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Odilism As Leadership Philosophy In Nigeria

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A pithy Nigerian aphorism declares that when we praise the woman that prepares the red beans porridge (akidi), she will cook another. This piece is an attempt at acknowledging a deserving and worthy akidi cooking son of Rivers State, whose trailblazing leadership philosophy and style brought mirth and joie de vivre to many in Rivers State, Nigeria and the world. This Rivers son is His Excellency, Sir (Dr) Peter Otunuya Odili, former Governor of Rivers State. This piece explores and conceptualises his leadership style, philosophy and achievements as a way of celebrating his 73rd birthday.
By Odilism, we mean a governing philosophy that empathically brought about qualitative, robust and wholesome development to the people via the summation of innovative insights and ideas gleaned from the public sphere. In this governing philosophy, factual and evidence-based discussions are crucial. Odilism understands that the danger in throwing the baby with the bathwater is that it clouds one’s ability to robustly discuss a given policy idea with the seriousness that it deserves as even one’s detractors can proffer innovative solutions. Thus, oppositional viewpoints were respected and courted. Odilism knew that contesting a viewpoint cum policy is the bedrock of deliberative democracy. This leadership philosophy recognised that such policy debates are the genuine means of producing superior public policy.
Inherent in this governing philosophy is the belief that elected leaders need to engage with one another. Odilism does not believe that contestation of ideas always connotes disputatious behaviour. Rather, it understands that such deliberations help sharpen leaders thoughts, aid resolve their issues and produce superior public policy. Odilism knows that these levels of engagement are needed for significant development in the state or country. Here, engagement is encouraged and not frowned at. This is because public policy debate is the refining point of the policy. When the refining is done properly, it produces delicious policies that obviates societal problems while an unrefined and under-debated public policy decapitates the economy and exacerbates poverty in the place.
Odilism smartly communicates its promises to the people. It enters into a social contract with the voters during electioneering campaigns and systematically completes the policies it promised. The vision, mission and governing ideals are explicitly stated in Odilism. For example, in May of 1998, Odili clearly delineated his vision for Rivers State and computed how his vision would be achieved in his manifesto written and distributed to notable Rivers sons and daughters. In the letter-like manifesto, Dr Odili envisioned a state “where communication, transportation, healthcare, accommodation, drinkable water and electricity will cease to be desires and will become available to all our people no matter where they are in the state”. He further noted that he foresees a state, “where every man who qualified for a job gets one without tears”. These lofty ideals and promises were aggressively pursued by the Odili, government.
One of the key ingredients in Odilism is the enthronement of God into the affairs of state. Like Dr Odili would say, “when the righteous rule, the people rejoice”. This faith-based leadership helped Dr Odili, a man of faith, to lead with empathy and love that is unrivalled in the annals of Rivers politics. It also helped him develop the largeness of heart that is peerless in the Nigerian body polity. He was so generous and free-spirited in giving that he was dubbed, “Donatus”. He was a giver and the people’s Governor.
Odilism is bold, innovative thinking and flawlessly creative. It produced innumerable positive projects and insights in Rivers State. It went to places and initiated projects others were too myopic to venture. Among the projects and policies of the Odili-led government were the construction and rehabilitation of schools in Rivers State, including the rehabilitation of my alma mater, Community Secondary School, Egberu-Ndoki, in Oyigbo Local Government Area of Rivers State. I was in Junior Secondary School Two (JSS 2) in May of 1999 when the Odili government was inaugurated in Port Harcourt. Other projects include: building of roads, flyovers, skill acquisition training, water supply and numerous gifts to Rivers women.
The most novel and innovative projects and programs of the Odili government were in power, education and health. The government, through the governing philosophy of Odilism, conceived and implemented state-changing and poverty alleviating programs in these three sectors. For power, the Odili-led government was the first and only state government that had a bite at independent power generation in Nigeria. His government conceived and built gas turbines for power generation in Rivers State. This novel and iconic program still produces hundreds of megawatts of electricity into the national grid and is a source of income to the Government of Rivers State.
Even more noteworthy were the cumulative programs targeting education in Rivers State under Sir Odili. His government paid for Senior Secondary School Three (SSS 3) students’ examination registration fees. In 2003, I benefitted from this policy as both my National Examination Council (NECO) and West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) registration fees were paid by the Rivers State Government. This policy was a life changing one for those at the lower demographic spectrum like myself, as it gave our parents the needed break in fees payment. Furthermore, the Odili led government introduced a “Free School” bus system that was unheard of and one that has not been replicated anywhere in Nigeria. During his tenure, Dr Odili introduced a free school bus that dutifully conveyed students to school and transported them back from school. During this period, all a student need is to wear a school uniform, and such a student will be safely taken to school and back. The drivers were employed by the State Government with thorough background check conducted. The drivers and the conductors were polite, and gracious – a huge customer service experience in a government-funded program in Nigeria. The free school bus provided a safe commuting hub for students all over Rivers State while also providing the students with the collegiality to learn more, debate and solve academic problems. It was a hugely successful program.
The government also subsidized university school fees. As at September of 2004 when I gained admission into the then Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) and now Rivers State University (RSU), our annual school fee was capped at N8,800 (Eight Thousand, Eight Hundred Naira). That was significantly lower than that of the University of Port Harcourt, a Federal University. When we pay Dr Odili’s government will pay us through bursary, N9,800 (Nine Thousand, Eight Hundred Naira). Practically, we went to the university for free. There were scholarships and other education grants that the government embarked on. These empathy-filled, people-oriented educational policies enabled those who were socio-economically and politically disadvantaged to attend, not just secondary school, but also to bag university degrees. These policies were life-altering for many.
Dr Odili’s government also introduced one of the best health care policies of our time. The free healthcare policy for the elderly saved lives. For example, my wife’s maternal grandfather, late Chief Amadi Wosu of Oduoha in Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State, was a beneficiary of this fantastic policy. In early 2000, he had a surgery at the then Braithwaite Memorial Hospital (BMH) Port Harcourt for free. Like many aged people, he was discharged without paying a dime. This is an example of how Dr Odili and his government touched lives in Rivers State during his time at the helm.
Sir (Dr) Peter Odili was born on August 15, 1948, in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area (ONELGA) of Rivers State to late Chief Philip Celestine and Princess Janet Okwei Odili. He epitomises hard work and doggedness that is rare today. His hard work paid off both in his academic and political lives when he not only became a renowned medical doctor and an entrepreneur but also the Governor of Rivers State. His hard work and resolute spirit are infectious. He was so successful as a governor that lofty responsibilities and higher offices awaited him in 2007 but for the “great gang up”.
Dr Odili is one of the most remarkable and curious sons of Rivers State. A man of profound humility, and always willing to engage with others irrespective of their placement in the demographic continuum. He is blessed with an elevated analytical acuity and robustly sagacious. As Governor of Rivers State, he closed the window of aristocratic behaviour and divorced Rivers State of political oligarchs. He returned the ship of state to its rightful owners, the people of River State. Dr Odili delicately demolished the moneyed hoity-toity political class in Rivers State. During his tenure, the quality of his thoughts and governing philosophy was outstandingly sophisticated and people-centred that he was asked to continue almost unchallenged in 2003.
Dr Odili is composed, poised, respectable, blessed with the gift of the gab and has style. His carriage and gait are presidential. He is classy and resourceful but not highfalutin. He never went on a namby-pamby weirdo grimy rant like some. He understood that not all places are for fatuous, flippant would be humorous inanities. Unlike those that are clownishly egotistical and who display humility laced with arrogance, Dr Odili served with gusto and loved the people of Rivers State. All these were done with finesse and simplicity that gladdens the mind.
His reign was so fruitful with rural and urban expansion that it is unmatched in the history of the state. Due to the quality of his leadership, he was asked to “Carry-Go” during his second term bid, thereby, giving birth to Carry-Goism as a political concept. While germane and nice with a right. Candidate, the concept has been abused in a farce of self-interest, masturbatory self-indulgence, fame seeking and leaders with run-of-the-mill qualities. Unlike Dr Odili, each of them is manifestly unfit to hold any type of public responsibility. He led Rivers State with dignity, empathy and competence. This is why the heartbreaking underhand and incestuous wickedness meted to him in 2007 is almost unforgivable. Its stupidity, venality and malice occurred at a moment of maximum danger in Nigeria. The ‘cabal’ reigned supreme but failed Nigeria and her people. However, the people of Rivers State will forever appreciate Peter Odili and his government for their priceless service and competent leadership.
Dr Uwalaka is a research associate at the University of Canberra in Australian.

By: Temple Uwalaka

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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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