It remains vividly clear that the illicit use of narcotic substances mainly by the younger generation has become rampant that many youth have developed mental illnesses which, in some instances, a lot of them have turned totally insane.
In Liberia, youths who are addicted to the illicit narcotic substances are referred to as “Zogos (males) and Zogees (females),” and because of what their drug addiction coupled with the impoverished and criminal life they live, they are either considered deviants or outcasts in the society.
However, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is not taking light the negative impact of drugs on the youthful population in the region. To address this menace, ECOWAS has involved the religious community, including Christians and Muslims to join the fight since they are influential bodies that command considerable respect by the people.
In his opening statement at the start of a recent three-day workshop for religious leaders in Monrovia, ECOWAS Ambassador to Liberia, Babatunde Olanrewaju Ajisomo, said “Drug trafficking and abuse is an organized crime. Therefore, we will compile the report for onward presentation to the regional group, because this is a whole regional fight. We will use any recommendation from the event as working tools against the illicit use of drugs and trafficking.”
As ECOWAS convenes its Parliamentary Seminar in Monrovia to feature “Inter-community Conflict,” Ambassador Ajisomo added that drug abuse is a component of inter-community conflict to be discussed in the seminar, because it is trending in the social realm of West Africa.
He said it is also important at this time that the religious community joins government which is responsible to curb the consumption of illegal substances, since the effect cannot escape the users.
“This is a serious problem in the region as a whole; the ECOWAS Parliament, as well as its Commission, is looking into,” Amb. Ajisomo said.
He added, “As you all know, illicit drug trafficking and drug use continue to be an organized crime in West Africa, and the vulnerabilities in the region are well documented — our porous borders, our social conditions are weak, and our anti-drug capacity is also weak,” Amb. Ajisomo said.
He cited some consequences of illicit use of drug and trafficking as something that promote corruption, undermine good governance, economic development and stability in the sub-region, and therefore the fight needs everyone’s urgent attention.
Additionally, Ajisomo underscored the negative impact on educational performances of youth as conditions that should claim attention everyone to curb drug abuse and trafficking.
He said the Commission has made some efforts to draft an action plan to reduce illicit trafficking and abuse of drugs, but the situation has continued to increase rather than reduce.
He said the training for religious communities is not the first, but said a similar one was conducted in June 2017 for religious leaders in order to enhance their capacity to fight the illicit drug trade and abuse.
Esther F. Grant, Focal Person for West Africa Epidemiology Network on Drug Abuse, told the more than 50 participants that “it is time to act through advocacy rather than offering prayers for the situation to improve. We must not just preach and pray, because we do not know how drugs are negatively impacting our young ones.”
Madam Grant said prior to the country’s civil war (1989-2003), drugs were not on the increase or even accessible to just anybody, but now it has overwhelmed the society to the extent that the young population is gravely affected.
“In the past, illicit drug use was a deep secret but, nowadays, it is done in the public. There is a school in Topoe’s Village, Gardnersville, where some students carry drugs,” Madam Grant said.
For her part, Cllr. Abla Gadegbeku-Williams, Legal Advisor to the Health Minister, said “it is about time now that faith-based institutions come to the aid of the government to fight drug abuse, and dependency. Health is a human right and the government is under obligation to ensure that the health of its people is protected.”
Health Minister Wilhelmina Jallah, in her remarks commended the ECOWAS for the training, which she described as essential at this time in the country to tackle the illegal drug problem, which is gradually threatening the population.
Meanwhile, Darius Davis, Chief of Operations of the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA), expressed gratitude for the training, which he said would help them to fight drug trafficking and abuse.
Mr. Davis said that the LDEA has a number of constraints, including low manpower, porous borders, and low budgetary support, all of which hinder their fight against the drug trade.