Inching Towards a Drug-free Society

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Iyke Bede writes that the MTN multi-sectoral Anti-Substance Abuse Program is steadily inching towards a drug-free society especially with the forthcoming World Drug Day tagged ‘Better knowledge for better care: an ally against drug abuse’

In 2018, the MTN Foundation rolled out the multi-sectoral Anti-Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) to augment the efforts of various bodies and sectors focused on preventing first-time drug use and curbing the culture of drug abuse. In order to effectively reduce drug abuse through sensitisation, it employed the strategy of ‘catching them young’.

This is a well-structured plan implemented to provide programs to educate individuals between the ages of 10 and 25 on substance abuse. Although its outreach goes beyond this age bracket, it made this group its primary focus.

One of the highlights from the past year was the commemoration of the International Day Against Drug and Illicit Trafficking held on June 26, 2019 at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja. The event ran concurrently with various international organisations observing the date set by the United Nations.

As with the tenets that guides this multi-sectoral ideology, the MTN Foundation collaborated with various law enforcement bodies and international organisations such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

Other relevant organisations such as the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), faith-based organisations, government agencies amongst others also joined in the drive to deliver the message against substance abuse.

As a marker of success, the event recorded an impressive number of major stakeholders, government officials, and seasoned panellists in attendance, where they deliberated on drug abuse and how it plagues the teeming youth population, and as well as providing logical solutions.

To mark the event this year, MTN Foundation, which is the social investment vehicle of MTN Nigeria, is taking a page from its own book by hosting an online/virtual event tagged Better knowledge for better care: an ally against drug abuse to mark this year’s World Drug Day scheduled for Friday 26, 2020. It also brings to the table new collaborators: MTV Base Africa, Netng, Business Day newspaper, etc. – proving the ASAP campaign has grown.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that has sent most countries into economic shutdown, the ASAP train keeps moving at full momentum as it returns for its second commemoration of the World Drug Day. An apt speech by Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi, Chairman, MTN Foundation, succinctly explains the necessity for observing the event this year amid a pandemic. He says:

“We are surviving in uncertain times. COVID-19 has disrupted the familiar everyday patterns. The pandemic and its attendant effects such as loss of jobs and closure of schools have further exacerbated vices such as substance abuse among the young ones. In a situation where people are idle, they might be induced to use drugs. It is therefore crucial to deliberate on the scourge of substance abuse that is gnawing at the future of our country. The young generation is vital to building our society and we must do all we can to protect, inform and equip them with the knowledge to make the right choices.”

Running with the theme “better knowledge for better care”, the idea the UNODC wants nurtured is one that helps individuals from all occupations understand the drug problem the world currently faces. This approach provides the insight needed to foster local and international cooperation on countering the impact of drug abuse on health, governance and security.

To help drive home these points in a simplistic fashion is a panel of discussants that includes Ag. Executive Secretary, MTN Foundation, Odunayo Sanya; UNODC Country Representative, Oliver Stolpe; Country Manager, ViacomCBSNetworks Africa, Bada Akintunde-Johnson; actress, DakoreEgbuson-Akande, etc.

To mitigate the scourge of drug abuse, discussants will expound on the use of evidence-based methods such as counselling/educating potential first-time users on drug abuse, and rehabilitation means for individuals with substance abuse problems. Various experts will elaborate on the drug abuse situation in the country using well researched data. The panellists from the entertainment industry will share their take on the influence of African pop-culture, hip hop music and the repercussions – short and long term.

To aid this process, videos on drug abuse were released to the public to precondition the minds of participants and help them provide constructive questions influenced by their own perspectives or experiences. These videos were pivotal to aspects of the success of the pilot edition, with students sharing it amongst themselves to educate their peers, and schools using it as a reference point for public education on drug use.

On the other hand, these videos provide an experiential process. The documentaries chronicle persons living with substance abuse problems and their journey to becoming reformed persons. As simple as that sounds, this window exposes their struggle and the slow and painful walk back to normalcy.

Another type of visual that has proven an effective tool is the informational videos that have experts discuss different substances, mode of usage and abuse, and the effects it has on their victims in the long haul. Through these mediums, youngsters are exposed to the realities of real people that have real problems of substance abuse.

Just like it did last year by harnessing the star power of local celebrities, more personalities have been invited to the ASAP platform to make an impact through their artistry and personality. Using his music in the pilot phase, David Jones David (DJD) toured several states delivering back-to-back impassioned performances that enthralled students whilst educating them on substance abuse in the same breath.

Though the current run has been limited by social distancing measures put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, DJD will make a comeback with monologue speeches on drug abuse ahead of the main event. Also, he will be joined by the likes of actress, Dakore Egbuson-Akande; actor, Chinedu ‘Nedu’ Ani Emmanuel; singer, Praise ‘Praiz’ Ugbede Adejo, and, actress and ViacomCBS Networks presenter, Folu Storms – who will anchor the first session powered by MTV Base Africa.

While there are certain limitations that come with the current pandemic, there were none in 2019. Hence, the MTN-led ASAP, through collaborations, visited five states (Lagos, Imo, Rivers, Bauchi, and Kano) and Abuja (F.C.T.) for state activations. On the platform of Assembly Xtra and Brighter Life (campus), it reached out to thousands of students, educating them on substance abuse using interactive fun sessions.

Away from schools, it also focused on the grassroots by visiting markets to educate traders and held town hall meetings where village heads and rulers are brought up to speed by a team of facilitators.

To amplify efforts, professionals from different fields have been trained by the UNODC through the influencers training initiative. This arms them with the proper tools to become ASAP ambassadors in their respective communities. In order to stay in touch and share vital information in an online age, it launched a microsite that serves as a hub for informational videos, tit-bits from the nation-wide initiative and substance abuse focused articles to help promote the education on drug abuse with the hopes of witnessing a substantial decline in number of cases.

The upcoming event affirms MTN’s vision to enable the youths to become capable leaders of tomorrow. Like the company’s Youth Empowerment Development Programme (YEDP), Scholarship schemes that has 3,829 scholars so far, the ASAP initiative is one of many youth-oriented campaigns under the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) umbrella, and it has proven to be an effective tool towards structuring and positioning the young population to achieve their potentials.

If the intense conversations that the #MTNASAP hashtag has lit up on Nigerian Twitter is any indication, young Nigerians have been ready for this conversation for a long time and are fully expecting to be heard and understood. The previous year was just a tip of the iceberg, and with restrictive movement, the initiative has moved gears and become solely virtual, moving to a domain that gives its target – the young vibrant Nigerian – the freedom of expression and the support of millions of like-minded individuals across the world. It will be interesting to listen to the Drug Convos explode into the conversations it promises.

The ‘Drug Convos’ is scheduled for 1:30 pm on Friday, June 26, 2020.