Violence in Nigeria – and the addiction crisis behind it

July 20th, 2018

Violence in Nigeria – and the addiction crisis behind it

In recent years Nigeria has very publicly struggled to control the violence of militant groups, with famous ambassadors such as Michelle Obama and Malala Yousafzai backing the #BringBackOurGirls campaign in response to the abduction of 276 girls from Chibok in 2014. Unfortunately, the extent and gravity of the violence being carried out extends well beyond the short attention span of the Western media and, under less global scrutiny, the Nigerian government is simply not doing enough to address the issue – Amnesty International has stated their response as “grossly inadequate, too slow, ineffective, and in certain instances, illegal”.

Overtaking the Boko Haram insurgency, the conflicts between the Fulani Herdsmen and the Nigerian farmers have taken precedence as now the most violent and brutal of disputes, with 549 lives being taken in 2017 alone.   The Anglican Bishop of Bauchi, Musa Mwin Tula explains,

“The conflict between herdsmen and farmers has existed for a long time. But the menace in recent times has jumped from a worrisome itch in the north to a cancerous disease, spreading throughout the country, claiming lives and threatening to spiral into a monster.”

The disruption caused by these groups has led to an estimated 2.1 million Internationally Displaced Persons (IDPs) living in thirteen camps around Nigeria – more than 56% of them being children. The camps, and their aid workers, are repeatedly targeted by Boko Haram, and the people living in them are suffering from severe malnutrition and poor sanitation, as well as sexual abuse and rape being labelled a ‘major concern’ by the Borno State Protection Sector Working Group in all thirteen camps.

Source: BBC News

The IDP crisis needs to be handled carefully, and sustainable steps need to be put in place to resolve the problems caused. In both their own villages, and the ‘safe’ camps they have been forced to flee to, IDPs have experienced an overwhelming lack of security and they remain in danger from attacks by both Fulani Herdsmen and Boko Haram, which show no sign of stopping. Attention must also be given to the psychological cost of decades of war. Both the savagery witnessed, and that carried out by soldiers of choice or coercion, will have lasting ramifications that will hinder sustainable peace in Nigeria if not adequately addressed.

With the struggle of the Nigerian government to control violence taking the spotlight, Nigeria has quietly slipped into a different crisis – drug addiction, notably youth addiction.  Typically, Codeine and Tramadol, used as mild pain killers for their opioid affects, are being smuggled into West Africa from South Asia by international criminal gangs, says the UN. Usage, and subsequent addiction rates, have risen considerably in recent years and is seen to be a problem shared by people on all sides of the conflict.

Initially used exclusively by the higher-ranking militants of Boko Haram, it soon became evident that when young soldiers became dependent on Tramadol, fewer would try to escape. Despite being threatened into joining the militant group, the intensity of Tramadol’s addictive quality and the aggressive withdrawal symptoms, work together to provide overwhelming incentives for even coerced soldiers to continue to fight.

As well as intentionally cultivating dependent soldiers, the opioid effects of the drug lower the inhibitions of the user which acts to suppress their fear, and often results in incredibly violent attacks being able to be perpetrated. Many Nigerian vigilante militants rely on the drugs to fight against the Fulani Herdsmen and Boko Haram as explained by Mr. Kolo,

“They told us when you take it you will be less afraid – you will be strong and courageous. When I go into the bush, even the way I run, the way I walk, it’s different. It gives me strength.”

It is becoming increasingly common to hear reports of people being captured, drugged and sent on suicide missions. In February of 2016, two young Nigerian girls detonated suicide belts killing 58 people in an IDP camp after being drugged in this way. Sadly, many IDPs have also fallen into dependency in understandable despair at their situation. Nigeria’s National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) have begun to allude to the extent of the dependency problem, as one in three young people are estimated to be addicted to Tramadol in Maiduguri alone.

Nigeria’s addiction epidemic is a massive problem and is undoubtedly a contributing factor to the continuing violence and lack of stability country-wide. The conflict in Nigeria is multifaceted and cannot be solved simply by addressing its dependency problem, however national recognition of the issue, regarding both active soldiers and desensitised civilians, would be an incredible step in the right direction. The acknowledging of people, and not just lives, as victims of this conflict will begin a societal change and a more sustainable, and hopeful, future for Nigeria.

Jude Sheridan

By Jude Sheridan

Jude has just finished her second year studying PPE at the University of Leeds. She won the Senior Creative category of the HART Prize for Human Rights writing and performing a piece of spoken word poetry about the humanitarian crisis in Sudan. She has completed a week of work experience with HART and is interested in the sustainability of development and the practical application of humanitarian aid through local partners.


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