That will be too risky. Most drug addicts are criminals. They are capable of anything. They could kill or maim if they suspect that you are a threat to them.”
Also, in the Mushin area, Igbarere, Anifowoshe, Umoru, Akinbiyi and Alhaji Lasisi Streets, among others, are dreaded and avoided by many law-abiding Lagosians because of their collective role in the wider trade in hard drugs.
A resident once described the area as the “unofficial hard drugs market. Illicit transactions between drug pushers and their customers take place in many of the shops found on the streets. You can easily tell a drug joint by the filthy curtain hanging at the entrance. When our correspondent visited there, a few young men could be seen openly smoking Indian hemp, now a common ‘food’ in many parts of the city, as it is in many others in the country.
Normally, influential Nigerians are associated with cocaine, heroin and other related narcotics. While children of the rich, for instance, flaunt the drugs in schools, it is said that some wealthy people go as far as sharing cocaine and heroine to their guests at some social functions. But most of the addicts encountered on the streets of Lagos were clearly from poor backgrounds.
Sometime in January, Governor Babtunde Fashola expressed concern over the discovery of illegal methamphetamine production plants in parts of the state. This added another dimension to the general awareness of a looming drug crisis.
“The discovery of clandestine laboratories for methamphetamine production in Lagos is the first alarm of insecurity in the state,” the governor was quoted as saying during a meeting with the Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Ahmadu Giade, in Lagos.
“Since crimes like armed robbery and rape are often committed under the influence of drugs, we must first fight drugs in order to fight crime. At this time of high security challenges, drug control should be a high priority issue. Every society that wants to promote peace and security must fight drugs,” Fashola said.
Earlier, news reports had indicated that the discovery of such illegal plants posed a serious obstacle to the current campaign to rid the country of the menace of drug addiction.
Almost every week, traffickers in hard drugs are caught trying to smuggle in narcotics at the Murtala International Airport and other airports across the country. The development confirmed the suspicion held in certain quarters that despite the efforts of the NDLEA and other law enforcement at curbing the trend, Nigeria might be on the brink of a major social disaster.
The three major drugs in popular demand among drug users in Lagos are cocaine (known as ‘Charlie’), heroin (‘Thailand’) and Methamphetamine ( ‘Meth’ or ‘Fast-track’).
“Meth is relatively new in Nigeria. But it is the most powerful, addictive and dangerous. It is three times as potent as cocaine. That is why those who are addicted to it are always hyperactive and restless,” says Pastor Ade Adeleye, the founder of the Word of Life Rehabilitation Centre.
Often referred to as the ‘poor man’s cocained’ Meth is a whitish, odourless and bitter substance that easily dissolves in water or alcohol. It can be taken orally, intravenously or by smoking and snorting.
In 2010, the drug became central to the Federal Government’s campaign to rid the country of narcotics after eagle-eyed NDLEA officials observed an outward flow of the drug from Nigeria to Western and Asian countries. This was the warning bell that foretold the possibility of illegal meth factories flourishing within the country.
Before then, Meth became popular for its capacity to enhance sexual performance and for its medical property as a pain killer.
For some time, it was imported into the country by drug barons perpetually on the lookout for quick profits.
Our correspondent tried in vain to obtain the drug, which sells for N50 per capsule. He was informed that it could only be purchased over the counter. Even then, most retailers will not sell to a buyer they hardly know, not until he is identified by a regular and trusted customer.
But a tip-off from a former drug addict compelled an unsuccessful search for an unidentified meth production plant in Oregun.
“I heard the plant is run by some Oriental people and they are very discreet,” the source said.
In terms of street value, meth is cheaper to buy than cocaine or heroin. But sources say drug barons are prepared to invest a lot of money on it because of the high profit margin. Perhaps this explains why it is relatively easily available.
Other drugs often abused by users in this part of the world include Indian hemp (also known as marijuana or cannabis), amphetamines, glues and hallucinogens, such as LSD.
Journey to self destruction
Stakeholders cannot stop worrying about the effects of drug addiction. Apart from the implication on the crime rate, the environmental and health consequences seem to be endless. But for the person involved too, drug abuse is a quick ticket to the land of self destruction.
While many people the world over have fallen from grace to grass because of their involvement with drugs, the case of a popular Nigerian reggae star, Majek Fasek, who was apparently destined for the very top, but who took to drugs and has become a shadow of his glory, is a glaring example. The artiste, is now a regular guest at rehab homes. All efforts to reinvent him vis-avis his music have not yielded fruits because the man, is still mentally, physically and psychologically stranded in drug holes.
The case of another financial top shot, who got lost in the drug groove, is instructive. He was introduced into the world of cocaine by some girls. Since he tasted the first shot, he could not stop asking for more. Although he had a wife and kid, he eventually sold off everything he had – including his car – to satisfy his craving for more drugs.
A Lagos-based elite family also reaped the bitter fruit of addiction through one of these children, not long ago. The youth was sent abroad for university education. It was there he turned an addict, forcing the parents to lure him back home. Unfortunately, it was during one of his mental fits that he shot his mother dead, plunging the family into further tragedy.
In a report, NDLEA boss, Ahmadu Giade, said the production of meth had deadly consequences for human health. He said, “The gases that are released from the production of meth are deadly, if inhaled. For every pound of meth produced, five to six pounds of waste products are generated. They can also cause skin cancer if exposed to the human skin.
“Then there is the matter of the solid waste that is released after meth has been produced. Some of the suspects had drilled holes into their fence through which they disposed of this waste on empty parcels of land near their homes. This waste kills everything around it; the soil and grass. Now if that waste percolates into the ground, it can equally pollute the ground water.”
Similarly, recalling his days as an addicted drug user, Phillip Agadi, said, “When you are under the influence of hard drugs, you are usually so useless that you are not in control of your actions. Your judgment becomes twisted. Even if your child is dying, you won’t even be touched. When I was addicted to cocaine, I was always completely detached from reality. I thought of nothing else other than where to get money for the next fix and I was ready to do anything, even kill for it. I would day sit in one place for a whole and do nothing. I couldn’t work for a living because I felt there was no need to do so.”
The Helpguide.org, an online resource portal, describes addiction as a complex disorder characterised by compulsive drug use. A statement posted on the website says that repeated use of a substance can alter the way the brain looks and functions.
It says, “Taking a recreational drug causes a surge in levels of dopamine in your brain, which triggers feelings of pleasure. Your brain remembers these feelings and wants them repeated. If you become addicted, the substance takes on the same significance as other survival behaviors, such as eating and drinking.”
“Changes in your brain interfere with your ability to think clearly, exercise good judgment, control your behavior, and feel normal without drugs. Whether you’re addicted to inhalants, heroin, Xanax, speed, or Vicodin, the uncontrollable craving to use grows more important than anything else, including family, friends, career, and even your own health and happiness.
“The urge to use is so strong that your mind finds many ways to deny or rationalize the addiction. You may drastically underestimate the quantity of drugs you’re taking, how much it impacts your life, and the level of control you have over your drug use.”
Saved from themselves
While the war against drug trafficking continues to rage across the globe, some drug users in Lagos have been fortunate enough to be saved. Our correspondent, for instance, encountered such people, including Adewale Adebambo, Tope Taiwo and Osagie Aisien, at the WLRC in Akute, a community in Ogun State. At different times in their lives, they were all addicted to hard drugs. All three were residents of Lagos and got entangled with narcotics in Ikeja, right in the heart of the Mainland.
For more than 30 years, Adebambo, for example, abandoned his family to walk a strange and tortuous path defined by an endless yearning for cocaine, heroin and crack, known locally as ‘Gbana’. He lived like a vagrant, without a home and a thought of the future, and was virtually at the mercy of nature.
In rain or shine, Adebambo (now almost 72 years old) walked the streets of Ikeja and Agege begging for alms to satisfy a perpetual hunger for drugs and food.
In an interview with our correspondent, the old man recounted, with a hint of deep regret, how he got hooked on cocaine and heroin in all those years, as well as how he desperately struggled to overcome drug addiction and start a new life.
He said, “I have no one else to blame except myself. I lived on the streets. Looking back at the past, I can say there is no gain in street life. I gained nothing and was clearly on the path of self-destruction. I depended heavily on cocaine and heroin. I would beg alms from morning till night and do odd jobs just to make some money. In the end, I spent all the money on hard drugs. Sometimes I made about N10,000 from begging in a day and I would spend all the money on drugs the same day.”
Incidentally, Adebambo confessed that he got his regular dose of narcotics from a discreet joint on the same Ipodo Road in Ikeja. “I was only one among many men and women, even teenagers, that got their supplies from the joint,” he said.
Before he got completely hooked on drugs, he had worked with Guinness Plc for about 27 years. Although he was not rich, he was reasonably comfortable and actually owned a commercial bus from which he earned extra money.
“I used the vehicle for transportation. One day I decided to sell it. I spent the proceeds on hard drugs. That was how I was able to sustain my habit until I started begging on the streets,” he added.
Reluctantly and almost tearfully, Taiwo narrated how he was lured into addiction and how he kept up the habit for 15 years. He said, “It is not a good thing to remember the unpleasant past. I lived a very miserable life. I was lost, battered by hard drugs, homeless and hopeless for a long time. Everything about me was upside down. I was addicted to hard drugs for 15 years. A girlfriend of mine introduced me to cocaine in 1987. Before I met her, I worked with a dairy company known as Samco and I was doing very well.”
Also, hard drugs cost Aisien the opportunity to make history as a member of the national football team that won the maiden FIFA Under-16 World Cup in China in 1985.
“I was a member of that YSFON team that transited into the National Under-16 squad in 1984. Although I wasn’t hooked on drugs at the time, I was already involved as a courier. There was this man who always paid me to ferry some packages abroad for him whenever we were travelling out of the country for a match or for camping. I did that successfully for a while before I got booted out for breaking camp rules just before the China tournament,” he said.
With his exit from the football team, Aisien, who claims to be the nephew of a former coach of Bendel Insurance Football Club, decided to drop out of school. The result is that he found himself getting deeply involved with hard drugs.
“I was addicted to drugs for over 20 years,” he told our correspondent.”