Human rights groups in Enugu have advocated the review of Nigerian laws relating to drug offences in order to decriminalize such offences and make them human rights compliant.
The stakeholders decried a situation where the existing laws criminalize drug offences thereby subjecting suspected offenders to all forms of human rights abuses, including, extortion, extra-legal arrests, torture, forced confessions, denial of legal services, stigmatization and dehumanisation.
The rights groups, including Afrilaw Foundation, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) made the advocacy during ‘Human Rights and Drug Policy Forum’ at Enugu State Cooperative College Hall, Enugu.
The event with the theme, “Improving Rule of Law, Human Rights and Justice for Effective Drug Control in Nigeria”, was also part of events to mark this year’s International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, a United Nation’s programme observed annually on 26 June, since 1989.
Speaking at the event, the Coordinator, NHRC, Enugu State Office, Dr. Valentine Madubuko noted that drug users are sick people and need treatment and rehabilitation, since they also have right to health.
Madubuko, who was represented by Mr. Ezeani Iheukwumere, an Assistant Director Corporate Affairs and External Linkages of NHRC, alleged that some suspected drug offenders are extra legally arrested, tortured, sexually abused and sometimes spend up to 10 years in prison without trial.
He said NHRC “in conjunction with West African Commission on Drugs are working to ensure regional governments create drug policies to protect human rights.”
In his presentation, the Executive Director of Afrilaw Foundation, Barr. Chinwike Okereke, said that before now most people see drug use as a criminal offence, which he said was not surprising going by NDLEA Law, Indian Hemp Act and other international conventions which Nigeria was signatory to, and which criminalise drugs.
“And enforcement of drug laws, which prescribes five to 25 years imprisonment, comes with unintended consequences. Human rights seek to safeguard the dignity of people and equity and fair treatment,” he said.
On his part, Mr. Nonso Maduka, a pharmacist and Executive Director Bensther Development Foundation, and National Secretary of Community Intervention Network on Drugs (CIND), said people use drugs for several reasons including, experiment, family history, peer pressure, poor social and life skills, genetic disposition, stress management and image packaging.
He said that 14.4 percent or 14.3 million Nigerians use drugs, which he defined as a substance/chemical which when taken into the body alters the body’s function either physically and/or psychologically.
“Some drugs can be used therapeutically, meaning that some of the drugs have medical values,” he said.