Nigerian Urban Culture and Drugs – A Looming Apocalypse II

Very close to my house is a drug den. Not in a house or dwelling but within and around a collection of unoccupied shops in a market that never took off. There, often as early as 6 am every day, including Sundays, young men and the occasional young girl, come to indulge themselves in Indian Hemp or Mary J, or Wee-wee or its other pseudonyms. The smell of it would be thick in the air and you’d just wonder if you weren’t also a partaker by default. This, they occasionally wash down with high-grade local gin sometimes accompanied, these days, by multi-coloured pills, or cough syrup. Thymol is said to be a favourite. Now and then the occasional fight breaks out and the whole street comes alive with spectators in this game of Bestiarii pitted against unseen but nonetheless powerful beasts in a mind-circus: young men against powerful psycho-actants. There’s the occasional bloody fight, sometimes a stabbing. One of the more notorious boys, who’s violence was considered a threat to the locality, would be eventually found bludgeoned to death, some say by vigilantes.

The dealer is a dark, wiry young man, who’s on crutches due to a huge, now bandaged, diabetic sore on his lower right leg. He’s accompanied by a flat-chested, short-haired, tom-boy. They hide their wares in plain sight behind a Kerosene seller’s tank. They are very well known to the police. When the police, on the occasional raid, arrive with fanfare, blaring sirens and firing blanks into the air, the patrons scatter and scamper all over the place. The unlucky are caught and thrown into vans and driven off to the Police Station, to be eventually ‘bailed’ by parents or friends with bail amounts set according to the needs of the District Police Officer’s pockets; that this is illegal is just a mere matter of inconvenience. The dealer and his assistant are never touched. The policemen go straight to where their stock of drugs is and poach it – they know where it is, some being customers themselves – or collect money from the dealer and drive off. This parody of law enforcement continues while parents and neighbours watch theirs or the neighbourhood’s children get sucked into the drug cyclone: Two of the neighbourhood children have gone psychotic in the space of 7years. A third was surrendered by his parents to the Prison’s Borstal home and has returned, after 2 years, appearing cleaner and chastened. He’s still seen around the den but appears to be abstaining for now.

This is happening in every nook and corner of every locality or Ungwar across Kaduna city. The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency concerns itself only with manning check-points ate the entrance to the city, but these are of course ineffectual because there are many routes and means into the city and by the evidence of the easily available drugs within the city; besides, for example, the, rumoured, motorcycle gangs that flood the city with drugs are never stopped for checking at the so-called check -points, so the drugs continue to flow freely. Cocaine, Crack-cocaine and Heroin are also making inroads: If you know the right signs to make and the right words to say you can buy them freely, that is, if you can afford them. The reason they’re not even more pervasive is because they’re relatively expensive, but that means that those who are already hooked will have to born rich, earn a lot of money legally or commit more serious and more rewarding crimes to continue to afford their drugs of choice.

For those already hooked and looking for a way out, there are no hospitals or treatments centres to manage their withdrawal. They’re abandoned to the strength of the individual will to fight their ways out of what, essentially, has become a physiological need.

Hapless citizens, inept and corrupt law enforcement, powerful cartels, and poor social infrastructure arrayed against a growing epidemic looks like a war already lost, but where there is a genuine and committed collective will there will always be a way out. Where does this start? Many are already afraid to speak up because of their very real fear that police would point them out to the drug merchants. The impunity of the drug dealers raises a frightening spectre of Mexican style modus operandi with the equivalent effort to fight back. Shall we continue to twiddle our fingers while the city burns?

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