In their fights against Internet fraud, financial crimes, and drug-related offences, some agencies of government have appointed certain individuals as ambassadors or influencers to help in extending the frontiers, and project them in good light. However, some of the so-called ambassadors are suspects in the crimes that they were recruited to wage war against. BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA reports.
The National Drug Use and Health Survey of 2018 showed that Nigeria has a peculiar drug use prevalence. Indeed, statistics from the survey indicated that 14.3 million Nigerians, aged between 15 and 64 years used psycho-active substances, while 10.6 million abused cannabis and 4.6 million others abused pharmaceutical opioids, such as Codeine, Tramadol, and Morphine, among others.
Similarly, in the last six months, nearly 3,000 young Nigerians have either been arrested, or jailed for their involvement in Internet fraud, known as Yahoo Yahoo. But the more they are arrested and jailed, the more the clan of perpetrators appears to be increasing.
Daily, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) issues statements, detailing its encounter with Internet fraudsters, their hideouts that it has uncovered, items recovered, including exotic cars, expensive mobile handsets, and laptop computer sets. To effectively tackle this menace, both the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), and the EFCC resorted to using celebrities as ambassadors and influencers in their campaign against the use of illicit drugs and Internet fraud because of their sweltering followership.
For instance, after former President Muhammadu Buhari, launched the War Against Drug Abuse (WADA) campaign on June 26, 2021, to commemorate the United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking, the NDLEA Chairman, Brigadier General Buba Marwa (Retd) appointed some individuals as WADA ambassadors and influencers to further drive down the campaign among their followers.
WADA is an advocacy initiative introduced to create awareness on the dangers of drug use. Among other things, it entails setting up coordinated anti-drug committees in states, local councils, and communities across the federation, with its man goal being to mobilise stakeholders across various sectors in the task of ridding society of drug abuse.
To further drive the campaign, Marwa appointed some individuals as WADA ambassadors and influencers. Some of these individuals include the Group Managing Director of TILT Group, Chief Habeeb Okunola; Area manager of National Inland Waterways Authority, Lagos State, Sarat Lara Braimah; the Vice Chancellor, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB); Prof. Olusola Babatunde Kehinde; the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku’ Akpolokpolo Ewuare 11, and the Chief Executive Officer, Five Star Record label, Emeka Okonkwo (a.k.a E-Money), among others.
On its part, the EFCC also appointed people like Ademola Adewale, and Timothy Choji, who is the Voice of Nigeria (VON) correspondent at the Presidential Villa, as its ambassadors in the fight to rid the country of financial crimes.
Need for influencers, ambassadors
DESPITE the objective of the Nigerian Cybercrimes Act 2015 being to curtail Internet fraud, there appears to be no end in sight to youths’ involvement in the act.
Indeed, the support that some Internet fraudsters are getting from family members, a sharp increase in “cybercrime institutions and academies,” as well as, the failure to impose necessary sanctions on perpetrators have further worsened attempts by the agency to nip the malaise in the bud.
On the other hand, youths’ involvement in drugs is on the increase, as available data shows that between 20 to 40 per cent, and 20.9 per cent of drug abuse are reported among students and youths respectively.
While the devastating impact of drug abuse on youths and the importance of restoring sanity in society cannot be overemphasised, the recent death of singer, Ilerioluwa Aloba, better known as Mohbad in questionable circumstances, has, however, reignited a debate on the propriety or otherwise of engaging celebrities as influencers, to champion the crusade against drug abuse or drug use.
One of such appointments is that of music star, Afeez Fashola, popularly known as Naira Marley. The artiste on Thursday, August 27, led members of his team on a visit to the National Headquarters of the agency, in Abuja, where he expressed his preparedness to join the fight against drug abuse in the country.
However, speaking on the engagement of the music star, (who is an alleged drug user) as an influencer, the anti-drugs agency said that it was encourage him to use his skills and platforms to put out contents that would discourage millions of his followers and other youths from substance abuse.
The clarification, according to the agency’s spokesperson, Femi Babafemi, became necessary following continued misrepresentation of the purpose of Fashola’s visit, especially by online platforms. Some reports suggested that the British-Nigerian singer was appointed as an ambassador of the agency.
But Babafemi insisted that nothing could be farther from the truth, as pictures of the visit and a short video containing Marley’s advocacy message to his followers were properly captioned, and shared by the agency without any suggestion of such appointment.
He said the decision to encourage Marley with over seven million followers (half the population of those who abuse drugs in the country) to use his platform in sharing anti-substance abuse messages, as against using same to promote and glamourise drug abuse (with the dire consequence of misleading millions of youths) is to create a balance between drug supply reduction and drug demand reduction efforts.
“This is also in line with the agency’s whole society approach to the fight against drug abuse, and in tune with global best practices, as well as the theme for this year’s World Drug Day: People First: Stop stigma and discrimination, strengthen prevention.
“When an artiste who professed that marijuana is good to seven million followers suddenly turns a new leaf after serious counselling, do we reject him, turn our backs and allow him to continue in his old habit, or do we accept and give him a chance so that he can reach out to his followers to quit substance abuse?
“In other words, why should we take our anti-drug abuse advocacy messages to schools, churches, mosques, marketplaces, motor parks, Nollywood, Kannywood, traditional rulers, labour, and the entertainment industry? When one of them accepts to turn a new leaf, do we turn our backs at him? These are questions that those opposed to Naira Marley alliance with the NDLEA need to ponder over.
“Indeed, no one is better suited to take the message against drug abuse to the Marlians than the head of the same movement. This is no time for mischief, or cynicism, but at the right moment, we all need to encourage the singer and hold him accountable to his public commitment against substance abuse in his video message to his followers in the overall interest of our youths,” the agency added.
Experts’ thoughts on the appointment of ambassadors
SPEAKING on the use of alleged compromised celebrities as brand ambassadors, the Director General of Nigeria Institute of Industrial Security, Dr Wilson Esangbedo, said that the appointments of brand ambassadors are technically meant to change ugly narratives, adding that agencies are disposed to appointing young people who can be looked upon a positive influence on youths and their choice of music.
According to him, brand ambassadors may not have been subjected to security clearance in the past because it was not necessary, but recent events have shown that it may now be necessary to ensure that the agencies are not embarrassed by the conduct of these ambassadors.
The National coordinator of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Emmanuel Onwubiko, who said that it was appropriate for law enforcement agencies to recognise some institutions and individuals as ambassadors, added that it was not the same as saying that those individuals are saints or infallible, but only that from empirical evidence, those individuals have exemplified the highest moral standards, good character, charisma, and are good models of excellence.
According to him, it was a good idea to have models that youngsters can look up to. He said: “Naming persons as ambassadors has impacted massively on the task of carrying out the mandates of affected institutions. Some ambassadors make financial contributions, while some others sacrifice their time to teach young Nigerians about the ideals espoused by affected law enforcement institutions.
“Some of these ambassadors have donated logistics and vehicles to law enforcement agencies that so recognised them.” For human rights lawyer and former National President of the Committee for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwumadu, it was not out of place to recruit persons, particularly those who went into plea bargaining, or have shown remorse, and use them as campaign ambassadors, (for persons who may be interested), or already involved in those kinds of malfeasance.
According to him, when a repentant criminal addresses a gathering, sharing his experiences, and resolve never to be part of what he has done, such renditions carry so much weight. “People draw strength from those kinds of ambassadors rather than the ones that have not been there before,” he added.
Need for background check of would-be ambassadors, influencers
RECENT events, security expert, Dr Esangbedo said have shown that it may now be necessary to do background checks on those to be appointed to ensure that the agencies are not embarrassed by the conduct of these brand ambassadors. He said one of the criteria for selecting an ambassador for anti-drug use campaign should be that the subject must not be a drug abuser.
According to him, a simple drug test can be carried out to ensure that they are not drunks, hemp smokers, but morally upright people. This can also be confirmed through a simple background check.
“The Department of State Services (DSS) conducts the most credible background checks in the country. So, it should be contacted to do this before any brand ambassador is chosen. Once morally upright persons are chosen, they will help pass the right message to the people.
“They should also study the lyrics of the songs of any proposed brand ambassador and reject those whose music do not promote the message of the relevant agency,” he added. By way of recommendation, rights activists, Onwubiko said that agencies must examine prospective ambassadors before naming them to avoid negative consequences and backlash.
He added that such persons must be of impeccable character; good citizens of Nigeria and possess gifts of distinction in the promotion of ideals and mandates of such institutions.
“There is the need to have adequate forensic background checks of all nominees, and affected persons must be such that have the time to teach and preach the gospel of moral rectitude, and the need to be law-abiding to younger members of society.
“The person must be a good model of ethical and moral values, imbued with necessary virtues, attributes, and qualities of a law-abiding patriotic Nigerian,” he added.
Similarly, Ugwummadu cautioned that agencies involved must be intentional, very circumspect and purposeful within the context of what the law permits them to do. He noted that if they engage persons with questionable characters, or attributes that run foul of the law establishing their agencies, it will amount to a conflict of interest, and such persons may turn out to be the worst advertisement of the product they intend to sell.