By Vanessa Obioha
Before popular Nigerian rapper Olamide released his hit single ‘Science Student’, the term was held in high esteem. It alluded to serious-minded students in the science field, often times in chemical laboratories, performing different experiments to support their hypothesis.
Nowadays, the slightest allusion to a science student elicits either mockery or scorn. It is now perceived as a derogatory term for drug abusers as interpreted by the singer who has a peculiar knack for street lingo.
Citing the process of mixing chemicals, Olamide sings about the different ways the youths of today are experimenting with different hard substances for enhanced euphoria (high). As has become the norm, fans uploaded different videos of their interpretation of the songs on various social media. Most of the videos, though entertaining, highlighted the detrimental reactions of drug abuse. These trending videos however sparked controversies as many questioned the real intent of the singer. Notwithstanding the backlash the song received from concerned members of the public as well as a Not to be broadcast (NTTB) caveat from the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC), ‘Science Student’ is still trending among the youths today. On YouTube alone, the song has been viewed for more than four million times.
It is very easy to laugh at the funny characters in the videos uploaded on social media, from the ones swimming in a muddy pool to those mopping the highways; these actions are in no way humorous. Rather, they mirror the dangers these hard substances pose in our society.
Drug abuse is not a strange menace in our society; however its increasing intake by our youths today is worrisome.
According to statistics by Freedom Foundation, a faith-based non-profit organization -there are at least a drug addict out of five youths living on the streets of Lagos. A THISDAY report on ‘Rising Drug Abuse’ revealed startling statistics about this malaise. The findings provided by different academics and professionals interested in psychosocial behaviour in relation to the menace of drug abuse in the Niger Delta, stated that 46.6 per cent of University of Benin students who are aged between 20-25 years have taken drugs for non-medical purposes at least once in their lifetime, resulting sometimes in risky behaviours such as unsafe sexual practices. The study further concluded that some youths depend on one form of drug or the other such as tobacco, Indian hemp, cocaine, morphine, heroine, alcohol, ephedrine, madras, caffeine, glue, barbiturates and amphetamines for their various daily activities.
The side effects of constant abuse of these drugs cannot be overemphasized. Symptoms of a drug use disorder include recurrent drug use that results in legal problems, occurs in potentially dangerous situations, interfere with important obligations, results in social or relationship problems, tolerance, withdrawal, using a lot of the drug or for a long period of time, persistent desire to use the drug, unsuccessful efforts to stop using the drug, neglecting other aspects of life because of their drug use, and spending inordinate amounts of time or energy getting, using, or recovering from the effects of the drug.
In our society today, there are science students everywhere. They are on our streets, in our homes, churches, work places but expectedly, many look the other way either out of ignorance or nonchalance. As a result, so many bright dreams are killed because only few bother to save a soul. Very few organisations like Freedom Foundation spearheaded by Dr. Tony Rapu have taken the responsibility to rehabilitate victims of drug abuse while highlighting the hazardous threat in our sciety.
In a culminating period of 10 years, Rapu and his team scoured the streets of Lagos in search of drug addicts who need redemption. From the dreaded dark alleys of Empire in Yaba area of Lagos to the notorious Ipodo area in Ikeja, they reached out to males and females, young and old, who have fallen into the deep abyss of drug disorder.
Their journey to discovery is captured in a 13- series documentary titled ‘My Lagos Diaries’ which started airing last month. Viewers get to see dramatic transformation of the victims and their heart-breaking lifestyles as a result of peer pressure, indiscipline, financial struggles and depression. There is no age limit as both the young and old are caught up in this world of crime and drug abuse. What the Freedom Foundation however does is to bring hope to victims of such harsh situations by providing medical, financial, and emotional support. At times, there is a happy ending for these vagrants, other times, it’s a tragedy. Each episode was an emotional roller-coaster, as every step towards recovery is a painstaking one. They stir up raw feelings that question our roles in our society: what are we doing to help the helpless in the society? What measures are taken to ensure lives are not lost on the streets of Lagos?
For instance, there was the story of Fatima; a young lady whose parents’ rejection of her spouse led her to the streets. She eventually ended up in a den of drug addicts in Ipodo area of Ikeja, Lagos. Fatima was introduced to all manner of hard substances which she injected into her body with pride. When there is no more money to buy more drugs, her body comes to the rescue. Though years of reckless living have aged her drastically, with make-up and some revealing clothes, she still appeared eye-candy to some. Any money obtained was channeled into purchasing of drugs to keep her high.
By the time the Freedom Foundation found her, Fatima was willing to go into rehabilitation. Her escape from the hellhole was planned at night. Carrying a small bag with the little belonging she had, Fatima left with the team with words of determination to turn into a new leaf. Checked into a hospital, Fatima had to go through the process of detoxification which was followed by the horrendous trauma of withdrawal syndrome. Nevertheless, her determination held her through and within weeks, she was out of the hospital and sent to Genesis house, an empowering home for women. There, she learnt to interact with others, improve her communication skills, learnt and honed her hidden talents, even rose to the position of Assistant Matron of the organisation. Her transformation was so astonishing. The skinny and haggard looking woman was no more, rather a very beautiful and plump woman was revealed.
However, the moment of euphoria was short-lived as Fatima experienced a relapse. She went back to her old lifestyle and her condition deteriorated badly. It was very heartbreaking to see her looking paler and thinner. Dr. Tony Rapu and his team, resilient to put her back in track, found her and took her in. Fatima as before, displayed astounding tenacity to give up drugs completely, cursing profusely at the devil who wants to ruin her destiny. The process of rehabilitation was repeated and Fatima bounced back to her feet. Again, she suffered a relapse. Yet again, Freedom Foundation came to the rescue. This time, Fatima was victorious. More similar stories like Fatima’s make up the 13-episode documentary series.
Rapu’s exemplary step is worth emulating as it will help in eradicating such harmful trends in our society. His ultimate goal through ‘My Lagos Diaries’ is to sensitize the general public about the struggles of these underprivileged persons while providing an opportunity for interested individuals and organizations to support Freedom Foundation’s vision via donations and funding.