An increasing number of women in northern Nigeria including students of tertiary institutions, working class ladies, married women and a vast majority of unemployed girls, have been discovered to be hooked on drugs.
In a report by Tajudeen Suleiman for International Centre For Investigative Reporting, it was explained that because women find hard drugs like cocaine too strong and disruptive, they have taken to “safer,” “softer” drug such as codeine, which although is banned, it is commonly found in cough syrup.
To supplement this, the ladies also take a mixture of prescription drugs.
The investigation revealed that the drug problem could be worse among women in the North east, which has been destroyed by Boko Haram insurgency.
While drug abuse, especially cannabis, has been a long time problem among male youths in the North, codeine cough syrup is the emerging evil 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.
Tajudeen Suleiman also interviewed some women who have been hooked on codeine.
One of them is Fatima Hassan, a 2010 graduate of the Kaduna Polytechnic, who was introduced to drugs when she went for her National Youth Service Corp in Minna, Niger State, and started dating the son of a wealthy man.
She explained that her boyfriend had many friends who were taking drugs like cocaine, wee-wee, syrup and some tablets, and he made her join them.
She joined the girls in taking bottles of cough mixtures with codeine. 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.
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.
She explained that 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.”
As a result of the negative effects of the habit, 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.
20-years-old, Maimuna Sodangi 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.
Another girl, Hauwa Mohammed, 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. 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.
The stories of Fatima, Maimuna and Hauwa is said to just be a tip of the iceberg of the serious drug addiction problem facing many young women in many parts of Northern Nigeria.
Recounting a recent story of what happened at a wedding ceremony in Sokoto,
the State Commander of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Mohammed Idris said,
“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.”