Tobacco’s Soft Targets: Nigeria’s Under Aged Kids Getting Taught to Smoke In School

A Special Report by Freelance Journalist, Abang Mercy contributed to the Tobacco-Free Nigeria Campaign #ClearTheAir

By Mercy Abang

Musa, 14, is a student of Government Secondary School Wuse, Abuja, He has been smoking for five years, starting out at the tender age of 9, at the time when he was enrolled in the Junior Secondary School.

For Musa, smoking was not a matter of choice, cigarettes and other tobacco products could be found within his reach – just at the entrance to the school he attends. He got curious and was naïve.

“I have today become a chain smoker, I can’t do without cigarette’s and same applies to most of us you see here” he says and he points in the direction of other students heading out haphazardly at the end of the school day.

“As many times as I try to stop smoking, it becomes more difficult”. Musa tells me the tobacco products sold at the entrance of the school premises has become a norm in most schools. The pitch to himself and his under aged peers, was that it made them look tough and powerful.

Ahmed Isa, 25, a recent graduate could be spotted looking dazed, swaggering along the pedestrian walkway on the busy streets of Adetokunbo Ademola Crescent, Wuse 2 in Abuja. His tale was no different from what teenage Musa told me.

Ahmed admits to abusing substances and acknowledges his grave situation.  “To keep my spirit high, there’s simply nothing else to do and here’s my fifth codeine bottle,” he said reaching out for an empty container of cough syrup.

According to Isa, his journey with smoking had begun as early as elementary school where he would share cigarettes with his school mates. To this day, he is not only hooked on cigarettes but also on drugs, which ‘keeps him up at night’.

Tobacco use history by under aged persons often herald a lifelong abuse of non conventional drugs among young Nigerians which has become an increasing trend. Ahmed revealed to me that many of his friends take anything they find to feel ‘high’ from gasoline to correction fluid, rubber solution, aerosol, nail polish removers, kerosene. “It all started with the “mallams” shop next to the school premises where we (students) turned to for our tobacco needs.”

Unfortunately, Nigeria is ill equipped to deal with these challenges.

Tobacco Retail Targets Kids 

Umar Ado, 37 has been peddling biscuts in front of L.E.A primary school Kubwa Abuja. “I have been selling here for over fifteen years” he says, his shop lies adjacent the school. “Pupils come here every day to buy things before going into school and coming out”’

Ado’s shop hangs on the wall of the L.E.A Kubwa II primary school in Bwari Area Council Abuja. The shop is one of five wooden containers surrounding the school which stands somewhere at the middle of two hotels: Leisure Palace Hotel, and Jelinka Hotel, both reputed to be home to the highest number of commercial sex workers in Kubwa – a huge satellite town in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory.

“In the morning they come to buy biscuits, in the night, they come to buy cigarettes.” Ado added. Every morning as children walk into school, the sex workers often solicit their help to purchase soaps, cigarettes and tissue papers from these outlets

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