36-year-old Finbar Akoyibo started using Marijuana while in Junior Secondary school in 2001 at the Government Secondary School, Gwarimpa Life Camp. He was 14 at the time.
“Once, my friends organised a party where they introduced me to the substance, and as soon as I tested it, I could not resist the urge to keep taking it,” he recalled.
Oftentimes, they told him that taking drugs would endear him to many, help him pass exams and make him stronger. After his secondary school, he went to the College of Education Zuba, Abuja, where he studied Geography and Social Studies for two years. In those years, he still had the same circle of friends who had introduced him to drugs.
“I graduated from taking Marijuana to other substances like Weed and Codeine, and that affected my performance.”
In 2018, Akoyibo was granted admission into the National Open University Abuja. Still, he could not complete his education because of the addiction.
In Nigeria, the widespread use of drugs and substances has caused many problems, like losing self-awareness, mental disorders, death, addiction, and other difficulties, particularly among young individuals.
According to a 2018 National Drug Use Survey, 14.4% (14.3 million) of people aged between 15 and 64 years in the country were drug users, of which close to 3 million suffered from a drug use disorder.
The survey found that Lagos and Oyo States had the highest prevalence of drug use. This is despite a 1990 National Drug Policy adopted to guard against inadequacies in drug availability, supply and distribution.
Soon, Akoyibo started staying out at night. Last February, his parents took him to a hospital in Abuja, where he spent two weeks receiving medication.
Before he returned home, his family got in touch with David Folaranmi, whose Foundation is fighting against the scourge of drug abuse in Nigeria through sensitisation, advocacy, enlightenment and education.
Folaranmi sent the family a type A form so that the family could provide more information about him. He wanted to be sure it was a situation that the foundation could handle and get results.
When Folaranmi realised that the foundation had the ability to help, he arranged for a crisis management team from the Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Enugu. This team went to Abuja and brought Akoyibo to a rehabilitation centre at the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army in Enugu. Akoyibo stayed there for three months initially. He has returned to the foundation's Half Way Home, where he receives counselling and therapy.
The management team is licenced by law to pick up someone who is a danger to himself and society for treatment.
Product of own experience
The David Folaranmi Foundation was a product of Folaranmi’s own experience. At 24, he started experimenting with drugs in the United Kingdom while studying for a Master’s Degree. He was first introduced to it at Covenant University by a friend whom he also lived with while studying.
He didn't reach the point of complete addiction and psychological reliance on any substance while in the UK. However, upon his return and his parents renting a house for him in Abuja, he proceeded to liquidate all of his assets, including his car. He collected the proceeds from the property owner and used the funds to support his drug habit.
“The situation spiralled out of control, and I started using crack Cocaine, and very quickly, I became addicted to it, “he recalled. Between August and December in 2010, he spent over 3 million naira on drugs.
For a prolonged span of time, he found himself without a home, taking up residence where they sold drugs. Then, one day, he reached out to his parents, revealing the extent of his challenges. Their reaction was one of astonishment, as he had been raised in a devout Christian household.
“I had to go into rehabilitation two times, but first at a Faith-Based rehabilitation centre in Lagos for six months, “he said. “It was a horrible period for me in the first 1 month because it had to do with me withdrawing from the substances.”
Merely two weeks after his initial recovery, he faced another relapse, plunging back into drug use on the streets and in seedy environments. At one point, he even grappled with suicidal thoughts, a struggle that led him to make an attempt on his own life. Following this critical incident, he underwent an intensive three-month therapy program, which ultimately helped his full recovery.
“That was when I decided to dedicate a large part of my life to ensuring that other youths don’t make the same mistakes I made,” he said. In August 2017, he launched the foundation, which was registered in October 2019.
Successes so far
The foundation is dedicated to facilitating the recovery of individuals through rehabilitation services, with expenses spanning from ₦250,000 to ₦500,000 per month. To date, it has successfully funded the rehabilitation of 66 individuals. However, the organisation cannot cover the costs for every individual due to financial constraints, leading some financially capable families to cover the expenses for their loved ones.
The NGO is affiliated with nine rehabilitation centres across Nigeria, some of them based in Enugu, Lagos and Abuja, where clients are referred to depending on the type of treatment they need.
Prior to these events, Folaranmi, a trained psychologist, undertakes a comprehensive interview and assessment process to see the most suitable treatment centre for an individual’s condition. Notably, the therapy services provided are entirely free of charge.
After spending two to three months at the centre, the individual is brought back to the foundation’s Half Way Home, where they spend some months for their social reintegration before they gradually move back into society.
“At the home, we do counselling, therapy and drug testing every two weeks with our one-step rapid test to ensure that they are not relapsing,” Folaranmi said. “The kit can test ten different substances, which is important because the home is not an enclosed place, and they are allowed to go out.”
“If we find any lapse, we put them on lockdown/isolation for a period of time," he said. “If it repeats itself, we send them back to the rehabilitation centre”
Furthermore, the foundation strongly emphasises empowering individuals to acquire practical skills that enable them to contribute meaningfully to society. It actively supports their integration into the workforce. Regularly, the foundation's volunteers engage with students from schools in Enugu, Abuja, Nasarawa, Kaduna, and Ogun State. During these visits, they hold sessions addressing the perils of drug abuse and its far-reaching consequences.
Additionally, the foundation holds an annual symposium, fostering a collaborative platform for schools to convene and deliberate on the topic of drug abuse.
Since its inception, the foundation's impact has extended to more than 250,000 young people throughout Nigeria, accomplished through a combination of on-ground initiatives and online campaigns.
Finance is a major challenge for the foundation, as considerable funding for their work comes from Folaranmi himself and contributions from devoted family members and friends who deeply believe in the foundation's mission. Presently, the foundation shoulders a financial burden exceeding N1.4 million to facilitate the rehabilitation efforts for approximately six individuals.
“We also have a waiting list of over 30 persons who urgently need rehabilitation,” he said. “But there is almost nothing we can do because we cannot afford the money.”
Folaranmi also mentions that many people hesitate to help those struggling with drug addiction because they misunderstand them. That's why this year's theme for the International Day Against Drug Abuse is "People First—Ending Stigma and Discrimination, Enhancing Prevention." This theme aims to break down unfair judgments and focus on taking care of people dealing with addiction.
He said that the foundation plans to build its own centre to integrate the first stage of rehabilitation with the second stage, which is for social reintegration.
“We want to have a centre where we can properly cater for persons who struggle with drug abuse, “he said. “After isolation, detoxification, therapy relapse and prevention methods, we can move them to the second stage in the same environment before social reintegration.”
He said that the foundation has written letters to the Federal Ministry of Health and the Senate Committee on Narcotics to demand the establishment of an evidence-based, unified curriculum on drug abuse prevention.
“There are other non-profits are into drug abuse prevention,” he said. “We can come together and have one single message so that we don’t confuse the younger ones,”. The government must also establish more treatment centres, especially for those who cannot afford private treatments.”
Whenever he remembers the years he lost due to drug addiction, Akoyibo has regrets. However, he hopes to get a job and get back on his feet again, having been rehabilitated.