MONROVIA : For a country that went through 14 years of a bloody civil war, drug abuse became a mainstay of the war-weary population, especially the youths who got exposed to drug use as combatants of the various fighting forces, skipped institutionalized rehabilitation due to cracks in the country’s disarmament program, and ended up derogatorily being labeled as “zogoes” or rejects of society. Two decades after the end of hostilities, Liberians are now facing an uphill battle to not only save the lost souls caught up in the dark labyrinth of drug abuse, but to as well deal with the abundance of crimes associated with drug abuse – a morbid situation that has claimed the attention of the man who, in his quest to rescue Liberia from what he says is the bad governance excesses of the George Weah-led regime, believes drug abuse and trafficking must be treated as a National Emergency, a threat to Liberia’s national security.
According to Unity Party Standard Bearer Joseph Nyuma Boakai who on Monday, June 26, 2023 delivered a scathing indictment of the Weah government’s laissez faire attitude towards the proliferation and trafficking of narcotics in the country, Liberia is on the path of becoming a full-fledged “narco-state” under President Weah.
“We are fast gaining notoriety as a transshipment country for illicit narcotics, with the country shamefully appearing now as a ‘narco-state’. The country’s weak law enforcement capacity, porous borders, and proximity to major drug transit routes help to contribute to trafficking to and through Liberia. The recent seizure of 100 million United States Dollars’ worth of drugs, the trial saga that ensued, and the mysterious and unexplained departure from the country of all those who stood trial and “acquitted,” is an indication of the extent to which the country has been rapidly exposed in the last few years to the narco-trade, and the vulnerability of the Liberian society to the impact of such large-scale assault by international criminal enterprises. Significantly, it reveals the failure of national leadership, a weak and criminal justice system and crucially raises suspicion about the probable complicity of some higher-ups in this affair.
“Clearly, it is now obvious that the Weah Administration is incapable, unwilling, complicit, and indifferent to this crisis. They don’t see it as most Liberians see it – A NATIONAL EMERGENCY. This is why a change in national leadership is and should be now. We must see our votes as an opportunity to want to reverse this dangerous trend by saving our children and securing their future,” Mr. Boakai stated emphatically.
While recognizing the strides of the country’s development partners and patriotic Liberians who have joined the fight to change the ugly narratives relative to drug abuse and trafficking in the country, Ambassador Boakai especially lauded Reverend Caleb Domah of the Metro Harvest Church and Youth-Connect Liberia, and online influencer Ms. Josephine Kolubah of “Coffee with JoJo” fame, among many others, for stepping to the plate.
Nonetheless, Ambassador Boakai was quick to conjecture that the increasing exposure of Liberians, particularly the youth, to drug abuse and addiction through ready access to banned substances, if not immediately arrested, will have enormous, health, social, economic, and security implications on the country, noting, “I view it as a threat to our national security, and must be elevated to a National Emergency!”
“The statistics cannot be starker! It is estimated that 2 in 10 youth in Liberia are users of narcotic substances. Some estimates have it that about 13% of the population is affected by drug addiction. The correlation between substance abuse and crimes is equally worrying, with the police reporting an increase in drug-related crimes. To support the overwhelming desire to continue using narcotics, these young people who live in so-called ghettos strewn across this country, in cemeteries, on the streets, and in other unsavory places often resort to crimes, including arm robberies. These crimes and their effect on victims and those who commit them are heartbreaking because we know they are motivated by the drive for drugs. Currently, there are over 866 ghettos in Monrovia serving as homes to chronic drug users. These ghettos are associated with illicit activities including launching pads for drug-related crimes.
“Nationwide, everyone living in urban areas knows the location of at least one ghetto, with the increasing presence in most communities of shoes strung over power lines, signifying that a ghetto is nearby.
“Drug abuse and subsequent addiction is a scourge with dire consequences. It is a major cause of a lost future for many young people. Abusers of drugs are prone to mental health illnesses and high suicidal tendencies, and may also die prematurely due to drug overdose. As already mentioned, dependency on drugs often leads to crimes, which put both the users and society in peril. These young people are stigmatized and face harsh societal isolation. And at this rate, the country’s potential demographic dividend stemming from a substantially young population, faces an existential threat, with Liberia at risk of losing its possible productive manpower base, especially given the high rate of school dropout among young drug users.
“Our country is gradually losing its next generation to drug abuse, and if practical actions are not taken urgently, the prospect of future generations inheriting a more complex and challenging national situation looms large. The country stands to face a possible future of increased crime rate, unemployment, increased sexual and Gender-Based Violence, HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy, and TB as just a few of the challenges,” Mr. Boakai said.
The “Rescue” solution
Despite the gloomy outlook of the country’s struggle with drug abuse and apparent state-sanctioned trafficking, Mr. Boakai says Liberians should give him a chance to reverse the negative narratives by allowing him to lead the country on October 10, 2023.
“We will address this grave situation by providing responsible leadership that would institute appropriate measures to bring hope to the young victims of this epidemic, relief to hurting families, and assurances, to frankly, a shocked society. It will include declaring it not just an emergency but a national security crisis situation that must be arrested through a system-wide approach. This means looking at this crisis and determining the extent to which the failure of the provision of public goods, social service delivery, weaknesses in the criminal justice system, and inadequacies of the public health system have all conspired to contribute to what may yet be the biggest threat to the society after the civil war.
“To this end, we will first and immediately undertake the establishment of rehabilitation and reintegration programs with the best professionals aimed at providing some of the best clinical care for those who have become addicted and dependent on these chemical substances. These programs will also be coordinated with non-profit organizations and other individuals currently engaged in small-scale interventions such as non-clinical and limited drug treatment services for substance users in Liberia.
“Second, we will develop an all-encompassing public health program focused on information, education, and research in combating drug and substance abuse. This program will target schools and communities to prevent and protect young people from falling prey to drug use. In this way, the system is able to equip those mainly targeted by drug dealers to develop resiliency and resist this menace from having a stranglehold on the youth.
“Third, but not least, we will strengthen law enforcement to deal with the source of the drug problem in the country. For years, the criminalization of this epidemic has targeted drug use and addicts, allowing drug dealers and their criminal networks to operate under the radar of the law. In my view, the most egregious of the drug offenders are those who make the drugs, ship them to our shores, and others who sell them locally to our children – the criminals who operate along the supply chain of the trade. The aim of our law enforcement strategy will be to disrupt the supply of drugs to the country. In this regard, we promise to enact very strong laws that will severely punish traffickers and their middlemen who operate in the open market by offering maximum prison sentences. We will go after these criminals and smoke them from their hideouts. In this fight, robust legislation, training, and adequate resourcing will be aimed at supporting the National Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) to work with the Liberia National Police, and the National Immigration Services, and border patrol to curtail the prevalence of the drug problem in the country.
“Fellow Liberians, you will agree with me that drug use and related crimes have affected nearly every family and threaten to undermine the very values of our society. We must not allow this to happen! The scale of the drug problem shows the Weah government’s nonchalant attitude towards one of the most critical issues confronting Liberians today, as they have no plans to address it. I promise to declare war on drug trafficking and use when elected, which is why the decision you make on October 10 would be one of the most consequential in your lifetime. I implore you to remain vigilant and know that help is on the way to salvage our young people and society from “kush” and the throes of this epidemic,” Ambassador Boakai implored.