For Temitope Taiwo, 48, it was love at first high. That was 28 years ago, when a female acquaintance gave him a stick of cigarette that changed the course of his destiny. Although the former company manager and a coterie of friends were social smokers for years, it was through his beloved fags that he was lured into higher drugs. “A lady friend came into my office one fateful day in Mushin, Lagos, and lighted a stick of cigarette, which I noticed was a little bit wet. Out of curiosity, I asked, ‘what kind of cigarette is this?’ She just replied by giving it to me to smoke. I tasted it, not knowing that there was cocaine in the cigarette.” That was how his descent into drugs began without knowing it, because “the way I felt was so different” that he requested that he be given more doses, which his ‘caring’ friend gladly obliged. “I felt so high that I had to tell her that what she gave me yesterday was totally different from what we have been smoking, and I would be glad if she can give me more of it.” But later on, Temitope graduated from an amateur to a cocaine and Indian hemp addict. “I said she should not be bringing it; she should just tell me where she was getting it.”
Like a tale from the depths of hell, he narrated how he plummeted into hard times in the ruinous world of drug addiction for more than 15 years. Apart from losing his plum job, home and family, he relocated to drug joints in Agege and Ajegunle, both suburbs of Lagos, where he “heard the sirens of alcohol” and felt as if patrons were performing their lives; instead of living them. Finally, he broke ranks with drugs. He is now a structural engineer and pastor after seeking help through rehabilitation.
Hooked on drugs as a teenager
But if sheer gullibility ensnared Temitope into the drug world, it is curiosity borne out of childishness that presented Kayode Ogunleye the passageway. As a primary school pupil, Kayode, now 43, was no stranger to a number of addictive substances – alcohol, cigarette and marijuana. At 13, he sipped alcohol with appetence, and admitted that he found much to like in it. Unsatisfied, he considered cigarettes through peer group pressure, and he also had no reason to decline. Egbudo, as Kayode was fondly called during his wasted 15 years in addictive substances, smoked marijuana with his friends, and equally enjoyed the concomitant ‘awesome’ experience. “As children, we used to hear from people that smoking Indian hemp can lead to insanity. But after years of running errands for the same set of people who smoked Indian hemp in the neighbourhood, I felt it was a mere myth.”
Yet, cocaine and heroin were an uncharted territory for the then teenager. One day however, Kayode summoned the will to go higher, starting with cocaine, and much later heroin, which he enjoyed to no end. “I dozed off instantly” after puffing the first dose of cocaine, he confessed out of conspicuous candour, while tracing how he plummeted into cocaine and heroin addiction. It all began with a veiled bait from a supposedly trusted friend asked Kayode to accompany him to see his parents in Mushin, a densely suburb of Lagos. “From Oyingbo, a childhood friend asked me to accompany him to his family house in Mushin; since I did not know his parents’ place. On getting there, rather than introduce me to his parents, he started snuffing egbudo (one of the street names for cocaine). He gave me the remnant and I did as he did,” he said. But things almost went awry, as the then teenager felt troubled, edgy and dizzy, necessitating his comrade-in-drugs to quickly furnish him with two bottles of soft drink and a bowl of rice with stew to boot – perhaps an addict’s equivalent of palliative care to calm down a dying friend on the verge of initiation.
And when respite was too slow in coming, Kayode was asked to take a cold shower, which ultimately bailed him out, at last. Unwittingly, that was how a drug addict was made out of a teenager brimming with pristine innocence; a sad odyssey that started from running errands to buy cigarette and marijuana for his elders in Ebutte Meta part of Lagos. “At a point, I could not live without cocaine and heroin because I would lose my composure and humanity. Even without food for days, I must take drugs to remain alive. It reached a point that I left home and started living in the joints.” Now a pool agent that is doing well in his new vocation, Kayode has come clean and sober for more than 10 years, having undergone complete rehabilitation at the Wellsprings Rehabilitation Centre, Ojodu, Lagos.
‘How drugs pushed me into robbery, car snatching’
Unlike Temitope and Kayode who were enticed into drugs by their gullibility and curiosity, respectively, there is no gainsaying that it was utter greed and love of instant wealth that attracted Isikalu Obasanya, 56, into the bad habit. On the completion of his secondary school education at Odogbolu Grammar School, Ogun State, in 1980, Isikalu took up a fairly blossoming career as a soap maker, and later got married to the love of his life. Life was not too rosy but not lacking some trappings of a man on the path to success and good life. However, barely six years later, his life slipped and tumbled down the stairs of a blossoming marriage, when “a friend visited me in my place of work and cajoled me that there are other easier ways of making more money.” Although his ‘benefactor’ was not explicit about his proposition, Isikalu agreed to give “breaking and entering” a try – a decision he rues till now.
Like victorious soldiers, the duo enjoyed their booties, grinning from ear to ear at the expense of their unlucky victims after each successful raid. But with persistent complaints that “breaking and entering” (a euphemism for stealing) was too difficult and risky, Isikalu’s friend agreed that the “job is not suitable for me.” There and then, the same friend also came up with another suggestion: ‘patronizing’ the bordering bus stops. Pronto, they became pickpockets, dispossessing passersby by sleight of hand. But, again, because Isikalu’s inability to perfect his new ‘vocation’ became apparent, his alter ego also advised that there are things “we can use to make us high enough to do what we want to do.” That was how Isikalu slipped into cocaine addiction, which his friend called ‘powder’ at the beginning. “We were putting cocaine in the cigarette and later Indian hemp. That was how we were enjoying life as pickpockets and drug addicts.”
Four years in jail for ‘car snatching’
One day, after seeing that Isikalu could drive, his friend came up with another terrible idea about how to make easy and faster money – car snatching. Like other crimes that had enriched their pockets in the past, Isikalu and his comrade-in-crime enjoyed a free rein, making filthy lucre from snatching cars without getting caught. Inevitably, luck eventually ran out of him during one outing, which plunged him into jail in Lagos from 1990 till 1994. On his return from prison, he went to Odogbolu, his hometown, doing nothing till boredom forced him back to Lagos, this time at the popular motor park in Yaba where he worked and lived for almost nine years as an attendant with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NUTRW). Rather than turn a new leaf, he would secretly leave the park to “hustle in the night” to augment his earnings to feed his drug habit. “At times, we would disguise as commercial bus operators, but we would forcefully discharge all the passengers midway in the journey after collecting the fares and robbing them of all items on them. All the money I made was consumed by cocaine, heroin, Indian hemp, prostitutes and liquor,” he said.
With time, he became so notorious that “policemen from Barracks Police Station were desperately looking for me” and “threatening openly to kill me if I was caught.” At a point, because any “crime committed in the whole of Yaba area was attributed to me, even when no one had asked if I was involved or not,” Isikalu went into hiding in a hotel at Idi Oro, near railway side in Fadeyi, Lagos. And for fear of being picked up, he holed in the hotel until he fortuitously met Mrs. Shola Balogun, a provincial pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, who regularly leads a team to hideouts to preach, who introduced him into rehab. “Since there was nowhere to go already, because the police were looking for me everywhere, I just made up my mind to follow these people. They said they would lock us up in the rehab home for five months. I jumped into their vehicle knowing that this would free me from police harassment,” said Isikalu.
‘I was selling my blood to buy drugs’
Even as a primary six pupil, Victor Idahor, now 52, was already soaked into drugs, beginning with cigarettes. Like a child’s game, it all started by mimicking his brothers who were cigarette smokers at the time in their own little world in Edo State. “They were sending me to buy cigarette for them, but by the time they finished smoking, I would take the butt and smoke it.” But by his second year in the secondary school in 1979, his youthful adventurous spirit had forced him to approach an adolescent Indian hemp smoker in the vicinity to “let me try it.” As expected, he enjoyed the “high and all that.”
Being an ambitious young man, who had wanted to be like big guys in his school, and also dreamt of a career as a DJ, “I needed to be taking Indian hemp and alcohol regularly” to be high. But, later, when he was not getting high enough as before, Idahor added pills like Chinese capsule and madras to fire up. But nemesis reared its ugly head when his academic performance slumped drastically – no thanks to drugs, smoking and going to night clubs, which had taken over his budding life. Worse still, he was suspended from school due to waywardness, forcing him to pass out in 1984 with poor result, instead of 1982; and in another school. “Sometime when others were in school, I would be at home smoking until it ruined my dreams.”
But, early in life, a window of opportunity opened, when he secured a fat-salary job with a company in Ajaokuta, Kogi State, where he was taught how to construct drainage. Despite his good pay, however, “I was always in the red before the month end.” For living a life of riot verging on binge drinking and Indian hemp smoking, which seemed to have prepared him for ruin, he was sacked from his plum job. But like the proverbial cat with nine lives, respite soon beckoned on him: his sack came with hefty severance benefits. And with good money in his kitty, Idahor was on his way to Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre where opportunities abound, to eke out a new living. That was in 1987.
Unfortunately, in Lagos, he waxed stronger in drugs, instead of pursuing greener pastures. Without a relative in Lagos, he had only one option: to lodge in a hotel. But his stay at the defunct Eagle Guest House, an inn notorious for harbouring drug barons, near the old African Shrine, also drove him further into the depths of hard drugs. Curious about the regular influx of drug buyers and sellers into his inn, Idahor, in his early weeks in the lodge, requested to know the various types of drugs on quick demand, thus developing a means of livelihood by selling cocaine and heroin – though he was not snuffing any of these. One day however, led also by his usual inquisitiveness, he tasted the hard drugs, which later lured him into the streets as an addict after exhausting his cash. Through telling lies, and begging sometimes, he fed his drug habit. When this was no longer enough to keep him on his beloved drugs, he began touting in the international airport in Ikeja, helping travellers carry their bags in the hope of getting tips. with death
At a point, he had to cool his heels as an awaiting trial inmate at the Kirikiri Maximum Prison, Lagos, when the airport police picked him up for touting. But, after three months in custody, he was asked to go home and sin no more, being an “ordinary airport rat.” He, however, did not heed the admonition. Barely two weeks after his release, the young addict returned to the same spot to do what he knew best: touting, since this was the only means to get money for his cravings. Again, his luck deserted him. In his frantic bid to evade arrest by hordes of air force men who swooped on him, Idahor jumped from an airport railing of about two-storey building high. Having trained in martial art as a young man, which came handy that fateful day, he escaped unhurt – to the consternation of onlookers. “I approached a British Airways plane that just arrived so that I could assist passengers as usual. Before I knew it, an air force officer attempted to arrest me, but I dodged him and ran. His colleagues joined him in pursuing me. My only one escape route was to jump down the rail, because I did not want to go back to Kirikiri. The rail in the international airport, located from the arrival wing to the swimming pool, is like two-storey building down. People shouted, as if I had committed a suicide.”
Perhaps thinking he was a hardened criminal, flight lieutenant Ojikutu, air force boss in the airport at the time, promptly ordered his men to get Idahor at all costs. “Eventually, I ended up in the cell, where I was tortured by air force personnel. But by dancing and acrobatic dance, I showed them I was good in martial art, which made them to release me the third day when they were convinced that I was not a thief.” As the door of opportunity closed in the airport, he started going to the General Hospital in Ikeja, complaining of various ailments so that doctors could prescribe drugs to use. With the prescription note in his hand, he would go from office to office bothering people in the hospital with importunate requests for alms that he really did not need. But this worked only temporarily, as “workers in the hospital later realised that I was lying,” which made him to return to the streets, also tricking passersby to get money. “Sometimes, I would put a big plaster on the lower part of my abdomen, pretending as if I just underwent an operation or needed to do an operation. I would raise my cloth a bit for them to see it so that they could pity me and give me money.”
As friends and family compound woes
Expectedly, his lies collapsed like a pack of cards with time, as unsuspecting residents soon saw beyond the facade. But as his source of cash dried up, he came up with a brand new strategy to raise money for his drugs: selling his blood for a token. He approached some blood banks, which obliged him. “I was selling my blood to the blood banks, at least twice a week. I was getting between N200 to N300 per pint at the time. I would return to the joint to smoke cocaine and heroin. I was doing this every fortnight. I was so sickly and shrunken that everybody thought I was going to die. At this stage, all my friends and colleagues had deserted me because they thought I was about to die. If they saw me coming, they would take the other route and flee. Somebody then advised me that he did not want me to die on the street, saying I should go and die at home in Benin.”
With no one left to associate with, Idahor, who is the only child of his mother for his daddy before they parted ways, bought the advice. However, like his street friends, his contractor father also disowned him on getting to Benin. “My father, who had never shown me care, asked what the matter with me was. I told him I was sick. He said, ‘if you are sick, why did you come here? Is this place a hospital? Leave my house,’ he shouted. I looked up and down, and said I have come to the end of the road. Till today, I did not know how I left Benin and returned to Lagos.” That was how he found himself on the streets of Lagos, once again, where “I was miraculously healed within a week – without going to any hospital.”
Luckily for him, his path crossed with that of the Christ Against Drug Abuse Ministry (CADAM), where people ravaged by drugs are rehabilitated. “I came to the rehab on my own in 1998, where my eyes were opened to the fact that I had been in a serious pit all this while. I encountered God and received the call of God to go into full-time ministry.” After leaving CADAM and graduated from the school of mission, he was absorbed by the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) as a minister, having served in states like Rivers, Ogun and Oyo, where he rose to the post of zonal pastor in 2014. “At the school of mission, I was taught about forgiveness. I have forgiven my father, who did not correct, chastise or guide me early in life; he abandoned me right from my secondary school days to do what I liked.”
Twenty six years after leaving secondary school, the third year undergraduate of Oyo College of Education had to rewrite the WAEC exam in 2011. Now a father of four, and married to a full- time pastor as wife, Idahor is currently giving to back to CADAM that “has helped in giving me a second chance in life.” Though he doesn’t go back to the drug joints to preach, he ministers to the recovering addicts in CADAM. “My advice to parents is to pick interest in what their children are doing; they should not abandon their children. They should try to know who their children’s friends are. When the children are going wrong, they should discipline them. When you abandon a child to his or her own devices, you are telling him or her to go for destruction, which is what happened in my own case. And for the youths, I want them to know that the devil is a schemer and destroyer; and one of the ways it uses to waste the destiny of people is by diverting their attention to negative things like drugs. The company a child keeps means a lot. If a child walks with the fools, he or she will grow up to be a fool; if a child walks with the wise, he or she will grow to be wise,” he urged.
A transnational baron, trafficker and addict
His is a story of a journey to the edge of destruction, except that Ekundayo Osinubi, 59, is alive to tell his tales. As a big time merchant – dealing in sugar, salt and oil – he began life on a prosperous note, unlike most of his peers. In no time, fame, power and friends sought him, as his good start in life had decreed. He was the cynosure of all eyes in his line of business as well as in his neighbourhood, with friends and family members openly milling around him for patronage.
But, suddenly, his success came crashing down when his debtors were not forthcoming in offsetting their bills. He started having insomnia because of accumulated debts, which later “became disturbing.” One day, a close friend of his came and ‘diagnosed’ the ailments, prescribing a quick solution to his inability to sleep: brown sugar powder. “He gave me very little quantity of brown sugar powder (heroin) to sniff. The first day, I slept very well. The same man came again and I did the same thing again. I thought it was enjoyment galore, not knowing it would come to destroy me.” Unknowingly, he was being initiated gradually into drugs without his consent. The enormity of his situation was to dawn on him later when he started feeling feverish during his visit to Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, to confer with his retired medical doctor father. He headed back to Lagos after receiving malaria treatment. However, his trouble resurfaced mid-way the journey, but he managed to reach his place.
The biggest riddle he was unable to solve until many years later was that his regular friend was on hand waiting for him with the usual stuff, even long before he returned from his parents’ place. And immediately he sniffed the brown sugar again, his fever disappeared. “He said I will be your doctor. Let me treat you. He gave a small quantity and my body became normal again. All the body aches disappeared once and for all.” Later, the harsh reality set in, as he could not do anything without the all-powerful brown sugar powder, because “if I want to eat, I must take it. If I want to sleep, I must also take it.” His condition grew worse when he discovered that the powder that was giving him happiness was being imported from India. As a moneybag brimming with ideas to earn profit, he saw huge business potentials in it, far beyond the enjoyment and the highs that his friends that initiated him were contented with. That was in 1983.
Off he went to India with the mission to import drugs. On getting there, he saw hard drugs in abundance, readily available to his surprise. His India sojourns later became a monthly affair. That was how Ekundayo graduated from sniffing heroin and cocaine to stuffing it inside cigarettes and Indian hemp, because the “samples they were giving to me were enough for me for a whole month.” He became happy and “less concerned about all the humongous problems of the world,” as he waxed stronger in his drug cravings. By 1984, when his cousin who returned from England told him that “what you are wasting here is a lot of money” over there, his fate took a turn for the kill. Pronto, he started exporting cocaine to the United Kingdom because “cocaine was more costly there than heroin.”
First Nigerian arrested in UK with cocaine
On his first trip abroad, he was arrested, making history as the first Nigerian to be arrested in UK with cocaine as at the time. He got to know this when he was arraigned before the magistrate court in Crawling, and pleaded guilty. The jury retreated into their chambers and returned with the explanation that “this case is very new to us here because you are the first Nigerian to be arrested for this offence.” They went further to let him know that Nigerians were only notorious for bringing cannabis to the UK, adding that “what you have brought is quite new to us and we don’t know how to determine your judgment.” But because he had pleaded guilty, the jury apparently tempered justice with mercy, sentencing him to 30 days’ imprisonment only. Interestingly, it was with the same return ticket that he returned to Nigeria after completing his jail term, making it look as if he was just on a holiday trip to the UK.
As far he was concerned, his ordeal in the UK was a trouble not big enough to make him abandon a lucrative business line. In 1985, he was on a trip to India for drug business when he was arrested again, but “I bribed my way.” However, on getting to France, he was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison. He spent 30 months in jail. “My health was in shambles because I could think of nothing but heroin. But I saw my true self in their prison. I was rehabilitated and treated for withdrawals. As a prisoner, I was working and schooling. I studied French and obtained a diploma in the prison.” Sadly, by the time he returned from France in 1987, he relapsed. With good money in his hands again, having worked and earned a lot during his three years’ sojourn in the prison in France, he remembered an advice by one of his Senegalese friends that a body cream product made in Nigeria was selling like hot cake in Senegal.
That was how Ekundayo took the next available flight and exported the cream to Senegal without carrying out any due diligence or visibility study. On getting to Dakar, he was picked up for importing contraband to their country, with all his goods seized. While wandering about in Dakar in 1992, a native scolded him thoroughly for being foolish to have brought in contraband goods when “Senegalese respect Nigerians for having the best cannabis in the continent.” He hurriedly returned to Nigeria, and exported a huge consignment of cannabis to Senegal with the hope of recouping his lost investment. Unfortunately, he was arrested again. He had spent 30 days in detention before he was discharged and acquitted, all by divine intervention. “I was already penniless. Simply because I could speak French, a lawyer just came and I was interpreting for him. On the day I was to appear before the judge, I told him to defend me without having any money. Surprisingly, on judgment day, the prosecutor just came out and started accusing the customs men that arrested me. After I was discharged and acquitted, I was given a free citizenship. It was God that appeared on my behalf.”
Rather than quit his illegal ways, he hooked up with bigger expatriate drug barons in Senegal, serving as a distributor for many of them, since he could speak French and Jolof. And in the process, he relapsed into drugs again. He was making good profits again, though all his gain was engulfed by his drugs cravings so much so that “I was sometimes in debt because of cocaine and heroin.” By the time he returned to Nigeria in October 1997, when the Nigerian embassy earmarked one flight for stranded Nigerians wishing to return home, “I was ashamed of myself because I came back empty-handed; with only one trousers and a shirt.” Due to shame, he just headed towards one of the numerous drug hideouts in Oyingbo, instead of reuniting with his family members who had not seen him for years. He crisscrossed drug joints until his path crossed with that of Wellsprings rehab in 2004, where he successfully completed the programme and RCCG discipleship training, becoming president of its alumni association. After over 20 years’ of addiction, Ekundayo, who has since regained his life and future, now pastors a church in Ikeja and regularly evangelises in all the dark and dank places to rescue drug addicts. “I used to feel that I have wasted almost half of my life because of drugs. I would have become a grandfather by now, but my first daughter just celebrated her fifth birthday. I thank God because it is better late than never. God has given me a second chance and that is what I want to maximise,” he summed up with a wry smile.