14 million Nigerians are on drugs —Pastor Agboola

Good workers  Ministry International is a Non-Governmental Organization that has been in the forefront of combating drug abuse and other social vices among youth in Nigeria. The organization, which has been in existence since 2002, has engaged in many interventions including healing drug users and reintegrating them into society. In this interview with OYEDAPO OYEWOLE, the Executive Director of the ministry, Pastor Tunji Agboola, sheds more light on its activities. Excerpts:

Why the ministry?

My name is Pastor Adetunji Joseph Agboola, the Executive Director of Goodworkers Ministry International. It is a Non-Governmental Organization established in 2002 to provide evidence-based solutions to the causes and consequences of drug abuse and other social vices among the youth in our communities.

Aside our professional activities, we also run drug treatment programme, and we are working on some interventions that we hope will impact nationally, particularly when it comes to street urchins and hoodlums.

How far has the ministry gone in carrying out its core mandate?

Like I said earlier, we commenced operation in the year 2002 and the work we do  is commissioned by God. It’s like a call from God that says ‘go and do this’. It is in Matthew 5:13-16, where the Bible says ‘you are the salt of the heart; light of the world’. Essentially, God has asked us to go and beam light into darkness in certain areas, particularly in the life of young people. You know what salt does to make the difference. If you are cooking a good meal, people will smell it and the aroma will naturally attract people to want to feast. If you have not put salt in that food the aroma may still be good but immediately you sit down and want to eat and find out that you have not added salt then the good taste won’t be felt That is the kind of mandate we have. Young people have potential. God has given them the ability to create, the ability to imagine, energy to move things in the society but if you do not have the salt in then they might tend towards doing negative things.

In actual fact, young people; children and adolescents, without proper parenting will naturally gravitate to do things that are wrong. That is why parents are there, adults are there, and schools are there to move young people towards doing what is correct. Our mandate is to provide evidence-based solutions to the problems, the causes and the consequences of drug abuse and other social vices among the youths and this has been the focal point since inception in 2002. We recognized very early that social vices, drug abuse and all of these criminals and pseudo criminal tendencies of young people are part and parcel of the early child development. This is what we call juvenile delinquency. It is known that most of these young people will be delinquent at one point or the other in the period of their adolescence and that means it is understood that when you see young people do things like this then you ought to realise that they need your help rather than condemnation. It is just who they are at that stage. They can do those things like seeing a young guy in secondary school smoking cigarettes or young guys in the university smoking cannabis and so on.

That does not mean that such a person has become bad. But you need to unmake such a person from being a bad. That is why the society is there to help. And once the understanding is there, then, you can approach youth development from clear point of view not that you are doing it blindly and don’t know what you are doing. Many parents too do not understand this fact. Instead of getting closer and becoming real friends to that children, they might become judgmental and then start pushing the child farther away from them until the whole thing gets out of hand. I always say that young people are not inherently bad. Society makes the drug available for them, they see patterns of behaviour, they see people fight, people getting angry with each other and then they pick up these acts. When you see a young child misbehaving then you need to reflect on what you have been shown as an adult and the examples they have been following.

There was a time that President Muhammadu Buhari said that our youth are lazy. That statement looks like an empirical fact, it looks like something that you can be supporting but the question is can we say same thing about Chinese youth, American youth or youth in Europe ? We may not be able to say it because their government have ensured that from the time their people are young, they train them on how not to be lazy, on how to be creative and be productive. So they end up not been lazy. See what our educational system is making of these young ones. A guy will study Computer Science and he will never have touched a computer till he reaches university. So you are not preparing them for what it should be.

In youth development, the fact is that you have to tap into the potentials of young people at a very early stage of their life, from the time they are in kindergarten to when they are moving to primary school and secondary school. Look at Mark Zuckerberg who invented Facebook, he started programming at the age of eight years. Bill Gate began to engage strongly in software programming in secondary school at the age of 13 years. If you look at all these big guys that have made it in technology they started at a very early age. You needed to have allowed the brain of the young ones channeled towards the dimension that you want them to move.

What I’m saying in essence is that there is need to understand how society makes young people what they are. We have the responsibility to wake up and correct whatever anomalies we see in them rather than stigmatizing, blaming or calling them names. And if we are not careful, it is going to continue to get worse because we are neglecting these young ones. We are not giving them the kind of support they need very early in their lives. If a young guy sees a drug he might take it because nobody has told him that taking drugs is bad. He/she cannot decipher between good or bad except you tell him/her which one is good or bad.

We have to understand how nature and nurture affect young people. Nature in the sense of running in them the rush of their chemistry and biology as well as what the environment is making available for them. If when I was five years and you were introducing me to software programming maybe by the age of 16 I would be one of the best in the world. But if what I see at the age of 5 were people drinking alcohol or people who are always fighting, then I may grow up to be like a rough guy who thinks that street fighting is the way of life and that is the difference between our own children and those children in the developed world.

There are adults that have not taken to drugs yet misbehave and engage in social vices. What can you say is responsible for this?

Let me say this; it is not likely that if you have not started any of the social vices early that you will just pick it up at age say, 40. You have not been smoking before and by age 40 you started doing it, it is unlikely except if,  peradventure there is another underlying factor that is making the particular individual, who is supposed to be an adult to demonstrate behaviours of people that have not grown, or may be he is having mental problem that is removing the normal inhibition that he would have grew up with as an adult which makes him to know that as an adult he shouldn’t be doing something like this.

Most of these tendencies would have started early except if now other co-morbidities are coming in from the mental health angle. You know that we are being controlled by our brains. My maturity is what my brain tells me. It tells me how to process information in a more matured way. If my brain is behaving like that of a 17 year old, then I’m going to behave like a 17 year old instead of a real adult. Now let us look at the issue of some adults that have carnal knowledge of teenager, child abuse, rapes and so on. In as much as such action is a criminal problem, as an Interventionist, a rehabilitation expert, I will tell you that there may be underline mental health problem with perpetrator of such act because that behaviour is not consistent with what should be. At the end of the day, perpetrator cannot give any coherent answer to justify his/her action.

For me, such perpetrators are sick, what they have done is offensive, criminal and should be punished. But again, as an Interventionist who works in rehabilitation, we will look at some of these things from different perspectives, i.e that the individual may be sick and need help, because a normal person will not do this. So you will have to sit such a person down and check him/her up psychologically

So, while such an individual is receiving his/her punishment, one still have to rehabilitate him/her and make him/her see things in a different way.

Since you started this campaign what statistics can you avail Nigerians?

From our own observation and things that come to us and data from the UNODC, the NDLEA and the federal government, more than 14 million people in Nigeria use drugs regularly. If you take the youth in particular, the percentage of the people that use drugs is quite high and it’s because of the nature of youthfulness. There is a lot of peer pressure among young people. If a chap does something, he/she is more likely to influence others to toe his line. Let me also say this, the drugs we are talking about have a way of taking advantage of developing brain in the sense that young people face a lot of pressures from the academics to emotional problems, relationship issue, they want to belong and some of them do face traumatic experience at home and so forth and they just want to forget all of these, momentarily.

Taking drugs one way or the other can only make you feel like your problem is solved on the shortrun. The so-called ‘high’ that people get when they take drugs is more likely to impress a young person than say, an adult. The fact that they have not seen any negative thing happen as a result of some of these things make them want to continue. Again, the reason why some people use drugs is not the same reason they continue. Most times, they start using drugs experimentally, to play, have fun and in a matter of time they become addicted. They just discover that they simply cannot do without taking substances to the extent that they need to take those substances, which subsequently affect their education, their families, lives, careers and so. For such individual to even feel normal, he/she has to have doses of those substances in his body. It has become a survival issue. Anything he does as a result of getting those drugs is because he wants to survive. He can steal or even kill just to get the drug because he wants to survive.

Let me also say this, that you need to segregate the youth. There are some youth that live on the street. They do not have family support, no shelter or accommodation. So you might have a higher drug usage among this category. Some of them you call hoodlums, area boys or street children. They live on the street; they live in the urban slum, in places where a support system does not exist. Among such young people drug usage might be close to 100 per cent. The kinds of work some of them do are hard. They do menial jobs and they believe they need energy to feel less pain and to do more and even at times to fight. So a drug might be like oxygen to them.

Every state in Nigeria is burning as a result of insecurity in recent times and it is believed that majority of these young guys called area boys or hoodlums are being used to perpetrate the heinous crimes. What do you think the government could do to arrest the situation?

You see, when you have people living among you who feel they are not part of you and feel they are excluded, you are likely to look like an enemy to them and because they feel they are not part of you they can  destroy those things you think are making you happy; your cars, houses, businesses and so on. They go after all those things that make you happy and destroy them and make you unhappy like themselves.  At times, I advise a lot of people that when you are employing a househelp, you are taking somebody who is not essentially part of your family. If you are not careful to try and integrate and let such a person feel at least welcome in your family, if you maltreat that person and make him or her believe that he or she is not part of you and is living in your house, then you are just bringing in the devil around you. Such individual can invite armed robbers into your house, they can steal your property, and they can endanger the lives of your children and do anything.

That is what is happening with these people we call or stigmatized as hoodlums and look at as outcast or people who are just dead. For your information, society cannot counsel them, if you cannot counsel them, do you think you can ignore them and leave them there? That means you are sitting on a keg of gunpowder, that all it takes to explode is just a spark; and don’t forget that these people don’t care about life. They don’t value all those things you value like your cars, houses, business or tomorrow. So they are ready to die with you on a keg of gunpowder and get blasted.

They have no connection with society and these people have become an instrument that can now be used by anybody that also wants to be your enemy as a government, as a people or what have you. They can be bought and used. They are easily recruited by anybody. They will take advantage of your neglect of your own citizens and make them become enemies in the house. They can infiltrate anywhere and can explode anywhere and anytime.

Now what must we do? Government and society must realize that you cannot leave anyone behind in society. We need to wake up as government and conscious citizenry and corporate bodies in the society to find a way of laying out interventions that will target these guys. You just need to show them that you care and once you can stretch out your hands towards them, then they noticed that you care. I tell you that you have built fortified defense for your system. When you do things like this you give them opportunities, you empower them and make them have a voice and be productive. Your economy grows because these people are at productive age. They have energy and instead of negative things they are using it for, now they are using it in a positive way and there’s going to be development for everybody and you will spend less in policing because everybody is involved.

So, the government must be seen leading with the rest of the society following very closely and the conscious individuals in the community must also be seen to be stretching out their hands towards these guys in empowerment, love and intervention. In the long run, they will fight for you when an enemy is coming from outside. They are the ones that will be in the forefront of resisting the enemies from outside because no one is left behind.

What is your take on some families that consider taking drugs and tobacco as normal in their family setup while their children also emulate what is being perceived as the norm in such family?

Yes, there are many dimensions to this and let me begin from a very high level of this. Such groups or families need help. Number one, they have not been able to identify that there can be a better tomorrow. As big as Oyo State is, for example, we have 351 wards across the 33 local government areas and each of these wards has structure of community in what is called the Community Development Councils (CDCs) or Community Development Associations (CDAs). We have religious bodies and then you probably have a Councilor or somebody that is representing the government. You cannot be looking at a family of this nature and say they are a bad family. As Interventionists in this kind of situation, we never look at anybody and say it’s their problem but rather it’s our problem, because what they are creating in that family may be the next assassin that will go and affect somebody’s family somewhere. One family has been grooming assassins, another family is grooming success but nobody sees the need to help the other.

What I’m saying is that the social workers and social services structures of the local government need to come into force to identify all of these problems. All these CDCs, CDAs are not just there; they are structures that need to be energized and made use of for the common good of the society.

Having said that, that family, why do they need help? You might think they are just bad people but let me tell you science has shown that there is genetic connection with problematic substance abuse. There are quite a number of people in the society using alcohol. For instance, there are some individuals who drink and will have problems with the drink they drank. The other one will drink and be alright but they will not be okay because there is predisposition or they are vulnerable to addiction. The substances they are using even as simple as alcohol they become an alcoholic. So drug use in that family is a sickness and once you see it running like that there is a serious need for intervention and what will be the prevention work there?

Every child that is born in that large family you must tell their parents that please we don’t know what your child has inherited let’s make sure he or she is not exposed to psychoactive substances. You may even be telling them that you are more likely to react negatively if you take the drug because nobody knows whether he is going to react negatively to these substances in advance even if it’s running in their family. That is why you tell everybody not to go near it because you don’t know what will happen.