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Editorial – Substance Abuse and Criminality among the Youth

The level of criminal activities in the country may seem ordinary just because the society seems to have settled down with it, but this is not to be accepted. Suffice it to say that many underlying factors can be contributory to this rising trend, studies have shown that apart from poverty and illiteracy, substance abuse remains a major influence leading to criminal activities of various sorts including even juvenile delinquency and hooliganism, etc.

The reality on ground paints a sorry picture of what the society is up against and there is no need to waste more time. Sometime ago a specialist at the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Education and Rehabilitation Unit of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Kaduna, Dr. Ebiti Williams gave this illustration: For instance, over 6million bottles of codeine are sold on a daily basis in the North-West part of the country. This further underscores the level to which substance abuse is linked to criminal activities by young people. It also goes to show the heightened dimension drug addiction has assumed in our society.

A report by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in their 2010 report equally corroborates the situation; the damning position shows that over 11% of the people in the North-West of the country are hooked on one form of drug or the other. In the Southern parts of the country e.g. Lagos and the Niger Delta areas, the story is not too different as the resultant effects of drug or substance abuse daily stares us in the face. The telltales are daunting going by the unabated spate of hooliganism, thuggery, cultism, armed robbery, abduction, gangster rivalries and all manner of violence perpetrated mainly by the youth.

The problem of antisocial behaviours have been compounded by the fact that substance abuse has assumed wide colourations; the youth have become even more experimental in their daring urge for getting high, and escaping from reality. It is so worrisome that so many young people today are getting addicted to anything that can fetch a feeling of ‘euphoria’. We must understand that young people today abuse prescriptive medicines even more than the ‘popular’ illicit drugs, and they do so most of the time by doing a combination of these substances.

It is rather sad that harsh economic environment over the years which has thrown up a high rate of unemployment and poverty, coupled with illiteracy and bad leadership, have driven so many of our youth to exploit all avenues for an ‘escape’ via substance abuse. They abuse anything ranging from cough syrup, codeine, glue, alcohol to Indian hemp, etc. while some have graduated to the abuse of hard drugs such as cannabis, heroin, and cocaine depending on their purchasing power.

If we must nip this habit in the bud however, there must be a complete rejigging of the entire social space while bearing in mind that peer group pressure very often gives vent to this social malaise. And because most young people are highly impressionable, parents and guardians must endeavour to render good parental guidance. When this is lacking they may easily be psychologically influenced to pick up wrong behaviours.

It goes without saying then that substance abuse is at the height of the rising spate of crime among the youth in Nigeria. It behoves government therefore to intensify efforts to curb this menace; apart from rehabilitating the youth who are already hooked on these substances, more effort must be channelled towards massive public enlightenment campaigns aimed at educating the public about the grave effects of drug addiction.

To this end, government will do well to further expand the existing reformatory and rehabilitative facilities around the country so as to restore victims of substance abuse to become useful again to their families and society; it should also make basic and even secondary school education mandatory and free for every child. While trying to eradicate illiteracy and keeping children in school, it is even more critical that the mass of educated youths be adequately catered for by ensuring they are gainfully occupied so they are kept away from negative influences as much as possible.

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