In the thick of global attention on Nigeria as a result of the undercover story by BBC Africa Eye and the pidgin unit of the foreign media, the local front has embraced the choice to join the discourse that has built a chalet on social media platforms and found a suitable home on the internet. Analyses have continued to fall on one another.
While some point at the defaulters of duties whose inadequacies have teleported our dear country to this condemnable state of codeine abuse, some others have opined and argued several parallel thoughts to this. Realities have also dawned on pharmaceutical business moguls, cartels and their cohorts as the “show don end”.
The government has finally woken from slumber and placed a ban on codeine, as NAFDAC went ahead to close down the production lines of some of these accused pharmaceutical companies. The closedown was deemed commendable by a minority, while a vast majority heavily lambasted the agency for its action.
Among the various turns that this story has taken and the countless opinions of several writers and citizens, the keenest point that many people have sadly shied away from is how this abuse and the menace it has left the nation to battle with, has to be completely eradicated. It is pathetic that people prioritised blaming NAFDAC for the closedown of the production companies over reacting on better ways to mitigate the rise of the abuse of codeine.
One thing we can’t emphasise enough is that, the onus lies on us all to contribute our quota to ensuring a saner clime.
First thing first, the aftermath of the ban on codeine is what everyone must gaze their eye on. The reality of the matter is that, when bans like this are placed on certain commodities, it does not ultimately end the actions that warranted the ban. So for years, we have battled closely with the eradication of cannabis in Nigeria, which has led to its protracted ban; yet, it is a demon that the NDLEA is daily at war with. This is not to say that the ban is needless; but to show that it may not solely bring about the efficiency in forestalling the substantial change.
Issues of drug abuse first have to be traced to the foundational causes and why people have resorted to abusing drugs. Then, a great consideration has to be linked to the addiction which is not something that can be merely overpowered by a ban.
In a quick presentation, to ensure this is not a problem–solution mismatch, one will realise that what the ban does is to take away the access to this product. This, however, does not depose the evidently ingrained addiction to the product. The law of economics does prove the existence of substitutes, and what we get to realise at the end of the day is that, while the access to codeine is denied by the ban, people go after close substitutes of the product which will in turn give them the same optimum effect.
The case may not be different in the ban on codeine. Truthfully, the ban on codeine is a commendable, at least, for the fact that the government finally woke up to its responsibilities. But, the government has to do more, if eradicating substance abuse is the goal of the ban at all.
Clamping down on substitutes, the first step is to ensure that the clampdown deny access to all other substances that may be abused just like codeine. To think of it, the report by BBC Africa Eye was to show how the drug takes away the beauty of life from people, especially youths and it will be disappointing for the citizens and the world to find out that the ban parallels such aim.
In clamping down on substitutes, it is only obvious that the government cannot do this without closing up the gap between itself and citizens. One would be shocked at the initial finding that BBC took up a detective role in Nigeria when we should have units in the police force doing some of these undercover works.
It leads to a question about whether the government even knows the people it governs, but that is definitely not a question for today. The investigation and undercover works should not stop here, it has to continue; to ensure that the black market for codeine is completely shut and make sure other substitutes are not finding their way into the market.
Also, there is a need to charge governmental agencies to be proactive. One would have expected that NAFDAC, for instance, had written a recommendation to the National Assembly to bring forth a legislation to ban codeine or enforce sanctions on the codeine cartels. But the agency did none of these until the voices of the people became loudest. It is not worthy to be called an agency if it has failed in carrying out its statutory duty for which it was established. Therefore, the government must do everything in its strength to empower its agencies to carry out the duties assigned to them.
One of the fast ways to eradicate substance addiction is looking beyond the peripheral to seeing deep causes for why these things have come to be. On the rise of this menace, the first focus should be on why there is unfettered access to codeine in the underworld. That takes us to how sales representatives in pharmaceutical companies are extremely pressured to rake in profits for the company.
It would gladden many hearts there is an investigation as to why these pharmaceutical employees decided to walk that path. One preemptive reply would have been the huge profits that these marketers have to turn in for their companies, just to retain their jobs.
At a period when codeine was the bestseller in the market, any pharmaceutical sales representative would have lost his job if he did not turn in profits for his company. Job loss should not be the justification for trading in harmful drugs. It is important government keeps an eye on pharmaceutical firms.
There should be strengthening and empowerment for Counselling Units in tertiary institutions. The addiction rate on campuses is incomparable to what we have outside academic institutions. The substance addictions usually start from the academic institutions before they are exported to the larger society. In view of that, a lot of arduous works need to be done on campuses.
Once the source is attacked, the spread and supply will plummet. And that is why it is necessary for the government to start its action from academic institutions. This can best be done by strengthening and empowering the Guidance and Counseling Units of our universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. But, it must be said that counselling units in our tertiary institutions are fizzling out with little or no effectiveness at all. They have even failed the purpose for which they are set up.
The story is worst today. Our universities have become places where student face tons of financial, academic and physiological challenges. Yet, they are pressured to produce high academic results. The only place students go for advice is the Guidance and Counselling unit, and this office is dominated by incompetent people, who lack knowledge of how to properly help students overcoming the challenges disturbing their minds. These days, students drop out of school, get frustrated and lose grip of life. Some even move close to suicide.
The government has to do a whole lot in overhauling the system. In line with the recent ban on codeine, the government needs to equip and empower universities to generate effective support systems, including Guidance and Counselling, and psycho-therapy. Only then can students who are suffering from addiction of substances see the reason to seek support and open up on their challenges. The little lives that this may save would definitely be worth it.
This is a call to the government to do more than just banning codeine, as the ban may not solve the big problem at hand. The government has shown it is ready to tackle the menace. The society also has its role to play. The blame game is only leaving us with more lives being destroyed, and there is dire need for an effective intervention. This is paramount at this time.
- Timilehin Abayomi is a third-year student of the Federal University of Technology, Akure and a campus journalist. You can connect with him on twitter.com/MeetTimbus.