Sapele’s Youth Drug Addiction Epidemic

Sapele’s Youth Drug Addiction Epidemic: It is alarming.

One must wonder what happened to a once genial and hope-filled town called Sapele. It was a youth’s town and youngsters had much promise and bright futures. Well… According to a competent and concerned eyewitness Ejorheya Brighoademo, a governance professional and works in the tourism and entertainment industry in Sapele, the rate of drug addiction is conservatively 50% of the entire teenage population of the town! An entire generation afflicted with a destructive scourge. Incredible! How did Sapele, a major town in Delta State, Nigeria, give into the drugs scourge?


In the 1970s Sapele had a thriving port, was home to African Timber & Plywood–the largest timber exporting firm in the world, had a large flour mill, many good schools, several well-sized employers and the state support services required by a densely populated big town. Everyone tried to shop at Kingsway Stores. Sapele was also home to two notorious slums, Ugwanja and Urban Area, despite the appearance of a prosperous town. The economy of Sapele has since declined. Unemployment rates are high and an alarming drug addiction epidemic among the youth of the town threatens to get worse by the day.

The retail sale of recreational drugs and incidences of drug abuse was not a major social problem in the country in the 1970s. People were still very much afraid of developing schizophrenia (going mad after smoking marijuana. A few Hausa mallams sold drugs and some patent chemist store owners, without a doctor’s prescription, needed to buy the drugs over the counter.

In the 1970s Nigeria, there was a popular date-rape drug called Mandrax [Qualuudes), a sedative drug, popular for its use on females targeted for gang rape. The rapists would give the unsuspecting girl a capped bottle of drink spiked with the drug, and it knocks her out after drinking it. Some of the urban poor also used it to make life “bearable.” Other recreational drugs that were common with thuggish boys to facilitate their intended misbehaviour. These included Selorine and Merital S, both addictive antidepressants that elevated mood and motivation, Dutch courage was no longer found in alcohol. There was also the dreaded “Chinese capsule” [perhaps PCP or Angel dust], so named because it helped guys withstand much punishment during a fight [karate or kung fu]. Recreational drugs then were a thing for misfits and the range of drugs on the market was small.


The range of recreational drugs available in Nigeria today is very broad. Moreover, the societal inhibition against smoking marijuana has thinned out altogether. People now want stronger stuff and you do not have to be a misfit to indulge. You can, with no difficulty at all, purchase antidepressants, barbiturates, hallucinogens, stimulants, opiates, dissociatives and more over-the-counter drugs without a prescription. Such drugs would be in the strictest category of controlled pharmaceutical substances in a well-governed nation with responsible leadership. Why are these drugs available on the streets of Sapele or elsewhere in Nigeria? Who imports them and from where?

The impact of drug addiction among the youth of Sapele is not novel. Ejorheya Brighoademo, who was once interested in becoming a sports health instructor and in the 1980s was the poster child for Milo adverts, recounts the effects. “The addicts do not look happy but lost, desperate or spaced out. Violence and public misbehaviour among the addicts are rampant and occur every other day. Even best friends become willing to fight each other to the very end after taking the drugs. Once these youth addicts converge in a public place, they are a menace and cause much consternation in the minds of bystanders. The drugs with the highest use are codeine and tramadol.” Perhaps, because of these cheap opiates are affordable, most residents do not currently their use with robbery.

Brighoademo further states that “teenage pregnancy is now out of control. By the time a girl in Sapele gets to age 18, it is likely she is already a mother of one or two kids. Drugs are to blame mostly. The girls now drug themselves then sleep with anyone.” The resulting deaths, injuries, mayhem, destruction and drug-addicts’ babies who, from anecdotes, have a high mortality rate, all threaten the social fabric of Sapele. He often asks the youths why they take drugs? Their answer is invariable. “Nothing dey this life for us…” As is common around the world, despair in the life of youths against a background of visible wealth and conspicuous consumption fuels drug addictions. No matter the self-righteousness or dismissing the listener, that is a poignant cry of hopelessness and helplessness.


Structures of governance handle the ease of access to drugs in Nigeria. Nigeria has two agencies that were created with the specific purpose of dealing with the drug problem. The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). The government established the NDLEA to prevent, detect, and correct drug violations within the country. They set up NAFDAC to regulate all kinds of ingestible substances manufactured locally and imported from overseas. Whatever the proclaimed achievements of these agencies, they have failed Sapele and many places like it in Nigeria.

An NDLEA operative based in Abuja clarified that NDLEA and NAFDAC do not differ from other law enforcement agencies in fighting crime. Clients receive protection and enemies get hounded. The NDLEA agents raid joints where marijuana, monkey tail or non-pharmaceutical drugs anyone can sell, but rarely ever patent chemist stores or pharmaceutical industries that are just as guilty of selling controlled drugs and expanding the drug addiction epidemic. Pharmaceutical companies turn out to be the best-protected clients.

It is easy to crucify the pharmaceutical industry, NDLEA and NAFDAC. However, it is what the presidency, governorates, local authorities and legislators expect of them they do. When it comes down to it, Nigeria is the land where “Every Man Is For Himself and God For All.”

Forget the politicians! No help is coming from the government. However, the drug problem in Sapele and the destruction it visits on the youth remains and expands.


Grimot Nane

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