Drug Abuse, Alcohol Abuse And The Red Pill

By – John Ichie, a freelance writer

The article derives its title from the scene in the famous movie, The Matrix where Neo, the lead character, played by Keanu Reeves is given two choices by Morpheus – It’s either he takes the blue pill and his life remains the same or he takes the red pill and he discovers the truth about how life really works.

 When considering what is termed as drug abuse, the authorities in Nigeria refer to the usage of narcotics and psychotropic substances like cocaine, marijuana, heroine, tramadol etc. The country is currently having a drug abuse crisis, wherein about 15% of the population between the ages of 15-64, are consumers of drugs as opposed to the global average of 5 %, many public analysts have linked the increasing drug use, and other factors such as poverty and greed, to the worsening insecurity crisis in the country. What is, however, rarely given attention by the general public is the fact that the most abused drug in the country is actually alcohol.

To the casual observer, alcohol might not be considered a drug. To dispel this doubt, let’s take a look at the definition of a drug. According to Wikipedia, a drug is any substance that causes a change in an organism’s physiology or psychology when consumed. It is common knowledge that alcohol relaxes the veins, this gives some people the courage to do certain activities, a term known as ‘ dutch courage’. Furthermore, several studies have shown that heavy alcohol consumption (binge drinking) alters the DNA of an individual. 

Alcohol usage in Nigeria is increasingly popular, it is considered as a social norm in many parts of the country. In some areas, it is possible for one to get a sachet of alcohol more readily than a bottle of water- an extremely dangerous trend considering the fact, that there is a positive correlation between an increase in alcohol consumption in society and the prevalence of violent crime. The issue of drinking and violent behaviour has been recently highlighted by the case of the alleged murder of SuperTV CEO, Usifo Ataga by the suspect, Chidinma Ojukwu, a young girl of 21 yrs of age, who is a 300lvl student of mass communication at the University of Lagos. She stated that she is sorry for her actions and that her actions were conducted under the influence of alcohol and hard drugs. 

 Alcohol consumption has also been linked to the commission of the crime of rape. In a survey of about 150 inmates, who committed the crime of rape, conducted by the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Team (DSVRT), 89 percent of the inmates, confessed to being under the influence of alcohol at the time of the commission of the crime. In contrast to this, only 10.7 percent of the inmates admitted to having taken hard drugs at the time of the commission of the offense.  

 According to the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, the number of people who died from road accidents in January 2021,  exceeded the total number of people who died from Malaria and Covid-19 combined. Alcohol abuse is a major contributory factor to road accidents, because the consumption of alcohol whilst driving, makes it harder for the prefrontal cortex to work as it should thereby disrupting the decision-making and rational thought of the driver.  The Minister of Works and Housing, stated that from the various studies conducted over the years that the impact of bad roads on accidents was less than two percent and that in stark contrast, factors such as over speeding, loss of control, wrongful overtaking were responsible for the occurrence of over 70 percent of the accidents on Nigerian roads. Despite all these statistics on ground, you would be hard pressed to find a police officer or member of Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) with a breathalyser- most, probably have never even seen one.  Also, there is no law applicable to State or Federal roads that specifies the level of Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), for which a person can be charged for committing the offence of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) as is commonly done in the USA and more advanced nations. Put simply, people do not get prosecuted for driving under the influence of alcohol in Nigeria.  

Whilst we have policies in place to tackle the consumption of hard drugs, there is obviously no clear policy on how to tackle alcohol abuse in Nigeria in spite of all the data available to policymakers in the country. There are two options to solving the problems of alcohol abuse in Nigeria. One is to ban it totally. That would, however, be extremely injurious to the country because it would lead to the loss of billions of dollars in revenue generated by the companies, job losses, and an increase in insecurity. The other option which is more feasible is to make and enforce stricter laws and policies to better regulate the usage of alcohol by the citizens. A clearer legal framework on the offense of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) has to be provided. The Federal Road Safety Commission Act (FRSC) should be amended- Stating that driving under the influence of alcohol is a crime without stating the blood alcohol content level, which is considered to be excessive, makes the law difficult to enforce. The Police and other law enforcement agencies need to be equipped with breathalysers so that they can detect when a driver is driving above the prescribed limit of Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). Furthermore, the penalty of 5000 naira for driving under the influence (DUI) as stated under the law, is highly insufficient. The idea of punishment is to emphasise the severity or otherwise of an act or omission- the message being passed to the general public, with such a meager amount being set as DUI punishment, is that the potential value of human life, being endangered by the actions of the driver is barely 10 dollars. There should be sanctions for DUI, depending on the level of Blood Alcohol Concentration, detected by the breathalyser. Drivers responsible for crashes, while intoxicated, should be given harsher sentences by the court. This would help to change the public perception that alcohol usage whilst driving is a norm. Another step that could help to redress this perception about alcohol usage is education. There should be a massive orientation campaign carried out by the National Orientation Agency in line with the FRSC and other associated law enforcement agencies about the dangers of drunk driving and the negative effects of alcohol on the health of people. This should be done in schools, universities, on the Radio and TV and especially in the motor parks.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the legal age of consumption of alcohol. Raising the minimum age of alcohol consumption from 18 years to 21 years in some States in the USA resulted in a reduction in motor vehicle crashes by as much as 16 percent. According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in USA, there is less likelihood of alcohol-influenced suicide and homicide being committed by persons 21 years or older. Alcohol consumption in persons below the age of 21 years is also strongly linked with changes in brain development and other risk behaviours such as smoking, drug misuse and risky sexual behaviours. Nigeria needs to pass a law to raise the minimum age of consumption of alcohol to 21 years. To enforce this law, it would be necessary for persons to provide a valid means of identification such as National Identity Card or Drivers’ license before they are allowed to purchase alcohol. In addition to this, there needs to be proper monitoring and licensing of places where alcohol is being sold.

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