A perfect evening for a shower and then a stroll, and somewhere on Lagos Island things were just beginning to stir.

Out came the benches and a few white plastic chairs which had seen better days. Soon the patrons strolled in, one after the other, all shapes, colours, the poor, the middle class and it’s hard to believe, some of these guys are more than average.

What with their sleek cars and intimidating SUVs, designer suits, ties and shoes, they are sure not your average bus-chasing Lagosian. They wore wristwatches, some of which cannot be bought anywhere in Nigeria. Classy, that’s what some of the patrons are.

From the artisan to the professional, they had one thing in common: marijuana or cannabis sativa, also known as Igbo. We’ll talk about its other names later.

Before each patron sat down, the dealer dipped his hand into the nylon bag he had all the while clutched as if it contained life itself, and brought out some paper wrapped substances accompanied by a pack of Rizla cigarette rolling papers.

Afterwards, some money exchanged hands and the patron looks for somewhere to sit. Others came in for takeaway. They don’t smoke their stuff there. They go and smoke it somewhere else. Maybe in their cars as they drove around or in their homes.

The paper is unwrapped and the Rizla paper is employed and behold, a joint is born, lit and smoked. As the smokers lit up one after the other the putrid odour and thick smoke of the weed fill the air.

Some of the patrons also lit cigarettes after smoking the ganja, perhaps to mask the odour of the latter; others smoked theirs sipping chilled bottles of soda or beer, or the ever constant paraga.

Marijuana and paraga, it is said, is a deadly combination and only those whose heads are ‘strong’ dare attempt to combine the two. Yet, some of the patrons, even very well dressed ones, combined the two with no discernible effect.

By the way, paraga, as it is popularly called, is a combination of roots marinated in ethanol and sometimes Ogogoro, a locally made gin. It is believed that paraga can cure certain ailments which include malaria, typhoid and pile. Some of the drinks are believed to be cures for loss of libido and as a patron said, “it can put the ram back into the rod”.

According to my friend, who refused to tell me his name, though he called me baba, after a few shots, one gets high but after taking it for a few months, one needs a higher dose to get intoxicated, although how that will affect its alleged medicinal value is suspect.

One of the drinks stands out. It is called monkey tail. Others call it Nokia, perhap because it can connect them to the spiritual realm.

This concoction is made with leaves and twigs of marijuana, marinated in ethanol, and patrons attest to its power to daze. Even a single shot could intoxicate the uninitiated. But patrons who asked for it took between two and four shots of the deadly brew. I guess those are the initiated!

Constant use of paraga seems to reduce its effect on the user. Marijuana has a similar effect. It was no surprise therefore that on that fateful evening, many of the patrons were wielding jumbos. Jumbos are joints wrapped in one or two large Rizla papers. It looks like a small club and the large end is lit. Its effect too, I was told, is deadly to the uninitiated and dangerous when combined with too many shots of paraga or its more potent brother, monkey tail.

One of the ganja smokers, who confessed to have been a regular user for the past twenty-five years, said the illegal weed is universal as it is used all over the world.

An artisan, who was smoking a jumbo-sized marijuana and nursing a bottle of beer, agreed that it enables the smoker to endure several hours of work without rest, a man who claims he works in a bank said marijuana ‘generates the mind to greater creativity’ (his exact words), whatever that means.

It is, however, uncertain how the illicit weed got its name, Indian hemp, in Nigeria.

Tafe, Igbo, Ganja, Pot, Ewe Ola, Oja, Bhang and Hash are some of the names it is called all over the world.

Others are Weed, Green, Calita, Mota, Bud, Wacky Tobaccy, Reefer, Dope, Dro, Hydro, Herb, Kush, Nuggs, Nugget, Dank, Mids, Shwag, Spliff, Doobie, Sinsemilla, Smoke, Chronic, Flame, Endo, Skunk and Sativa. The list is inexhaustive.

The world over, it is known by different names and used (or misused?) by different categories of people. It is even medicinal but it is popularly used as a recreational drug.

All over Lagos, Indian hemp has become so abused that it is smoked openly, though there is an existing  law pohibiting its use. But that does not seem to deter its users.

Law enforcement agents cannot claim to be unaware of the growing trend of smoking of Indian hemp in public places. Rather many of them patronise the peddlers, and are indeed their friends and protectors.

Conductors, drivers, touts and other layabouts smoke Indian hemp at motor parks, often with reckless abandon.

Many times, hapless commuters watch the consumption of the illicit drinks and smoke  with fear, praying that the young man who just gulped two shots of paraga while smoking a stick of Indian hemp would not be the one that handles the streering when the bus is filled.

From Iyana Ipaja to Oshodi, Ojuelegba and Lagos Island, all you need do is ask and someone points to a corner, and for as little as N50, you can get high.

—Tunde Adekeye