In September 2016, Saturday PUNCH reported the onset of ’harvest of suicides’ in Nigeria, citing experts’ view on the psycho-social and economic downturn which have prepared the ground for such likelihood. In the sequel, KUNLE FALAYI writes on the World’s Happiness list and what it means for Nigeria
On Monday, March 20, 2017, as the world celebrated the International Day of Happiness, death, depression and economic hardship dominated social media discussions in Nigeria.
Many Nigerians were jolted awake by the apparent suicide of 35-year-old doctor, Allwell Orji, who was said to have stopped his car on the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos and jumped into the lagoon.
As search for his body continued in the lagoon, discussions on depression, its causes and results intensified, bringing to the fore a topic that has received little concern over the years.
The following tweets are just few of the thousands which joined the conversation in the wake of the Orji’s suicide action:
“There’s serious depression in Nigeria, two days ago, it was Third Mainland Bridge, now it’s Mile 2. Please! Be on the watch for close ones.” – Iwuagwu Kelechi.
“Wow. The man who committed suicide on Third Mainland Bridge today was a medical doctor. Nigeria needs to pay more attention to depression.” – Isima Odeh.
“Depression is very real in Nigeria. ‘It is well’ does not make it go away. People are drowning in their own thoughts of power/helplessness.” – Olu Yomi Ososanya.
“We are finally waking up to the reality that depression is rising in Nigeria. It’s better for us.” – Oma Akatugba
Just two years ago, in 2015, Nigeria was 78th happiest nation on the World Happiness Report. It was 4th in Africa but plummeted fast after that.
On Monday, as if reaffirming the atmosphere of depression, which Nigerians were talking about, the United Nations released its World Happiness Report for 2017, putting the country at number 95 behind African countries like Somalia (no. 93), Morocco (no. 84), Libya (no. 68), Mauritius (no. 64) and Algeria (no. 53).
Atmosphere of gloom
Despite the gloomy statistics over the general wellbeing of the citizens, Nigeria stands as the 26th largest economy in the world with a GDP of $415bn, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Yet, Forbes describes Nigeria as “the best of the worst”, ranking the country 20th out of the 20 saddest countries in the world.
To the outside world, all these are mere numbers. But to Nigerians, the reality presents itself in the rate of suicides, murders, violent attacks, kidnappings and general atmosphere of gloom.
On the streets, the situation is felt in more immediate terms like increasing rates of road rages, street fights and petty thefts.
All these are symptomatic of a failure of system, lack of psycho-social support system and economic stress, Consultant psychologist, Prof. Olanrewaju Adebayo, said.
The don said that as the ability of people to cope with these various “stressors” reduces, the negative reactions mentioned above become a reality.
In Nigeria, many socio-economic problems drive people to the edge.
On Monday, as Dr. Orji was jumping into the lagoon in an apparent suicide on the Third Mainland Bridge, another victim, a woman, identified as Emerald, was doing the same at another end of the lagoon in Maza-maza, several kilometres away.
Fortunately, the middle-aged woman, who was said to have climbed the rails of the Maza-maza bridge and made her jump, was spotted by passers-by, who immediately rescued her before she could drown.
Again, on Friday, news broke that another woman, Taiwo Momoh, had been rescued on the Third Mainland Bridge as she attempted to jump into the lagoon in a suicide attempt.
On Tuesday, during the search for the body of Dr. Orji, the marine command of the Nigeria Police found another body, which was initially mistaken for the body of the doctor.
Some said this could be another victim of suicide or one of the country’s senseless killings, even though the police said identification had not been made while cause of death is yet unknown.
The day before Dr. Orji’s suicide, a final year student of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Adesoji Adediran, hanged himself in his room.
Again, like most of the suicide cases reported in recent times, no one noticed he was suicidal. His roommates who were out studying overnight only returned the following morning to find his body dangling from the roof.
Exactly one month before the suicide of Dr. Orji, a young man climbed the Jakande pedestrian bridge in Lekki, Lagos, threatening to jump to his death.
For hours, residents and police pleaded with him before he was successfully talked down. It is unclear what happened to him thereafter.
These cases have re-focused attention on the issue of depression in Nigeria over the last few days.
In Nigeria, there is not accurate data on suicide as stakeholders believe that due to the stigma that comes with suicide, many families never report it.
Unfortunately, there is little or no coordinated support for depression victims in Nigeria.
To address this issue, a Lagos-based documentary photographer, Oladimeji Coker, recently started a project that would help offer help offer a microcosm of communal support for depression victims.
On his website, he called for volunteers who could offer any form of support, be it in treatment or social support.
Coker explained that through his interaction with a medical professor, he learnt that the loss of the social support offered by culture may lead to depression
He said, “The most important part of the African culture is the communal relationship. In the traditional Yoruba communities, one might be a stranger in a community but everybody would still try to offer their support to such person. That alone would have been away to fight depression in those days.
“I realised that a lot of people battling depression in Nigeria have been doing it on their own for too long. It may not work. Sadly if victims of depression are left to fight the battle on their own, we would continue to have more suicide. What this project is doing is to bring a community approach into the issue.”
Coker also explained that one of the problem the Nigerian government must address is the high cost of psychiatric treatments.
In a similar step, few days ago, the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, initiated the Suicide Prevention Service Centre. The Coordinator of the centre, Dr. Raphael Ogbolu, said it has now become necessary to start the service immediate in the light of the increasing number of suicides in the country.
But Professor Olatunji Aina of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Lagos, said Nigerians must be mindful of the fact that depression is not the only cause of suicide.
According to him, suicide could be triggered by social and economic problems or even substance abuse.
Aina said, “But depression as we know it in the medical field is still the major cause of suicide even though it is not the only cause.
“Depression is one of the major psychiatric problems all over the world not just in Nigeria. In fact, it is one of the leading causes of morbidity.
“Because it is not scientifically documented in Nigeria does not mean it is not a major problem here already. From the time ab initio, there has been a problem describing what depression is.
“Virtually all the local languages in Africa do not have specific words for depression.”
According to the don, the lack of an ethnic distinction of depression is a major reason why the problem has never been taken seriously in this part of the world.
“Under-recognition of the problem is one of the reasons depression is a major issue in health care. When someone with depression comes to the hospital, sometimes, they don’t present the symptoms we see among whites. They present bodily symptoms that mask the actual symptoms of depression. It can only take an experienced doctor to make a right diagnosis,” he said.
For Aina, suicide itself is not being treated like a problem that requires psycho-social support in the country.
He refers to the fact that Nigeria still treats attempted suicide as a criminal matter rather than a problem that requires a psychiatric help.
A country in ‘unofficial depression’
Beyond the medical understanding of depression, a sociologist, Dr. Jibril Adeniyi, explained that the increasing rates of social malaise in the country is enough to put the country in an “unofficial depression”.
According to him, it does not matter what the GDP says if the quality of life of a larger percentage of the people does not reflect the total monetary value of goods and services produced in the country.
To him, signs of the times like suicides, increasing murder cases, killings for ritual, violence/killings in family circles, sale of children, street violence, are to him enough reason to say Nigeria is in an “unofficial depression.” According to him, all these problems have a direct link to the economic downturn in the country.
Adeniyi said, “When there is economic downturn, systems fail and people become more concerned about self than others.
“This in turn has impacts on the lives of people who need psycho-social support. Then, suicide increases, people steal more and rob others. Families that cannot cope treat their children like animals and sometimes kill them out of anger. Husbands kill wives and vice versa.
“The social problems only need to be peeled back beyond the surface, and you would realise how they funnel down to the issue of economic hardship.
“Even though economists may not agree that Nigeria is in a depression yet, how bad do things have to be before we know we have gone beyond recession?”
Negative behaviour in an ‘unhappy nation’
Since the publication of the first WHR in 2012, the UN said it has become evident that “happiness is less evident in Africa than in any other region of the world.”
In Nigeria, experts say the “unhappiness” is what manifests in negative behaviour such as murders, violence and socially repulsive actions.
In December, a housewife in Ikorodu area of Lagos, Christiana Odo, shocked her neighbours when she stabbed her husband, Rominus, to death for failing to provide money for the family during the Christmas celebration.
In February, it was the other way round, a mother of three, Sherifat Bello, was killed and dismembered by her 36-year-old husband, Sakiru, in Lagos.
Two weeks ago, a barman, Precious Victor, stabbed his employer while trying to extort N63,000 from his boss, Kayode Oso, an Information and Communications Technology consultant in Ikeja, Lagos.
Few months ago, a 63-year-old man, Korede Odubela, was arrested in Ogun State for killing his 16-year-old step-daughter, Amudat Oshimodi, and selling her head to his son, Seun, a herbalist, who allegedly paid N3,000 as first instalment.
Just a week ago, a Muslim cleric, Kazeem Alimson, was arrested at the White Sand area of Isheri-Oshun, Ejigbo, Lagos, for killing a three-year-old boy, Chiagozie Okereke.
After he was arrested, he made the shocking confession that he paid a teenager N500 to lure the toddler and killed the child with a heavy stone.
But some actions that have repulsed Nigerians in recent times are not only about deaths.
In December, a 25-year-old woman, Ali Odinaka, was arrested by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, in Ebonyi State for allegedly trying to sell her three children.
Odinaka, who hails from Ezilo, in Ishielu Local Government of Area of the state was reportedly arrested by the police after a tip-off from a waitress whom she had contacted to look for a trafficker who could buy her children.
Just a week ago, a 50-year-old grandmother, Rita Eze, who was a member of an inter-state child-snatching syndicate, was arrested.
She confessed that she abducted a three-year-old girl from Lagos and sold her in Anambra State so that she could use the proceeds to pay her rent.
All these have roots in the “darkness” of the present time, says, psychologist, Abbey Shobayo.
“At moments like this, it is not strange to have people shooting above their frustration limit by even taking to acts of violence. Without addressing the social factors responsible, it will be tough getting to the root of the rising cases of murders we have seen,” he said.
Apart from these violent and negative actions mentioned earlier, the “unhappiness” in the land manifests in more subtle ways. On the streets of Lagos for instance, road rages seem to be on the rise.
For instance, Mr. Victor Ajayi, an accountant with a Lagos State Government agency, shared his experience with a motorist.
He said, “Five days ago, I was about to make the turn from Agidingbi Road to Obafemi Awolowo Way towards Ikeja, when I overtook a car that was too slow for me.
“The young man in the vehicle sped till he caught up and blocked me. I was initially afraid that he was a robber but I realised he was angry because I overtook him.
“Before I could explain that I had a right to overtake so far as I did not do it dangerously, he did not listen. He kept screaming that he would slap me.
“I was so confused. I realised it was as if he was frustrated and just needed someone on whom to let loose. I quickly stopped arguing with him and simply kept quiet. He left and drove away when he realised I did not take him up. I have noticed this has become common in Lagos now. Tempers flare on the road at the slightest provocation.”
According to the Lagos Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Mr. Hyginus Omeje, managing road rages requires taking into cognisance that it is a psychological issue.
He said, “There is no special provision in managing the issues of road rage. What applies under normal enforcement is that a lot of psychology is needed in dealing with such person.
“If you speak with such person, he can even start removing his clothes or become physical when you try to impound his vehicle. Issuing a ticket would not even solve the problem. Dealing with people who exhibit road rage requires a lot of care.”
Do you know anyone who is exhibiting suicidal tendencies or showing signs of depression? Save a life today, call the Suicide Hotlines: +2348062106493, or +2348092106493