Some Nigerians who cannot cope with life without jobs, without affection and dignity end it all by committing suicide
Pale and confused, Mary Odo, a primary school dropout working as a housemaid in Lagos, gazed absentmindedly at the lagoon below the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos. As she stared, so many thoughts went through her mind. Suddenly, she sighed and into the lagoon she plunged. But as fate would have it, some fishermen in the area immediately rescued her. That was about 7pm on Monday, June 4, this year.
Odo would have succeeded in taking her life, something she had planned to do to end her misery as a rejected lover. Her story: “I was having a relationship with one Thomas Ogah who hails from my area in Benue State. We dated for over a year, now he is leaving me for another woman because he said I am an illiterate. The woman in question is even pregnant for him. I wanted to go back to school, but no one is ready to help me. So I decided to end my life.”
Surely, divine providence saved Odo from drowning. Perhaps the same divine providence has been keeping Emmanuel John, a landlord in Makoko, Yaba Local Government, LG, Lagos, from also drowning. The area where he built his only house, a ramshackle stilted structure, has been declared a disaster zone since 2011 by the Lagos State government. Last week, another flood ravaged the area and destroyed substantial part of his property, yet he refused to relocate. “I don’t have anywhere to relocate to. I don’t even have much money to pay for another accommodation. I will rather stay here and keep hoping that whenever the flood comes, we will salvage whatever we can lay our hands on and later move on with our lives,” he said. Not a few of his relatives had warned him that he is attempting suicide, and may not be able to cheat death next time.
If John has been able to cheat death so far, the same could not be said of Ayodeji Balogun and Yao Donou, who recently lost their lives, not to flood, but by their own design. Balogun, a 27-year-old final year student of the National Open University, NOUN, Lagos, committed suicide by hanging himself on a mango tree, two days after he was allegedly caught cheating while writing one of his final year papers. Before Balogun killed himself, he posted on his Facebook wall, denouncing his culpability in the said cheating, and saying: “What they said about me is not true in school, but God knows better. Thanks, we see at the end. I luv (love) u all.” Although he was not accused of examination malpractice, Donou, a Togolese living in Lagos, also killed himself that same week after he was punished for allegedly raping a five-year-old girl in his neighbourhood, at Ipaja, Lagos. Donou hanged himself with a rope in a room, shortly after openly denying the offence.
The recourse to suicide is gradually gaining grounds among youths, especially secondary school students, undergraduates of higher institutions of learning as well as jobless graduates. The case of Onyebuchi Okonkwo, a 300-level Physics and Astronomy student of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, also leaves a sour taste in the mouth. He was found dangling on an electric cable tied to the roof of an uncompleted building in the institution’s hockey pitch on May 31, 2012. A kitchen knife was found under his dangling feet. What made his case so pathetic was that Okonkwo, a class representative, was on scholarship from MTN, Shell, as well as his community in Oraukwu town, Idemili LG, Anambra State. While the circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear, what is however certain is the fact that Okonkwo’s death, like that of his namesake in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, is a tragic loss to his community in particular and to the nation at large.
Another tragic loss to his family and to the country is the death of Muili Awolumate, a 27-year-old graduate of Osun State Polytechnic, Iree, who allegedly committed suicide on May 19, 2011. His corpse was discovered hanging on a tree with his belt while underneath the tree was a knife and a wire cord. Although Awolumate graduated three years ago, he could not find a job, which reportedly left him desolate. While his death is currently being investigated, his was the third reported case of suicide in the state within one year. One of the cases was that of a junior secondary school pupil who hanged himself shortly after leaving home on an errand to purchase bread.
Just as the young and promising are reported to be committing suicide, so also are professionals and highly connected personalities. The case of Olubunmi Olademo, a politician, businessman and husband to a professor at the University of Ilorin, Kwara State, readily comes to mind. Sometime in March this year, Olademo’s lifeless body was found hanging at the family’s uncompleted building in Ilorin, leaving those who knew him in shock and bewilderment. In a suicide note he reportedly left behind, he blamed his action on his wife’s alleged refusal to grant his request for money. Also in June this year, Mauro Zanin, a 52-year-old Italian, was reported to have committed suicide while in the custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. He was arrested for allegedly obtaining the sum of $111,000 from a company in Nigeria. The Italian who was scheduled to appear in court two days before he committed suicide used his bed sheet as weapon.
Another high profile suicide that rocked the nation earlier in the year was that of Oluwole Olumide, a 70-year-old Egba high chief and chairman, Abeokuta Golf Resort, in Ogun State. His body was found on Friday, March 16, inside an artificial lake constructed at the resort in Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta, Ogun State. While some associates attribute his death to suicide, others argue that there may be more to it than meets the eye.
Diano Ovie, an undergraduate residing in Warri, Delta State, was a gifted comedian, and so his friends thought his comment about death was just one of his numerous jokes. Thus when on Sunday, December 25, 2011 they learnt that Ovie had committed suicide, his friends were lost for words. “We thought it was one of his crazy jokes, he was always complaining about the incessant armed robberies in Warri and how it would be okay if one just ends it all. Most times, he would joke about the world suddenly coming to an end, and we would all laugh, enjoying his comedy. But now, we realised that something deep was eating [him up], and we had no inkling until he killed himself,” explained one of his friends.
The deceased even introduced some comic dimension to his tragic end. In his suicide note, he described his death as a Christmas gift for his friends and family. If Ovie’s friends took lightly his forewarning of suicide, not so for Pius Adejoh, lecturer in the Department of Sociology, University of Lagos. Adejoh, who for many years had been interacting with students and privy to their challenges, says he would not hesitate to react promptly if any of his students call or approach him with information that suggests that they want to end it all. “I keep having calls from two or three of my students complaining that they cannot go on with living. Some of them will just call to say, ‘Sir, I am fed up, I want to end it here.’ Some will just break down in tears, saying life is too cruel to them, and they cannot see any silver lining in the horizon, so what I do is to invite them over, and start counselling them. There are about two that I am seriously worried about, and I am on their matter,” he explained.
The rising tide of suicide is becoming a worrisome occurrence. The World Health Organisation, WHO, estimates that each year, approximately one million people commit suicide, which represents a global mortality rate of 16 people per 100,000 or one suicide every 40 seconds. It is predicted that by 2020, the rate of death by suicide will increase to one person every 20 seconds. According to the WHO report released last year, in the last 45 years, suicide rates have increased by 60 per cent worldwide. Says the report: “Suicide is now among the three leading causes of death among those aged 15 to 44 (male and female).” In addition, it says “although suicide rates among young people have been increasing to such an extent that they are now the group at the highest risk in a third of all countries,” there are indications that so many cases may have gone unreported.
Frank Mba, deputy police public relations officer, DPPRO, Force Headquarters, Abuja, said that it would be difficult to actually quantify if there is an increase in suicide cases, because it is not all cases that are reported. The magazine’s efforts to get current statistics in respect of suicide cases in Nigeria proved abortive. But the police made available 2007 and 2008 figures on suicide, which they classified as one of the “Offences Against Persons” under sections 326 and 327 of the Criminal Code. The statistics which covered all the states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and special police units at the railway stations, sea and airports, indicate that the country recorded more cases of suicide in 2007 than in 2008. While there were 154 reported cases in 2007, the figure dropped to 141 in 2008. But Lagos State recorded the highest figure of 42 cases or almost 30 per cent of all cases in 2008, followed by Oyo, 13; Anambra, 12; and Bauchi, 12. In the previous year, however, Bauchi topped the list with 25 cases followed by Edo, Kano and Anambra with 12 cases each. Some states such as Lagos, Abia, Oyo and Rivers recorded increases in suicide cases between 2007 and 2008 (See table). The rise in Lagos is particularly phenomenal as the figure rose from three in 2007 to 42 in 2008, about 1,300 per cent rise.
Mba attributed the paucity of figures to the African culture which frowns at suicide and considers it an abomination which people do not like reporting. The Criminal Code covers the issue of “Aiding Suicide” in Section 326 as follows: “Any person who procures another to kill himself or counsels another to kill himself and thereby induces him to do so or aids another in killing himself is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for life.” In Section 327, the Criminal Code covers the issue of attempted suicide when it provides as follows: “Any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for one year.”
Innocent Chukwuma, executive director, Centre for Law Enforcement Education, CLEEN, Foundation, agrees with Mba. He noted that suicide cases are among the few cases that are shrouded in secrecy, because of the stigma associated with it. In his view, he admitted that it appears suicide is on the increase due to regular reports on it, and that suicide is not just happening but that it is underreported. The implication “is that the police do not get to hear about it, and in the few cases they do, nothing much could be done for the victim. So families would rather want to keep such occurrence under wrap and move on,” he stressed.
Richard Adebayo, a consultant at the Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos State, agrees that suicide is a mental condition whereby an individual wilfully ends his or her life, and that there appears to be an increase in such cases, although many of such are unreported due to the stigma associated with the dastardly act. He also explained that suicide cases cut across age, sex, tribe and status. Just as there are reported cases of young boys and girls committing suicide, so also are there cases of elderly ones committing suicide due to one socio-economic problem or another. Adebayo is of the view that “depression is one of the commonest causes of suicide or attempted suicide and there are so many factors that can lead one to depression. A young graduate out of job for years can be depressed, a lady undergoing emotional trauma, or even a man can be depressed. A businessman having difficulty in his financial dealings can be depressed, so also a patient undergoing a terminal illness can also feel so desolate, unhappy and withdrawn. When all of these troubles weigh heavily on the mind, there are those who cannot absorb its enormity, and they just snap and accept suicide as the best option.”
Take for example the case of Tobiloba Ajihun, who resided at Ajuwon, Ogun State. She was reported to have killed herself after her boyfriend of many years rejected the pregnancy she was carrying. Not willing to go through the shame of raising a baby alone, she drank rat poison and died. She however left a note, which read: “Please, I killed myself by taking rat poison because he rejected my pregnancy. I was sincere to him and I never double-dated. So, I decided to take my life and my God will revenge because I did not forgive him.”
Aside from depression caused by emotional trauma, the poor economic status of an individual may also predispose such a person to want to end it all. Adeoye Oyewole, a consultant psychiatrist at Ladoke Akintola University Teaching Hospital, Osogbo, Osun State, supports that. In a published report credited to him, he admitted that the poor socio-economic situation in the country could be responsible for the development. “There is an increase in depressive illnesses. People who earn salaries can’t make ends meet, let alone unemployed graduates; there are those who had graduated for years and could not find a decent job, yet family pressure would expect such a person to carry out certain responsibilities. When such individual is pushed to the wall, he snaps and sometimes the result is suicide,” Oyewole said.
Adejoh puts the situation more succinctly: “There is disintegration in the society now. The increase in suicide cases is a pointer to the fact that the society is getting more complex, more heterogeneous, so much that communal life that makes us our brother’s keeper is no longer there. People are now left on their own to fend for themselves, to face life’s difficulties without anyone to give solace. So when people bottle their problems for so long without seeing a way out, they opt for a way out, and that is when suicide comes in.”
The lecturer also condemned those in leadership positions, arguing that they have become less caring, less concerned about the masses and their survival. “There is frustration arising from the harsh economy, there is anguish in the land, there is pain caused by sickness, widespread joblessness of people who had managed to go to school, and poor remuneration, and amidst such depravity, those at the helms of affairs display affluence and keep corruptly enriching themselves. When those who cannot bear such affront snap, they seek out the suicide option,” he said.
Both Oyewole and Adebayo through their years of experience as psychiatrists have seen several cases of people undergoing clinical examination due to suicidal tendencies displayed. According to Adebayo, “When someone has successfully committed suicide, there is nothing much one can do. But in the circumstances of an attempted suicide, such a person is brought in for psychiatric examination. We see people who have been stigmatised because of disease, family shame, ill-health, drug addiction and many more, having suicidal tendencies. Some may be saved, while some may just let go.”
Asked which gender is more prone to suicide, Adebayo said both men and women commit suicide, but the way they go about it differs. “For the men, they opt for the hard way out, either by shooting themselves with gun, hanging themselves or even drowning, while female suicides sometimes opt for drug overdose, slashing of wrist or just ingesting harmful substances that can quicken death,” he said.
Regardless of the options adopted, suicide is seen as a bad omen and not a few cultures frown on it. The Igbos especially consider suicide as an abomination and a sin against the land, so much so that the corpse of anyone who commits suicide will be rejected and the family ostracised. In the same vein, the Yoruba culture frowns at suicide and requires that a spiritual cleansing exercise be carried out whenever someone commits suicide in a community. Adetokunbo Mumuni, executive director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, says even from the Islamic perspective, it is wrong for anyone to take his own life. He said the Islamic perspective is that since the life of a human being belongs to Allah, nobody has a right to take any life including his own.
On his own part, Obed Otewe, senior pastor, Redeemed Christian Church of God, House of Prayer, Oke Aro, Ogun State, sees the rising tide of suicide as a sign of the end time and a testament that the country is indeed deeply affected by corruption, nepotism, crime and stealing. “What do you expect in a country where social challenges are high? What is happening is an indication of a collapsing system, as well as a proof that men’s spirituality is getting weaker. Generally, people are not keeping to the word of God, which says He will not forsake us no matter the circumstances. Not many are adhering to such promises, and those who don’t hope in the Lord fall along the way side,” he explained.
Mumuni believes that criminalising suicide or attempted suicide is not the solution to the rising trend. He is of the view that it is better to address the socio-economic issues and factors that would propel anyone to want to take his or her life. He therefore advised those who manage the country’s common wealth to be less self-serving and be more caring about the generality of Nigerians and concentrate on matters, issues and projects that could make life worth living for the people.
Additional reports by Tajudeen Suleiman