By Maureen Okpe
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has expressed worry on the increasing number of drug users, stating that this is as a result of poor economic situations of citizens due to unemployment and lack of access to basic facilities.
Executive Secretary NHRC, Tony Ojukwu, made this submission Monday, at a ‘Public Presentation/ Launching of the briefing Paper on Torture and Ill-Treatment Against People who use Drugs in Nigeria’ organised by African Law Foundation (AFRILAW) with support from International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC).
Represented by a staff of the NHRC Benedict Agwu, Ojukwu, said the national drug control master plan 2021-2025 mentions that substance use dependence is complex and a multifactorial health.
According to him, “economic conditions such as unemployment increases the vulnerability of drug users which in turn deprives individuals of the income,dignity and voice to demand and defend their rights.Social conditions such as lack of access to adequate healthcare,education and homelessness are key contributors.
“The prohibition against torture cruel inhuman and degrading treatment as set out in the international and regional human rights instrument is reflected in section 34 (1) of the 11999 amended constitution of Nigeria,which provides that every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person…and no person shall be subjected to torture,inhuman or degrading treatment.
“This is so important that no circumstance can be invoked to justify the use of torture.Nigeria’s active role and commitment in the global human rights mechanism provides a strong foundation for the promotion and protection of the fundamental freedom and rights of the citizenry,including the treatment of persons who use drugs.
Africa Consultant, International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) Maria- Goretti Loglo, noted that, it is a notorious fact that the criminalization of drug use is a significant driver of policing and incarceration across the world.
Loglo stated that, punitive laws and policies continue to be used in many parts of Nigeria,resulting in the increasing of arbitrary detention.
She said,”the so called war on drugs has resulted in a further increase in the perpetuating of torture for drug related offences,disproportionate actions by some state to apply criminalization provisions of drug control treaties or incorporate these in the legislation have increased this catastrophe.
“This has failed to address the drug problem while violating human rights,we need to recognise that when we criminalise activities such as drug possession for personal use,the enforcement of this law disproportionately impacts people who are struggling the most in our society.
“People living in poverty or marginalised for any other status,necessary international standard encourage to adopt policies that decriminalize and support people who use drugs. We must act upon where efforts are most needed and effective by prioritizing and investing in evidence and right based policy and health intervention that focus on harm reduction,beyond time to rethink.
“No available data on the number of people arrested or incacerated for drug offences in Africa, however UNODC estimates that by 2030 the number of people who use drugs in our continent will rise by 40% to 86 million of 8.4%of the population aged 15 to 64 years old including Nigeria,therefore the need to understand the consequences of criminalizing people who use drugs in Africa is more important and urgent than ever.
Earlier, in his welcome address Barr. Okereke Chinwike Chief Executive Officer African Law Foundation (AFRILAW), said people who use drugs are routinely subjected to physical mental and sexual violence at the hands of law enforcement agents, often tantamount to torture or ill treatment.
The form of physical and other forms of torture perpetrated by state law enforcement agency include beating starvation,prolonged solitary confinement humiliation and rape,I trying to gain information on drug trade. Also a gender aspect of the forms of torture with women who use drugs being disproportionately targeted through sexual violence.
“A reported cases of torture of people who use drugs in closed setting that offer drug rehabilitation services,with a worrying trend reported in both religious centers and in certain state run facility.
“The absence of evidence based drug treatment centers has led to the emergence of religious and faith based organisation some of which are described as operations as correctional facilities, most survivors are unable to report while many allegations are not followed by formal investigation.”
Also,the Chief Executive, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Buba Marwa stressed that the agency recognise drug users as victims of drug cartels, and does not take abusers to court but for counselling and it is in collaboration with the ministry of health,also with UNODC on guidelines on consent on drug users.
He stated that the agency does not force individuals to rehabilitation as they have to appreciate they have a problem and are ready to be helped as rehabilitation can not happen without the consent of the individual.”