‘Colorado, Tramadol now sold in the guise of Paracetamol, painkillers’
Anthony Abakporo is the founder and convener of United Breeds Foundation, a harm reduction organisation aimed at fighting societal ills including drug sale and use, cultism and other dangers facing today’s Nigerian youth. A social reformer passionate about the future of young people, he has been holding door-to-door campaigns against drug and substance use, sensitization and awareness programmes as well as rescue and rehabilitation activities. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, he spoke on his efforts at reducing street drug use and cultism, why these societal vices are on a rise and the need for parents and religious leaders to do more to stem this problem.
What factors made you decide that this was what you wanted to do and why establish a foundation?
The alarming rate of addiction amongst youths and my love for humanity led me down this path. I strongly believe that love makes you do the unbelievable and I don’t think anyone who knew me 15 years ago ever saw me starting a non-profit as tasking as this; but here we are today.
Tell us about some of your efforts towards reducing and eradicating drug abuse among youths?
We reach out to them on the streets, engage them every day because we know this is a mental issue and we need to transform them mentally first and foremost. We have used several strategies, including engaging them via sports, free ICT training, free skills acquisition programmes and financial empowerment.
We do all these and more because we know it’s not wise to take the substance or drugs away from them and not engage them positively. That would be leaving a vacuum that might make the situation worse. Like we all know, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, hence it behooves on us to ensure they are properly engaged.
You held a walk recently against drug abuse, how impactful do you think this was in stemming this problem?
The visage of parents and wards kicking against hard drugs was intimidating and we believed that sent a strong message. Also, placards reading ‘Total condemnation of drug abuse and use of illicit drugs’ will leave an indelible sign in the mind of many aimed at reducing drug proliferation as long as we repeat the walk as often as possible.
This drug infestation we’re witnessing in Nigeria today did not grow overnight, hence our walk strategy will take some time as well. It’s a good thing we have started with other strategies and this pandemic would drastically reduce as long as we are consistent.
You keep saying religious heads and parents have very strong roles to play in this fight, why do you think so?
Parents are the first contacts of their children and religious leaders are their spiritual teachers. No one has a closer relationship to youths than this set of people. If these heads do the needful, they will influence their wards positively and have good control over our youths. These affected youths are out of control today because these heads missed it somewhere.
If you were to give a rough estimate, how pervasive would you say this problem is?
We don’t understand the magnitude of what we’re dealing with, it is beyond terrible. I have seen super and rising stars reduced to insignificant level in the society due to drug use. It can’t be estimated at the moment, it’s a rampage only solutions can subdue. We’ve lost many extraordinary minds to this problem. I have personally seen a one time gifted man reduced to nothing and eventually died from drugs. Too many people are addicted as we speak, great and small and the figures are so sad.
You’re also tackling cultism, what efforts have you made towards this?
Our harm reduction initiative works for every negative conduct; hence same approach of convincing them off the path of cultism works here as well. We have former cultists working in our foundation and they are not ashamed to say who they were, because they have changed. We have also arrested cultists who tried to initiate secondary school children. The need for us to be closer to our teenagers and young ones today is more urgent than ever because they are endangered like never before.
Are you working with NDLEA and other related agencies to tackle this problem frontally and statewide?
The police and DSS are our closest allies, maybe because they are visible enough, but we have reached out to the NDLEA. Our letter was acknowledged by the DG and we’re still hoping to work with them in this phase we’ve entered. Controlling the rampaging drug abuse problem is paramount and we will gladly work with all relevant agencies that want to work with us.
In your experience, what kinds of drugs are commonly used and how would you say young people are accessing these drugs?
Colorado seems to be their preferred option these days and has become more famous than Indian hemp.
Tramadol and others are also used, but not as much as Colorado. Sadly, many vendors sell it in the guise of selling paracetamol and painkillers.
For addicts that have been rehabilitated and reunited with their families, how do you keep track of them to ensure they don’t back slide?
Through follow-up visits, engagements and making them feel loved and useful.
Drug addiction is on the rise as you pointed out, why are more people turning to drugs?
Lack of jobs in Nigeria is not helping matters; lack of basic amenities and opportunities for those who want to do business is another fuel for interest in indulgence. Also, bad contents from entertainers play a part; imagine what some of these artistes say in their songs? ‘Mo ma jaye, mumu kumu fafa ku fa baba so me o,’ meaning, I will enjoy life, drink anyhow, smoke all sorts, God help me.
Imagine what a youth is singing and no one is calling it out or asking for it to be banned. It’s very sad how we are all tolerating immorality publicly. Bad parenting and family background is also a factor that breeds this helpless state of drugs use and abuse.
What are some challenges you’ve faced doing this and how do you rehabilitate these people?
Financial challenge is one major obstruction for us; we meet every day, except Wednesdays and try to meet immediate needs of some of these people as well as feed them; all these without a steady flow of funds. Most of the empowerments and other financial responsibilities have all come from us and few family members and friends that believe in what we’re doing. We need more support so we can do more. We rehabilitate them by rigorous mental transformation processes and medically as well.
What solutions would you proffer to government and the society at large moving forward?
All hands must be on deck to making things work in Nigeria especially the politicians. Parents must parent better, we as Nigerians must uphold and respect law and order. Say ‘yes’ when we should say yes and ‘no’ when we should. Nothing good happens without the enforcement of good thinking. We must develop good characters and this way, our minds would begin to execute processes for a better Nigeria.