Drug abuse and addiction among young girls and women in Northern Nigeria have become a big problem that may have serious implications in the future if not immediately addressed
By Tajudeen Suleiman
The reporter had to be introduced as an NGO worker helping children and women to get her to agree to a meeting. Even then, she extracted a promise that she would be given “something” before she settled down for a chat.
She looked cheerful but shy and carried her lean frame gingerly as if afraid she might fall down any minute. Her cheeks were slightly sunken, making her cheekbones prominent. She clutched a fairly weathered handbag. Her open neck Ankara blouse revealed sharp shoulder blades, a sign that she was not feeding well.
“Actually I take drugs. In fact I’m addicted to drugs,” she said without much prodding. “I just took some before leaving the house now. I cannot eat food nor do anything without taking the drugs.”
Fatima Hassan, a 2010 graduate of the Kaduna Polytechnic, who still lives with her mother, was introduced to drugs when she went for her National Youth Service Corp in Minna, Niger State, when she started dating the son of a wealthy man.
“My boyfriend had many friends and all of them were taking drugs like cocaine, wee-wee, syrup and some tablets, and he made me to join them.”
She joined the girls in taking bottles of cough mixtures with codeine contents. The ones without codeine do not excite the brain, so they are not useful.
The boys would take hard drugs like cocaine, heroin or wee-wee and get syrup for the girls. There are varieties of them, including CSP, Stopcof, C&C, Cofflin, Totalin, Ezolyn, and the prices ranges from N250 per bottle to N1000 per bottle.
After her NYSC, Fatima came back to Kaduna and started looking for where to get the codeine syrup. Soon, she met other girls who have become addicted like her, and began buying for herself.
According to her, in the last five years, she has met more than 200 girls and women who take codeine in Kaduna.
She said there are ‘countless’ numbers of women, including married and ordinarily responsible women, in Kaduna who are codeine addicts.
Fatima grew to taking up to eight bottles of codeine in a day and it still will not get her ‘high’ enough. Then she learnt how to boost the syrup with prescription tablets like Tramadol, Rohypnol and D5.
Whenever she takes the combination, which has been daily since her NYSC ended six years ago, it gives her an uncommon feeling, she said. “Wow, I feel cool, I feel like Don Jazzy; I feel like the President and I feel like I own the world. I feel like there is nobody above me,” she told the reporter as her face brightened with a smile.
The habit has come with a lot of negative effects for her. Whenever she cannot find anyone to buy drugs for her, she sells some of her jewellery, and even handsets. She sold a plot of land she inherited from her late father and expended it on codeine.
“When I feel like, I will go and lodge at a hotel with my girlfriends and take drugs the way we like,” she said.
She once owed a codeine supplier N25, 000 for accumulated supply.
The habit has affected her relationship with men and she finds it difficult keeping steady relationships.” I cannot stay with a guy who does not use drug or who cannot buy for me. We cannot be compatible,” she declared.
She agreed to link the reporter with one of the girls in her codeine-afflicted group who lives with her parent inside Tudunwada, Kaduna. She called the girl on one of her two phones to explain ‘the deal.’ The girl agreed after Fatima promised to come along with ‘kaya,’ slang for codeine syrup and complimentary tablets.
On our way to the girl’s house, she asked that we pass by the Kaduna Central Market. Along the road and a young Hausa boy came to deliver the drugs to her. She gave the boy N2,000 for two bottles of codeine and a sachet of Rohypnol.
At Tudunwada, the car in a street corner and Fatima went to call her friend. The girl, like many of the codeine girls, still lives under her parents. After about 25 minutes, Fatima appeared with a young girl in hijab, a veil traditionally worn by Moslem women to cover parts of their upper body. She entered the car and we chatted.
The new girl, Maimuna Sodangi, 20, was introduced to codeine by friends. She went on a visit and her friend entertained her with a bottle of soft drink mixed with codeine syrup. “It was so sweet and I felt so good,” she recounted.
That was three years ago and she has been hooked since then, graduating from one bottle to six per day. Since she is jobless and cannot afford the drug, she depends on boyfriends to buy for her.
She takes the codeine home because her illiterate parents do not know what it is. Sometimes her female friends buy and bring for her at home since her boyfriends cannot visit her residence.
After the chat, she collected a bottle of codeine from her friend and tucked it into her bra before covering with the hijab. She strolled back home, looking like any other girl in the neighbourhood.
At Abakpa, a different part of the city, a source introduced the reporter to another ‘codeine’ girl, Hauwa Mohammed, who hesitated to reveal identity because she would not want to cause any “anxiety” for her parents with whom still lives. But after brief persuasion and a promise of gift, she admitted taking codeine, rohypnol and other prescription drugs she couldn’t name.
She started taking the drugs two years ago after her fiancé’s death a few weeks to their wedding. She was 16 at the time, and was the only one among her four sisters not taking the drugs.
But after the death of her fiancé, she fell into depression and kept to herself for weeks. Then her sisters advised her that a sip of codeine syrup would help her ‘forget’ her sorrow. “At the time I almost went mad because of the death of my fiancé,” she recounted.
She tried it once and got hooked.
“Now when I drink codeine I enjoy myself and feel good,” she said with an i-don’t-give-a-damn look on her face.
She takes up to four or five bottles of codeine mixture in a day, sometimes diluting poring a bottle or two inside a coke plastic bottle to deceive her parents.
At 18, she only has a secondary school certificate. She hopes to get married and stop taking drugs because she wouldn’t want her children to engage in drug abuse like her. “But I’m hoping I will get a man who will help me to stop,” she said, with a flat smile.
The story of Fatima, Maimuna and Hauwa exemplify the serious drug addiction problem facing many young women in many parts of Northern Nigeria and the changing complexion of the war against drug use and addiction in the region.
Our investigations show that a great percentage of young women across northern Nigeria, including students of tertiary institutions, working class ladies, married women and a vast majority of unemployed girls, are hooked on drugs.
However, they have rewritten the drug as the new high lies not in prohibited narcotic substances such as heroine, cocaine and cannabis, but in simple codeine, commonly found in cough syrups.
The rising drug use among young girls and women may be the fallout of increasing drug use among young men. However, the women, finding hard drugs like cocaine too strong and disruptive, have taken to “safer” “softer” drug such as codeine, which although is banned but is commonly found in cough syrup. To augment this, the ladies also take a mixture of prescription drugs, which medical experts tell the icirnigeria.org, are counterfeit painkillers.
At the start of our investigation, it was thought that the problem was typical of the North west, but investigations showed that the drug problem could be even worse among women ion the North east, which has been ravaged by Boko Haram insurgency.
In Yola, capital of Adamawa State, some 764 kilometres from Kaduna, Sarah Haruna, a hairdresser does not complete her day without taking codeine.
According to Sarah, she was introduced to drug by the daughter of a former Vice President of Nigeria who used to invite her home. She became a courier for her, sometimes been sent to buy cartons of codeine syrup and hiding them under her bed and inside her wardrobes. Sarah got to make other friends, all children of well – known people in the state, who are equally codeine addicts. She also got to know their boyfriends, most of who she said smoke cannabis and sniff cocaine.
She is still single at 32 and always hangs out with friends at Legon Villa or any of the hotels along Barracks Road in Yola.
Northern Women and Drug Abuse
While drug abuse, especially cannabis, has been a long time problem among male youths in the North, codeine cough syrup is the emerging cancer ravaging women and girls in the North from Kaduna to Borno and Yobe to Narasarawa. Codeine syrup has become the favourite drug of abuse by all classes of girls and women in the north, but most especially the daughters and wives of the wealthy.
The smallest bottle of codeine syrup costs up to N600, while some cost as high as N1,000. Some of the girls admit they could take up to eight bottles in a day.
Since many of the girls and women, including housewives, are neither career nor business women, the habit is sustained by a legion of “boyfriends” who buy for them.
Shuaibu Maituraki, an ex-drug user who now runs an NGO devoted to rehabilitating drug addicts in Kano, is worried that many young girls and even married women are wasting their lives doing drugs. He said married women who do not keep boyfriends use their housekeeping money to buy codeine and that addiction has also led many of the women into debts or vices and crimes such as stealing of jewelleries at social functions.
Maituraki, whose father is also a wealthy Kano businessman, said he established the Youth Awareness Forum On Drug Abuse, YAFODA, to save Kano youths from destruction from drug addiction
Addiction to codeine syrup is turning the otherwise conservative girls and women of the North into social miscreants and rebellious housewives. It is increasingly becoming common to see Northern girls and women at night clubs and social spots where they have freedom to drink codeine, take their tablets and smoke cigarette, and return home wearing hijab.
More women now are believed to keep late nights since they cannot indulge in addiction freely at home.
It is common in Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto, Yola and some other cities in the North, to see women check into hotels or guest houses during the day to indulge themselves before going back home at night. It is at these relaxation spots that many of the women rendezvous with boyfriends or men friends or just fellow girls and women.
Our reporter visited one of the notable guesthouses in Sabon Gari, Kano, where some of these girls usually lodge for observation. It was around 2.00pm on a Saturday.
Within an hour, more than 10 girls dressed in hijab had checked in. Some were driven to the place in taxis while some drove themselves. There were a few who came on commercial motorbikes.
The manager of the guesthouse revealed to this website that it was the daily routine for them, adding that the girls could stay up till midnight before leaving.
More women and girls are also getting involved in petty stealing at wedding parties and during social visits when in need of cash for more drugs. Guest and celebrants in the north are now getting more protective of their valuables, especially jewelleries during social occasions. Mohammed Idris, State Commander of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, in Sokoto recounted a recent story of what happened at a wedding party in Sokoto.
“A gold necklace was missing at a wedding ceremony here in Sokoto and the owner closed the road and said every woman at the event would undergo a search. The women were asked to empty their handbags. Although they didn’t find the jewellery, what they found was alarming. Over 70 per cent of the women had one or two bottles of cough syrup in their bags. Even the bride had a carton under her bed.”
Kazeem Abdullahi, an Imam employed by the Kano Emirate Council, told icirnigeria.org that many marriages are breaking up in the city due to drug related issues. He revealed that not less than 100 cases of marital conflicts are brought to the palace of the Emir of Kano for resolution daily, stressing that the situation had become critical.
Wife of Nigeria’s President, Aisha Buhari, raised an alarm early this year when she visited Kano State. She said Northern youths, including women, were wasting their lives with drug abuse. She urged political and religious leaders in the region to urgently find solution to the menace.
Maituraki told our reporter that he has counselled many girls and housewives who have become addicted to codeine because of marital problems or influence of friends.
“Some of them told us that they became addicted to codeine when their husbands took other wives, for some it’s because they have been divorced while some women believe it will make them attractive by giving them big eyeballs,” Maituraki stated.
But many parents are either truly unaware of the menace or are living in denial. Dahiru Musdapha, Secretary, Adamawa Emirate Council, said that he had never heard about the problem of drug among women in the state.
“I don’t know anything about this, I’ve never heard about this type of thing before,” he told the reporter.
But his denial is in sharp contrast to what other officials of the palace, and the state NDLEA Commander, Yakubu Kibo, told our reporter.
The latter said records of the command indicate that more women are now involved in use of dangerous drugs, specifically codeine syrup. Officials of the Kano Emirate who also spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed this too.
“This drug issue is a very serious problem now,” one of them said. “We hear a lot of cases about girls and young women, even married women, taking this thing.”
Drug abuse, according to medical practitioners, occurs when a person can no longer function normally without taking the drug. According to Taiwo Sheik, a psychiatrist and chief executive of the Federal Neuro-psychiatrist Hospital, Kaduna, anyone suffering from drug abuse is no longer a normal person and is referred to as “suffering from significant loss of function” which manifests in the person’s behaviour.
“He has taken the substance to a degree to which he is not able to function well. In medical language we say there is significant impairment-the individual is impaired. So its now a sickness. That is what we mean by abuse,” he explained.
And if the statistics reeled out by Sheik is any indication, many women and girls in the North are very sick. He said unlike 10 years ago when drug abuse and addiction was a male problem, more women and girls are becoming prone to drug and substance abuse.
He said the major drug abused by Northern girls and women is codeine cough syrup, which they take in quantities that would make them tipsy and almost impervious to pain – just as narcotics do.
“Ten years ago, for every four or five men, we see one woman. But today, for every four or five men we see four women. That shows a trend that suggests increase in the number of women that come with substance abuse problems. Especially now that the type of substance people abuse is also changing. Twenty years ago, we don’t talk about things that people buy from the chemist and take home. Today, that is what we’re struggling with, cough mixtures. And that is the one that women abuse most.”
- This is thee first of a two part report on the problem of drug addiction by women in Northern Nigeria.