A non-governmental organisation, African Law Foundation (AFRILAW), has decried the rising cases of physical and sexual violence against people who use drugs in government-owned rehabilitation centres, as well as religious facilities across the country.
The Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation,Okereke Chinwike, while describing the trend as worrying, disclosed that the ill-treatment, abuse and torture against drug users are often perpetrated by law enforcement agents.
He said this at a ‘Public Presentation/Launching of the briefing paper on ‘Torture and Ill-Treatment Against People Who Use Drugs in Nigeria’ organised by AFRILAW with support from International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC).
The CEO explained that the briefing paper presents evidence on the physical and mental violence faced by people who use drugs in Nigeria. According to him, the information in the report was collected through a mixed-method approach that incorporates desk research, interviews and survey of people who use drugs and order stakeholders in the Nigerian states of Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Enugu, Kaduna and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), which was conducted in September 2021.
“The evidence that we gathered shows that 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 violence perpetrated by state law enforcement agents includes beating starvation, prolonged solitary confinement, humiliation and rape. Also, there is a gender aspect of the forms of torture, with women who use drugs being disproportionately targeted through sexual violence,” Chinwike said.
He further disclosed that the dearth of evidence-based drug treatment and rehabilitation centres has led to the emergence of religious and faith-based organisations, some of which are described as operations as correctional facilities.
He, however, decried that most survivors of these forms of abuses are unable to report, while many allegations are not followed by formal investigations.
The CEO, therefore, called on the Nigerian Government and all the drugs control, health, human rights and justice policymakers and stakeholders to consider and ensure effective compliance with the recommendations in the briefing paper towards reducing the drivers of torture and ill-treatment against people who use drugs in Nigeria.
He said some of these recommendations include; Ensuring that civil society and communities of people who use drugs are meaningfully involved in all aspects of the design, delivery, and monitoring of health intervention offered to people who use drugs, including peer-led harm reduction, treatment, and rehabilitation services; To align law enforcement agencies with international human rights laws and standards, among others.
The Executive Secretary National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Tony Ojukwu expressed worry on the increasing number of drug users in the country. He blamed poverty for the rise in drug abuse.
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.”
Africa Consultant, IDPC, Maria-Goretti Loglo also said that the war on drugs has resulted in a further increase in perpetuating torture for drug-related offences, and disproportionate actions by some states. “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,” she said.
While quoting statistics from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Loglo disclosed that the number of people who use drugs in Africa is estimated to rise by 40 percent to 86 million by 2030, which represents 8.4 percent of the population aged 15 to 64 years old including Nigeria.
“Therefore, the need to understand the consequences of criminalising people who use drugs in Africa is more important and urgent than ever,” she stressed.