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Drug abuse: Helping school kids from making harmful decisions

WHILE  sharing her first experience with drug use by teenagers, a 16-year old female senior secondary school (SS2) student in Kaduna said one of her classmates was throwing a birthday party and invited her. Since it was an evening party, and she stayed with her mum, she had to ask permission to attend the party. But her mum declined. She then waited until her mum had retired into her room to sleep and sneaked out of the house.

The venue of the party was a small hotel and she found it was a drug party where everyone was smoking or snorting something! It was not long she arrived that law enforcement agents raided the hotel and took all of them into custody.

A one-week training workshop organized by Reclaiming Futures in Northern Nigeria (REFINN) has found that drug abuse education currently impacted in secondary schools in Kaduna State may be inadequate to help teenagers who constitute one of the most vulnerable groups to the scourge.

None of the 80 senior secondary school students selected from different schools in the state capital could explain properly the negative effects of drug abuse. And while most of them could define drug abuse, they had no clue about addiction and the dangers it poses, or how to fight motivation for drug use.

Students during the one-week training workshop organized by Reclaiming Futures in Northern Nigeria (REFINN)

Stella Danjuma, a final year student of Government Girls Secondary School, Kabala Costain, had never heard about the names of drugs commonly abused by youths and what the drugs do to the human body. She revealed that her school talks generally to the students on drug abuse occasionally during assembly time in the morning before classes begin.

Her counterpart at De Victory International School, Abubakar Kigo Road, Anaekwe Kenneth, said the school teaches drug abuse as part of Basic Science in the junior secondary school. “But we’ve never heard about the names of these drugs and their effects on the body, especially the brain,” he said.

REFINN, a project of four alumni of the United States sponsored International Visitors Leadership Programme (IVLP)-Ejikeme McBishop Ogueji, Tajudeen Suleiman, Marcus Ayuba and Yvonne Ichide, took the campaign against drug abuse to schools in the state. The training workshop focused on substance abuse awareness, motivation for drug use, how to make decisions and other life skills.

Apart from the four alumni team members, other facilitators at the workshop include Dr. Omeiza Beida, a Consultant Psychiatrist and Popoola Fatima Abiola of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) Kaduna State Command.

The workshop, According to McBishop Ogueji, coordinator of the project, is a preventive education programme to equip the teenagers with life skills required to deal with their vulnerabilities and avoid turning to drugs. “It is not enough to say No to drugs; they need to know why and how and be able to impact others to say No.”

REFINN has also carried the campaign to Gombe, Kano and the Federal Capital Territory and raised more than 150 ‘ambassadors’ to impact their schools, groups and communities. The project has focused on the dangers of addiction and how to avoid it traps and help others suffering from Drug Use Disorder.

In his presentation, Omeiza Beida, a Consultant Psychiatrist at the Federal Neuro-Psychiatrist Hospital, Kaduna emphasized why everyone is vulnerable to addiction and the dangers it poses to the wellbeing of the individual. “Addiction is not a character flaw, a personality disorder or moral failing. It is a health problem,” he explained.

Nearly a dozen illustrative games were used to make the sessions lively, interactive and to drive home the lessons of the training. By Day-5, the students had gained more confidence and were ready to become new ambassadors against drug abuse. When asked to talk about how they hoped to impact their schools and communities, many of them came up with innovative projects and asked whether they could get financial support.

Zuliat Mohammed of GGSS Independent Way said she planned to print leaflets explaining in bullet points why youths should avoid drugs and distribute in her school and neighborhood. Kenneth said he would organize a football match for youths in his neighborhood and use the opportunity to lecture them on the dangers of drug abuse. “After that, I will organize for other streets and do the same thing.”

Beatrice Olajide, a staff of the Kaduna-based House of Trust Empowerment and Opportunity, said the programme was commendable. “It is a very serious issue here in Kaduna because a lot of children have lost their school years due to drugs and substance use and had led many into anti-social behaviors and crime.”

For Glory Francis, who runs a rehabilitation centre for youths suffering from drug and substance addiction, it was important to take teenagers out of ignorance about the menace of addiction. She revealed that many of those she had helped to recover always said they regretted going into it. “Many of them would always say if they had known drug abuse was bad, they wouldn’t have gone into it.”

Although the Kaduna State Government may be doing a lot to discourage youths from going into drugs, the effort has had minimal impact because it is not comprehensive enough. Hassan Buba, a director at the state’s ministry of education said the state spent about N4.7 million on drug abuse education programmes for teachers and school career counselors in 2018. But this intervention was limited to only one out of 12 education zones in the state.

Buba admitted that funding is inadequate to cover all the school teachers and counsellors in the state, a project he suggested could require a minimum of one hundred and twenty million naira per year. He said the State’s drug education programme was focused on teachers and school counsellors because they are the ones who come in contact directly with the students and would be able to impact the education on them.

The teachers who attended the workshop were full of praise for the project and suggested all schools in the state should be given the opportunity to participate.

REFINN is sponsored by the Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund of the US Department of State with support from the US Embassy in Nigeria.

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