Before the Nigerian Civil War started in 1966, Indian hemp was relatively unknown in the country. While some countries, such as the United States, were busy fighting the adverse effects of drug use, many Nigerians hardly knew what the weed looked like.
Indian hemp (marijuana or Igbo) somewhat found its way into the streets, especially in the major towns and cities and war-torn areas, during the war. At the time, the biggest users were soldiers and a few hardened criminals.
Even then, it was rarely used by the youths. Young people who dared to smoke the weed only did so in deserted areas where they would not be seen.
Between the 1980s and 1990s, the use of Indian hemp became popular among the youths with the rise of musicians such as Bob Marley, Fela Anikulakpo Kuti, Orlando Owoh, among others, who were associated with the drug.
Just like the content of their music, Marley and Fela inspired defiance to established authority among their followers and encouraged many of them to express their anger by smoking Indian hemp. In due course, hemp smoking became a fad, which many people, male and female, eagerly identified with.
Indian hemp joints everywhere
Just as it was in the days of Fela, hemp is openly sold and consumed everywhere: in street corners, bars, nightclubs and during musical concerts. Not even spirited efforts by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency has helped to check the proliferation of sales outlets in different parts of the country.
Investigation by VISTA across Lagos shows that in the decrepit Jakande Low Cost Housing Estate on the Lekki-Epe Expressway, Indian hemp smoking is as common as sachets of ‘pure’ water. At any time of the day, some idle youths in the area can be seen passing lighted joints of the banned weed among themselves without any care in the world.
Gone are the days when marijuana addicts hid under the cover of darkness to get high on the weed. Nowadays, they have no need to hide their odious habit from the public.
It is no longer strange to find Indian hemp users smoking in the open. In places like Jakande Estate in Ajah, a swampy no-man’s-land, it is common to find hoodlums partaking in jamborees where hemp is freely consumed.
The estate is currently undergoing a strange transformation. When it was built by former Governor Lateef Jakande of Lagos State about 30 years ago, it was a status symbol of a sort. Today, it has degenerated into a slum.
Surrounded by upscale and eye-catching mansions, the estate cuts a very unpleasant picture. All kinds of people, mainly youths, live in the various shacks erected on every available space. Early in the day, they converge on the various joints to consume several wraps of Indian hemp with dry gin before dispersing for the day’s jobs. As a result of this, the air is always heavy with the odour of marijuana.
Another spot where youths exhibit a high degree of carelessness while smoking the weed is a disused refuse dump close to the AP Petrol Station, near Pen Cinema Bus Stop in Agege.
A addicts hang around the spot where rams are sold to smoke hemp, even when the road is busy. It does not seem to matter that they could be caught in the act by law enforcement agents in the area. Some of them hang out at the motor park near the Pen Cinema Police Station. But anytime of the day, the pungent smell of the narcotic hangs in the air.
The Agege area of Lagos is populated by many street urchins (or area boys) and youths well known among the decent folk for their addiction to marijuana. Similarly, the entire area is riddled with joints where the drug is sold, starting from the Total Petrol Station on the old Abeokuta Road.
Also, the weed is openly consumed in large quantities on Itire-Ojuelegba road in Surulere, especially on a spot between the Oando and MRS petrol stations. Youths hang out here every day to smoke without a challenge from the police.
Teaching and learning at Our Lady of Lourdes Girls Primary School on Clegg Street is threatened by the activities of youths who seem to have chosen that spot to engage in hemp smoking and other criminal activities.
The entrance to the school’s premises is often littered with cigarette butts, half-smoked joints of Indian hemp, empty cans of beer, whisky bottles and empty packets of Gold Circle condom.
The pupils are clearly distracted by the ugly scene outside their classrooms. Many of them stare in obvious disbelief at the idle youths puffing away on fat wraps of Indian hemp.
In spite of the fact that the Area ‘C’ Police Division lies two blocks away from the school compound and Abalti Army Barracks is less than 1 km away, some members of the staff of Our Lady of Lourdes Girls Primary School are scared of the activities of the hoodlums.
The dilapidated Government College at Eric Moore is another spot where hemp smoking takes place. The Agbole area of Ikotun is also a notorious rendezvous for addicts. Ironically, it is not far from the palace of the traditional ruler of the town.
In Mushin, Indian hemp consumption is common among members of rival gangs that often engage in wars of supremacy among themselves.
Another community where marijuana is freely consumed is Ajelogo, an erstwhile shanty town on Ikorodu Road that has been transformed into a plantain market. Addicts can be seen hanging out around the squalid environment with the weed and bottles of gin. After smoking and drinking to their hearts’ content, they engage in all kinds of menial jobs at the market.
When the Fashola administration gave the order to demolish the notorious slum about two years ago, many Lagosians hailed the move. For a long while before the bulldozers rolled in to accomplish the task, the shanty town had stuck out on the landscape for malfeasance.
Because of its squalid condition, Ajelogo was home to armed robbers, petty thieves, prostitutes, drug addicts, and hardened criminals. Law-abiding Nigerians often avoided it like a plague.
The demolition, no doubt, had rendered thousands of people, who had made the market place their haven, homeless. But it led to the discovery of some arms and other dangerous weapons hidden underneath the rubble of the erstwhile ramshackle structures.
When our correspondent visited the place recently, some residents were seen milling around the refuse dump, oblivious of the choking smell emanating from it. Others were huddled under some tents and eating on the edge of the dump.
Life appeared normal here, in spite of the overwhelming filth and stench. One could possibly attract a hostile stare by trying to use a handkerchief to cover one’s nostrils. Such a person would definitely be seen as ‘abnormal’ or acting ‘strange.’
A little distance from the refuse dump, some street urchins were busy making brisk business on a dilapidated bridge on Akanmodo Street. Bits of wood had been placed on the bridge to make it passable. No motorist was allowed to drive through without parting with some money.
The smell of Indian hemp, being consumed by the street urchins inhabiting the area, competed with the dreadful odour from the dump. Indian hemp has also crept into schools, as cultists depend on it for added vigour.
During the Felabration concert last year at the Shrine in Agidingbi, Lagos, youths openly smoked Indian hemp without a care in the world. It is the same scenario at other major annual concerts around the country a youths take pride in consuming the weed.
Even artistes are not left out, as many popular ones among them consume copious quantities of Indian hemp to boost their stage performance.
In some high brow and middle class neighbourhoods in major cities across Nigeria, it is common to see youths smoking the drug in corners. Where they are unable to find spots inside posh estates, they hang around busy areas nearby.
Even the children of the rich are not left out. Cultists in various schools take the drug to receive stimulation for violent fights with rivals.
Getting ‘high’ on the weed
It was learnt that the fact that the drug is sold at a very cheap price is enough to seduce almost anyone to give it a try.
For instance, the normal size Igbo, which is about the same size as the conventional cigarette, sells for just N50 while the special type, commonly known as Skunk, is sold for N100.
A drug dealer, who preferred not to be named, said various kinds of Indian hemp are available, depending on the need of the customer.
He said, “For the normal Igbo, we sell it at the price of N50. But it could be sold for less if paw-paw leaves are added to it. There is another type of Igbo known as Skunk and it is sold for N100. Skunk consists of small amounts of cocaine and dry leaves. It is for the strong-minded.
“Many people are however scared of Skunk because it could be addictive and could also make you run mad if you take too much of it
“There is also the biggest size, known as Jumbo. It is also known as Baba 70. Jumbo is about 20 small wraps of Igbo wrapped in one. We usually wrap it in newspapers.”
The source added that even security agents buy the drug from him which they smoke whenever they need to go on patrol or special operations.
Marijuana is also used for various purposes ranging from medicinal to recreational.
A consumer, who identified himself as Hakeem, said the drug was relaxing.
He said, “People smoke Igbo for different reasons. I take it because it makes me feel good. It puts me in a state of happiness and I forget my problems.
“I am a bus conductor, so you can imagine the sort of stress I go through on the streets of Lagos everyday. lgbo is not expensive at all and it doesn’t turn your stomach like alcohol.”
Another hemp smoker, Michelle, described the drug as a necessary medicine.
She said, “Whenever I have menstrual pain, I take Igbo. It’s very soothing. I know it’s not lady-like but I discovered that it works so I don’t take it in public.
“I’ve been doing this for many years and to my knowledge, it has no side effects. I take the mild Igbo, not the one mixed with cocaine.”
For Demola, a final year student of Business Administration, Igbo offers a means to success.
Demola said the tension that usually accompanies examinations becomes non-existent after two wraps ofhemp.
He said, “I got into school with the impression that Igbo is for hooligans but one day, after studying late into the night and I couldn’t sleep, a room mate of mine suggested I take some.
“I took some and slept like a baby. The following morning, I felt so refreshed that immediately I picked up my book, I assimilated everything.
“It might be psychological, but it works for me. I am on Second Class Upper grade.”
Tobi, a thug in Idi Araba area of Lagos, said Igbo smoking helps in boosting confidence. Tobi said Igbo smoking is for the strong at heart.
He said, “Even Fela knew its importance. For you to survive on the streets, you can’t be weak or seen to be weak. Igbo is like a boost that makes you feel confident.”
There are two types of Indian hemp in the country: the natural and unadulterated ‘grass’ and the ‘strong’ variety. The latter is a mixture of ground cannabis leaves, paw paw leaves, cocaine and other stimulants.
Since the weed is cheap, it is readily available to anybody that craves it. A wrap of Indian hemp, which used to be sold at N10, now goes for N50. Smokers also mix with gin or brandy in a concoction known as ‘Monkey tail’.
Apart from youths, other Nigerians across different walks of life appear to be addicted to the weed. Just like most musicians, who often smoke before and after performing at concerts, many users depend on it to give them courage.
VISTA gathered that artistes who indulge in the habit do so to fight stage fright. Yet, some of them have, in the process of gaining self confidence, become quite addicted to the narcotic and ruined their career.
Some young professionals discreetly indulge in hemp smoking. Such upwardly mobile Nigerians believe that they get fired up with ideas and inspiration under the influence of the drug.
Also, adolescents desiring freedom from parental control experiment with marijuana. The impact of drug abuse among adolescents has been a stigma of moral decadence, violence, thuggery, assault, madness and murder.
For some people, smoking marijuana makes them feel good. Within minutes of inhaling, a user begins to feel “high,” or filled with pleasant sensations. But it is just for a short time.
Drug addiction has been known to cause mental illnesses in later stages. These range from anxiety, depression, phobia, psychosis (a situation where the addict hears voices), paranoia and grandiose delusions.
A psychiatrist with the Yaba Psychiatrist Hospital, Dr. Moses Ojo, told VISTA that addiction to Indian hemp figured prominently in most cases of substance addiction handled by the hospital.
“Hard drugs are psychoactive substances which act on the brain and alter it. This includes hemp, cocaine, heroin, methamphamine and LSD. There are others, such as caffeine, which is also addictive. However, most of the aforementioned hard drugs are commonly used in Europe although methamphamine is gradually making its entrance into Nigeria. At present, hemp is the most commonly used drug.
“A lot of mental illnesses have been linked to drug addiction. Last year, we got about 328 cases of drug addiction; the previous year, it was 302. In the larger society, these figures could be more. Most of these patients were addicted to hemp although not all were new cases. Some were old patients who had relapsed. On the whole, there seem to be an increasing number of new cases of drug addiction every year.
“Most psychoactive substances cause mental illness over time. This is dependent though on the quantity of drugs being consumed, the frequency of usage, the concentration of the drug, the purpose for which it was taken and the resilience of the drug user’s brain because no two human beings are the same,” Ojo said.
Ojo said that when hard drugs are consumed, the resultant effects are not expended in useful activity and they become counter-productive.
He said, “There are people who will tell you that they take psychoactive substances to enhance sexual performance, others take it to enhance physical performance in sporting activities.
“Perhaps on such people, because the resultant effects are expended on an activity, the drugs do not hurt. But if a student or an unemployed youth gets a hold of these drugs, uses them while still idle, prolonged use might lead mental illnesses. There is no theory to prove this though.”
The psychiatrist says the problem cuts across all classes.
“This issue of drug abuse cuts across social strata; 70 per cent of the patients who come here have had education above the secondary level. About 40 per cent are educated up to tertiary level. That is not to say that the uneducated don’t use these drugs.
“They simply don’t come here because they don’t have the funds to pay their medical bills. Nigeria is one country where health facilities are only available to those who have the wherewithal to pay for it. For our adult patients, the age ranges runs from 21 to 56 years. Patients below 18 years are treated at another facility for young drug addicts.
“The drug most likely to cause psychosis in addicts is hemp. I remember a case of a hemp addict who eventually killed his mother under the delusion that she was a witch. Hemp addiction causes restlessness, aggression and schizophrenia,” he explained.
Ojo said majority of drug cases handled at the hospital resulted from addiction to Indian hemp.
Speaking on the trend, the Chairman and Chief Executive of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Mr. Ahmadu Giade said, “The trade in cannabis is a big challenge for the NDLEA because this is a drug, unlike cocaine and heroin, that can be grown in the country.
“Every year, cannabis takes the lead in drug seizures. In 2010, the NDLEA seized 1174, 661.59kg of cannabis and destroyed 631.17 hectares of cannabis plantations nationwide. In 2011, the amount went up to 191,847.91kg of cannabis seized and 918 hectares of plantations destroyed. It is the predominant drug of abuse in the country particularly because it is so cheap.
“Although cannabis can be grown in any part of the country, cultivation is prevalent in the South-West and South- South because of the fertility. Often, farmlands dedicated to the cultivation of this drug are located in inaccessible forests, making cannabis farm destruction operations very difficult.”
Giade described it as the most abused drug in the country because it can be grown effortlessly anywhere and it is very cheap.
“There is no legislation against this unlike in Western nations where no child under 18 can buy alcohol. From there, these children often graduate to buying and using hemp. After all, the euphoria an addict gets from a wrap of hemp is equal to what four bottles of beer can provide. Hemp is just a cheaper alternative.”
“The euphoria a wrap of hemp gives an addict is the equivalent of four bottles of beer,” he said.
A lecturer in psychology at the University of Lagos, Dr. Oni Fagbohungbe, described hemp abuse trend as a general phenomenon. He said, “The smoking of hemp among youths is not solely a Nigerian problem; it is a worldwide one. If you look at the world today, there are social problems all over the place; economies are failing. The major victims of these problems are the youths.
“A major reason why they smoke hemp is simply frustration-aggression. It is a theory in pyschology; when you set a goal, you work towards it. If something disturbs the realisation of your goal, frustration sets in and then you resort to aggression.
“In those days as a young man, before you go for youth service, you already know that there is a job waiting for you. Now it is no longer so. Graduates work for decades and still cannot buy a car.”
He also says that hemp boosts the confidence of users.
“The hemp simply enables them to do things they ordinarily wouldn’t do; which in this case would be anti-social activities such as theft, rape and so on. Even the elite and celebrities who take hemp equally have a need which the hemp satisfies, that the public is unaware of. For instance, some musicians have difficulty facing crowds. For them, smoking hemp might give them the required courage. In all, everyone who takes hemp has defined a need around it which the drug satisfies.
He, however, has a solution.
“To curb this problem, there needs to be cooperation among parents, the government and even religious leaders. We need to return to our values or else there would be a total breakdown in society; already the youths are asking questions.
Parents need to instill moral values in their children and our leaders should be serious about fighting corruption. They have to make the youths see that corrupt office-holders actually do get punished for their crimes. We need leaders to handle the problem of corruption so that the basic needs of society can be provided for.”