Written by Moronfolu Adeniyi, Chapter Leader of SSDP Nigeria.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy Nigeria, in partnership with Youth Rise, held a 2-day summit to train our chapter leaders on drug use and policies. SSDP Nigeria’s goal is to utilize student activism and grassroots strategy to reform drug policies in our country. Youth Rise was established in 2002 as part of the global Youth Rise Movement and their objectives center around the promotion of harm reduction policy, led by young people. The summit was attended by leaders of SSDP across the country.
The summit was declared open by Mr. Wilson Ighodalo (CIND) when he delivered a welcome speech to every participant to the summit. Participants were then engaged in a lecture filled with discussion led by Mr. Adeolu Ogunrombi, the Executive Director of Youth Rise Nigeria. Mr. Ogunrombi spoke on the current drug control strategies employed by Nigeria, gave a background on International drug policy, and discussed The Nigerian Drug Law – The NDLEA Act.
The summit addressed the punitive approach of government drug policy known globally as the “War on Drugs”. These policies are retrogressive and have adverse social, economic, and political implications on society. Mr. Ogunrombi asserted that present policies on drug abuse are not effective at combating drug abuse in our society. He suggested a more empirical approach which encompasses treating drug abuse through compassion and empathy while realizing that every person who uses drugs is unique and should neither be stigmatized or victimized. The lecture centered on the policies that guide the usage of drugs in Nigeria, and how these policies have failed to ensure a lasting solution to the challenges for which they were created. For example, incarceration of people using drugs in Nigeria has not discouraged the use of drugs amongst people; the statistical number of users has, in fact, grown significantly with young people making up about 85% of the number.
This was discussed to prove that harsh policies against the use of drugs do not necessarily discourage use. People who are addicted to drugs are patients, not criminals. This was the core message behind the lecture, which also discussed the Support Don’t Punish Campaign.
People who use drugs have been given various demeaning names over the years. Drugs themselves are mired in age long myths, misconceptions, and controlled by numerous policies and that seclude users away from society. The presence of drug policies which criminalize people involved with drugs is not achieving the result for which they were made. The government’s zero-tolerance policy is designed to cut down on supply and completely eradicate drugs from society. However, this punitive policy has only assisted in aiding and abetting the proliferation of drugs in the market. Policies like the outright ban of drugs, criminalization, and incarceration of users have only made production, distribution, and marketing more profound.
After this discussion, participants split into three groups, with the task of drawing a well-illustrated diagram that shows the effect of the prohibition-led approach and factors that mitigate against the government’s supposedly well-meaning approach to fight drugs. The presentation for each group gave room for questions and answers, with further discussion on how these policies are failing rather than helping.
A discussion was held on the categories of drug use, vulnerability, harm reduction, how poverty is linked with drug abuse, and media portrayal of drug abuse. The other phase of the training involved drawing up an action plan as to how participants would implement the activities of SSDP on their return to their various chapters. Some of the action plans described how new SSDP chapters can be created and how the activities of existing chapters will be supported by knowledge received at the workshop. The action plan was divided into six categories: objectives, activities, target audience, resources needed, timeline, and representatives. Each action plan was thoroughly scrutinized and recommendations were given by other participants. Some grey areas were cleared up and various committees were established to aid the growth of SSDP Nigeria.
The team leader for SSDP Nigeria, Moronfolu Adeniyi, gave a presentation on SSDP’s resources that highlighted the importance of working towards a better and vibrant chapter, and why chapter leaders should educate themselves on harm reduction protocols. Bashorun Olufemi, who is the Programs Associate of SSDP Nigeria, explained to the participants the importance of implementing their actions plans to ensure that the objective of the summit is achieved. Also in attendance at the workshop was the Director of International Programs for Students for Liberty, who gave a presentation on the positive impact of youth-centered policies. Others in attendance from SFL include Oluwafemi Ogunjobi, the Programs Associate of African Students for Liberty, and the Regional Director for Ghana, Lilian David. The summit ended with a distribution of educational and harm reduction materials to leaders for their various chapters.
Gratitude to YouthRise Nigeria for making this summit a reality, as well as the International Drug Policy Consortium and Students for Liberty for their helpful advocacy materials.