Before the Lagos State government took the onerous responsibility of clearing the under-bridges of Lagos of undesirable elements, Marine Bridge-a neighbourhood straddling Apapa and Ajegunle-was notorious for crime and drug abuse. Some called it the headquarters of drug trafficking. All manner of hard substances from cocaine to heroin were sold there under the full glare of children whose parents were either drug addicts or homeless. Thieves, touts, all manner of vagrants sought refuge under the busy bridge. There they lived, eat, smoke and fight as well. Benches, chairs, tables and sometimes the cold, untarred ground served as their bed while condemned refrigerators took a new function as wardrobes. Crime was very rife in this part of Lagos. The major offices and warehouses in Apapa became easy targets for the criminal elements in Marine Beach who routinely burgled and vandalized them. Whatever monies they made were channeled back into purchase of cocaine and heroin. It was a gloried lifestyle that provided a sort of escapism from the harsh realities on ground. Some of them under the influence of the hard drugs believed that Marine Beach was their own Shangri-la.
It was during those notorious days of Marine Beach that Dr. Tony Rapu and his Freedom Foundation team reached out to some of the drug addicts. He took along with him veteran comedians Ali Baba and Julius Agwu who tried to interact with them but some turned their backs. Only few like a young man who identified himself as Ndubuisi was willing to go through the painstaking rehabilitation process.
'I started smoking cigarettes but at a point, I didn't derive pleasure from it. A friend introduced me to cocaine and ever since, I never looked back. It gives me the ultimate high. I'm a heavy cocaine smoker," he told the crew.
Having ran away from home and left his parents in total despair, Ndubuisi was reluctant at first to accept the help from the faith-based non-profit organisation. There was no genuine reason at the time to abandon the reckless lifestyle which he had been living for over 10 years. Nicknamed Lion, he was the man in control of the drug and other lootings carried out by the gang. As his nickname implied, he always got the lion share and most of his peers revered him. Nevertheless, after much coercion, he decided to give the organisation a try.
The first process was detoxification. It wasn't an easy one. Depending on the level of consumption of these substances, the victim can suffer intense discomfort and withdrawal syndromes. However, the goal of any detox program is physiological healing after long-term drug addiction - first through stabilization, then through a period of detoxification. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), after stabilization, the focus of detox shifts to the monitoring and support of the various processes of the body as it rids itself of the drug, and to managing the often unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that result.
Ndubuisi was resilient to conquer this first stage of recovery. Understanding the need to nip in the bud the root cause of drug addiction in order to avoid relapse, Freedom Foundation moved Ndubuisi to its rehabilitation center for men, House of Refuge. There, he went through counseling and skill acquisition programmes. The foundation took a step further by reuniting him with his aged parents. His parents were overjoyed seeing Ndubuisi again who looked nothing like the scarecrow he was before.
"I couldn't believe he can be this robust because before he looked so skinny like the letter 'I'," his mother enthused.
After a year, Ndubuisi was free to leave the House of Refuge. He got a job at one of the ports in Apapa. Unfortunately, an ugly incident will lead him back to the dangerous lifestyle of drug abuse. He was unlucky to be at the wrong place at a wrong time. He was on his way home from work when he and a colleague were arrested as suspects of a robbery that took place at a spot close to a Naval Barrack. He was sent to Ikoyi Prison and spent 40 days there before he was finally sentenced to jail with a bail option despite his innocence. The Freedom Foundation on hearing of his latest ordeal paid the fine and he was released.
That singular trauma triggered a relapse. The next time his parents learnt about their son, it was tragic. Someone spotted him at Marine Beach in tattered clothes roaming around like a mad man. His panicked parents brought a chain to capture him. But Ndubuisi was too strong for the shackles. Few days after he was brought home in chains, he escaped. By now, his parents had lost all hope.
Relapse is a regular occurrence in the drug rehabilitation process, particularly if the individual suffers a trauma. Study shows that over 60 percent of drug users relapse when they do not receive professional treatment for a long while.
Ndubuisi was lucky to have the Freedom Foundation come to his rescue. Again, he went through the recovery process, this time very successful.
Ndubuisi and others like him have benefited from Freedom Foundation's sustained effort to rehabilitate drug addicts and keep them off the streets. The heart-rending stories of their transformation are captured in a 13- series documentary titled 'My Lagos Diaries' which started airing last month. Viewers get to see the dramatic conversion of the victims and their heart-breaking lifestyles as a result of peer pressure, indiscipline, financial struggles and depression. There is no age limit as both the young and old are caught up in this world of crime and drug abuse. What the Freedom Foundation, however, does is to bring hope to victims of such harsh situations by providing medical, financial, and emotional support.
At times, there is a happy ending for these vagrants. Expectedly, many cases end in tragedy. Each episode is an emotional roller-coaster, as every step towards recovery is a painstaking one. They stir up raw feelings that question our roles in society: what are we doing to help the helpless in the society? What measures are taken to ensure lives are not lost on the streets of Lagos?
Drug abuse is not a strange menace in our society; however its increasing intake by our youths today is worrisome.
Findings by the Foundation revealed that there are at least a drug addict out of five youths living on the streets of Lagos. A THISDAY report on 'Rising Drug Abuse' discovered startling statistics about this malaise. The findings provided by different academics and professionals interested in psychosocial behaviour in relation to the menace of drug abuse in the Niger Delta, stated that 46.6 per cent of University of Benin students who are aged between 20-25 years have taken drugs for non-medical purposes at least once in their lifetime, resulting sometimes in risky behaviours such as unsafe sexual practices. The study further concluded that some youths depend on one form of drug or the other such as tobacco, Indian hemp, cocaine, morphine, heroine, alcohol, ephedrine, madras, caffeine, glue, barbiturates and amphetamines for their various daily activities.
The side effects of constant abuse of these drugs cannot be overemphasized. Symptoms of a drug use disorder include recurrent drug use that results in legal problems, occurs in potentially dangerous situations, interfere with important obligations, results in social or relationship problems, tolerance, withdrawal, using a lot of the drug or for a long period of time, persistent desire to use the drug, unsuccessful efforts to stop using the drug, neglecting other aspects of life because of their drug use, and spending inordinate amounts of time or energy getting, using, or recovering from the effects of the drug.
In our society today, there are 'science students' as Nigerian rapper Olamide calls them, everywhere. They are on our streets, in our homes, churches, work places but expectedly, many look the other way either out of ignorance or nonchalance. As a result, so many bright dreams are killed because only few bother to save a soul. Very few organisations like Freedom Foundation spearheaded by Dr. Tony Rapu have taken the responsibility to rehabilitate victims of drug abuse while highlighting the hazardous threat in our sciety.
In a culminating period of 10 years, Rapu and his team scoured the streets of Lagos in search of drug addicts who need redemption. From the dreaded dark alleys of Empire in Surulere area of Lagos to the notorious Ipodo area in Ikeja, they reached out to males and females, young and old, who have fallen into the deep abyss of drug disorder.
The unflinching commitment of the Freedom Foundation to rid our society of this menace is worth emulating. The foundation hopes that through 'My Lagos Diaries' , the general public will be sensitized about the struggles of these underprivileged persons while providing an opportunity to interested individuals and organizations to support its vision via donations and funding.