The Chairman of Freedom Foundation, Dr Tony Rapu, and the wife of the Lagos State Governor, Dr Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, have highlighted the need to stem the tide of drug abuse in Nigeria.
The foundation, a faith-based non-profit, non-governmental organisation, held its first symposium on practical solutions to combat substance abuse on Monday in Lagos, with the theme ‘Drugs don’t discriminate.’
Rapu, in his welcome address, said, “My driving passion, as a leader, has always been to help the segment of society which we call the vulnerable or underserved poor, people who cannot really help themselves; and that is what Freedom Foundation is all about.”
He said the foundation was set up in 2001 to create sustainable programme to help the disadvantaged in society, even though he had been interacting with substance abusers and commercial sex workers in his personal capacity as a medical doctor since 1989.
He recounted some of his experiences where he had to help young children who were supposed to be in school but hawking goods on the streets of Lagos.
He said, “We have continuously refined our programmes since the inception of the foundation, and tailored them to reach out, give hope, and run programs that rehabilitate, educate and empower these underprivileged people.
“Our aim is to achieve individual transformation and subsequently community transformation. Apart from the Freedom Foundation, the ‘God Bless Nigeria’ our sister initiative works directly with people at the grassroots level in these poor neighborhoods.”
Rapu said over the years, there had been an increasing trend of drug use, with millions of youth dependent on various types of illicit drugs, prescription drugs and regular household chemicals.
He noted that it had, therefore, become expedient to utilise a more concerted approach to address the endemic in the society.
He said the recent National Survey on Drugs Use and Health estimated that 14.4 per cent of the people aged between 15 and 64 years were drug users.
“These numbers are steadily increasing and as such, it has become expedient to utilise a more concerted approach to address this endemic in our society,” Rapu added.
He said the recent rescue and rehabilitation of a young lady, named Lizzy, went viral “because people are beginning to come to the realization that anyone, irrespective of background or social status is susceptible to drug abuse.”
Rapu stressed the need to employ evidence-based intervention and build stronger partnerships between stakeholders, religious organisations and the government to tackle the issue of drug abuse.
Sanwo-Olu said drug addiction had become a worrisome threat in the society and “we cannot pretend that such an issue does not exist.”
She described the theme of the event as very apt and timely, saying, “Drugs will always remain drugs, with the same level of potency on the consumer, regardless of age, colour or gender.”
According to her, Lagos State has always been proactive in this regard through initiatives, activities and infrastructure that enhance the social stability of the teeming youth.
She said the state government recently updated the mental health law of the state in line with current realities.
“In the current dispensation, we will see renewed effort of the government to scale up the welfare of youths, through gainful employment, modern education infrastructure, health interventions, sports and recreational activities, among others,” Sanwo-Olu added.
She commended the effort of the foundation for taking the Christian ministry beyond preaching and evangelism.
Other dignitaries at the symposium included Dr Osasuyi Dirisu, a public health specialist and founder of Research Hub Africa and Mr William Shinyin Wu, a representative of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.