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Social Commentary Codeine: the new political opponent in Nigeria

Codeine or drug syrups produced with codeine are not the main causes of drug abuse in Nigeria, it has never been, and it will never be.

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FG recalls 2.4m bottles of codeine play

Codeine is an opioid used in painkillers and cough and cold medications.


Late last year, all of a sudden, the media raised alarm over  the high rate of drug abuse in the country, especially the northern part of Nigeria.

The issue of drug abuse was discussed by Senate at length, whereby representatives of some northern constituencies gave an outcry of the huge menace caused in the states they represented due to heavy drug and substance abuse: all fingers pointed indirectly to pharmaceutical companies that produced cough syrups with codeine.


It was not only the media houses (news rooms) that peddled this news: blogs had their rightful share of attention, magazines  (both online and offline); it was a thing of mockery on social media, that people took pictures of huge pile of empty bottles or empty wraps  of consumed substances which acted as stimulants or enhancers for some people –mostly youths.

The alarm was raised, quite alright, but the government wasn’t ready to attend to such pressing issues, or it was in the act of patient deliberation. Not until a vivid, but expository  documentary was carried out by the BBC, and all the sins of Lazy Nigerian youths who abused drugs and substances were objectively sifted on a particular company or companies that use a little amount of one of these substances, though medically approved, codeine, to produce a cough syrup.

These companies have served the nation well enough in diverse areas, such as: reduction of alarming rate of unemployment in Nigeria, paid their tax to the government (and they collected wholeheartedly), did their social responsibility directly or indirectly, made Nigeria proud as a Pharmaceutical Industry, and has been in existence for years. The question, how come the government did not notice this syrup? which most hospitals recommend and have recommended for years.

How come the medical foundation in Nigeria and diaspora approved it and haven’t raised an alarm over its many years of its existence, who signed its approval, that these drugs found their way into the market, into the hands of drug abusers or in hospitals if not the same government, and how come all of a sudden, after a documentary by a reputable media is carried out that the government is too quick to act?

The Commissioner of Police in Lagos, Mr Imohimi Edgal, on Tuesday blamed increase in crime on drug abuse, calling for more efforts to end it. play

Sweet Codeine, Bitter Responses.



Why the sudden intimidation of a company or companies that has done nothing but reduce the rate of unemployment in Nigeria? paid tax to the government and... and the questions go on and on. Why are there so many questions to this particular issue than solutions or answers? Some things are either not clear, need to be addressed or clarified by the government or, let us leave it at that and fill the very blank spaces of our numerous doubts and raised eyebrows.


What is actually codeine?  This very drug or substance has disrupted  political meetings, shut down government obligations to Nigerian citizens, tied masses’ attention to the government on what it intends to do and not do for weeks and counting. It is funny how a mere substance and cough syrup now becomes a headache –something of national and international concern, all of a sudden, as opposed to intimidating issues the country battles against, is unable to handle or have given the least of attention. Codeine is a popular opium that is easily abused, but usually used in  manufacturing of pain relief drugs or cough syrups. What must have shifted  attention  from the popular weed to a particular cough syrup?

Riding on a Failed System

Long before codeine came to light, there were other substances or drugs that were abused. Thanks to the most recent publications, it is too obvious that codeine was not and must not be the very problem that ought to gain our attention for this long. It has been discovered that majority of youths of this country are armed to the teeth with substances that stimulate them, some of these substances are not too difficult to access : gum, Indian hemp, lizard feces, days old urine, and so many unthinkable things that help them forget that they are in Nigeria, unemployedpoor or just lazy.

One would likely ask: what has the government done about those ones that have been there for ages? How come it jumps on a company that has been there, all of a sudden?

It is obvious that the government is doing nothing but fighting itself. The government created a non functioning system or allowed a  system, plagued by no direction or no regulatory system exist. There is no credible ministry, committee or agency in place that monitor what most pharmaceutical companies produce, the content and what their products contain.

The menace of drug abuse is an issue that will never get overflogged. play

The menace of drug abuse is an issue that will never get overflogged.



But if there is, how come some drugs make their way to people’s drug cabinets, hospitals and abusers’ unsteady grip. There is no system that monitors drug stores; what they sale and who they sale to. People walk into drug stores and buy drugs without any prescription from the doctor. Under aged children buy drugs without anyone asking questions. Literally, everyone in Nigeria is a drug abuser and should be locked up. What has the government done about its negligence?  At this moment, it is obvious that the government is not trying to solve the problem,  but cover up its tracks of what it has neglected or allowed to happen. The northern part of the country is in a mess: medically; they have been faced with a problem they don’t have control over.

The Way Forward

It is unfortunate that some youths of this nation have decided to live on codeine or cough syrups that act as enhancers; it is neither the government’s doing or that of the manufacturers or drug companies. Some of these youths are adults, which means they became addicts by choice.  Most of these youths share the same roof with their parents who ought to have cautioned them.

This shows the failure of the family system in Nigeria;  a gap exists in our society which parents have neglected or overlooked. It is unfortunate that some of these parents are addicts themselves. The first contact a child has with the world or society is through a family. Having addicts in society points to one thing: irresponsibility on the part of parents. Parents must do their part in eradicating drug and substance abuse in any society.

Some of these kids became addicts from school. Most schools in Nigeria incubate all sorts of groups: secret cults,  drug peddlers, prostitutes, homosexuals and so much more. Schools in this sense are primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions. Some parents or adults go to the extent of giving their kids drugs to sell to their friends in school.   Funnily enough,  some teachers are involved in harvesting students for human trafficking or for sex predators; this is an area the government haven’t looked into for so long.

Religious groups, faith based organisations, and social groups are not left out. It is not everyone that comes to a gathering that is trustworthy; everyone comes with a motive.

Obviously, government has too much on their hands to handle, but there is a way out of all these. The first important thing to do in order to curb or end drug or substance abuse in Nigeria is aggressive orientation and reorientation from  grassroots level. It is not about forming a committee that will end up doing nothing,  will not follow up on progress and embezzle public funds without apology, but Nigerian government should get value for money spent.

Codeine Ban - Northern Governor's Wives Forum hail government. play

Codeine Ban - Northern Governor's Wives Forum Hail government



The best thing to do is to make drug and substance abuse, a core course from nursery to tertiary level in all institutions in the country. The above would go a long way in time management, money and other resources for not just the government but Nigeria as a whole. Government must force all faith-based organisations to imbibe or introduce a sensitization or campaign against drug or substance abuse, teaching their members of the dangers of such practices.

The legislative , executive and judicial arm of government must work hand in hand, in order to pass a law against substance abusers or peddlers in Nigeria. The government should force or mandate the medical regulatory board to look into pharmaceutical companies and what they produce. This same medical board must work with the House to pass a law that will ban people from walking into drug stores for drugs that were not prescribed by any medical practitioner.  It should be a crime for any drug store to be in possession of some drugs without a licence.

There are so many things the government could do to end drug or substance abuse in Nigeria, but the least is fight a fight for no just cause while the main business of the day is left unattended.

Written by Oluoma Udemezue.

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