How drug abuse fuels election violence, malpractice in Nigeria.

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Drug addiction is a complex neurobiological disease that requires integrated treatment of the mind, body, and spirit. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain — they change its structure and how it works. Without treatment, these brain changes can be long-lasting. Addiction is chronic, it is progressive, and if left untreated, it can be fatal.

Individuals struggling with drug addiction often feel as though they cannot function normally without their drug of choice. This can lead to a wide range of issues that impact professional goals, personal relationships, and overall health. Over time, these serious side effects can be progressive, and if left untreated, fatal.

Commonly Used Illegal Drugs
Drugs are classified in several ways. Many are potentially addictive and harmful. Examples of illegal drugs include:
· Heroin
· Cocaine or crack cocaine
· Methamphetamine
· Bath Salts
· Methadone
· Ecstasy
· Marijuana
· LSD
· Mushrooms
· PCP
· And commonly used weed (Marijuana)

“Due to the high price of the above-listed drugs, most youths resulted to using weed (marijuana) instead, which is as well very dangerous to human health.
According to a study from the University of Michigan health system on Marijuana. Smoking weed is also as addictive as other listed drugs but more affordable.

Some people may believe that marijuana is not addictive or that it’s ‘better’ than other drugs but research proved the above statement wrong by saying that weed affects the brain in a way that may make it more difficult for a user to stop using it because it changes your brain in a way that may change your behaviour and where you get your sense of reward from.”

Talking about affecting your behaviour, entails pushing you to do things you wouldn’t want to do with a clear eye, like snatching and burning ballot boxes, disrupting electoral activities, kidnapping INEC officials and physically abusing voters like what happened in the 2019 presidential election in Nigeria.

Election violence worsens Nigeria’s tainted democracy. A case study of states like Lagos, Bayelsa and Rivers State.

ELECTORAL democracy is in a terrible state in Nigeria. Its practice defies universal standards of acceptable behaviour. But while everything is wrong with democracy in Nigeria, the greatest danger to its development is election violence. Elections are a do-or-die affair in this country, with politicians willing to unleash violence to achieve their ambition. That desperation was on display during the 2019 election as Nigerians voted in the rescheduled presidential and National Assembly which one newspaper described the polls as “elections of blood”, saying they were held “with blood flowing across the country”. That may sound hyperbolic, but, as The New York Times reported: ”Election Day violence killed at least 39 people across Nigeria”. And that’s not counting the severely injured. In one incident, six people were killed by security agents in Rivers State. There was mayhem in Lagos, with over 100 ballot boxes burnt and at least three people killed.

Of course, Nigeria has a history of election violence. Think of the election-related clashes of the 1960s, particularly the Western Region election crisis in 1965.

And the conflagration in old Ondo State following the disputed results of the governorship race between Adekunle Ajasin and Akin Omoboriowo in 1983. Some would argue that Nigeria wasn’t politically mature in those days and that the country would have developed democratically had the military not interrupted the First and Second Republics, which lasted for six and four years, respectively.

The military-civilian diarchy under General Ibrahim Babangida’s regime, during which he ruled as a military president alongside civilian state governors, lasted for less than a year, from January 1992 to November 1993. Thus, it could be argued, with some justification, that the short-lived democratic experiences didn’t allow Nigeria to develop sophisticated democratic cultures. But what excuses do we now have? This year marks 27 years of uninterrupted democratic governance since Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999. And the next year’s general election will be the seventh since then.

The 2023 election campaign is ongoing and citizens are trooping in their numbers to get their voters card registered so as to enable them fully exercise their fundamental rights to peaceful voting in the forthcoming election

But my question is: why is it that Nigeria’s voting system & voters card administration system hasn’t attained any level of sophistication. Seeing well-meaning Nigerians abandon their sources of livelihood to go and get their PVC has been denied easy access while some have lost their personal belongings in the process by pickpockets and have wasted over 5 working days in the cue with no hope of succeeding.

What is INEC doing with all the funds at their disposal that they find it difficult to get enough registration equipment for the masses to have an easy registration

I don’t want to believe that the INEC is purposely making it difficult for Nigerians to get their PVC so as to enable them to rig whoever they want into power in the forthcoming election.

The Nigerian youths are totally in displeasure with the way things are going in the country and wouldn’t want to experience the same voting problem that happened in the 2019 election which was characterized by card-reader failures, late arrival of materials and officials, hijack of electoral materials, voter intimidation and killings.

According to Commonwealth, “violence has no place in a modern democracy”, and its prevalence in Nigeria’s elections is a political failure! (www.vanguardngr.com).

Following these stories as published by Nigerian online and print media, it forced me to say that no sane citizen of Nigeria will engage in disrupting electoral practices, so permit me to say that both the tugs and those that sent them are under drugs to have come up with such plan and its execution.

Alcohol is equally a Drug because it pushes you to act out of your mind.
One of the most common misconceptions is that alcohol is not a drug. Though legal, alcohol is a mind-altering substance. When taken in combination with other drugs, the effects can be deadly.

Stretching it down to electoral violence
Sometimes the warning signs of alcohol misuse or abuse are very noticeable. Other times, they can take longer to surface. When drug addiction is discovered in its early stages, the chance for a successful recovery increases significantly.
Common signs of drug addiction include:
· Taking serious risks in order to obtain one’s drug of choice
· Needing to use more and more of the drug in order to produce the same effect

In most cases, the people that engage in election thuggery go through such risk in other to get paid for drug purchases because the more they use it, the more they need money to be able to afford it.

All Electoral Candidates should undergo a drug test before the issuance of a party ticket.

Following my initial statement that it is only a politician that is influenced by drugs or something higher than drugs will reduce to hiring thugs to violate electoral act and killing of innocent voters for self-aggrandizement. So I will suggest to electoral lawmakers to include testing in their screening methods before approving a party ticket.

According to the Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG), 2014 Report: Drug abuse causes election violence
Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG) in charge of Zone 1 Kano, Alhaji Tambari Yabo Muhammad, has described drug abuse by thugs supporting different political parties as “being responsible for violent atrocities committed against innocent people” during elections.

Speaking when the caretaker committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) paid him a courtesy visit, Muhammad said it was only when one got drunk that he could be berserk, stressing that if the deep-seated syndrome of drug abuse could be checked, the issue of violence would be history.

According to him, violence has the negative effect of overheating the polity as the electorate would be made to be paranoid in any given political situation.

NDLEA REPORT

The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) is the Agency shouldered with the responsibility for controlling the growing, processing, manufacturing, selling, trafficking and consumption of hard drugs. It was established by Decree Number 48 of January 1990 during the administration of former military President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.

Since it is inception, the agency had recorded tremendous successes, but with the return of democratic rule in 1999, the performance of NDLEA began to wane probably due to poor funding, lack of equipment, laboratories and inadequate staffing. This unwholesome development has reversed the good fortunes of the agency which led to the pervasive spread of drug trafficking and consumption in all parts of the country.

For instance, findings at the agency indicate that there are only five thousand personnel with more than two-thirds of this number manning International airports, seaports, inland ports and borders across the country thus leaving the state Commands grossly understaffed. The hitherto ubiquitous surveillance squads that used to mount checkpoints at strategic locations are quite a few barely enough to checkmate the activities of drug Caesars. The agency also lacks modern drug-detecting equipment and drug-testing laboratories that would facilitate easy analysis of suspected drugs and quick prosecution of offenders. The few Patrol Vehicles with which the officials chase drug couriers have all broken down without replacement.

Given the current deplorable condition of this very important Agency, I doubt if it can execute its mandate effectively. Therefore I appeal to President Muhammad Buhari to empower the Agency through regular recruitment of staff, providing adequate funding, procuring the most modern equipment and handsome remuneration for personnel so that Nigeria can win the war on drug abuse which has become a national malaise.

It would be recalled that during President Muhammadu Buhari’s Inaugural Speech on 29 May 2015 he promised to fight the menace of illicit drug activities in the country. But despite this promise more than three years ago, we did not see any change in the fight against drug-related crimes until the BBC Investigative Report on drug abuse in Nigeria which spurred the administration to ban the production and consumption of codeine and tramadol.

The BBC Africa Report says that “ Many Nigerian youths are getting alarmingly addicted to cough syrup with codeine; a medicine that has become a street drug, a sweet strawberry taste that makes one high. The report discovered that codeine addiction is more rampant among the youths in the northern part of the country” where “It is not hard to find Nigeria’s boys getting their syrups high. It is not hard to get Nigeria’s syrup girls either. Even the religious women drink it”. In the light of the above findings, it has been observed that over two million codeine bottles are consumed daily, only between Kano and Jigawa State respectively.

It is gratifying to note that President Buhari has upped the ante on the war on drug abuse with the inauguration of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Drug Abuse under the chairmanship of the former military administrator of Borno and Lagos States, Retired Brigadier General Buba Marwa with the Wives of the President and the Vice President Hajiya Aisha Buhari and Dolapo Osinbajo respectively as members of the high-powered advisory body. The President had during the inauguration asked members to work hand in hand with the wives of the governors who have also been in the vanguard of the war on drug abuse.

With all being said, I still insist on the need for every political aspirant and all already elected politicians to undergo a conclusory drug test and if found unclean should lead to immediate impeachment. Because it is discriminatory to constantly chase the youths around against drug use while our leaders are celebrated with security protection for committing the same offence.

ONWUGHALU QUEEN IFUNANYA: A human rights activist With HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA), entrepreneur and media strategist writes from Abuja Nigeria.