You’ll be hard-pressed to find any number of young people gathered in the same place without the biggest afro-pop songs playing in the background.
This time, in a dimly lit hall, dim enough for small brown bottles to be passed around, DJ Enimoney‘s “Diet” blares on the speakers as revellers at the young end of 21 — some still in their early teens – give meaning to the song’s lyrics.
The scene is a small hotel in Surulere, Lagos, but in 2018’s Nigeria, it could well be in Kano, Benin, Abuja or just about anywhere.
Many factors have been blamed for Nigeria’s drug crisis. Experts and commentators have pointed fingers towards obvious roots such as the country’s porous borders or the weak regulation in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry as reasons for the scourge.
Yet, in recent times, Nigerian musicians and their music have been mentioned with remarkable frequency in the same sentence as codeine and the budding problem of drug abuse.
Earlier this year, the lyrics and subject matter of Olamide’s “Science Student” were brought into focus as the indigenous rapper scored yet another wildly popular street hit.
While the song built on the shaku-shaku sound, lyrics like “There are no herbs, there are no shrubs; they’ve made “Omi Gutter”, they are science students” had many listeners and commentators confused as to whether Olamide, in his infinite street saviour mercies, was endorsing or decrying drug use.
It was why not many people were surprised when the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporationbanned the song.
For all the conversations that followed, Olamide’s Science Student was not the first song to tether so close to the subject of drug abuse, and it was certainly not the last.
The problem with codeine diets
After a number of artistes had dropped a slew of street hits leveraging on the popularity of shaku-shaku, Olamide’s brother and disc jockey, DJ Enimoney released his own contribution to the fold, a delightfully danceable posse cut unfortunately titled “(Codeine) Diet”. Despite rising to the top of charts, the song has been criticised for its blatant appraisal of codeine use.
On the hook, Slimcase asks listeners to slow down, spend lavishly and receive money “on a codeine diet” before calling the names of the featured artistes.
As if to drive the point home, in the visuals for the song, DJ Enimoney is seen holding one of the small brown bottles in which codeine-infused cough syrup is often sold.
The word “DIET” are written near the top of the bottle, and near the bottom, you may notice, in much smaller fonts, the message “Say No to Drugs”. It’s obvious which one first grabs the viewer’s attention.
It’s nearly illegal to hold a party in Lagos or most Nigerian cities for that matter without playing “Diet”.
While the nearly everyone (including the NBC) has basically ignored the song’s theme, there was widespread disappointment when Tiwa Savage, an artiste adored by thousands of young girls, chose to perform the song at the recently held 12th edition of Nigeria’s biggest music awards, the Headies. For support, she had Reminisce, who many claim to have appeared intoxicated on the night.
In another world, this indiscretion may have been forgiven. It wasn’t the first time Tiwa was performing the song; what was different was that it came days after the BBC published a jarring expose on the codeine epidemic in the North.
Titled “Sweet Sweet Codeine“, the documentary revealed the depth of codeine abuse in certain states, the efforts of law enforcement agencies to stem the scourge and rehabilitation centres struggling to deal with addicts.
The documentary had sparked heated conversations about drug abuse in Nigeria while off the internet, the government’s agencies and pharmaceutical companies shuffled to put together a response.
Tiwa Savage and Reminisce couldn’t have picked a worse time to perform a song about slowing down on codeine. There is no doubt that her performance was insensitive, yet that a song about drugs is one of the biggest in Nigeria speaks to a much bigger problem.