Why does Nigeria focus on everything except the actual problem?

The Minister of Health has asked law enforcement agencies to arrest defaulters in the ban on shisha, but what exactly does that serve?

Speaking at a press conference in Abuja on Saturday to mark the World No-Tobacco day, Nigeria's Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, implored law enforcement agencies to arrest persons who were violating the government's ban on flavoured tobacco products, and its most popular Nigerian iteration, shisha.

“Let me stress that the ban on tobacco products with characterising flavours is still in place and the ban includes shisha because it has flavour. I, therefore, urge the Consumer Protection Council and the law enforcement agencies to intensify arrest of defaulters."

To justify this, the Minister referred to a ban on the sale of flavoured tobacco products. Adewole claimed that these products were targeted at the youth and could be as dangerous as cigarettes.

This approach to reducing the consumption of shisha is not a one-off. When it comes to dealing with perceived vices among the youth, the Nigerian government's first weapon is, more often than not, a ban, complete with threats of arrest and a jail term.

A Nigerian guide to solving practical problems

In May this year, a BBC feature titled "Sweet Sweet Codeine" drew attention to an aspect of Nigeria's drug epidemic - in this instance, the abuse of codeine-infused cough syrups by young people from Lagos to Yola.

The documentary has since been watched over a million times on Youtube and among other things, it disclosed the involvement of pharmaceutical companies like EMZOR and BIORAJ - particularly, their officials, some of whom could be seen on tape selling cartons of the stuff to undercover reporters.

The Ministry of Health placed a ban on applications for the registration of cough syrups containing codeine, and for renewals of existing licences.

Weeks later, the House of Representatives began seeking laws that would impose a 2 million naira fine or a 2-year jail term for use of codeine or tramadol.

Federal Government officially bans 'Shisha'

Critics of this approach to cultural problems often point out the fact that bans and jail terms only punish defaulters and may discourage behaviour, but they manage to do everything but solve the problem.

It is a running theme through the government's typically quick-fire response to problems like this. It is almost keyword-based problem-solving. Find the word that comes up the most, and ban it out of existence.

Keyword-based problem solving

This attitude is based on the "keyword" largely because, until the reports draw attention to them, the government and its institutions know very little about these problems, and the situations that have created them.

Take the drug crisis, for instance. Commentators have drawn parallels between the endemic abuse of recreational drugs and the socio-economic conditions facing the average Nigerian youth.

Yet, the government's approach almost deliberately ignores these circumstances.

In the case of Professor Adewole's call for arrests, it ignores the tobacco industry in Lagos, how shisha is marketed as a healthier, more luxurious alternative to cigarettes, its role in the nightlife scene and the market surrounding the product.

This lack of context is why, these are more reactionary than anything else, focusing on symptoms and little else.

When Nigeria focuses on everything but the actual problem, it is usually because the people making the decisions have no idea what the actual problem is.

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