REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE, HIS EXCELLENCY (DR.) ABUBAKAR BUKOLA SARAKI, CON, AT THE NATIONAL FLAG OFF OF THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST DRUG ABUSE BY NIGERIAN YOUTHS HELD AT THE AJUJI GREENWICH HOTEL, APO GUDU, ABUJA ON DECEMBER 12, 2018.
1. I am pleased to be at this Flag Off of the Campaign Against Drug Abuse by Nigerian Youths. I am grateful to my colleagues in the House of Representatives especially the Chairman of the Committee on Narcotic Drugs, Hon. Eucharia O. Azodo, for this important initiative. Indeed, commendation goes to the entire members of the Committee charged with looking into this issue – for the work they are doing; and for organising this event as part of the national fight against of drug abuse.
2. The 8th National Assembly has, from the outset, been a strong advocate of the fight against illicit drugs. Almost exactly a year ago, in the city of Kano on December 18, 2017, we held the Senate Roundtable on the Drug Use Crisis in Nigeria, to look into the problem. Our findings – including the fact that up to three million bottles of a now banned cough syrup were being consumed daily in two states of Nigeria alone – shocked many Nigerians into acknowledging the scale of the issue, and led to renewed attention even in the international media.
3. The recommendations that came out of that Roundtable are being taken forward, and resulted in two Bills specifically drafted for that purpose. The subsequent ban on importation of Codeine is directly related to the national awakening triggered by National Assembly efforts in this area, and it is heartening that the House Committee is taking the fight head-on with this Campaign Against Drug Abuse by Nigerian Youths.
4. While this challenge has been onerous and daunting, our resolve comes from a clear understanding of the precarious future it portends for Nigeria’s youths. This is why the timing of this flag-off campaign is so appropriate, given the growing concern at home and abroad about the drug abuse epidemic confronting our country. It is therefore expected that this campaign will enable all key stakeholders to further articulate the steps needed; and appraise old and evolving strategies for successful outcomes.
5. Distinguished guests, it may interest you to know that youths constitute about 70 percent of our population; and their numbers are further estimated to match the current population of the entire country in just 10 years’ time. Studies have also shown that drug abuse is prevalent among the youths within the demographic of 18 to 35 years old. The menace is not only a threat to individual lives, it is endangering entire communities. The statistics raise concerns about the future of a country whose woes also include insecurity, poverty, and corruption. We must demonstrate the strong political will to get things done, especially regarding this scourge of drug abuse.
6. It is unacceptable to see young Nigerians caught in the vortex of drug abuse when they could be making useful contributions to national development. Our efforts have keyed into – and seen to the implementation of – the National Drug Control Masterplan (NDCMP) which was launched in 2015 with four strategic objectives, namely: Prevention, Control, Recovery and Legislation. These are being strengthened by Bills that came out of the Kano Roundtable and other engagements on the drug issue. The National Drug Control Bill comes with clear mandates for inter-agency cooperation by the relevant authorities to combat drug abuse. The bill criminalises the over-the counter sale of drugs that would otherwise only be available with a doctor’s prescription. It also targets high level drug barons and financial networks that support the illicit trade.
7. The legislative response is two-pronged, and includes the National Mental Health Bill, which will address psycho-social problems related to drug abuse. The Bill moves us away from the criminalisation to recovery, so that affected individuals can be helped to return to living useful lives. The Bill provides for minimum standard recovery facilities in very state of the federation; and will also see to the very important task of protecting the rights of the mentally ill. These are just some of the steps we are taking, because we strongly believe that an important measure of a compassionate society is how it cares for the vulnerable.
8. The challenge is a tough one; and we must pool efforts together if we are to change the narrative. I wholeheartedly commend and support this campaign. It is robust and all encompassing in engaging not just key stakeholders but also our neighbours, caregivers, community leaders and those affected. They are all central to achieving the positive results we seek.
9. Looking ahead, the 2019 Elections present a golden opportunity for us as a nation to decide the direction we are to follow. In a year that saw the official inclusion of the youth agenda in Nigerian politics with the Not Too Young to Run Act, it would be most unfortunate if we allow our youths to be lost to a drug-addled condition. We must turn the tide of the drug epidemic raging in our country.
10. Once again, I commend the House of Representatives Committee on Narcotics for their firm stance against drug abuse, and for this much needed campaign on that front. May the campaign yield successful outcomes for the benefit of our youths and the nation as a whole.
PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE.