By Emmanuel Onwubiko
I was in deep conversations with stakeholders in the organised civil Rights community in the Country on the revelation that was made by the then Anambra State’s governor -elect Professor Chukwuma Soludo shortly after he emerged as the successor in office of the immediate past Chief executive of that State that drug barons have captured political powers in Nigeria.
The erudite Professor of Banking and Finance then proceeded at length to offer profound exposition of his claim. As we progress we will cite his assertion in full.
It was in that same period that the Chief executive officer of the National Drugs Laws Enforcement Agency Brigadier General Mohammed Buba Marwa hinted that the agency may conduct drug tests on politicians aspiring for political offices.
As stated, the then governor-elect of Anambra State, Chukwuma Soludo, said politics has become a big business in Nigeria, adding that many drug barons and internet scammers have flocked into politics to avoid being arrested.
Soludo, an ex-governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria who won the November 6, 2021 Anambra governorship election on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance made this claim.
He spoke on ‘The Purpose and Price of Disruptive Change’ at the first graduation of the School of Politics, Policy and Governance Pioneer in Abuja. The school was founded by former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili.
Soludo said, “Indeed, Africa needs a new liberation movement. The first struggle was liberation from the colonial masters. The second will be liberation from rentier politics and politicians. For me, there is almost a sense of nostalgia, recalling the mission and accomplishments of our founding fathers, especially as we contemplate the world without oil in Nigeria.
“Much of the existing social order is founded on competition for, and distribution of, rents. Oil and the easy money that came with it destroyed the social fabric and the elite created new institutions and political structures to maximize their gains. As the noose tightened globally on other rentier/criminal enterprises such as drug trafficking or internet scamming, many of the barons flocked into politics as the next easy alternative.
“Politics has become big business. Appointment or election into public office is seen largely as an opportunity to ‘eat’ rather than a call to selfless service. There is an army of rich (big men) who have never worked or done any productive work in their life and believe that it is their right to expect something for nothing.
“The tiny less than one per cent elite have a stranglehold on the public purse, sprinkling occasional crumbs to the citizens as ‘dividends of democracy’. The citizens themselves either out of helplessness or acquiescence join the party, expecting the politicians to dole out pittance out of the public treasury as charity.”
According to the governor-elect who assumed office in March, Nigeria is now at a fiscal cliff with a crunching solvency challenge.
“Youth unemployment, insecurity, poverty, inflation, etc threaten the social fabric. Migrating to a post-oil world of 4th Industrial revolution and sustainable prosperity will require massive disruptive transformations and restoration of a productive social contract.
“Such disruptions will come at great costs, and could indeed be dangerous.
“Fixing politics requires talent and skills. But these won’t be enough. It won’t happen by lone wolves working in silos. It requires new developmental organisations – organisations/teams of believers, driven by defined ideology, purpose and character,” he submitted. The hierarchy of the NDLEA coincidentally also said hard drugs could pose a challenge to transparent and peaceful general elections next year.
Determined to rid politics of all influences of hard drugs, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, a few weeks back, called on political parties to make drug integrity tests part of the screening requirements for aspirants seeking to contest political offices in the 2023 general elections, a move that was endorsed by the Nigerian Medical Association.
The Chairman of the NDLEA, Brigadier-General Buba Marwa (retd.), stated this at the 2022 First Quarter Best Performing Commands Awards ceremony which was held in Abuja.
While the NMA supported the move, the Nigerian Bar Association advised the agency to approach the National Assembly for legal backing for the drug test.
But Marwa said he had written a letter to the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Senator Abdullahi Adamu; and would be writing to the Peoples Democratic Party along with 16 other political parties.
He said, “For politicians, we have long advocated and I take the opportunity again to repeat the advocacy that when they run for public office it demands a lot of responsibility from the person and we need to be certain if he’s a person that is already a drug addict/user who will spend all the money he’s given for public service to consume cocaine and his head will not be in a stable condition to handle the affairs he has been entrusted with.
“For this reason, we have advocated and will continue to advocate that drug tests be conducted for politicians; some state governments like Kano State are already doing this.
“Not just politicians, but government appointees, and I’ve just sent a letter this morning to the national chairman of the APC, who will be the first of the National Working Committee I wish to pay an advocacy visit on this issue.
“I recommended that drug tests be incorporated in the screening process for all those interested in running for public office; we’ll do the same to the PDP and other important parties.”
Supporting the NDLEA’s proposal, the NMA National President, Prof Innocent Ujah, told The PUNCH that the use of drugs by politicians would affect governance.
Ujah stated, “There are schools doing drug tests for their students. Are you aware? There is a reason for that. Health is the state of physical mental and social well-being and not necessarily the absence of disease
“So obviously if a person takes drugs is the person in a good state of mind to govern Nigeria? It is a health issue, it also affects governance but I don’t expect anyone governing Nigeria to be on drugs but it is a possibility.
“The NMA will not have any objection to that. Even if not for politics, we want to ensure that everyone is in the correct state of mind. As a doctor, we do clinical examinations for fitness for instance.”
However, the NBA said the drug test could only be enforced if it had legal backing. It, therefore, advised the NDLEA to submit a bill seeking to make the test mandatory.
Also many senior advocates faulted the move, insisting that Nigerian law made no such requirement for political aspirants.
The NBA Spokesman Rapuluchukwu Nduka, in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “I don’t think there is any law in that regard. But when you look at the kind of leaders and leadership we have in this country, it may make sense to actually ask the people who want to take up positions to do some drug tests.
“For me, it may not even just stop at drug tests, they may also need to do some tests to check their mental capacity and certain other things about their health. But apart from that, until a law is passed to that effect, the NDLEA can only suggest while parties can make it part of their policy. So, aspirants can’t be forced to do drug tests because they want to run for political office.”
When asked if an aspirant could be disqualified for failing to present himself for drug tests, the NBA spokesman responded in the affirmative.
“For a person to present himself for election, he must have gone through the party’s structure before the party allows him to run for election. So, if the party makes it part of their rules, that if you don’t present yourself for drug tests you can’t be given a ticket, then that will become a party thing.
“So, any person who decides to run on the party’s platform will now abide by the dictates of the party. I think that’s how it can be done if we are serious about it.
“It’s a proposal not backed by law. They may go on and ask the National Assembly to pass a law to that effect.”
A senior advocate of Nigeria Kunle Adegoke, faulted the request made by the NDLEA.
Adegoke said the grounds of disqualification for political holders in the constitution did not include assessing the mental state of aspirants.
He said, “From my perspective, while it is not ridiculous that many people occupying political offices in Nigeria should have their mental condition checked, at the same time there is no such prescription in the law that anybody who is vying for political office must be certified to be mentally alright.
“And as far as it is not a requirement of the law, the only conditions of disqualifications are already stipulated and they do not include having to certify someone as mentally alright or drug-free before he can run for an election.”
Also a human rights lawyer, Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa (SAN), said the NDLEA had no powers to make such a request.
He said, “That request is unconstitutional, it is ultra vires and beyond his powers as the chairman of the NDLEA. The NDLEA should engage itself within the ambit of the exercise of the powers conferred on it by its laws; that is to go round the country and rid our land of drugs and narcotics.
“People are hawking illicit drugs openly on the streets, morning, afternoon and night. The attempt to politicise the NDLEA is unbecoming, it is totally condemnable. The chairman should not politicise the NDLEA, he should focus himself on the statutory responsibilities and he has no power to add to the requirement created by the constitution.”
Adegboruwa added that the constitutions of the country and that of political parties had guidelines and stipulated the qualifications of political candidates and this should remain the minimum standard.
The senior advocate added that if there would be a need for drug tests, it should be carried out on existing public service holders.
“If anybody is to be tested at all, it should be those who have won elections, the people who are currently serving. For us to determine why people loot money, why people do the things they do after they have won elections; those who are in office, the ministers, governors and others,” he added.
Also, a former President of the NBA Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), said that he did not agree with the NDLEA adding that the agency needed to follow the constitution and the laws that govern the land.
He said, “The law is there, the constitution is there, the constitutions of the political parties are there. If they are qualified, let them go and contest their primary elections. It is not even within the power or jurisdiction of the NDLEA to add to the constitution. The constitution is clear. What are the qualifications for contesting elections? Is drug usage or pushing part of it?”
Olanipekun lamented that it was sad that the NDLEA was beginning to trivialise issues despite the enormous problems the country was faced with.
He added, “We have a lot of problems facing us in the country, there are a lot of problems. The NDLEA is trivialising a lot of things; they are making Nigeria, a laughing stock. This is not the way it should go.
“If you suspect anyone of being a drug addict or drug pusher, you know what to do. But what’s the meaning of aspirants subjecting themselves to drug tests? Why not tell them to subject themselves to mental tests and every other test? Why the drug test?”
The senior advocate said those holding public offices are the ones that should be subjected to drug tests, not aspirants.
Another senior advocate, Chief Mike Ozekhome, said the request of the NDLEA, though appealing, ought to be interrogated within the parameters of the constitution.
Ozekhome added, “The NDLEA Act and the constitutions of political parties have to be carefully read to ascertain if both institutions possess such enormous powers to screen aspirants by subjecting them to the inhuman and degrading test to ascertain if they take drugs.
“This is more so having regard to the fact that the constitution and the Electoral Act have both comprehensively and exhaustively legislated on qualifying and disqualifying factors that can prevent an aspirant from contesting to become a candidate, and for a candidate to contest in the general elections.”
Also reacting to the issue, Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), said the NDLEA had no such right, adding that Nigerian law already lists the conditions aspirants must meet.
He asked the NDLEA to focus on drug barons and abusers of drugs in the country.
“If anyone wants to contest elections there are conditions listed by the constitution. You can’t add another condition until you amend the constitution. How do you even detect somebody is on drugs?
“If somebody is on drugs and he knows he will be tested, he will withdraw his intake for a certain number of days and you’ll have nothing on him. Then he could go back when he becomes elected,” Adedipe stated.
Amidst these opposing and divergent views the famous civil Rights Advocacy Group- HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) has made the issue of possible influence of hard drugs to next year’s poll the centrepiece of her 15th year anniversary on August 25th 2022. Many scholars are pleased with this thematic area tabled for debates. The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto diocese Most Reverend Doctor Mathew Hassan Kukah when asked if he will be joining HURIWA on August 25th 2022 to debate this all important topic felt happy that the group is up and doing with the advocacy campaigns against human rights abuses.
In congratulating the Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA) for our consistency in the past 15 years in drawing the nation’s attention to issues that will strengthen democracy, stabilize the country, and ensure development, the Bishop of Sokoto diocese wished us well. This year, HURIWA’s choice of theme for its 15th Annual programme is again apt, as it examines How Drugs Fuel Election Violence in Nigeria.
The 2023 General Election means a lot to the Nigerian nation and to Nigerians. If not for anything, it would mean yet another transition from one government to another in the current democratic dispensation. So, all forces that will create hurdles for the process or taint the outcome must be identified and addressed in good time, and election violence is certainly one.
There is no doubt that there exists a very strong correlation between drug and substance abuse and violence, particularly election violence. The nexus between drugs and election violence can easily be established when one considers what hard drugs do to the human mind under circumstances.
Substance abuse has been associated with violent behaviour for many decades. While the relationship is much the same today as it was in the past, the pervasiveness of the association, and the consequences, are more dramatic in recent times with new and more psychedelic drugs emerging on the scene. There are two ways in which substance abuse is related to violence. First, violence can be and is perpetrated under the influence of substances, and second, violence related to substance abuse stems from pressure to keep the lifestyle.
In politics and particularly with elections, the drug abuse-violence nexus presents itself in several distinctly different facets: drugs of abuse may act on brain mechanisms that cause a high-risk individual to engage in aggressive and violent behavior to help a candidate secure victory at all costs. Alcohol, marijuana, narcotics, hallucinogens, and psychomotor stimulants differ substantially from each other but are also related to different kinds of violent and aggressive behaviour, especially where it comes to elections.
Generally, the linkage of drugs of abuse, and violence exist in the many direct and indirect levels of interaction. These range from (1) drugs activating aggression-specific brain mechanisms, through (2) drugs acting as licensure for violent and aggressive behavior, as well as (3) drugs as commodities in an illegal distribution system that relies upon violent enforcement tactics, to (4) violent behavior representing one of the means by which a drug habit is maintained.
The strong statistical association between drug and engaging in a violent or aggressive act or being the target of violent behavior prompts the identification of possible causal relationships. Though I am not a medical doctor, conventional wisdom and common sense tell us that effects of drugs release aggressive impulses to body mechanisms.
Permit me to also observe that of all hard drugs associated with violence at elections, alcohol and marijuana stand out as the drugs that are most consistently and seriously linked to many types of aggressive and violent behavior and therefore play a major role in election violence. And because the violent act is paid for by the politicians who procure them, election violence in the context of hard drug abuse is instrumental in securing the resources to maintain the drug habit and in interacting with drug dealers.
It must also be admitted that hard drugs are not magical drugs. They do not magically produce violent, assaultive, or criminal behaviours. Generally, personality predispositions and a history of violent behaviour appear to determine whether or not hard drug intoxication will lead to violence. However, drugs remain a very strong disposing factor in election violence.
As already indicated, drugs of abuse do not engender violent behaviour in every individual, and some imbibe alcoholic beverages or self-administer drugs without becoming violent. However, this category is not our cause for concern.
There are modulating influences of learning, social modeling, or parental physical abuse on drug action, and aggressive behaviour and impulse control. Research evidence points to the fact that drug action on the brain mechanisms for aggressive behavior is modulated by genetic predispositions, learned expectations, social restraints, and cultural habits. This implicates poor parental control and a terrible upbringing.
I also want to say that it is drugs that establish the symbiotic relationship between politicians and political thugs who perpetrate violence at elections. A thug sustains his personality as one through acts of violence and aggression, which the politician relies upon to intimidate and sometimes, eliminate his opponents. Snatching ballot boxes and election materials against the odds are extremely violent conducts that often require the aid of drugs.
One thing is however certain: alcohol, marijuana, opiates, cocaine, amphetamines, PCP, LSD, or other hallucinogens promote violent and aggressive behavior by acting on the individual’s conditions at the time of the violent act and this also includes election violence.
The election period is a time politicians of different political parties with different ideologies jostle with one aim; to acquire power. Unfortunately however, politicians see anything that is standing between them and acquiring power as an enemy which must be dealt at all cost. Rather than engaging in contestations of ideas, many politicians usually make use of techniques like intimidation, blackmail, and violence and deploy political thugs to these ends.
To achieve this, politicians enlist the services of political thugs who almost without exception are hard drug users and abusers, many of whom are addicts with persisting distorted perception of reality. Not fully aware of the dangers of what he/she is getting into, the drug addict is often prone to aggression on the slightest provocation.
It is all about hard drug abusers and the politicians who deploy them. Clinically known as substance use disorder, drug abuse or addiction is caused by the habitual taking of addictive substances. Drugs include alcohol, marijuana, hallucinogens and opioids. Substance use disorder is a disease, causing people to compulsively use drugs despite consequences. What is more, they need lots of money to sustain the drug use and abuse and election violence funds the habit through the said symbiotic relationship between the politicians and the political thug. As we say in Nigerian parlance, you rub my back, I rub your back.
The evidence spread to all walks of life; Statistics on drugs and violent crimes, driving while intoxicated, and drug-induced violence in schools, homes, and social spaces. The connection between drug addiction, alcoholism, and violence crosses many thresholds (individual psychology, public health, and domestic violence, to name a few)
The consequences of hard drug misuse and abuse are also very damning. Substance use disorders (SUDs), a medical condition defined by the uncontrollable use of drugs and/or alcohol despite the negative consequences, have been associated with a range of adverse outcomes, including suicide, premature death, comorbid mental illness, and violence. In fact, research indicates that up to 75% of individuals who begin treatment for a SUD report having engaged in physical assault, mugging, using a weapon to attack another person, and other violent crimes. Political thugs are no exceptions.
Drugs and violence spread to domestic violence as verbal, emotional, and physical intimidation; and can be delivered in the form of threats, destroying another’s possessions; hurting pets; forced sexual acts; and physical acts (including hitting, hair pulling, punching, slapping, and more) to hurt spouses, parents, stepparents, children, siblings, other relatives, and intimate partners. These violent characters are the sort of people politicians deploy on Election Day to perpetrate violence. The way drugs have affected their mind, they are very dangerous because they can easily main and even kill without thinking of the consequences.
Here are some of the most common drugs that have been found to contribute to violent behaviour during intoxication and/or withdrawal and can predispose their users and abusers to election violence:1. Cannabis (marijuana); 2.Alcohol: An increased risk of aggression may occur when a person is either intoxicated with alcohol or experiencing withdrawal from it; 3. PCP (Phencyclidine); 4. Cocaine and heroin: Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug; 5. Amphetamines; 6. Methamphetamine;7. MDMA (Ecstasy); 8. Opiates and Opioids are associated with increased aggression, impulsivity and suiciside; 9.Anabolic Steroids: Anabolic steroids are synthetic or human-made, variations of the male sex hormone testosterone; and 10. Sedatives (benzodiazepines). The most common of these drugs are alcohol and marijuana for being readily available and cheap to procure.
Having established that substance abuse is the largest precipitator of violence in adults and adolescents, and related the same to election violence, what is the way moving forward to ensure a hitch-free, fair and credible 2023 General Election.
I will restrict my recommendations to just two levels namely parents and law enforcement. Parents have to check themselves because research tends to suggest that violent youths tend to have violent parents. 80% of child abuse cases involve the use of drugs and alcohol. Drug abuse and violence tend to have their roots in the family, parents have to take up responsibility for dealing with the menace.
Against election violence particularly, Parents must check out where their children, especially male children, are on Election Day. Parents who have children known to use hard drugs have to seriously caution them about the consequences of violence and thuggery during the election. This will help to some extent.
Law enforcement is however the most crucial. Perpetrators of election violence need to be decisively dealt with . Drugs of all kinds must be kept far away from election venues, particularly hard drugs, especially marijuana as well as alcohol.
The efforts of the federal government in dealing with drugs and drug related issues in Nigeria received fresh impetus with the appointment Brigadier Buba Marwa (rtd) as the NDLEA Chairman, who launched large-scale reforms at the agency. The agency has to work closely with the police in reducing the incidence and impact on the 2023 General Elections. Nigerians want to see arrests, prosecution and jailing of election offenders. There must be deterrence lest election violence and other vices associated with conduct of elections in Nigeria will Persist.
HURIWA 15th anniversary is a unique opportunity to share the thoughts on election violence in Nigeria and to appeal to Nigerians from all walks of life to support the activist leadership of the Chairman, Chief Executive officer of the National Drugs Laws Enforcement Agency Brigadier General Mohammed Buba Marwa and help the agency to rid the Country of hard drugs and dangerous substances that precipitate violence and all kinds of violence in Nigeria.
EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER of the NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.