Sometime ago, Nigerians were rated as the happiest people on earth, three years down the line, the country is now ranked the fifth in the world among countries whose citizens are most prone to commit suicide. JOSEPH CHIBUEZE, VICTORIA USMAN, GABRIEL EMAMEH and JULIET KUYET BULUS report
A yet-to-be-identified middle-aged man drowned after reportedly jumping into the Lagos Lagoon in the early hours of Tuesday 2 October, 2018. It was gathered that the deceased jumped into the lagoon after trekking on the Third Mainland Bridge inwards Lagos Island. A member of the rescue team, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said despite efforts by paramedics to resuscitate the victim, he eventually passed on. “The man’s identity could not be ascertained. He apparently resorted to the action out of frustration,” he said. Fred Onuigbo was a successful taxi driver in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, for several years. Suddenly, setbacks came in. The cab he was driving broke down beyond repairs and the owner was unwilling to replace it.
Unable to bear the misfortune any longer, Fred took his own life in the gory way possible. He set himself on fire. He burned till he died behind a petrol station in Gwarinpa, Abuja.
His widow, Uchechukwu, said he incessantly complained about the woes of his life among which was the corpse of the mother which was lying unburied in the mortuary due to lack of funds for a befitting burial.
She said he continually pointed out crucial projects which he was incapable of paying for particularly the care of his children and house rent.
One madam Uzoaku (66), a native of Achalla-Umana, Mgbakwu in Awka North Local Government Area of Anambra State, reportedly took her own life out of frustration that her two children who graduated from the tertiary institution many years ago had not secured employment. The woman was reportedly cooking in the kitchen one fateful evening when she suddenly abandoned the food she was preparing, dashed to her bedroom and hanged herself with a rope tied to a window protector. She was also a grandmother.
Some time ago, a young female banker committed suicide in Ughelli, Delta State after her husband allegedly brought in another woman to the house. Rather than stomach the affront, she decided to end it all by drinking insecticide. She died.
Two days after, a teenage girl identified simply as Loveth aged 18, reportedly committed suicide by drinking some poisonous substance. Reason: she scored low marks (160) in the UTM Examination. The girl, reports claimed, wanted to study Medicine. Also, a 30-year-old student of the Nigerian Law School, Abuja, Auwal Haruna, allegedly committed suicide by hanging himself on the ceiling fan in his hotel room in Takum, Taraba State. According to the Taraba Police Public Relations Officer, Joseph Kwaji, Haruna’s lifeless body was found dangling from a ceiling fan at a guest house in the town.
Another student, this time a 300-level Physics/Astronomy under-graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Onyebuchi Okonkwo, was found dead at an uncompleted building located beside the hockey pitch at the institution. He also reportedly hanged himself. In February, 2018, another student, Wilson Chukwudi, of the Abia State University allegedly committed suicide because he failed to graduate after spending two extra academic sessions.
On Monday, March 20, 2017, a 35-year-old medical doctor, Allwell Orji, was reported to have parked his car on the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos and hopped into the lagoon. This was coming on the day the world was celebrating the International Day of happiness, death, depression and economic hardship. On November 18, 2017, a lecturer at the Department of Crop Production, College of Agriculture, Kwara State University, Dr Solomon Osunlola, was also reported to have committed suicide. The deceased, according to report from sources, became depressed when he lost his full status as a lecturer to a contract staff.
On February 23, 2018, a primary four pupil reportedly committed suicide after failing a spelling test administered by his grandparents. The 13-year-old boy identified as Kenneth promised his grandfather that he would improve next time. But hours later, he was found hanging from a nearby tree – dead. His grandfather said “We gave the boy a spelling exercise, but he failed to spell the words correctly. We encouraged him that he would master spelling the words with more practice.”
From self-hanging with rope to drinking of poisonous substances and even running into major road to get hit by fast moving vehicles and now and most recent, jumping into the lagoon, Nigeria has been brought to global spotlight as the fifth ranked nation in the world whose citizens are most prone to commit suicide. Suddenly, suicide has become one of the leading causes of death in the country. Nowadays, almost on weekly basis, reports of suicides make headlines. The victims cut across all genders and age groups: a development which analysts have likened to an epidemic or a social malady ravaging a people and requiring an urgent action. On July 29, this year, spectator index contained in a World Health Organisation (WHO) research report ranked suicide per 100,000, per country. Nigeria placed fifth with 15,000 suicide in every 100,000 suicides. A report conducted in 2016-2017 of states in Nigeria with highest suicide cases saw Ogun, Lagos and Ebonyi states topping the list on reported suicide incidents. Others in the pecking order are Delta, Oyo, Ondo and Kano states respectively. Experts say people do not commit suicide solely because of pain. They do because they don’t believe there is a reason to live following significant drop in the level of neuro transmitters in their brains. According to the experts, these actions may be as a result of life stressors which affect the neuro transmitters of victims’ brains and lead to depression and other mental problems.
But why would someone want to kill him/herself? A study published in the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine by SV Jaiswal and colleagues found that suicide is a psychiatric emergency and stressors of life and social variables (like marital status, family, and social support) are among the determinants. The study also found that hopelessness and suicidal intent are among the psychological variables that have shown promise in the prediction of suicide. It found that lethality of suicide attempt increases with increase in hopelessness. Meanwhile, in a review of ‘Life Events, Stress and Depression’ by Professor Christopher Tennant of the Department of Psychological Medicine, Royal North Shore Hospital, it was found that stressors, which are major life events, are associated with greater initial severity of depressive symptoms both in adult patients and adolescents. Sadly, these stressors have been linked to onset of depression which is a major cause of suicide. Professor Andrew Zamani, a clinical psychologist at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, said that people with suicidal tendencies most times confess feeling sad, frustrated and quite often express poor life satisfaction and death wish. Some go as far as attempting fatal activities like drinking soap water, dangerous driving, and taking overdose of drugs or self-mutilation.
“Sometimes excessive drug use and illicit sexual behaviour are indicative of suicidal tendencies too,” he told LEADERSHIP Weekend. According to a report published in ScienceDirect, depression, a life threatening and widespread psychiatric disorder, has an incidence of about 340 million cases worldwide, and ranks among the five causes of global disease burden. It has also been estimated that, by 2030, depression will represent one of the three leading causes of burden of disease worldwide. Coordinator, Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative, (SURPIN), Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Lagos, Dr Raphael Emeka Ogbolu, said life stressors are major factors that cause the neuro transmitters of individuals to drop resulting to depression and feelings of hopelessness which, in turn, compel a person to commit suicide. Ogbolu, who explained that neuro transmitters are chemicals present in everybody’s brain, said more than 90 per cent of those who commit suicide do so due to depression. The consultant psychiatrist explained: “For every individual, the levels of these chemicals change when one fails an exam or an interview and he feels bad. That feeling of not being happy is because those chemicals have dropped and this is a part of our everyday life.
“When the level of neuro transmitters in the brain drops to a certain level, it leads to symptoms of depression and if that is not detected early and treated, the feeling of hopelessness sets in and the person begins to think of suicide. The largest contributor to suicide is depression.” According to the don, “once an individual begins to have sleep changes, appetite changes, and the person becomes sad and loses interest in things he should naturally be interested in, gets tired easily, has poor concentration, and the way he reasons changes, such a person is close to committing suicide,” he stated.
He disclosed that those things that can lower the level of the neuro transmitters include childhood trauma and misfortunes which could be financial. Ogbolu, who differentiated between the usual sadness and the sadness experienced by a depressed person, said: “The difference between the sadness that we experience occasionally and the sadness of depression is that the level of the chemicals goes back up but a person who is depressed does not have the level of the neurons going back up, it is not something that a person purposely brings upon himself.” Giving hope that these chemicals can be raised through medication, he said: “One cannot use his/her will to raise the level of those chemicals. There are medications to raise the level of these neuros. Some people inherit the tendency of these chemicals to be low (i.e. they inherit the predisposition to depression). This means that these persons are likely to experience depression if the stressors of life are too much for them.” The psychiatrist added that having genetic predisposition does not mean that the person would come down with depression but they are usually advised to watch the stress in their life. For those with such genetic disposition, according to him, they should avoid the ones they can’t and manage the stress well.
“Some persons are more resilient than others; that is why they will go through things that are more severe than those who are depressed and would still not experience depression,” Ogbolu said.
He stressed the need for proper care from childhood which helps to build resilience in people, noting that people who received proper care in childhood are less susceptible to depression.
The consultant traced some suicide attempts to drug abuse, adding that people who abuse drug try to suppress their depression with drug, but it only pushes them further down. “They feel hopeless and then decide to commit suicide. In the process of intoxicating oneself, people die because the drugs are too hard for them; even if it was not deliberate but was self- orchestrated it is also considered suicide.”
How do religious bodies in Nigeria react to suicide? They are unanimous in their condemnation of the act which they consider an abomination.
National Chief Imam of Al-habibiyyah Organisation, Imam Fuad Adeyem, describes ‘Killing oneself’ as a result of depression, stress or sadness as a grave crime and a grave sin, saying hell is the destination of all those who commit suicides. The Abuja-based renowned Islamic cleric said whoever would be taken by fanaticism or sickness or depression to kill himself has condemned himself to eternity in the hell fire.
“First and foremost, you are not the owner of your life – nor do you have the right to do with it what you please. By choosing to end your life at a time of your choosing you are committing oppression on your body. In the terminology of jurisprudence, such a person is labelled evildoer even if the oppression he is committing is limited to himself and not to others.
“It’s not your decision to leave this world at a time of your choosing. By choosing a time of your death – you are in essence claiming to know better than Allah (Allah forbid) – who is the Most Wise, the All-Knowing, the All-Aware. Then how can you choose when and how to leave?”
He said pain and grief are part of human life and whoever kills himself as of depression will be punish by Allah. “Pain and grief are part of this world and we always ask Allah for well-being but life is not perfect nor is it paradise. On the same token, you cannot end your life on the presumption that Allah hates you since there is no proof or basis for this allegation. If kill yourself, you will be punish by Allah and Hell fire is your destination. Allah has made it haram in His Infinite Wisdom and to make something halal that Allah has made haram is not acceptable – in fact its outright rebellion.” Rev Fr John Jatau of the Catholic Diocese of Minna in Niger State, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that the bodies of people who committed suicide were not allowed into the church and would not usually be given a Christian burial.
“However that has changed after Vatican II of 1962/63, he said, adding, “Though the church condemns the act in totality, it does not assume the position of God to judge victims of the act.
“The stand of the Catholic Church on suicide is not a judgemental one but that of compassion, especially for the sake of those who are bereaved and also because there is never a clear knowledge of the state of mind of the one who has killed him/herself.”
He said the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 22AD which deals with suicide says everyone is responsible for his/her life before God who has given it to him/her. “It is God who remains the sovereign master of life and we are obliged to accept life from Him and preserve it for His honour for the salvation of our souls,” Fr Jatau said. “We are stewards, not owners of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of it. So suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his/her life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends law of neighbour because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation and other human societies to which we continue to have human obligations.”
The priest said the church further teaches that there are some conditions, such as great psychological disturbances, great fear of hardship, suffering or torture that can diminish the responsibility of the one who commits suicide.
The churches response to the people who commit suicide today is given also in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 22:83 and it says that ‘we should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives, by ways known to Him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance.’ “The church therefore prays for people who have taken their own lives especially as a form of comfort to family members and friends who mourn them.” Rev Dr Israel Akanji, the senior Pastor of First Baptist Church Garki, Abuja and currently the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), North Central zone, described the act of taking one’s life as saddening and painful. “As a Church we always believe that such action ought not to arise regardless of how one feels about life,” Akanji told LEADERSHIP Weekend. “The Church is against suicide, it preaches hope in God in spite of the difficulties one may experience. The Bible has examples of conditions that would have made people take their own life but they never did. The story of Job should inspire all. Despite all he went through including the loss of his children, he never contemplated suicide as some would these days. He trusted God and God gave him a newness of life, restoring all he lost.” The CAN chairman said the Church stands against suicide and would not encourage anyone in any way to attempt it as it believes that at the most hopeless time there is still hope in God and that God is able to turn a situation around’. He maintained that the Bible condemns the act and people should desist from such acts as it is only God who gives life and also takes it.
“Our attitude is that life is sacred, things may go bad, down but no one has the right to kill himself as the Bible forbids it. The sanctity of life, the dignity of man is very important and we teach these things and encourage people not to take the easy way out by committing suicide.” On the way forward, Akanji said each person in the society should be conscious of his environment and people around because somebody who wants to commit suicide exhibits irrational behaviours.
“When this is noticed there is need for urgent attention,” the clergyman said. “As a society we need to go closer to people instead of letting them drown in misery.“In a family, when someone appears not to be doing well according to the expectation of the family, such a person should be corrected in love because there is a way you speak to someone and he feels insulted and this gives one low self-esteem and makes him judge himself negatively. “The way we relate to people can bring down the thought of suicide. High level of discouragement and hopelessness leads to suicide but if we cultivate a positive attitude towards people, we will greatly reduce the possibility of people committing suicide in our society. We should also have a life that shares and not only accumulating as this will go a long way in reducing tension.”
He counselled that that everyone do not have to live in the city as some people can take up a profitable lifestyle in the villages. He urges the society to pass on anything that will heal the heart and “as we do, depression, loneliness, disillusionment, confusion, self-pity and their likes will be taken away.”
Ismail Olokun, an elder of the Etsako extraction of Edo North in Edo State, said among his people suicide is forbidden adding that when an Etsako person committed suicide, his body is not accorded the honour of a decent burial .Olokun said, “Suicide is forbidden and it is fairly well established in Etsako, the entire Edo North as it were. When an Etsako person committed suicide, the person is thrown into the ‘evil forest’ which they didn’t have, and in that case, no burial is accorded.” “By so doing, the land is cleansed of the abomination by the priests or any other person authorised by tradition to perform the rites.
“The family faces ostracism. Usually the natives will locate a high ground like a mountain and the body is thrown into the abyss. No burial is accorded”, said Olokun who noted that same was in those days done to accident victims in his native Okpella land.
“It said that if it’s not done and proper burial is accorded, the same will be repeated in that family. And that unless the gods were propitiated some other will suffer a similar fate. It’s more a myth,” he added.
Speaking on how the traditional Igbo society looks at suicide, Chief Agaba Okeh, of Nimbo community, Enugu state said: “Suicide is a taboo. If someone commits suicide for whatever reason, the gods must be appeased before the body is taken down, in the case of one who hangs him/herself. Or removed from the spot, if the person drank poison.This is to make sure that it does not reoccur in that family.
“The body is buried in an evil forest. But these days that we no longer have evil forests because of development, the body is taken far into the bush out of the community and buried there.
“I want to let you know that the body must not be touched by an indigene. The body remains where it was found until people whose duty it is to touch such bodies arrive. These are non-indigenes in the olden days, they are regarded as slaves.” He said sometimes it is believed that one is forced to commit suicide by some oracle whom the person must have offended in one way or the other and refused to own up.
In Yoruba ontology, according to Aborisade Olasunkanmi of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Oyo State, there is a distinction between good and bad death. A person who reached old age and attained a life of accomplishment before dying is believed to have died a good death. Thus old age is a condition sine qua non for good death. He said, “The accomplishments of the person should include marriage, begotten children which gives the person in question the opportunity to participate in life circle, accomplished through reincarnation. At death such a person joins the ancestors, though after the full funeral rites that ushers the person into the world of the ancestors.”
“When a person dies young, for the Yoruba it is a bad death. Thus, they are not given full funeral rites. There is no happiness accompanying the burial. It is worst when a person commits suicide. There is no fitting funeral ceremony for someone who commits suicide, even at an old age. No one is allowed to cry or weep publicly for the deceased. There is no cooking or drinking. Finally, cleansing ceremonies are performed by the deceased’s family so that such an evil will not happen again. The elders would offer sacrifices for peace in the land and for the extinction of such thought from the land. “ Suicide is seen as the most evil thing a person can do. It is referred to as an abomination and as a sin against the earth. Thus, in the case of suicide, not only loved ones are offended, the divine is involved.”
According to Araba Yemi Elebuibon, a Yoruba icon and Chief Priest of Osogboland, Osun State, “Yoruba do not support suicide. Their belief is that if somebody commits suicide, they will be punished in the hereafter. They also believe that suicides would not be allowed passage into heaven rather, their souls would just be wandering until their naturally appointed time comes” This punishment, according to Elebuibon, also takes the form of not being able to be reincarnated, another belief in the Yoruba faith. Professor Andrew Zamani said suicide could be controlled through good governance and strengthening of social institutions to serve the people. He noted that the nation’s economy should be stimulated to empower citizens to earn a living. “Resilience and coping skills should be promoted to reduce the risk of suicide. Also medical treatment and counselling should be made readily available to discomforted individuals to resolve mental health challenges that usually make people think suicide is the best way out.”
For the clinical psychologist, Ogbolu decriminalization of suicide according to World Health Organisation’s recommendation will go a long way to help. His argument is that the fact that suicide is a crime in Nigeria and attracts one year imprisonment only worsens depression in victims. He condemned the act of being hostile to a child or anybody, saying they were seeing more depression among school children due to academic pressures. According to him, parents should caution schools on the way they pressure children in academic works in a bid to have good results as it affects their mental health even in adulthood. “More than 60 per cent of those who have mental disorders started from when they were young and in school,” Ogbolu said. “We have a lot of adolescent depression these days. Due to academic pressures in the past one year, we have been seeing children killing themselves.
“There is also need for massive public enlightenment because a lot of people around us are depressed without knowing they are depressed.”