The National Agency for the Control of AIDS, NACA, in collaboration with MTV and the MTV Staying Alive Foundation on Wednesday held a VIP screening of a TV series, Shuga, at the Silverbird Cinemas, Abuja.
The event was attended by the Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu; the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle; Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Ifeanyi Okowa; Chairman of the Senate Committee on MDGs, Ali Ndume; the President of the Association of Reproductive and Family Health (ARFH) Oladipo Ladapo; as well as the National Coordinator, Network of People with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWHAN) Edward Ogenyi.
Also present were the Director General of NACA, John Idoko; the Managing Director of Viacom International Media Networks, Africa - parent company of MTV and MTV Base - Alex Okosi; and the founder of MTV Staying Alive Foundation, Georgia Arnold.
The cast and crew of the show were represented by Dorcas Fapson who played Sophie, Timni Egbuson (Toby) and the Director of the series, Biyi Bandele.
Making an impact
According to MTV, Shuga is an impactful drama that fuses sexual health messaging with gripping storyline to raise awareness among young people about HIV prevention and reproductive health in Nigeria, is much more than a TV shows. Ms. Arnold, who is the brain, behind the initiative disclosed that there are plans to go beyond the TV series, and to reach young people via radio plays, comic books, the internet and even visiting schools.
"We want young people to be more aware of their behaviour; using condoms, negotiating the use of condom, getting tested - we have been working with NACA on their 36333 helpline. There is also a domestic violence storyline to ensure that there is a conversation with people who have been in that situation; what's the best thing to do. As well as first sex, and about choosing not have sex," she said.
The first two seasons of Shuga, which debuted on MTV Networks in 2009, was filmed and produced in Kenya. However, the producers of the show decided to move the third season to Nigeria. The move was planned way before the second season when a Nigerian character, Femi, was introduced for continuity.
Speaking on reactions to the move, Ms. Arnold said, "Kenyans were initially angry saying the Nigerian series was not nearly as good and the show should be brought back to Kenya. But we noticed a huge growth in following since we moved to Nigeria, especially on Twitter. We also noticed as more episodes aired, the conversation changed and Kenyans have come to embrace this season asking when the next episode will air."
At the screening on Wednesday, a lot of room was given to protocol. Apart from cocktails, the screening was preceded by speeches from some of the dignitaries and stakeholders.
The U.S. Ambassador used to opportunity to refute reports in the media that quoted him as saying that the U.S. may deny funding to Nigeria due to the new "anti-gay law."
"Some of the report said I said on Monday that because of the bill, United States was going to cut back or eliminate its support for HIV and AIDS programming in this country. This is not the case, we have neither the desire nor the intent to do that," Mr. Entwistle said.
He disclosed that the U.S. has already budgeted close to half a million dollars for HIV/AIDS programmes in Nigeria in 2014. This is not in addition to the $3.4 billion spent by the U.S. to curb spread of the disease in the last ten years.
Four episodes were shown in a stretch. Judging by the audience reaction, the show was not only informative and relatable but it was also entertaining. It had several storylines that dealt with the dynamics of romantic relationships among young people, the downside of transactional relationship between a young woman and an older man and domestic violence.
At the end of the screening, the audience was given a chance to make comments. Most of the commentators wondered if NACA and MTV would take the series away from the city and suburbs to the villages where education about HIV/AIDS was inadequate. One commentator asked that the series be subtitled in Nigerian languages so that people in rural areas would get the message. The producers were also asked to make versions that people in rural areas could relate. Some also suggested that future editions should depict that not only those with a freewheeling and partying lifestyle were susceptible to the disease.
Mr. Ndume, a senator from Borno State, also narrated his personal experience with People Living With HIV/AIDS. He disclosed that one of his sisters had contacted the disease from her husband and also spoke about a childhood friend and the friend's wife who had died from the disease.
During a question and answer for the cast and crew, the show's producers informed that the series was free to air by any broadcaster. The actors also talked about how acting in the series had made them more aware of the impact of HIV/AIDS.
Apart Ms. Fapson and Mr. Egbuson, the third season of Shuga also stars Tiwa Savage, Chris Attoh, Sharon Ezeamaka amongst others. It also features rapper Ice Prince and Iyanya. The theme song was sang by Flavour, Sound Sultan, Chidinma, Kcee and South African singer, Professor.
Award winning Kenyan actress, Lupita Nyong'o, who starred in 12 Years a Slave made her acting debut on the Kenya edition of Shuga.