Fighting Substance Abuse Through MTN’s ASAP

It took 18 schools, representing Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones, approximately one month to prepare for a national competition. The competition was designed to evaluate the level of awareness, knowledge, and understanding of causes and preventive measures against substance abuse among secondary school students. Additionally, it aimed to recruit these students as advocates for the MTN Foundation-initiated Anti-Substance Abuse Programme (ASAP). This competition highlighted the urgent need for a united front against substance abuse in the country.

MTN Foundation, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have now taken up the mantle to save Nigeria from a generation wasted by hard drugs. One of their efforts to combat substance abuse is the 2023 MTN ASAP quiz competition, which took place nationwide, culminating in a grand finale held in Abuja.

ASAP is a multi-stakeholder; multi-sectoral behavior change initiative aimed at reducing the number of first-time substance abusers among young Nigerians aged between 10 and 25 years. When the 3-person team from PTA/NADP International College in Lafia, Nasarawa State emerged as the ultimate winners of the quiz competition, it became evident that the partnership against illicit drug use and abuse was making a significant impact in Nigeria. The competition exposed the high risk of adverse health and social challenges faced by Nigeria’s future leaders.

The month-long preparation opened the students’ eyes and minds to the dangers of substance abuse, its preventive measures, and potential solutions. “I feel very happy. It’s overwhelming. I now understand drug abuse as a one-way road that you may not be able to come out of,” expressed Abdul Isa Salihu, one of the competition’s victorious students. Salihu’s testimony reveals the knowledge gap surrounding substance abuse in Nigeria. He further said, “I am eternally grateful to MTN. Through this competition, I have become more aware of the dangers of drug abuse. I have been enlightened about its causes and preventive measures.”

Salihu’s teammate, Peace Monday, remarked, “I have come to realise that the best way to prevent drug abuse is to avoid following bad friends who exert peer pressure. The consequences include brain damage, liver and lung cancer, and addiction.” Monday strongly advocated for an end to drug abuse, stating, “I am grateful to God for the benefits we have received. I want to send a message to those out there that drug abuse is dangerous. Stop abusing drugs. It’s deadly. It can kill you.” Augusta Opane Okyuwa, who proposed the institution of a special campaign program in all Nigerian schools, fully supported her colleagues’ belief that the annual MTN quiz competition has the power to dispel the myths surrounding drug abuse among many young Nigerians.

PTA/NADP International College emerged as the winner in the North Central zone, qualifying them for the grand finale, where they competed against the champions from the other five regional zones: Katsina, Oyo, Enugu, Benue, Edo, and Adamawa States.

All participating students in the competition emphasised the importance of establishing anti-substance abuse clubs in schools to raise awareness, educate young people about the causes, dangers, and preventive measures of drug abuse.

For MTN, the objective is to address substance abuse at an early age and significantly reduce its prevalence in Nigeria. This led to their collaboration with Nigeria’s drug watchdog, NDLEA, to launch a campaign against the drug scourge in the country.

MTN Foundation chairman, Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi, stated that ASAP is an extension of their commitment to youth development in Nigeria. He emphasized the need for a multi-sectoral approach, stating, “We believe that through collaboration, we will build a better nation. We must strengthen barriers against inappropriate access to substances and substance abuse for medical purposes, especially among our young people.” Adelusi-Adeluyi assured that MTN, in partnership with NDLEA and UNODC, will continue to propagate awareness of the dangers of drug abuse among Nigerian youth through targeted campaigns and interventions.

Substance abuse poses a clear and present danger in Nigeria. According to a recent National Drug Use survey, individuals as young as 15 years, and sometimes even younger, are exposed to drug use in the country. The survey revealed that 14.3 million Nigerians aged 15-64 years had used a psychoactive substance, with one in seven persons having used a drug other than tobacco and Portentiva.

President Bola Tinubu stressed the urgent need for awareness about the proliferation of illicit drugs. He also emphasized the importance of combating stigma and discrimination against individuals struggling with drug addiction.

Represented by George Akume, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation of Nigeria, at a national conference held in Abuja, President Tinubu called for empowering youths with knowledge and skills to make informed decisions and providing necessary support to overcome addiction. He affirmed the commitment to combat drug abuse and illicit drug usage.

The event, held to commemorate the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking 2023, focused on the theme “People First: Stop Stigma and Discrimination, Strengthen Prevention.” NDLEA Chairman/CEO, Brigadier-General (rtd) Mohammed Buba Marwa, explained that this theme reflects the comprehensive approach required to combat the drug scourge. Marwa expressed deep concern over the alarming rate of substance abuse among young people in Nigeria. He stressed that MTN’s efforts are crucial in securing the future of many young Nigerians, asserting that the fight against substance abuse cannot be fought by NDLEA and MTN alone.

He called for collaborative efforts and highlighted the need for teachers to help students navigate peer pressure, a significant contributing factor to substance abuse. Marwa also informed the teenage students, parents, and teachers about the devastating effects of drugs, including organ damage and brain impairment.

Dr. Oliver Stolpe, the country representative of UNODC, described the growing drug use problem as an “epidemic of sorts.” She emphasized the seriousness of this year’s World Drug Day theme, “People First – Stop Stigma and Discrimination, Strengthen Prevention.” Stolpe stated that events like the quiz competition play a crucial role in raising awareness of drug use problems.

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