Nigeria is the second largest economy in Africa and with a growth of 7%. It is speculated that the economy will overtake South Africa by the end of this year to become the fastest growing economy in Africa. A major obstacle to the acceleration of growth is Nigeria’s alcohol consumption. The use of alcohol and other drugs is destroying both the youths, the society and the social stability of this emerging economy. Alcohol has become the leading cause of Non-communicable diseases in Nigeria.
In major cities across the country and villages located along highways, there are more than 3000 motor parks and joints without mandatory closing time, in which travellers eat, use alcohol and smoke from morning till day break. Licensing authorities at any level of government are not in place to regulate and control the establishment and activities of these kiosks, stores, alcohol parlours, joints, restaurants, open spaces with tables and chairs mounted to sell alcohol – many within a few blocks of densely populated neighbourhoods.
This is the underlying fact of a dramatic increase in alcohol use and hence the rise of harmful consequences for example causing multiples of NCDs. Recently the Head of the Department of Health Promotion and Education, College of Medicine, Professor Oladimeji Oladepo, has associated high alcohol use in the country with the rapidly increasing cases of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs). Professor Oladepo spoke at a meeting to announce the commencement of a study to analyse NCDs prevention policies in Nigeria and five other African countries (Cameroon, Togo, Malawi, South Africa and Kenya).
A huge problem is the easy availability and affordability of alcohol.
In the Lagos metropolis for example, motor parks for both intra and inter-state travelling can be found at Ojota, Maza-Maza, Mile 2, Mile 12, Jibowu, Ojuelegba, Oshodi, Iyana-Iba, Iyana-Ipaja, Agege, Oworo, Sango-Otta, Abule-Egba and Ikotun. Others are at Lekki, Obalende, CMS, Owode, Ikorodu, Epe, Volks, Ajah and other places with high concentration of people. In most of these motor-parks and major bus stops, operators of the alcohol retail spots are usually women and young girls. All sorts of alcoholic beverages are sold. From beer to stout, wines, brandy, gordon gin, chelsea, Bertola, illicit gin locally known as “ogogoro” in various components. Cigarettes of different kinds and brands including Indian hemp (marijuana), cocaine, heroin are widely available, too, and add to the dangerous mix.
Another grave problem is alcohol marketing.
The multinational companies like Guinness Nigeria Plc regularly face fresh trouble over most of their unapproved and inappropriate advertisements, which not only are immoral, but more often than not aggressively targeting children and youth. This is a direct result of multinational companies making billions of profit in developing countries like Nigeria and undermining the social and economic development. With their powerful lobbying machine Big Alcohol perpetuates the lack of high-impact and evidence-based alcohol policy being put into law.
The increase of alcohol intake in Nigeria as reported by WHO sends a signal that over two million people living in Lagos State suffer from one form of mental disorder or the other, which alcohol abuse and dependency is a generic causes.
The World Economic Forum describes the threat of NCDs, including mental health disorders and conditions, this way:
“Non-communicable diseases have been established as a clear threat not only to human health, but also to development and economic growth. Claiming 63% of all deaths, these diseases are currently the world’s main killer. Eighty percent of these deaths now occur in low- and middle-income countries. Half of those who die of chronic non-communicable diseases are in the prime of their productive years, and thus, the disability imposed and the lives lost are also endangering industry competitiveness across borders.”
This danger to economic prosperity and “industry competitiveness” is coupled with the huge burden associated with the increase of HIV/AIDS that Nigeria is facing, as a social consequence and direct result of high alcohol consumption. There is a direct and indirect relationship between alcohol and HIV.
I have travelled across the country myself, the situation there need to be addressed both with effective alcohol policy implementation and enforcement.
Professor Oladepo, team leader of the study in Nigeria, explained that of the four major NCDs (namely heart disease and stroke, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases) 80% and over 33% of cancers are preventable through eliminating tobacco use, unhealthy diets, use of alcohol and physical activities.
This situation leaves us with the question and need for effective alcohol policies. The government itself seems to lack a coherent alcohol policy, and is pressured by Big Alcohol to not put in place what World Bank, World Economic Forum and World Heath Organization call the “Three Best Buys”.
But it is these measures, along with better treatment and rehabilitation and attractive, safe alcohol-free environments for young people that are fundamental if the economic development in Nigeria is to be sustainable and have a long-term positive impact in the country.