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2011: NAHCON And Emerging Challenges In Hajj Operations

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As the Muslim population continues to rise yearly across the globe, so is the number of pilgrims to the Holy Land of Makkah on the increase. This has led to yearly challenges not only to the host country,  the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but to all countries with large population of pilgrims. The greatest challenge of all to the host is the overstretching of facilities in the holy sites. Summarily, the Saudi authorities have been overwhelmed by this development because the holy sites which have the capacity of containing about 900,000 pilgrims now contains over three million every year.

In its efforts to contain the challenges, the Saudi government has continued to work out modalities and implement long term policies that all aim at a hitch-free hajj exercise every year. They have succeeded to a large extent in containing the challenges connected to the King Abdul-Azeez International Airport in Jeddah (the main entry and exit point for pilgrims), intercity transportation (Jeddah-Makkah-Madinah), Tawaf around the Ka’abah, Sa’y between the Safat and Marwa, Jamarat, Mina tenting, locations at the plains of Arafat, transportation within the holy sites and feeding programme for pilgrims while in Mina and Arafat. They are yet battling to surmount pilgrims’ accommodation just around the Haram.

During the last hajj for Nigeria, three major components of hajj operations stood out very stark. One was the semi-permanent accommodation arrangement for Nigerian pilgrims in Madinah. The second was the feeding programme at Mashair which was introduced by the Saudi government for all countries of the world. The third was definitely the new Saudi airlift policy which mandated each of the countries with large pilgrim population such as Nigeria to spread its Saudi-bound and return leg to span one month each due to the overstretching of facilities at the Jeddah Airport.

Over the years, accommodation arrangement for Nigerian pilgrims in Madinah was often characterised by controversies and inadequacy. The Nigerian pilgrims were always left to the mercies of the accommodation providers who give the same services to pilgrims from all other countries of the world. The peak of this happened in 2010 Hajj when Nigerian pilgrims were diverted to Makkah on arrival to Jeddah, far before the closure of Madinah road to pilgrims.

The chaotic situation raised serious concern of hajj stakeholders, especially those in the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). At a post mortem conference on Hajj 2010 held in Kaduna on February 8, 2011, all the components of the hajj exercise were reviewed and stakeholders brainstormed on the way forward. Problems associated with Nigerian pilgrims’ accommodation in Madinah featured prominently when the Commissioner of Planning, Research, Statistics, Information and Library Services, (PRSILS) made a dramatic display of the ugly situation that led to pilgrims’ diversion to Makkah instead of Madinah. The conference endorsed the Commission’s proposal that a semi-permanent accommodation arrangement be given a trial in the following hajj operation.

After the conference, a committee was constituted to study how to implement the plan. After a lot of work done by the committee, five accommodation providers were contracted to house Nigerian pilgrims for the 2011 Hajj. They were asked to provide 35,000 bed spaces, implying that 35,000 Nigerian pilgrims could be accommodated at any given time without cause for alarm during the hajj period.

Altogether, about 68 houses were occupied by Nigerian pilgrims during the 2011 Hajj, mostly in the pre-Arafat session when over 80 percent of the pilgrims (73,043 of 89,000 Nigeria’s allocation for Hajj 2011) were comfortably received in Madinah for the first time. Less than 16,000 pilgrims visited Madinah after Arafat. Most of the houses on the semi-permanent contract were occupied three times. The experiment was really rewarding.

To ensure that this policy was successfully implemented, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of NAHCON, Mallam M. M. Bello, on Friday October 7, 2011 went round the accommodations and also visited the Hijra Station to see for himself all the processes undertaken for Nigerian pilgrims to go into their accommodations without hitches.

Also, on Friday October 14, 2011, the Nigerian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Alhaji Abdullahi Garba Aminchi with the Consul-General, Alhaji Aminu Nabegu along with some members of the Nigerian Diplomatic Corps and Nigerian journalists inspected the accommodations in Madinah and visited the Hijra Station to get acquainted with the processes. The Ambassador commended the efforts of NAHCON in general and the Hijra officials in particular for their services to the pilgrims and prayed that Allah continued to assist them in their good work.

At the station itself, the Nigerian pilgrims were accorded the best reception. On October 3, 2011 (5th Dhul-Qida, 1432H), the Hijra operations kicked off with the arrival of 45 pilgrims of the Nasarawa State contingent at the station at 07.36 am. They were followed by Lagos and Kwara pilgrims.

However, the fruits yielded by the new policy were equally challenged by the tedious responsibilities of daily inspections of the accommodations and problems linked with some pilgrims’ lack of orientation on how to use facilities provided in the houses. There were quite few cases when pilgrims stayed little above one hour at the Hijra station due to the inability of the General Car Syndicate to provide buses for the pilgrims who were due to depart to Makkah and thus give way to the incoming pilgrims. This often caused ripples between the Hijra officials and the Saudi authorities.

There were few times when the network system delayed pilgrims’ processes. There also occurred cases when the mixture of Nigerian pilgrims with pilgrims of other nationals in one bus caused delay at the station due the inability of other nationals to process their accommodations in good time. Despite all that, the average time spent by the majority of the pilgrims at the station ranged between 10 to 30 minutes.

On November 12, 2011, the Amirul-Hajj and Leader of the Federal Government Delegation to the 2011 Hajj, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’adu Abubakar, mni, CFR, alongside NAHCON Chairman, undertook an inspection tour of the Nigerian accommodations in Madinah. At the end, the Sultan expressed happiness with the new arrangement and commended NAHCON for its continuous foresight and innovations in ensuring that Nigerian pilgrims do not only attain hajj mabrur, but enjoy maximum comfort. It is good news that this new arrangement was a great success.

As for the feeding arrangement which was more successful than the 2010 Hajj, the major challenges encountered were inadequacy of caterers which was because of the fact that states had suggested caterers who did not have the prerequisite qualifications laid down by the Saudi Government. Out of the 27 caterers that applied, only seven were prequalified by the relevant Saudi authorities in accordance with the Saudi regulations guiding the feeding programme.

There was also the problem of inadequate number of kitchens in the holy sites. The difficulties in transporting the food from Makkah city into the Mashair at times were recorded. Added to these, some of the prequalified carters acted contrary to the signed agreements.

2011 Hajj was the second year the feeding arrangement was undertaken on a full scale base. In the past few years, some states had attempted it on skeletal base until 2010 when the Saudi Government made is compulsory on every country – not states, to feed their pilgrims during their stay in Mina and Arafat.

The Saudi-bound airlift operations commenced on October 2, 2011 and ended on October 31, 2011 while the home-bound trips began on November 11, 2011 and ended on December 8, 2011. The whole operations which started with Nasarawa state pilgrims from Abuja ended with Kano state pilgrims who were brought back to their fatherland via Aminu Kano International Airport on board Max Air. Both legs were concluded on schedule. Pilgrims’ airlift has already been stabilized over the past five years.

On a concluding note, the 2011 Hajj was a success. The overall improvement in hajj operations in Nigeria is commendable. It is a good development that calls for sustained spiritual and material support from all Muslims of Nigeria who are definitely potential pilgrims at all times.

All the hajj stakeholders in Nigeria deserve kudos including NAHCON, the National Amirul-Hajj and his team, the Airlines Operators, the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the State Hajj Boards/Commissions, the relevant Federal Ministries: Health, Interior (Immigration), Finance, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Aviation, as well as the geopolitical and religious representatives and bodies. The cooperation from the Saudi authorities was tremendously remarkable.

Ajah is a writer, based in Abuja.

 

Muhammad Ajah

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Worsening Food Crisis In Nigeria

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Hunger is widespread and chronic in Nigeria, and its prevalence is one phenomenon that statistics cannot fully capture, not even the Global Hunger Index (GHI), does justice to it. Statistics deals with numbers, but hunger deals with humans. Relying on quantitative data alone to assess the state of hunger in Nigeria is the worst mistake anybody could make. Quantitative data and analysis only show patterns and spread of hunger without delving into the experiences of those affected and its influences on their existence in all ramifications. Therefore, as bad as the statistics are, they are still child’s play compared to the rich information from qualitative data chronicling the dehumanising  experience of many poor and hungry Nigerians. Combining quantitative and qualitative data paints a horrifying picture of Nigeria’s food crisis and hunger. Twenty five (25) million Nigerians was said by UNICEF to be at high risk of food insecurity in 2023, this was a projected increase from the estimated 17 million people who were at risk of food in 2022. Humanitarian organisations fear that more people may be affected.
Hunger is the major problem affecting the Nigerian masses now. According to the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria,  Mr Matthias Schmale, “the food security and nutrition situation across Nigeria is deeply concerning. “Those who visited the Nutrition Stabilisation Centers(NSC) filled with children, said “those Children fight to stay alive”. Children are the most vulnerable to food insecurity. There is a serious risk of mortality among children attributed to acute malnutrition. The number of children suffering from acute malnutrition was estimated to increase from 1.74 million in 2022 and two million in 2023.Worse still, it is estimated that 35 million people are currently critically facing food insecurity. The present predicament of Nigerians never seems to be real until people realized  that a “Congo” of Garri now costs between N1,900 to N2,500 naira, depending on the place you are buying from and the type you have to buy.
There is a systematic downfall in the economy, and those at the receiving end of its manifestation are the masses. Well, some may say that it is too early to judge the government of president Tinubu, but when starvation becomes a point of reference, they might just make an exception for that rule.”A government is a failure if it has not been able to fulfill its primary duties and its published agenda, it  is useless if its people suffer endlessly from starvation. Recently, the video of a man who was caught in agony and lamentation attracted people’s attention. He was in the market to buy a “Congo” of rice but was told that it now costs N3,500.The man started crying, lamenting the harsh condition and confused as to what he and his family would eat. He had just N1,800 with him, and only God knows how much effort he had to put together to get that amount. Some people tried to locate the man to give him some money.
Bodija market in Ibadan, Oyo State, has a reputation for cheap consumable commodities, and the cost of food products there is considered slightly reasonable. However, this reputation is no longer possible as basic commodities now cost even more than they could be imagined. A lady lamented having bought her usual loaf of bread for 500 naira 3 weeks ago, and within that period, it had skyrocketed from N800 to N1, 200 and now at N1, 500 for a loaf that is as light as foam. Beans and other cheap foods that have been saving people experiencing poverty are no longer affordable. The cost of a “congo” of beans has risen to between N2,500 and N3,500 depending on the location and type. It is not only the price of the common foods that has risen, it is the same case for other staple foods. Today, a sachet of water costs around N50, and one barely see a bag of it at anything less than N300. This leaves the people to drink unclean well water or find their drinking water through other sources.
The price increase was expected, but it seems that the progression of price increase  for food items is at a higher rate than the supposed inflation. The economy is imploding and affecting the livelihood of the Nigerian citizens. First, the excessive price of petrol within the range of N700 to N1000 across the nation has an impact on the final prices. In addition, the roads have become outrageously insecure, with different stories of kidnapping, highway attacks, terrorism, and other vices. These have jointly jacked up the calculative cost of production, and the masses are paying heavily for it. The above reasons affect business, and most importantly, the irregular supply of power has become another foundational cause of the hike in prices and yet the government is still threatening to hike electricity tariff. Today, many small and medium-scale businesses do not have access to a stable power supply, and in some cases, the tariffs are  so outrageous to the detriment of the business. They, therefore, resort to generating their power, which causes another extra cost. The result is that the products keep increasing in price as the costs skyrocket.
Another factor is the decline in  the value of naira to dollars. The dollar is the major currency for international trade, and many of the household items in the country are imported. This means that the prices of those commodities in Nigeria are expected to increase the more with the value of dollars, causing difficulties for the citizens. So, when a market woman insults people in the market for negotiating lower prices for her wares, it is not because she is merely disrespectful but because she believes you are ignorant of the costs of putting her products on the market. What would N30,000  minimum wage do in the current economy? There is almost no average-class individual in the country as the condition affects every social stratum. Nigeria produces about 8.4 million tons of local rice, but it is still not sufficient for consumption in the country. During the past administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, policies that discouraged the importation of rice and some other products in Nigeria in a bid to encourage local production were made, and that was one of the starting points of suffering and starvation in Nigeria, because the development made the price of local rice increase by 200 percent.
It is worthy of note, that such policies were a product of hypocrisy, foreign rice is not good for the poor Nigerians but foreign medical care is good for the Nigerian political elites. Currently, the prices of local and foreign rice are not too far from each other. This is because the price gap that would have been made necessary has been reduced by other local and internal issues fighting against local productions. It means that the government must make efforts to first increase the productivity of local items as well as ensure that there is an unhindered channel of distribution of the same across the country. Poverty cannot be eradicated without collaborative efforts between the Federal Government and the State Governments. Agricultural schemes and strategies are not the sole work of the Federal Government, as eradication of poverty should be the watchword of every reasonable government.
State-wide agricultural strategies and blueprints that would reduce the propensity of hunger and starvation in each state are important. It is a known fact that the food insecurity in Nigeria can be traceable to the relentless wave of attacks against farmers in Nigeria by armed groups in the last decade which has hindered critical food supplies and has pushed the country deeper into a devastating hunger crisis. Increased attacks against farmers across parts of the country have led to displacement of people, market disruptions and loss of livelihoods. Armed groups killed more than 128 farmers and kidnapped 37 others across Nigeria between January and June 2023 …To be continued.

Inabo Is a regular contributor from Radio Rivers.

 

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 Malaria Burden And Public Health In Nigeria 

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It is worrisome that Nigeria has  the largest  Malaria deaths in the world. According  to the  2022  World.Malaria Report, Nigeria  contributes about  27 percent of  the global burden of Malaria disease, and about 31.3 percent of deaths , the highest in the world.
Malaria accounts for 30 percent of childhood deaths,.60 percent  of outpatient visits to health facilities   across Nigeria.
According  to statistics  reeled out by the Federal Ministry  of Health and Social Welfare,  “Globally,  there are an estimated 249million  malaria cases  and 608,000 malaria deaths among 85 countries.
Such reports leave much to be desired in a nation so blessed  with natural resources and manpower. While Nigeria  is struggling  with Malaria burden, Cape de Verde, today live Malaria-free, according to the
World Health Organization (WHO) certification  and rating.
This declaration by the global health Organisation about Cape Verde  is very cheery and means so much to me considering the economy, size and polity of the country.
Unlike Nigeria with more than 44 mineral resources spread across 500 locations  in the country,  Cape de Verde, has no natural resources. Its developing resources is mostly Service-oriented with growing focus on tourism and foreign investment.
My worry is that even with abounding natural and human resources of unimaginable quantity in Nigeria,  Malaria programmes are either grossly underfunded, misappropriated or   embezzled with impunity.
According  to a Senior Associate  at the John Hopkins Bloomberg  School of Public.Health, Soji  Adeyi, Nigeria  should begin  to increase internal funding.for malaria elimination.
Nigerian citizens still wallow in the orgy of leadership-induced pain, poverty and sorrow more than 63 years after political independence.
Malaria that is alien to the natural resources-barren Cape de Verde is endemic in Nigeria and is one of the leading causes of death of children under the age of six and pregnant women. Malaria is an household name in Nigeria so much so that its drugs and treatment have skyrocketed like a phoenix and outrageously outside the reach of the teeming less privileged citizens of Nigeria. The situation was so alarming that the National Assembly, some time last year urged the Federal Government to declare Malaria an emergency in Nigeria as matter of urgent national interest. Because it is an ailment that only the poor and vulnerable suffer, that motion is treated with levity and perhaps consigned to the trashcan of not-feasible declarations.
Without any iota of doubt, Nigeria has the resources to fight and conquer malaria. If Cape de Verde could, Nigeria can as well if the leadership of the country is committed to do so.
At.an event organised  by.the Federal  Ministry of Health and Social Welfare recently,  themed “Ministerial  Roundtable  Meeting: Rethinking  Malaria Elimination in Nigeria “representatives of national and international  health organisations, analysed the country’s  anti-malaria strategies  over the past years.
Experts recommended new approaches to fighting  the malaria epidemic in Nigeria which seems to have defied continuous attempts to reduce the Malaria burden in Nigeria to zero.
Adeyi of the John Hopkins Bloomberg  School of Public Health advocates increased internal funding.of all Malaria programmes to eliminate Malaria. According  to him,, “Each year reliance on external funding  needs to be reduced. I looked at the summary of  Malaria reports from 2008 till now and what has been common is the complaint about the lack of funding.  If this is a  recurring  problem, what should be done is to  find  a new approach.”
In his view, Abdu Muktar,  National  Coordinator  of the Presidential  Healthcare Initiative,  called for the local production  and manufacturing  of medical supplies as well as reducing Nigeria’s  dependence on drugs imports.
According to him, the local production  of anti-malaria and.related.medication will consider.the peculiarity of the country’s  terrain, population  and burden  and.would improve access to effective  treatment.
For his part, the regional. Director of World Health Organisation  (W.H.O.),  African Region, Matshiddiso  Moretti, advised Nigeria  to accelerate  its efforts to end Malaria  by relying  on  adequate data for the implementation  of health policies.
It has been rightly  said that Nigeria is rich but its people are abjectly poor because of the abysmally poor leadership that has characterised governance in the country since the inception of self-rule.
If the millions of public funds stashed in private and foreign accounts, misappropriated and or embezzled are judiciously used, no doubt, the issues of malaria, unemployment, decaying and dilapidated infrastructure and marginal underdevelopment with the attendant multi-dimensional socio-economic challenges, would have since been addressed.
How will Nigeria ascribe to herself “Giant of Africa” when she has not been able to achieve the healthcare demands and requirements of Nigerians? How can Nigerian leaders audaciously lull its citizens to believe that they are working for the welfare of Nigerians when the seeming little things that matter are not attended to. Even welfare-oriented programmes are being truncated by greed and inordinate desire to amass wealth at the expense of the public.
The  anomaly of diversions, misappropriation, outright embezzlement, and several others are the reasons Nigeria’s present and successive governments could not win the fight against malaria which health and medical practitioners say  poses the greatest threat to life than the dreaded HIV/AIDS. This suggests to me that the mortality rate caused by HIV/AIDS is grossly disproportionate to deaths caused by malaria.
Malaria is commonly believed to be caused by mosquitoes which breed in  dirty environment, especially where there is stagnant water. A lot of communities in Nigeria even the Sandfilled area of Borikiri in Port Harcourt is so mosquito-infested that residents cannot sleep without nets. It is a nightmare to sleep without a net.
The Federal, State, and Local Government should initiate programmes to end malaria scourge in the country. They should intentionally and proactively channel the people’s money to their welfare. Malaria eradication is a public welfare-oriented programme so government at all levels must prosecute it with adequate funding that must be supervised and accounted for, to avoid the unfortunate incidents of the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry and several other Ministries, Departments and Agencies that have used programmes and projects as smokescreen to siphon public funds.
While there should be a dedicated funds to fight malaria and defeat it over  a period of time, environmental sanitation exercises, to clear the drains, gutters and grass should be stepped up. This consciousness should be cultivated and imbibed by all.
The legitimacy of any Government is derived from the people, so Government exists for the people. No amount of money spent on the welfare of the people is too much for them. After all, the people remain the benefactors that those in Government, who in an ideal situation are stewards, are supposed to be accountable to.
The administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu should ensure that no stone is left unturned in achieving this lofty and laudable project.

Igbiki Benibo

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Curbing Substance Abuse Among Nigerian Youths

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In September 2023, a 24-year old lady had a birthday party in a South-West state where one of the guests offered to sell sachets of ‘Milo’ for N1,500 each. The guest, a young lady, had mixed marijuana with Milo and put same in Milo sachets, which had been so expertly sealed that no one would have suspected what the content of the sachets was. The guests at the party rushed the ‘Milo sachet’ and went on a binge, drinking and smoking themselves to get ‘high’. After getting high, fight eventually broke out among them and security operatives had to be brought in to maintain the peace. It was at that point that unsuspecting members of the public got to know that the party guests had gone on a marijuana trip. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), substance abuse, or misuse, is the harmful use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs. A psychoactive substance is a drug that affects how the brain works and causes changes in mood, awareness, thoughts, feelings, or behaviour. Examples of psychoactive substances include alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, marijuana and some pain relievers. Other substances abused by Nigerian youths include, ice, molly, cannabis, tobacco, cigarettes, cocaine, sedatives, kolanuts, analgesics, glue, heroine, energy drinks, miraa, tramadol, tranquillisers, cough drops,antimalarial and antibiotics.
Substance abuse is detrimental to health and wellbeing of those involved in it. A Nigerian singer, Joshua Iniyezo aka Solidstar, recently disclosed how substance abused nearly ruined him. According to him, he was introduced to a banned substance called Ice in 2021. He said the substance made him see himself as “a king’’ who didn’t have to pay for any item. One day he walked from Awoyaya in Lagos Mainland to the Oriental Hotel a distance of about 32 kilometres.  Another singer, Inetimi Alfred, popularly known as Timaya, said he was introduced to Molly, a synthetic drug with psychedelic effects. The drug initially brought him happiness but eventually led to detrimental effects on his health, including weight loss and financial struggles. His words: “When I took it, I did not understand myself. I was so happy that I dashed all the money in my pocket. So I wanted to just keep feeling like that. That was how I lost a lot of weight. I was not eating, I was just happy. When I said I was taking Molly, I was taking like three pills every day and it felt like medication. I got kicked out of jobs and contracts… people I was doing business with did not want to work with me again.”
So, substance abuse makes the youth to get ‘high’ but it does more than that. It can make them paranoid, it can precipitate heart attack or failure, stroke, seizures, sleep disorders, drowsiness, nausea, respiratory depression, fatigue, disorientation, impairment in memory, learning, concentration, and problem-solving, hallucinations, decline in academic performance, etc.  As seen in the case of Timaya, it can result in job loss and can pose a threat to relationships. There is also the tendency to engage in criminal activities when ‘high’. Substance abuse among Nigerian youth is nearing the status of a pandemic. According to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA’s) statistics, about 40 per cent of Nigerian youths between 18 and 35 years are deeply involved in the abuse of drugs. What does the future hold for the country if 4 out of every 10 young people are engaged in substance abuse?
The media is central to our lives. The media shapes our perception of the world. The media is actually the gateway to the mind. The media accesses the mind through the eyes and the ears. So, media contents are food for the mind. The mind is where decisions are made and where opinions are formed. Since the media has access to the mind, the media subtly controls the mind and plays a major role in the decision-making process. So, when the media projects something as good many people in the society take a cue from the media and believe that it is good. In the same vein, when the media projects an act as evil, the society largely avoids it. The media never leaves anything it comes in contact with the same way; it always affects them one way or the other. The media affects individuals in six various ways.  The media can affect cognition, which is the mental process. By affecting an individual’s cognition, the media affects his perception to the extent that he begins to see a particular phenomenon in a new light. The media also affects beliefs. The Western media has consistently showcased the Western culture as being superior to the African culture and this, to a degree, has been absorbed by some Africans who try all they can to travel abroad for ‘greener pastures’ only to get there and find out that the grass is always greener on the other side.
The media also affects attitude. If a child is exposed to violence, he begins to see violence as an option and will be tempted to try same every now and then. Another media effect is affect. This has to do with feelings, emotions and moods. Seeing a scene on television or reading about an event can affect the mood of an individual throughout the day. Media also has psychological effect on its audience. This means the media can affectthe orientation of people. The media also affects the behaviour of its users. Behaviour is the culmination of all the effects of media exposure that have been listed. By the time cognition, belief and attitude are affected, behaviour will change. Ladies and gentlemen, in light of the above, I will like to submit that advertently or not, the media has been encouraging substance abuse. This is a global phenomenon and not a Nigerian thing. When a television ad presents a successful musician with a bottle of an alcoholic drink at the background, though the focus of the advertiser from all intents and purposes will be to draw the attention of the society to its alcoholic drink, but the loud message is that “To be as successful as the musician in the ad, take alcohol”. Or, “Successful people take this alcohol; don’t you want to be like them?”
When a musical video glamourises boozing and smoking, what is the message to the society? A song like ‘FotiFoyin’ (brush your teeth with alcohol) encourages the youth to consume alcohol, while a musical video like ‘Asake Loaded’ celebrates smoking. The producers of these musical contents are role models in the society. Some of them are even brand ambassadors. If, as we said, the media is the gateway to the mind, what is the message of these media contents to the society?   The media has to be alive to its social responsibility if Nigeria will win the war against substance abuse by the youth.  The social responsibility theory of the media mandates the media to put the societal wellbeing at the centre of its activities.
This theory says that the media has a responsibility to the society and should always work in the interest of the society. While a media outfit may be a business organization that must make returns to its shareholders, the operators of the business must realize that they will only continue in business if the society survives. If the society is destroyed, the business outfits operating in it will also go down. The easiest way to destroy a society is to destroy its youths.
If the media understands this responsibility and upholds it, it will be clear that the future of the youth who are being exposed to substance abuse is of more importance than the immediate pecuniary gain they will make by pushing out deleterious contents that will push the youth into seeking substances that would make them high.
The media is a major factor in the wellbeing of the society because it plays a major role in what is permissible or prohibited. This is done through what it promotes or refrains from promoting.
As part of its social responsibility, the media should embark on sensitisation of the public on the dangers inherent in substance abuse. This should be continuous and sustained as the media’s contribution to the wellbeing of society.
The government is the most important factor in curbing substance abuse because government is a change agent. Whatever the government permits gains prominence and whatever it prohibits is frowned at.
Government can curb substance abuse through orientation and reorientation. By deploying its massive resources, the government can get across to all strata of the society on the ills of substance abuse and why it is pertinent for it to be spurned by the youth. By making use of all channels of communication and all media outlets, the government can drive home the point on why substance abuse should not be embraced by the youth.
Another means the government deploys to curb the spread of substance abuse is regulation. The Federal Government has, over the years, come up with various regulations to reduce substance abuse in the country. These include:
The Indian Hemp Decree No. 19 of 1966.
The Indian Hemp (Amendment) Decree No. 34 of 1979.
The Indian Hemp (Amendment) Decree, and the Special Tribunal (Miscellaneous Offences) Decree No. 20 of 1984.
The Special Tribunal (Miscellaneous Offences) (Amendment) Decree of 1986 and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Decree No. 48 of 1989 (as amended by Decree No.33 of 1990, Decree No 15 of 1992 and Decree No. 62 of 1999). These laws were harmonized as an Act of the parliament, CAP N30 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004. This Act established the NDLEA.
The government also fights substance abuse through Enforcement.
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) is the agency of government primarily saddled with the enforcement of substance abuse laws. The agency, which is under the Federal Ministry of Justice, is charged with eliminating the growing, processing, manufacturing, selling, exporting, and trafficking of hard drugs. The agency was established by Decree Number 48 of 1989. (1) The NDLEA is present in international airports, seaports, and border crossings.
The last leg is prosecution.
Section 11 (a) of NDLEA Act makes it an offence for a person, who having no lawful authority to do so, to engage in the importation, production, manufacturing, processing, growing and planting of cocaine, heroin, LSD or any other drugs of similar nature. The offence is punishable on conviction with life imprisonment. Section 11(b) and (c) also spell out punishments for those who contravene NDLEA laws. The import is that NDLEA is the primary agency with prosecutorial powers on substance abuse. The Nigeria Police Force can also prosecute.
Of the four legs to combating substance abuse, it is only orientation and reorientation that involve the three tiers of government. The remaining three, regulation, enforcement and prosecution are within the ambits of the federal government. How can NDLEA be on top of the situation of those smoking igbo at Igbo Ora or those sniffing Kushy at Kishi?
The point here is that substance abuse among Nigerian youths is on the rise because the strategy is wrong. Every criminality is local. Therefore, criminality is best fought or combated at the local level. Nigeria cannot successfully overcome the challenge of substance abuse among the youth unless the states and local government authorities are fully involved in it. That brings us again to the issue of the elephant in the room: restructuring.
We need to restructure the policing system as well as the substance abuse regulation and enforcement systems to defeat substance abuse among the nation’s youth.
The media and the government have critical roles to play in reducing substance abuse among the youth. The media needs to take its social responsibilities seriously and ensures that it projects values that would make the society better and stronger.
The government needs to take its sensitization and orientation responsibilities very seriously. Then, the system of government that makes the fight against substance abuse more of a matter of the federal government needs to be tinkered with so that all tiers of government can own the battle and deliver our youths from the jaws of substance.
Olanrewaju is Special Adviser (Media)/Chief Press Secretary to Oyo State Governor.

By: Sulaimon Olanrewaju

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