By Emmanuel Onwubiko
“To desire and strive to be of some service to the world, to aim at doing something which shall really increase the happiness and welfare and virtue of mankind. this is a choice which is possible for all of us and surely it is good heaven to sail for.” -HENRY VAN DYKE.
The tenth session of the National Assembly that is about rounding up has, in the perception of most observers, the notoriety of being the worst set of legislators ever elected into the National legislative assembly.
This notoriety flows down from top to bottom as a result of their resolve from the word go to play second fiddle to the head of the executive branch of government.
As a pliant and easily manipulated national legislature whose members decidedly positioned the quest for selfish pecuniary interest far and above national interest, It was therefore a bit of a surprise that the lower chamber of that infamous national assembly were able to put on their thinking caps and overwhelmingly voted against a proposed bill to legalise the use of Marijuana. This is a triumph of common sense over commercial interest of the cannabis sativa cabal in Nigeria.
The Pyrrhic victory or rather triumph of common sense over commercial gains will go down in history as one moment that the tenth session of the National Assembly excelled in stopping the bill which if it had translated into a law of the federal Republic will turn Nigerians into the biggest abusers of Marijuana, the World over. That bill would have created the enabling environment for Ganja smoking bars to spring up just like Telecommunications recharge cards selling points and then hemp smoking will become a national pastime together with the concomitant massive social crimes that would be unleashed by most of the social deviants who would inevitably be emboldened by the influence of this drug.
Already, there is a report said to have been authored by the United Nations Office on drugs and crime that rated Nigerians as one of the highest abusers of Cannabis Sativa. One of the House of Representatives members said primarily, that bill suffered devastating blow because if it has sailed through, Nigeria would be in gross breach of several global treaties against proliferation of consumption of hard drugs and illicit substances.
Ordinarily, the defeat suffered by this satanic bill ought to elicit national periods of rejoicing because what has just happened has also helped to indicate that Nigerians are actually not happy to be associated with notoriety as the dens and joints of hemp smokers.
What began in harsh tones when the Ondo State Governor Oluwarotimi Akoredolu played around with the idea of canvassing the legislation and legalisation of Marijuana, soon evolved into a Presidential campaign topic when Omoyele Sowere, one of the youngest candidates for the office of President of Nigeria said he would bring about the legislation of Marijuana if elected.
Many of those who endorsed the commercial legalization of Marijuana are simply looking at the financial or revenue valuation that such products would yield to the national treasury and are not concerned so much about the negative consequences of such habits of indulging freely in drug abuses.
But these proponents of this dangerous idea have no faint idea that their proposition is capable of destroying millions of young minds in a nation whereby the youths are expected to be at the driving seat of political leadership. The youths ought to be at the driving seat of technology, science and development of the sophisticated minds that should lead to sustainable development of Nigeria.
The agitation for the legalisation of Cannabis Sativa cannot succeed in Nigeria because the proliferation of illicit drugs often leads to crime, chaos and conflict, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency had explained. Essentially, most Nigeria will very easily accept this official line of argument.
In a statement issued in the heat of the National conversations on the desirability or otherwise of such a legislation at this material time by the spokesperson of the NDLEA, Femi Babafemi, disclosed that the Chairman/Chief Executive of the NDLEA, Brig. General Mohammed Bubba Marwa (retd.), made this statement as a guest speaker at the 2021 Ulefunta annual public lecture organised by the Deji of Akure Kingdom, His Imperial Majesty, Oba Aladetoyinbo Aladelusi and chaired by a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae.
Marwa said, “The proliferation of illicit drugs often engenders a pattern of crime, chaos and conflict. In the advanced world, it is the driver of the high crime rate and violent killings in the inner cities. In developing or third world countries, it is the escalator of strife, pogroms and civil war, and has played a big role in countries torn to pieces by tribal war, such as it is playing in Syria, which has become the hotbed of Captagon, and Afghanistan, which controls the opium trade.
“We have seen narco-terrorism in countries like Colombia and Mexico where drug cartels are a law unto themselves and are as powerful, if not more powerful, than the state. So, there are real cases, not scenarios, of where and how illicit substances played a role in a society’s rapid descent into chaos and teetering on the brink of a failed state.
“So the pertinent question for us today is: Have drugs played any role in the festering insecurity in Nigeria? The answer is yes. Of this, we have ample evidence.”
Marwa, represented by his Special Adviser on National Drug Control Master Plan, Otunba Lanre Ipinmisho, stated that considering the intractable burden of insecurity facing the country, “We do not have the luxury of allowing a narcotic economy to take root and thrive in our society. Africa, nay, Nigeria has enough problems without adding the burden of narco-terrorism.”
He said, “Of all the known illicit substances, Cannabis Sativa is the only one that is native to Nigeria and it is the most abused of all illicit drugs, and from the findings of the National Drug Survey of 2018, cannabis is becoming a national albatross.”
While warning that the population of Nigerians hooked on cannabis alone was more than the population of countries like Portugal, Greece or the Republic of Benin, he said that as such Nigeria could not afford to toy with the grim reality of the danger of legalizing cannabis when all the needed infrastructure to monitor and control it are still far from being in place.
“Where cannabis is concerned, we should not by any argument allow ourselves to become the proverbial fool that rushed in where angels fear to tread. Countries like Canada, which are pro-cannabis have strong and efficient institutions that are way ahead of ours by long mileages.
“Given the reality of our law enforcement, controlled cultivation of cannabis is a mirage. Aren’t pharmaceutical opioids controlled? Tramadol, codeine, Rohypnol, Benzopam, are all controlled, yet, their trafficking and abuse is causing us unquantifiable human and economic loss.
“And for those who point at the inherent economic benefit that could accrue from the legalisation of its cultivation, following our reality, would you be comfortable, if by tomorrow, your 13-year-old son can easily access marijuana, or you find some wraps of weed in his pocket, or you learnt that someone has introduced your 16-year-old daughter to smoking cannabis under the pretext that it has medicinal value?
“Our individual answer to that question will give us a public opinion of where we should stand as a country in the cannabis debate,” he said.
A reporter took out time to cover comprehensively the debate on this campaign to legalise marijuana.
The reporter narrated that Nigeria has been debating whether to legalise marijuana. Its House of Representatives is set to discuss a bill to that effect. The Conversation Africa’s Wale Fatade asked Olakunle Idowu, a Professor of pharmaceutical chemistry, to explain the science behind the debate.
The reporter asked if there is any scientific basis for legalising marijuana?
The plant, Cannabis sativa, or Cannabis indica, contains several phytochemicals – cannabinoids – with a variety of pharmacological actions. Its multiple effects are the reason some people use marijuana and also the reason others feel it should not be legalised. While it gives some a pleasurable effect, the active doses also have several side effects.
A particular phytochemical – delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – found in the leaves, flower and resin produced by the plant, is responsible for the euphoria that users of marijuana experience. It reacts with specific receptors in the brain. This “high” is sometimes associated with addiction and crime.
On the other hand, cannabidiol (CBD), also found in the plant, is a compound that does not interact with that receptor. It does not affect a person’s mental state, but has properties that are shown to be useful for managing anxiety and epilepsy.
Cannabidiol oil is commercially available in some pharmacies in Nigeria. It is sold as a dietary supplement.
To complicate the picture, the potential effects of the chemicals on people depend on the plant variety, the cultivar. The cultivar that is grown as industrial hemp for fibre and biodiesel is much richer in CBD than THC.
In essence, legalising marijuana would mean addressing some scientific issues for safety reasons. These are:
· determining the specific variety of the cannabis plant in the country, and
· the quantities of the phytochemicals – THC and CBD – present in those varieties. Geography (terrain, soil quality and chemistry) affects the composition and relative amounts of plant phytochemicals.
What scientific challenges would Nigeria face in legalising marijuana?
One challenge is to have the scientific capability to evaluate what is legal and determine what is illegal.
In the US, cannabidiol, which does not produce the “high”, is legal if it contains 0.3% or less of THC, the chemical that produces the “high” with the associated antisocial effect. This comes down to “quantitative phytochemistry” – the ability to accurately and reliably determine how much of a specific phytochemical is found in a plant sample.
When THC is above the level specified, it will be ruled illegal. This level of specification is required because it is the THC concentration that is associated with the propensity for drug abuse and crime.
Reliable results from quantitative phytochemistry depend on trace analysis, which requires instrumental methods of analysis, based on laboratory equipment which is expensive to acquire and maintain. In most cases the analytical method used is liquid chromatography hyphenated with mass spectrometry (LC-MS-MS), a specialised technique that is not yet commonplace in Nigeria.
If marijuana were legal, the drug regulatory agency, the National Agency for
Drug Administration and Control, would probably have an increased burden of responsibility.
Quality assurance would be a serious challenge. For a plant product that has a wide disparity in pharmacological actions, it is difficult to have a safe active dose without side effects. It can have very different effects on different people, so “abundance of caution” is the wiser approach to adopt.
As a scientist, do you support the legalisation of marijuana in Nigeria?
In my view we should not legalise marijuana yet, when there is little to no research data in our universities on the plant, especially the various cultivars that grow in our environment.
These different angles to the debate celebrated in the aforementioned piece, brings a refreshing reminder that Nigerians need to be vigilant at all times to stop bad bills from scaling the National Assembly and becoming national laws.
A former lawmaker, Senator Shehu Sani, added his voice of reason by rightly warning that legalising marijuana use in Nigeria portends grave danger for the nation’s youth. Shehu Sani said this in a tweet on Thursday, March 23, in reaction to a controversial bill currently before the House of Representatives.
Two members of the green chamber, Benjamin Kalu and Olumide Osoba, had sponsored a fresh bill seeking to amend the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act, to expand the scope of the anti-narcotics agency to issue licences for the cultivation, sale and use of marijuana.
Members of the House clashed on Wednesday during deliberations over the bill titled, ‘A Bill for an Act to Amend the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act, Cap. N30, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 to Confer Additional Responsibility of the Power to Grant and Revoke Licenses for the Cultivation of Cannabis (or Any of Its Three Species, Namely Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indicia and Cannabis Ruderalis) Plant for Medicinal Purposes; and for Related Matters.’
Reacting, Sani, who represented Kaduna Central in the 8th Senate, warned of the consequences of state-sanctioned marijuana cultivation and use.
“The bill to legalise marijuana now in the Nigerian House of Reps, if eventually becomes law, will result in the systemic destruction of our youths and plunge the country into a drug problem.
“There will be (blow) of smoke everywhere as users will claim it’s for medical purposes,” Sani said.
In terms iof opinions on issues, Nigeria is just like a house of commotion. This is because, what seemed to signpost a national social disaster, could find support in some quarters. So, it wasn’t so much a surprise, when one of Nigeria’s fast rising Musicians- Daniel Benson, better known as Buju/BNXN, endorsed the strange campaign for the legalisation of marijuana just as he called for marijuana (weed) to be legalised in Nigeria.
The singer formerly known as Buju said this during an Instagram live session on Monday.
According to him, legalising marijuana will prevent it from falling into the hands of ‘dangerous people’.
He added that this is the only drug that makes him laugh.
Bnxn said: “I’m sorry to my parents. I lied to them I was not smoking, I tried all the drugs but Marijuana was the drug that made me laugh. It’s legal in some countries, hence it’s not a drug.
“You don’t know that if you legalize marijuana you are literally taking it off the hands of dangerous people, people don’t have to go to extreme lengths just to smoke to feel good. Get your PVC.”
Recall that Buju announced the name change to BNXN in February 18.
Meanwhile, Burna Boy in October 2021, mentioned that not legalizing Marijuana in Nigeria is hypocritical as everyone smokes.
He noted that the misconception around marijuana was another reason it had not been legalized in Nigeria. Burna, has clearly committed a fallacy of hasty conclusion because everyone in Nigeria doesn’t smoke Marijuana.
Interestingly, the house of Representatives recently saw reason to jettidon that toxic bill to legalise Cannabis in Nigeria.
Someone asked me thus: Do you think we’re ready for marijuana legalisation in Nigeria? My straight answer is no.
Tolu Omotesho on March 24, 2023 penned down a piece and voiced out what can be termed a summary of the debate of that bill before the lower legislative chamber.
According to Tolu Omotesho, it’s no secret that for a while now, Nigerians have clamoured for the legalisation of Cannabis, also called marijuana or weed, and it seems like federal lawmakers are finally considering it.
What happened, he asked?
According to the current National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) Act, if you’re caught in possession of marijuana, you’re liable to a minimum of 12 years in prison and, in cases of trafficking, life imprisonment.
But a bill co-sponsored by Benjamin Kalu, Olumide Osoba and Miriam Onuoha seeks to amend the NDLEA Act to instead allow and regulate the growth and cultivation of Cannabis for medical and recreational purposes. This bill proposes establishing a system for the NDLEA to register, issue and revoke licences of Cannabis producers and users.
However, at the second reading of this bill on March 23, 2023, several members of the House of Representatives opposed and criticised it, which led to the House stepping down the bill for further legislative action.
An argument from many people in support of legalising weed in Nigeria is that it’s a lesser evil. For instance, it’s presumably “safer” than cigarettes and alcohol. Here are some perceived benefits of legalising Cannabis in Nigeria.
Any Medicinal benefits of marijuana, asked the reporter? The reporter then asserted that over the years, marijuana’s medicinal properties have been one of its major selling points. Studies have shown that it helps with cancer treatments and pain relief. In 2018, the Federal and Drug Administration Agency (FDA) approved using a medication containing Cannabis to treat epilepsy.
Another Source of Revenue
Although Cannabis is illegal in Nigeria, the NDLEA disclosed that nearly 10.6 million Nigerians used it in 2022. Legalising it would mean it can be taxed, and we can join the likes of Malawi and Zambia and make millions in revenue from the global marijuana market.
Reduced police brutality
The Nigerian police have unfortunately used the excuse of “finding” weed on young people for harassment and assault. Cannabis legalisation would hopefully reduce these occurrences, and the police could spend time tracking down offenders of serious crimes.
One of the reasons why members of the House of Representatives opposed this bill is concerns of abuse and addiction. These concerns are legitimate; with this, we’ll break down some cons of legalising Cannabis in Nigeria.
Nigeria is battling a drug abuse problem, for instance, crystal meth in the South-East. Cannabis can be a gateway drug leading people to more severe drugs like cocaine and heroin.
Psychological side effects
Although marijuana is repeatedly termed “harmless”, we shouldn’t forget that it has hallucinogenic properties. And if abused, it can cause delusions and hallucinations, anxiety, panic attacks and reduced muscle control. There are records from hospitals in Benin, Edo state which showed that between 1999 to 2022, 70 per cent of 849 first-time psychiatric hospital visits were caused by Cannabis abuse.
It can end up with children
Although an age limit will be placed for cannabis use, it will likely end up in children’s hands, which can lead them to drug abuse and addiction from an early age.
It’s just as dangerous as a cigarette
Another point to dispel the belief that marijuana is harmless is that just like a regular cigarette, it’s also dangerous to your lungs and maybe even worse. A journal revealed that one joint of marijuana is equivalent to five cigarettes.
These pros and cons of the marijuana debate is intriguing, I must say. But my general take on this m, especially to the legislators is thus: Don’t Use the Office to Make Your Personal Statement.
This is because People are so career-minded today this is less of a problem than it used to be. But it still angers me when any of our own executives use the office as some kind of personal forum.
This can involve any number of things, from the way someone dresses, to a refusal to accept or participate in a new system because it’s a waste of time, to setting his own hours, to catering to his own ego.
Self-assertion within the corporation is a very delicate thing. The trick is to conform – to know when to blend in – while sticking out at the same time.
Separate personal issues from corporate or substantive issues. Assert yourself only when the time and place are appropriate. (WHAT THEY DON’T TEACH YOU AT HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL BY MARK H. McCORMACK).
So, legislators must become the Vanguard of legislative mechanisms and tools that promote the public good of Nigeria and specifically, must on no occasion, let down the people by enacting legislations based purely on commercial interests of drug barons.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.