Nonso Ikoku (real name withheld) was an undergraduate. He had friends who did music. Sometime in April 2019, while on holiday, Nonso joined them for a concert. Before they got upstage, one of them gave him a wrap of Indian hemp laced with another narcotic substance. Nonso is not your typical partygoer. Usually shy around crowds, the hemp was to embolden him and make the show more fun.
At first, everything seemed fine; and just as advertised, the Indian hemp was making his experience of the show livelier. Gradually, Nonso began to feel like he was losing control of his senses, and the hemp felt like it gave his feet pump and rhythm, letting him dance the night away in pure ecstasy.
Later that night, he returned home but nothing seemed right. He was running temperature and felt feverish at the same time. His family wondered what the problem was. But, since it wasn’t alarming yet, they thought that he would eventually get better.
It wouldn’t take long before Nonso got worse; he was unable to speak while hitting his chest in an attempt to stop the burning sensation he felt inside. His family panicked, and soon even their neighbours joined to rush him to the hospital as he was convulsing on the couch and behaving erratically.
Unfortunately, he died on their way to the hospital. It turned out that somebody mixed a bit of this and a bit of that that nobody can ascertain till this day.
The abuse of substances is becoming increasingly rampant in the country. In 2018, over 14 million Nigerians (representing 14 per cent of Nigeria’s total population) between the ages of 15 and 64 were involved in the abuse of substances such as marijuana, tramadol, codeine, and/or morphine. This is according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in a January 2019 report titled, “Response to Drugs and Related Organised Crime in Nigeria.”
According to the report, one in every four substance abusers is a woman. Also, the rate of drug use was more than twice the global average of 5.3 per cent and the number of drug users in Nigeria is higher than the entire population of some European countries.
The report identifies Cannabis, popularly known as Marijuana or Indian Hemp in Nigeria, with over 10 million users as the most widely abused substance in Nigeria in 2018, followed by pharmaceutical opioids (mainly tramadol, and to a lesser extent codeine or morphine) at over four million users, and cough syrups containing codeine or dextromethorphan.
To address the issue of substance abuse, Africa’s leading ICT company, MTN Nigeria, launched the Anti-Substance Abuse Programme (ASAP) in 2018 as one of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Recognising the power of music, the company collaborated with popular anti-drug abuse campaigner, David Jones David, to spread the message with the effective use of music as a tool. ASAP focuses on discouraging first-time substance abuse among young people between the ages of 10 and 25.
For this segment of the Nigerian population, music is the language they understand. Now, how does one disseminate a subject as serious as substance abuse to a group of people with little or no interest in the topic? That is where David Jones David comes in. He’s proven to be a master at passing the message in such a way that appeals to the younger people.
David Jones David is an actor, host/presenter, music composer and a one time winner of the MNet Original Series Recognition Award for best actor in a drama. With a strong social media presence, and fluency in Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba languages, his campaign has been able to affect a wide range of audiences on social media platforms, and online. Some of his popular anti-drug hit songs are Gbana Na Bastard, Higher, Onye Ara, and several others.
Take Gbana Na Bastard for instance, the song’s lyrics begin with the story of a young man who ran mad from taking Cannabis, and then goes on to caution the listener to quit smoking the substance “before you kill me pata pata”, saying, “I no wan go Yaba left, Yaba left”, a local slang that means, “I don’t want to end up in a mental facility.”
In what has become somewhat of a revolution against substance abuse in the country, David Jones David’s message continues to draw young followers, from one tertiary institution to the other. He’s been known to pull massive crowd in every school that he has visited, since the ASAP team engaged him in May this year, which has seen him take his message on the dangers of drug abuse to four higher institutions, namely, Imo State University; Alvan Ikoku College of Education in Imo State; College of Health Science and Technology, Rivers State; and the Captain Elechi Amadi Polytechnic, also in the same Rivers State.
Substances are known to control the user, and this is why the people at ASAP, via this unique and creative partnership with David Jones David, plan to use music as another force to steer the young ones away from the controlling nature of drugs. Whether it is a session or seminar, the large crowd that the ASAP programme keeps pulling is proof that the initiative is succeeding in its use of music to persuade young Nigerians from taking to substance abuse. Rather than drugs, young Nigerians are letting the music take control of their lives.
After reaching 102 locations across Nigeria within seven months, ASAP has been able to touch millions of young lives with multiple activities online and offline. These locations cut across secondary and primary schools, market, motor parks, as well as universities and polytechnics. Following intensive training by tutors from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), hundreds of volunteers from each state gathered for the ASAP walk and have been empowered to advocate against substance abuse in their respective spheres of influence. This is yet another way of enabling the young ones to retrieve their control – the control to focus on music, drama, dance and healthy life – and have the strength to avoid the path of addiction and pain.