(DR.) Bukola Saraki, Senate President’s Speech at Roundtable on Drugs Use Crisis in Nigeria, held in Kano, Bristol Palace Hotel -December 18, 2017
A warm welcome to my Distinguished Colleagues, dignitaries, our international partners, speakers, invited guests and indeed all who have joined us at this Senate Roundtable on the Drug Use Crisis in Nigeria.
We are here to wake the nation to the insidious threat of drug abuse, which has, for too long, been the unacknowledged enemy within for us as Nigerians.
The time has come to look that enemy in the face and say – Enough. And by your standing up to be counted at this Roundtable, it is clear that you share the sense of alarm over this issue and recognize the urgent need to do something about it.
Of late, my distinguished colleagues and I in the 8th Senate have become increasingly alarmed at the drug abuse epidemic sweeping through Nigerian communities, posing an existential threat to the very fabric of society.
The scourge has been of a particularly virulent nature, touching all social strata and afflicting families and young lives.
Women and girls are particularly susceptible, married or not. Not even nursing mothers are spared; and future generations are already endangered by the spectre of drug abuse, even while unborn.
The Senate decided to take steps to tackle the malaise. And, subsequent to a motion sponsored by Senator Baba Garbai and supported by 40 senators calling for decisive action on the issue, the Senate passed a Resolution on the Need to Check the Rising Menace of Pharmaceutical Drug Abuse in the country.
We set up two Senate committees to determine the nature of the problem; and their work is ongoing.
This Roundtable is an additional avenue to take the issue to communities across Nigeria, of which Kano is the first of many that we are planning.
This is really a moment of reckoning for our country, and it is important that we look unflinchingly at the problem and tell ourselves the truth.
It is for that purpose that we are have organized this Two-Day Roundtable; and it is my hope that all participants will make good use of this opportunity, so that we can begin to reverse the grave trend of drug use in our country.
The goal of this Roundtable is to open a discussion involving: key policy makers, the legislature, enforcement and regulatory agencies, community leaders, civil society organizations, professional groups, care givers as well as victims – people who are involved on a daily basis in dealing with the challenge.
Clearly, something is seriously wrong in our society if so many people can become so desperately at the mercy of rampant substance abuse that shows no sign of abating, in spite of a whole roster of agencies with the responsibility to regulate the production and use of dangerous drugs – and to stop their illegal distribution.
The toll on lives and livelihoods alone is difficult to estimate; and it is manifested daily in the wrecked lives of individuals, damaged families and distorted economies.
The stark reality is that so many Nigerians are but shadows of their former selves. This is intolerable – as is the very dangerous interplay between dirty money and drug importation, distribution and abuse. This must stop.
To kick-start the process of bringing this epidemic under some control, we need to inquire into the strengths and weaknesses of the current policy and its implementation – as well as to understand the ways in which legislation and advocacy might improve.
Similarly, we need to take a frank and comprehensive look at our agencies in charge of fighting the epidemic, to better understand where their strengths and weaknesses lie, in order to be able to take remedial measures to strengthen them.
Furthermore, we need to improve on inclusiveness, especially with regard to communities and professional bodies, in the design of policies and legislation.
This is so that, within a matter of months, the nation can roll out more robust policies and legislation, as well as a battery of agencies that can begin to turn the tide against the epidemic.
Above all, we need to send a clear signal from Kano to all Nigerians that this epidemic must be controlled, and can be controlled.
This Roundtable is intended to allow all stakeholders access into discussions on the nature of the problem, as well as solutions that need to be put in place. It must be emphasized that the key objective of the Roundtable is not the Roundtable itself.
Rather, the Roundtable is expected to trigger a momentum that should resonate in individual lives, families and communities, that the drug abuse culture represents a very serious threat to lives, the economy and national security.
Additionally, the Roundtable should yield fresh ideas, new insights and suggestions on how the country can improve on synergy, collaboration and cooperation between government and communities in the fight against drug abuse.
Finally, this Roundtable is expected to serve as a catalyst for other initiatives across the country that ought to be taken up at all levels by Nigerians that share our concern that it is time to stand up against this epidemic, and stop it.
On behalf of the entire members of the 8th Senate, I would like to thank the Emir of Kano, His Royal Highness Muhammadu Sanusi II (CON), for his support for this Roundtable – and for speaking on the drug issue in the forthright manner we have come to associate with him.
Our sincere gratitude also goes to international partners who have been crucial to making this Roundtable a reality, including: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the European Union, World Health Organization (WHO) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
I feel sure that by the end of this first Roundtable, we would have sent that crucial message to every corner of Nigeria – that drug abuse represents everything that is against our values as a decent society.
We will no longer stand for this scourge which is destroying the social structures of our beloved country. It is time to say: Enough. Let us wake the nation.
ADDITIONAL SPEECH BY SENATE PRESIDENT
When we talk about Failed States, we refer to countries where the infrastructure has collapsed. Law and order has broken down. Government is not able to control people to do what is right and good. However as far as the abuse of drugs and other substances are concerned, we are inching towards that and so we need to act immediately.
The Emir has mentioned the enforcement of laws. We have been carrying on as if everything is normal when the pharmacy sells restricted or controlled drugs. The pharmacy may even be next to a police station and the policeman, just like ordinary people also walks in to buy this restricted drugs.
Nobody questions whether the pharmacy is licensed and what the sources of the drugs are. When drugs are imported through the ports, nobody checks who imported them and for what purpose and how it is distributed. We all have faults.
By the time we finish this two-day dialogue, I want to hear that all the drug laws enforcement agencies have swung into action and that many illegal pharmacies and drug distribution centers have been closed down and their operators arrested.
In the next budget, we will provide better funding of the relevant agencies. We will also follow up to ensure the funds are properly applied for the purpose they are meant.
I promise that we will display political will to tackle the problems in the relevant agencies and will be ready for the usual blackmail tactics the agencies may resort to, against the Senate.
- Thank you all for listening. May this Roundtable be the beginning of a decisive turnaround on the drug use crisis in Nigeria.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE