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Wednesday, 17 July, 2002, 09:05 GMT 10:05 UK
Nigerians get high on lizard droppings
A roll of marijuana and lizard excreta
A cheaper way to escape from the realities of life

Three men sit on the ground inside a house.

Beside them is a bowl containing a bright blue liquid.


The lizard dung is the most important part of the mixture

Drug addict

Scattered around are various ingredients that go into the mixture:

Clothing dye powder, medicinal herbs and seeds and most bizarre of all, lizard droppings.

In a nutshell, this is the source of the new "high" sweeping northern Nigeria.

Pot and peanuts

More often the problems of drug addiction are associated with inner cities in the industrialised world.

But in the northern city of Kano, there is now an alarming increase in the use of cheap household chemical products and other cheap but highly toxic ways to get "high".

A common Nigerian lizard
Nigerians are looking for thrills in strange places

"The lizard dung is the most important part of the mixture," one of the men tells me.

"We take a bowl, and start by adding blue dye powder to some water.

"Then we take the seeds from this fruit - called Zaqami. It's a powerful medicine.

"Next we take the white part of the lizard dung and crumble it into the water. There are other things we can add as well, but this is ok.

"It's ready to drink now."

As the three men talk to me, they pass the bowl of blue liquid between them, drinking it, then chasing the mixture down with handful of peanuts.

They tell me it helps the overall effect - like drinking strong whisky on a very hot day.

The effects will then have to be slept off in the afternoon.

Poverty

This is a social problem as much as it is a medical one.

Kano is a large sprawling city with very high levels of poverty and unemployment.

A drug addict
Smoking away everyday miseries

And drug taking is a way to escape from the hard realities of life, even if only for a short while.

Mansur Kabir is the minister of health in Kano state and his ministry has been monitoring this dangerous trend among drug users in Nigeria.

"There's a big difference between the drug-taking in Nigeria and the one in Europe.

"The expensive ones like cocaine and other dangerous drugs are not available here because of their expense.

"So these young people tend to resort to cheap drugs - to drinking excreta from animals, from dye products, things that one can never imagine.

"They are potentially very dangerous to young people."

Mr Kabir fears that the problem may not go away soon.

City of Kano
Many Nigerians turn to drugs because of poverty and unemployment

"It has become a problem particularly within the last two to three years - and it seems to be coinciding with increasing poverty and decreased opportunities for employment.

"There is also a very high migration from rural to the urban areas."

This a pattern repeated in urban areas across Nigeria.

There is an army of underemployed youths - all hungry, many on drugs and in need of money.

They are available for hire to politicians fighting election campaigns - a recipe for instability.

Musa Sa'ad Mohammed, a health official in Kano, says he is very much concerned about the potential for further violence in a city that has seen more than its fair share of civil unrest over the years.

"There are lots of people with lots of energy, lots of ideas and lots of potentials but cannot find work.

"Eventually what you find is a whole army of youth that are made to use their energies and resources and capabilities negatively."

Vicious circle

My drug taking friends round off their day smoking joints of marijuana laced with lizard dung.

They tell me that what they are doing is part of the everyday lives of an increasing number of young men.

Lizard droppings
Lizard droppings are a cheap alternative to cocaine

"It's really widespread," one of them tells me.

"You see people at the weekly markets, sitting under a tree and mixing these drugs.

"But you can't make a living, hold a job down, when you're under the influence of these drugs all day."

His friend agrees:

"I know all these drugs are not good for me.

"Now that I'm married and have children, I've tried to stop.

"Look at me, I look old ahead of my time and I've been spending all my money to buy these drugs."

This is not a problem that is being seriously addressed by health officials in Nigeria.

They say fighting hunger and disease are a more important use of scarce resources.

But it is nonetheless a serious and growing problem.

And one that has consequences both for the economy and social stability across the country.

The drugs trade

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31 Aug 01 | Africa
06 Jun 00 | In Depth
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