Of passionate volunteers and differing crowds: A walk against drug abuse and illicit trafficking
by Ogunlana Oluwaposi
“There are many people in society who really don’t know the consequences of abusing drugs. Surprisingly, they are willing to listen and change if educated properly.” – Sanni Ifeoluwa
The Nigerian Red Cross Society, University College Hospital, in partnership with Asido Campus Network, University of Ibadan, organised a walk against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on the 29th of October 2022, to sensitize the people of Ibadan on the dangers of drug abuse.
The volunteers (of which I was one) from both organizations set off from the hospital premises towards Agodi Gates Park at 9am on the chosen date. Several placards, each imprinted with a different message, were hoisted above our heads as we chanted anti-drug slogans into the crowd of ongoers; “Ẹ máa mu igbó mọ́ “. Our message was met with mixed reactions on the street.
On one instance, as the procession passed a group of motorcycles, a man sneered at us from atop his bike. He snidely remarked, “Tell me if none of you are taking drugs”. Some others like him, took offence with our message, as they assumed we had ‘targeted’ them. It appeared they were of the opinion that we had labelled them as drug users because of their socioeconomic class and job status.
On the other hand, there were those who reacted kindly, stating that they were thrilled by our message. Although, some in this group pulled volunteers aside under the guise of curiousity about our message, only to ask if we had brought anything to give them.
Regardless, we journeyed on to the park undeterred. On getting there, the volunteers dispersed into smaller groups to carry out our anti-drug evangelism. Agodi Gates Park is an important transportation hub in Ibadan, hosting citizens from all walks of life for at least a few minutes each day, as they traversed the city. However, beyond its function as a temporary stop or terminal for most people, the Park also represented a community, one that is bound not by blood, but by cash transactions and social class. It was also a community that illustrated the current drug epidemic in our society.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in 2018, one in seven young Nigerians had used an illicit substance in the past year. And of these individuals who had used drugs, one in five of them was suffering from a substance related psychiatric disorder. These numbers raise concern to the well-informed mind because Nigeria, one of the most youthful countries in the world, has less than 200 psychiatrists to cater to his population of over 200 million.
One group of volunteers engaged a tariff collector by his stall as he smoked pizazz in one hand while conducting his business with the other, in the presence of the child of a customer no more than a year old.
When did you start smoking?
“I started when I was about 15.” He paused to draw another puff. Two of his colleagues sat beside him, one of which was brandishing his own blunt in front of us. “At first I coughed, but after a few times I knew that my power could handle it,” he told us, his face beaming with a youthful pride.
Unlike many of the youths we had interacted with, he was receptive to our questions, warm even; a testament to the old saying to never judge a book by its cover.
Our future efforts at conversations were not met with as much success. The more people we interacted with, the more people who denied using drugs. One young motorcyclist, possibly no more than twenty-five years of age, withdrew his former statement, having initially told us he used drugs because of the nature of his work. However, regardless of the many possibly false denials, one thing consistently rang true: everyone knew a person who uses drugs.
Then came the preaching and educating from our end. The older traders were more receptive, listening with rapt attention to the students from the university as we spoke to them about the financial and medical implications of drug use.
“The primary healthcare centres don’t have our time,” one man told us. He looked close to his fifties, with children of his own. He too, like many who were gathered around us, was curious to know where to take their loved ones with drug use problems. This highlighted a major problem in healthcare delivery in Nigeria where healthcare services are practically inaccessible to grassroot communities. Thankfully, we were able to inform them of the psychiatric services at the University College Hospital, which is available to the public.
Ultimately, the walk was a unique experience that reminded many ambassadors and crossers alike, of the need for better drug awareness campaigns and public sensitization on the part of the government and individuals.
As the music blaring from our loud speakers slowly came to a halt, signifying the end of the walk, one thought filled my mind; we still had a lot of work to do.