Mercy Amaechi (surname not real) is the only female child of her parents. Her father passed on two years ago and her mother is a petty trader. In 2022, she was exposed to narcotics called ‘Loud’ through her boyfriend, and a few hours later she became mentally insane for 16 days. Sources familiar with the incident said Mercy had been taking cannabis for some time but was later influenced by her boyfriend to mix cannabis with loud. Although cases like Mercy are not entirely new, her case however alarmed many parents within the U.P.E Borokiri-Sand field axis of Old Port Harcourt Township.
Mercy’s case is also not the first in the area; a few weeks before her mental health crisis, there was another incident of mental insanity in the area. A young man of 21 became mentally ill after he consumed a mix of narcotics locally known as ‘pawpaw leaf, loud and Rohypnol.’ One of the young men in the area described the combination as a ‘killer punch!” He said, “loud and pawpaw leaf alone na fire; then you come add ‘blue’ on top, when you know say your brain no go fit carry; na killer punch be that.”
Rohypnol (Blue)’ amongst many other things is a sexual enhancement sedative drug that is very popular amongst young people in Rivers State.
Findings by this correspondent indicate that there has been a proliferation and increased use of psychoactive drugs by young people in the state especially within the Port Harcourt and Obio Akpor metropolis. Our investigations from Aggrey Road in the old Township to Choba, and Ikwerre Road resulted in no less than 14 cases of psychotic disorder with those affected falling within the age range of 15 – 22. Most of them, who are young girls, were seen either roaming the street or sleeping by the side of major roads.
Majority of the drugs in use are a combination of banned narcotics and local concoctions of different substances. Some of the popular narcotics or substances include: cannabis, pawpaw leaf, loud, dezor 5, tramadol (Tram/TM), codeine, and rohypnol (the blue/refnol). Others include: gas emitted from soak-away pits, Tom-Tom mixed with Lacasera and local dry gin, malt mixed with maggi cubes, and others.
Our correspondent visited some of the popular drug bunks (joints) in Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas to ascertain the extent of drug abuse and the effects on young people. The visit was also used to interact with some peddlers, average users and addicts who have become what is infamously known as ‘junkies.’ Junkies are drug addicts who have become extreme in addiction and are the most difficult to rehabilitate.
One notable feature of the junkies sighted by this correspondent is the presence of scars on their bodies. It was revealed that the injury spots on their bodies serve as needle paths where drugs are regularly injected. It was also said that they often inject drugs through needles either on their arms or other parts of their bodies, where veins can be located. It was further learnt that addicts who have become junkies posed serious threats to themselves and those around them, due to their desperation to embark on extreme measures to secure or guarantee their next round of drugs.
One of the bunks visited was at the ‘Yam-Zone’ waterfront behind the dry fish market along Creek Road. Most of the drug peddlers are young men of Hausa and Fulani extraction. Inside the bunk was the presence of young people who were obviously disconnected from the realities of their world. Watching closely with suspicious gaze, it was obvious that they were ready for any eventuality. Our correspondent, who gained entrance into the bunk through the help of a high profile community leader in the area, was advised not to appear too curious. His entrance was approved after the community leader told the operators that he was there for a research work.
The bunk was full of life even though the lighting system inside was very poor. Our correspondent was told that the lighting system was deliberately poor in order to conceal the faces or identities of some high profile customers. There was also a section of the bunk that served as a restricted area for VIP customers. Our correspondent was however prevented from gaining access into the VIP section, even after offering to buy some of the expensive narcotics. However, despite the poor illumination, one could still see the regular lights that emanated from the drug wraps as the users drew on them.
An interesting discovery is that, it is difficult to tell what type of drug a user is taking if one is not present at the preparatory stage. This is because it is rare to see them take only one brand of narcotics. They either mix two or more types or they go extreme in their combination. It all depends on the level of sedation or ‘highness’ desired as they described it. There was also a common sight of junkies with very frightening faces; some of them very funny, by the way they wink at you whenever you look at them.
This correspondent was approached by a young user who goes by the street name ‘Kpetu-Boy.’ Kpetu-Boy is a young dark complexioned 18 year old man, who refused to give his real name. Kpetu-Boy claimed he had received an admission to the University of Calabar. Even though he sounded believable, his responses to some of the questions asked by our correspondent which bordered on his JAMB and post UTME results, revealed that he was being economical with the truth. His good command of English, with snippets of queen’s accent portrayed him as someone probably from a wealthy background. Kpetu Boy seemed very popular amongst other users and addicts alike.
He had approached our correspondent to ask for a gift of N1000. Although he claimed he needed the money for food, our correspondent was however told by the community leader that he actually needed the money for the purchase of ‘Loud.’ He agreed to respond to some questions after our correspondent gave him the money.
In a brief discussion, Kpetu-Boy informed this reporter that, many young addicts who abuse substances do it to find comfort they never had at home. He claimed that he was introduced into drugs by a friend who was running errands for a known drug peddler (names withheld) in town after he was heavily maltreated by his father. He alleged that his father abused him several times, beating him with a mortar pestle and cutting his body with razor blades, each time he made mistakes. He also recalled how his father poured him hot water for breaking his father’s glass cup. Kpetu-Boy who said he eventually ran away from home for fear of being killed by his father after he stole his father’s N200 to buy rice from a nearby buka, accused his step mother of always starving him of food. He said he often went hungry for several hours especially periods his father was not around. He also alleged that apart from starving him, his step mother had a penchant for inciting his father against him.
Highlighting his foray into drug consumption, Kpetu-Boy said he and his friend used to experiment with some of the local concoctions prepared by his friend’s drug mentor. He recounted that after he left home, his friend introduced him to his mentor who eventually adopted him and gave him shelter. Corroborating his claim, two of his colleagues also stated that they went into drugs through similar experiences from their homes. They listed amongst other things, peer pressure and the desire to be respected by their peers as major reasons for doing drugs. Some others said the need for sleep inducement, emotional balance and sexual enhancement, and the lack of skills and employment were the reasons they went into drugs. Curiously, most of them who spoke to our correspondent from across notable drug joints, also confessed to being members of notable cult groups in Port Harcourt.
Our correspondent collated a list of some of the notable narcotics, their prices and why they are consumed. The list revealed some shocking details, especially in terms of how far young people can go to get high or sedated. For instance, one of the shocking things young addicts or regular users do to get high is to sit over soak-away pits to inhale the ammonia smell oozing out of the pit. They said that, the ammonia smell from the pit gives them almost the same sedative effect they get from another drug called ‘codeine.’ Others include the following:
Loud: Loud is similar to pawpaw or cannabis. However unlike the pawpaw or cannabis, loud is made up of heavy dose of formalin. Formalin, also known as ‘Formaldehyde’ is a preserving and embalming agent used to preserve human corpses. Addicts informed that after the application of formalin on the loud, it becomes hardened and ready for consumption. Our investigation also shows that loud is preserved in the refrigerator. It is sold for N500 per wrap and can be bought around Abuja Estate water front by Creek Road, Yam Zone Water-front behind the Creek Road Dry Fish Market, Navy Market Borikiri, Abonnema Wharf, Aluu and Omokri communities behind the University of Port Harcourt, Choba.
Pawpaw Leaf: Pawpaw leaf according to addicts and dealers is sold for N100, per wrap. Pawpaw leaf is produced through similar production process with Loud but has a little dose of Formalin chemical compared to the quantity available in loud. Its outlook is also very similar with cannabis but, it has a higher sedation ratio compared to cannabis. It is very commonly available and sold by many individual drug dealers. Pawpaw leaf can also be bought from some Aboki kiosks and in major markets in many communities in Rivers State.
Cannabis: Cannabis shares many similar traits with pawpaw leaf according to users and dealers. A wrap of cannabis is sold for N50.00 and is produced through similar production process with pawpaw leaf. But unlike loud and pawpaw leaf, cannabis has a little dose of formalin chemical. Cannabis is also very similar with pawpaw leaf in outlook but has a low sedation ratio. It is very common and sold by many individual drug dealers from their homes.
A further investigation revealed that some users cook cannabis like Lipton tea and filter out the weed after boiling. They mix the weed water with either liquid or dry powdered milk then consume it like a normal tea. This, they say makes them very ‘high’ and also help to calm their nerves. Cannabis just like pawpaw leaf is also commonly sold from some Aboki kiosks especially within the old Port Harcourt Township axis.
Lacasera drink mixed with TomTom sweet concoction is another commonly consumed substance by young persons in Rivers State. The concoction according to users, makes consumers highly intoxicated and helps to address pain and sleep disorder. According to a mental health professional, Mrs Ebiere Akraka, reasons for the lacasera+TomTom concoction and its popularity amongst young addicts may not be unconnected to the health benefits of Tom-Tom as a candy. She said “Tom-Tom sweet has an analgesic and antibacterial properties that help to control muscle pain and pathogens that causes sore throat and cough.”
Don’t forget that muscle pain, cough, chest pain etc., are common challenges with people who do drugs. So, it is logical if they depend heavily on it.”
She however stated that from evidence of cases she has seen, those who take the concoction are also heavy consumers of other related drugs.
Lacasera mixed with Bournvita: Lacasera mixed with Bournvita is another variant of the Lacasera mixed with Tom Tom concoction that is also very common with young addicts in Rivers State.
Speaking with some of the users, they all claimed that lacasera mixed with Bournvita protects them against infections that may arise from the sores or injuries sustained through needle injection of other drugs.
However Mrs Akraka, stated that Bournvita contains necessary vitamins that boost immune system. She said Vitamins like “B2, B12, and B9 are vitamins that boost the body’s immune system; so if they claim that Lacasera and Bournvita protects them from infections, this could probably be the reason.” She however warned that the concoction may also have some negative side effects which could further “compound their health challenges.”
Coke drink mixed with Bournvita: Our findings also discovered another drug concoction driving young drug users in Rivers State. Although Coke and Bournvita concoction may not have been heard or popular as its other counterparts, it is however a heavily consumed drugs amongst young addicts. Those who consume the substance claim it boosts their blood production. They further claim that apart from boosting their blood production, the concoction also provides them with nutrients that can hardly be gotten through any multivitamin tablets. However there is no evidence to validate their claim.
Codeine Syrup: Codeine is a narcotic drug that is used in combination with other medications, to reduce cough, mild or moderate pain. However, it is consumed illegally for ultra-medical reasons by young addicts in Rivers State. Addicts who take codeine regularly manifest unpredictable mood or behavioural swings. The abuse of the drug led to a ban on its production and importation by the Federal Government in 2018. Despite its ban however, codeine remains available in the open market as discovered by our correspondent. Those who take it describe it as a drug of ‘higher value.’ Codeine has an opioid narcotic ingredient which makes it an attractive target of abuse for people seeking narcotic sedation. A check by our correspondent shows that while some addicts mix it with seaman aromatic schnapps or other dry gins, others mix it with distilled liquid from pawpaw leaf, depending on the level of sedation or highness auser wants.
Rohypnol (The Blue): Rohypnol commonly referred to as ‘the blue’ or ‘refnol’ by those who abuse it, is often used in conjunction with dry gin.
Although used for medical related purposes, those who abuse it say they use it as a sedative and sexual enhancement drug. It is very popular amongst young people in Rivers State and can be bought either from a local chemist or an Aboki kiosk. Our findings reveal that it is sold for N1,300. One major characteristic of rohypnol is that it makes the tongue very blue that is why they also call it ‘the blue.’ The most popular spot it can be easily bought is at the Navy Market, Borokiri.
A visit to the spot revealed that other varieties of drugs are also very common in the area and the market is driven largely by Abokis, persons from the North of the country.’
Tramadol: Users who spoke to our correspondent said they take tramadol for various reasons. While some said that they take it in order to elevate their sexual appetite and long ejaculation, other said they take it to gain confidence especially whenever they want to embark on certain missions which they wouldn’t name.
Cough syrup mixed with Tom-Tom and Lacasera: This is a concoction taken by young addicts to enhance their sexual libido. Beyond prepping them for long hours of sex, the concoction makes them high and gives them false confidence.
Cough syrup and bottled water mixed with three crown milk: Just like the cough syrup, Tom-Tom and lacasera concoction, this is another drug used by young people in Rivers State to enhance their sexual libido and false confidence enhancement mechanism.
Captain Black mixed with loud or Erimon: This is a substance which users say makes them high, sleep well and enhance their sexual libido.
Other concoctions: Malt mixed with seasoning maggi cubes, malt mixed with maggi, loud and dry gins, soaking pieces of cloth in sewage and soak away waste water and tying the cloth around their fists which they inhale intermittently, sniffing car or generator exhaust pipes and sitting beside a receptacle or garbage to inhale foul odours like hydrogen sulphide, dimethyl sulphide, and methanethiol.
A psychiatrist, Dr Igbilo Abel of the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, confirmed that cases of psychotic disorder amongst young people are on the increase in the state.
He said “Most of the cases I attend to are juveniles and a lot of them are substance-induced psychotic disorder.” He explained that psychotic disorder “is a condition caused by the use of or withdrawal from drugs.”
He said further that most of the prominent symptoms of psychotic disorder amongst young people in Port Harcourt are “auditory hallucinations where the victim hears voices when no one is around or visual hallucinations where the victim sees people or things that are not real’.
Dr. Abel used the opportunity to call on parents to get interested in the behavioural patterns of their wards, stating that “most cases occurred as a result of irresponsible parenting.”
How the police aid drug peddlers in Rivers State
Most of the peddlers and users who spoke to our correspondent alleged that officials of security agencies especially the Nigeria Police Force, pay them regular visit to either do drugs or extort money from them. Some peddlers within and around New Road, U.P.E Sandfield, Borikiri, and Tourist Beach, revealed that they pay not less than N20,000 per visit. They also informed that big peddlers’ pay as high as N50.000 to N100.000 per visit. Those around Choba and Omokri communities in Obio/Akpor LGA alleged that they pay no less than N10,000 per visit. They said the amount paid some time also depends on the visiting security team. Security officials named in their allegations include the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
Interestingly the NDLEA is the federal law enforcement agency in Nigeria under the Federal Ministry of Justice charged with eliminating the growing, processing, manufacturing, selling, exporting, and trafficking of hard drugs. Specifically the NDLEA is saddled with the responsibility of the prevention of illicit trafficking of hard drugs, enforcement of drug laws, trace and seize financial proceeds from drug businesses and eradicates narcotic plants and substances.
Our correspondent engaged some of the aforementioned agencies with our findings, especially on the allegations of extortion and engaging in substance abuse.
In our discussion with the NDLEA, the Deputy Commander Narcotics and Deputy Commander Media and Advocacy, of the agency, Rivers State, Mr Emmanuel Ogbumgbada, denied the accusations and challenged the peddlers to provide any evidence to substantiate their claim.
Mr Emmanuel said “If they say NDLEA Officers are involved, what is the evidence that the person that is claiming NDLEA is truly an NDLEA Officer? Anybody can come and claim NDLEA Officer in order to gain advantage on whatever the person is looking for; so it’s an unproven fact.”
He argued that the agency has internal mechanisms that take care of erring personnel who are found wanting. “For us in NDLEA we have internal mechanisms that take care of erring personnel. Anybody that is found engaging in such illegality is usually disciplined and at the extreme the person is booted out of the agency, we don’t condone that; we preach and talk about the consequences of engaging in such practices; so it’s a mere allegation that is not proven. He further challenged those alleging complicity to apprehend erring staff and hand them over to the agency.
“If anybody claims to be an NDLEA Officer, let them on their own find a way to get the person arrested and brought to us. Then, we will now examine the person and be sure that the person is an NDLEA Officer; but for now we will not accept that kind of allegation.”
Mr Emmanuel also stated that NDLEA works with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) which he said makes it mandatory for the agency to maintain best standards in both operations and conduct of personnel.
Similarly, in a terse response to inquiries by our correspondent on the allegations, the Nigeria Police Force, Rivers State Command, through the Force Public Relations Officer (PPRO), SP Grace Iringe Koko, denied any involvement of their officers and stated that such allegation had not come to the notice of the command. She said the “NPF does not have any information regarding the allegation against officers of the force.”
Findings by our correspondent however indicate that some men of the NPF indeed engage in substance abuse and illegal extortion of peddlers. Those who live and do business around drug sales point corroborated the claim by drug peddlers and users that different teams of police officers pay regular visit to the drug points to extort money or engage in substance abuse. Those particularly around U.P.E Sand-field, Borokiri confirmed that police officers are aware of the presence of drug cartels in the area and also gave specific timelines of their visits.
Also, some traders at the Naval Officer’s Wives Association (NOWA) Market; Borokiri accused some naval personnel of aiding and abetting drug peddlers in the market. An anonymous trader said: “All the Malam dem wey you see around the slaughter, na drug boys and na the navy officers wey dey protect the market, dey collect money from them.” The traders alleged that the area is usually a beehive of drug activities in the evenings; they further informed that drugs are also sold in the open, inside the market.