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Kaltungo: Rising From The Gorge Of Addiction

December 24, 2018

Sani Usman was introduced to tramol and marijuana by a friend he lived with when he was 22. He had rebuffed several attempts to make him start drug use but succumbed on a day he felt weak and exhausted. The drug gave him strength and had since become addicted. He is now 25. But after the REFINN seminar, he was happy to have attended.

A group of youth, about 50, line up in two rows inside a small hall for a little experiment. The facilitator whispered something into the ears of the first person in each row and asked them to pass the same message on to the last person through whispers. By the time the whisper got to the last persons and they’re asked to repeat what was passed to them, the story had been twisted and no longer conveyed the same meaning as the original message.

It was an exciting experiment on the dangers of rumours and stigmatization, and the boys and girls enjoyed it. It was one of the classes held for youth in Kaltungo, Gombe State, by Reclaiming Futures in Northern Nigeria (REFINN) on the dangers of drug abuse and how to recover from addiction.

Kaltungo and their Tangale speaking neighbours in Shongom, Balanga and Billiri, who live on the plains of the central Nigeria highlands in the Southern Senatorial District of Gombe State, have found themselves in a gorge of drug addiction for the past six years.

Youth, male and females, and mostly between aged 16 to 35, seemed to have taken to opioids as the means of socialization. Its common to see youth rendezvous in street corners, markets, motor parks and other public places where they engage in orgy of substance and opioids abuse.  

The common pharmaceutical opioids of abuse here are tramadol and tramol. Marijuana use is also prevalent while ‘solution’, a local substance, and ‘ogogoro’, which is a locally made gin, are widely abused.

Community leaders say drug and substance addiction is fast ravaging the youth population of the area and poses danger to the welfare and security of the communities. A shocking statistic of death resulting from drug overdose have also been recorded in Kaltungo. Not less than 20, in a community of 149,805(2006 census)  are killed by overdose every three months in the community while crimes of burglaries and robberies have also made the neighborhoods more unsafe.

The development led to the formation of the Tangale East Development Association (Kormana) by the community with the support of the Mai Kaltungo, Emir of Kaltungo, Alhaji Sale Muhammed five years ago. The association was empowered through a bye-law to go after drug couriers and drug users in the community.

Drug suppliers arrested were handed over to the Area office of the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) for prosecution while users caught were punished to serve as deterrent.

Depending on the nature of drug or substance, the punishment could be strokes of cane or cleaning of drainages-which could take up to 3 days to finish. They are then given “serious warning” to quit the habit or risk excommunication.  

A drug dealer was banished from Kaltungo after ignoring repeated warnings to stop the trade.  A few afraid of exclusion by the community managed to quit. But many others found other ways of indulging themselves.

But the coming of REFINN to Kaltungo has offered a new opportunity and ways of fighting the menace. A project of some alumni of the International Visitors Leadership Program of the United States Department of States, sponsored by the Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund, is designed to help youths in Northern Nigeria recover from addiction by giving the drug demand coping skills and empowering them for useful living.

But REFINN is also helping to change the narrative and help the society understand the need to show love and not rejection to those with addiction disorder by training a group of youth volunteers in all the communities the project would be executed. “These youths will be the REFINN ambassadors that would go into the communities to spread the message,” stated Bishop Ogueji Ejikeme, one of the IVLP alumni behind the project. 

It was easy to assemble the youths, thanks to the committed effort of the officials of Kormana who kept data about drug addiction. They provided contact information about old and new drug offenders in the district and helped persuade them to attend the 3-week training seminar. But not all the youth volunteers had used or sold drugs. Some were persuaded out of concern for the well-being of their brethren and their communities.

Sani Usman was introduced to tramol and marijuana by a friend he lived with when he was 22. He had rebuffed several attempts to make him start drug use but succumbed on a day he felt weak and exhausted. The drug gave him strength and had since become addicted. He is now 25. But after the REFINN seminar, he was happy to have attended.

“After attending just two lectures, I have summoned the courage to stop abusing drugs,” he said, adding that he has found a new lease of life. He has also been able to convince two of his close friends to quit addiction. 

Yakubu Abdulkadir, 39, revealed he sold and used drugs for 23 years until he was invited to the seminar. “We thought we had become useless in life and nobody cared about us. But this seminar has changed us and we have become facilitators for the campaign against drug abuse.

Jonah Joel, 26 had also used drugs since he was 19, and has been unable to quit addiction. He was one of those invited for the seminar. “They have shown us love and we are ready to change and also show love to our brothers and sisters. We are determined to take the right decisions,” he said amidst applause from his colleagues.

One of the six female participants, Talatu Yakubu, said she learnt useful lessons on drugs and effect of drug abuse. “I talked to two boys in our house and they have changed,” she revealed as her face flashed with a smile.

It was three weeks of intense interaction with experienced facilitators who lighted up the lessons with memorable lines to encourage faster recovery. Marcus Ayuba, a United Nations Certified Trainer and one of the executors of REFINN, made the group shout: “Anyone, Anytime Can Recover”, “What You Don’t Confront, You Can Never Conquer,” and “The Future You Cannot Picture, You Can Never Capture,” several times before introducing his interactive presentations. He is also the Head, Drug Demand Reduction Unit of NDLEA Borno Command, 

Gaius Dogo, NDLEA Area Commander who was one of the facilitators, beamed with smiles as he gave a closing remark on Tuesday December 18 when the seminar ended. “This program is going to make my work easier and I’m happy that you have brought it here,” he stated, and commended Emir Mohammed and officials of Kormana for their sustained effort to rid the community of drugs.
But despite the upbeat mood on the menace of opioids abuse, local leaders still lament the non-chalance of political leaders in the district and the state. “Our politicians and leaders are not helpful. You only see them during election campaign; once the elections are over, they’re done with you,” lamented Gajeri Aminu, Chairman of Kormana. He said the youths need to be empowered so that they don’t go back to drugs.

Organizers of REFINN however tasked the youths to work hard on taking back their communities from the grip of addiction for them to realize their full potentials. It is a task for which the youths appeared ready and willing to execute.