How many Nigerians use drugs?


Two claims on drug use in Nigeria

Source: Dr Lolu Ojo, chair of the Nigerian Academy of Pharmacy’s committee on drug and substance abuse (June 2019)



One correct, one mostly correct

  • Dr Lolu Ojo, chair of a national committee on drug and substance abuse, said about 14.4 million Nigerians were currently on drugs and 25% of them were women.
  • A UN report based on the country’s first comprehensive survey of drug use found an estimated 14.3 million Nigerians – not 14.4 million – aged 15 to 64 used drugs in 2017.
  • The report estimated that 3.4 million, or 25%, of these drug users were women.

After a BBC Africa Eye documentary exposed Nigeria’s codeine cough syrup crisis in April 2018, the government banned the import and production of the opioid-containing mixture.

But this will only have short-term benefits, according to Dr Lolu Ojo, chair of the Nigerian Academy of Pharmacy’s committee on drug and substance abuse.

“Right now, there are so many products that are being abused,” Nigeria’s Guardian newspaper quoted Ojo as saying in June 2019. “Are we going to ban all of them?”

Ojo said in the interview that “about 14.4 million Nigerians are currently on drugs and 25% of them are women”.

Are his figures on point?


“About 14.4 million Nigerians are currently on drugs”



Ojo told Africa Check his data was from the latest United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report on drug use in Nigeria, published in January 2019.

“I was rightly quoted by the newspaper reporter and all facts are correct and ‘currently on drugs’ means drug users,” the pharmacist said.

‘First comprehensive nationwide survey’

The UNODC report comes out of Nigeria’s first comprehensive nationwide drug use survey, Dr Isiaka Olanrewaju, director of household statistics at the National Bureau of Statistics, told Africa Check. The bureau worked with other organisations to carry out the survey, with technical support from the UNODC.

Field workers visited 38,850 households and randomly selected one household member aged 15 to 64 to interview. The person was asked whether he or she had used a psychoactive substance for non-medical purposes in 2017.

The researchers also used a “network scale-up method”, in which respondents had to write down the number of people they personally knew who used a specific drug, Olanrewaju said.

This was supplemented by another survey on problem drug use and interviews with key informants.

Marijuana use most common

The report estimated that 14.4% of people had used at least one drug at least once in 2017, which worked out to 14.3 million people. (Note: This was based on the UN Population Division’s estimate of 98,882,000 people in Nigeria aged 15 to 64 in 2017.)

The figure excluded alcohol and tobacco use. An estimated 376,000 people were seen as high-risk drug users, defined as “those who had used opioids, crack/cocaine or amphetamines in the past 12 months as well as used for at least five times in the past 30 days”.

Marijuana use was most common with over 10 million people estimated to have used it. This was followed by the non-medical use of prescription opioids and cough syrups at 4.6 million. 

Based on a set of five questions, 20% of the people who reported using a drug were considered dependent on it.

Out of the six geopolitical zones, the southwest recorded the highest prevalence of drug use with 22.4% of people there having used at least one drug. This was followed by south-south zone, at 16.6%. North-central had the lowest prevalence of drug use at 10%.

Closest glimpse of number of drug users

Olarewaju said that while the survey was based on self-reported responses, it was nationally representative and the best estimate of how many people could still be current drug users.

Sylvester Atere, a UNODC communications officer, added: “Reliable survey report must be scientific and evidence-based. Until another survey is carried out, the existing report remains the reference point.”

The data is for 2017, so it is not entirely accurate to say it shows the number of people “currently” on drugs. Also, Ojo referred to 14.4 million people, while the report estimated 14.3 million.

We therefore rate his claim as mostly correct.


25% of drug users in Nigeria are women



The report estimated that one in four drug users in Nigeria was a woman. This worked out to 3.4 million women aged 15 to 64 in 2017.

Women reported having less control than men over how and from whom they acquired mostly illicit drugs. They were also far more likely to be supplied drugs by a male partner. 

And while more men were estimated to inject drugs, “women were more likely than men to report injecting heroin”.

Dr Nneka Unaogu, a consultant psychiatrist at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu, said people used drugs for a number of purposes, such as recreation, peer pressure and pain relief. 

“Another factor is depression. People believe taking drugs would get them out of their depressed state.”

Further reading:


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