TODAY, MONDAY, JUNE 26, 2023 marks another United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking which is celebrated every year. It’s a day set aside by nations of the world to re-invigorate efforts aimed at sensitizing the general populace, especially youths, on the dangers associated with the cultivation, manufacture, trafficking and abuse of illicit drugs.
BEING HELD UNDER the theme, “People first: stop stigma and discrimination, strengthen prevention”, the aim of this year’s campaign is to raise awareness about the importance of treating people who use drugs with respect and empathy; providing evidence-based, voluntary services for all; offering alternatives to punishment; prioritizing prevention; and leading with compassion. The campaign, according to the United Nations, also aims to combat stigma and discrimination against people who use drugs by promoting language and attitudes that are respectful and non-judgmental.
For Liberia sadly, the celebration is being held at a time when the rate of drug abuse among Liberian youths is rising astronomically. Liberia’s progression from a simple, stable and clean society to one that is drug-troubled may have taken a long time to come about; but it seems to have finally come to stay. In fact, it has now reached an emergency level. Given the deep-rooted nature of the drug problem, it is a situation that will remain so for a long time, unless drastic measures are taken to restore the country’s erstwhile pristine innocence.
SEVERAL REPORTS ON the drug situation in Liberia have it that the country is fast becoming a significant transit country for illicit narcotics. The near non-existent of a robust security and enforcement mechanism, the lack of capacity of the security agencies to monitor and control the country’s porous and the proximity to major drug transit routes have seriously constituted major factors in trafficking to and through the country.
THE RECENT DISCOVERY and confiscation of $100m worth of drug and other consignment in the country only tells a story of a country in serious damage from being turned into a major drug trafficking country. With this occurrence no doubt, there is every reason to believe that there has been a series of inflows of drugs into the country undetected on perhaps a daily basis because the security architecture of the country is very poor and helpless to detect or abort or even bring to book perpetrators.
CURIOUSLY ENOUGH, THE euphoria that greeted the unprecedented $100m drug seizure that many thought would have heralded a new dawn to wage a decisive war against drug trafficking in the country unfortunately suffered a serious setback when the government lost the case in court due to what many legal experts termed as ‘negligence” on the part of the government to prosecute the case. What this amounts to is the government seems to lack the political will to combat the drug issue and will account to why nothing significant will be achieved in terms of ridding this imminent threat to national security.
BESIDES THAT, IT is disheartening to note that there is no evidence of a sustainable drug prevention program from the government, a situation that continues to contribute to the increasing rate of drug abuse over the years. The aftereffect of this is that Liberia is losing a generation to drug abuse and may persist if practical actions are not taken.
A GOOD PORTION of the youth population of this country has been going through a more complex situation including high criminal activities, unemployment, increased SGBV, HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy, TB etc brought on by the rise in the unchecked circulation of illicit drugs in the society.
LIBERIA’S CASE OF the drug situation is not in isolation to other countries that have been combating it. What could be of difference in comparison may be with the approach of the government and other stakeholders to take the battle to the source and sustain it in a way where it can be suppressed significantly if not eliminated totally.
WHILE THE OVERDUE passage of the Anti-Drug bill could be commended, we think there is more to do to confront the ugly situation head on. Some commentators have suggested that the bill should also include prescribing drastic punitive measures including making the offence non-billable for both the user and the supplier/distributors.
THIS PAPER ALSO proffers that additional funding should be given to the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency(LDEA) and empowering other security agencies to effectively carry out their duties.
THIS CANNOT GO without also making a case for a strong judicial system that will be robust and independent enough to prosecute drug related cases. The recent loss of the $100m case in court was a frustration to the fight against illicit drug and a disincentive to others, especially our development partners to continue supporting various initiatives by the government, be it financial or technical.
THE COUNTRY HAS to do more against stigmatization and focus on initiatives to encourage the drug users from engaging in what they are doing and destroying their future and threatening the security of the country. The appellation given to them, “zogos” is derogatory which does not show that they are seen as dignified members of the society. They need to be rehabilitated, given some form of skills acquisition and training to make them useful and productive as well as restoring them in the society.
IN OUR CONSIDERED opinion, the war against drug abuse is a war that must be won because there is a nexus between drug abuse and insecurity. All hands must be on deck to raid this situation from our midst. It is doable and must be done.