Sunday Ani ([email protected])
On Sunday, July 28, a soldier and driver attached to the budget and planning department at the army headquarters in Abuja allegedly committed suicide. He was said to have hung himself from the ceiling fan in his apartment at Flat 2, Block F, Muhammadu Buhari Quarters, in Gowon Barracks.
The rationale behind his action was not specific but a note he left behind suggested he had issues with his wife before the incident. The note read: “What’s Rose problem with my work? Is this husband and wife? Ask Rose the problem she has with my work.”
On Sunday, July 14, a final-year student of Actuarial Science at the University of Benin, Edo State, jumped from the second floor of the school’s hostel and died.
Although the unidentified student did not leave any suicide note, there were speculations that he might have committed suicide because he was supposed to have graduated earlier but, due to some carryover courses, that did not happen.
As the university community was getting over the sad development, another student of the institution, Christabel Buoro, was found dead. Buoro, a 300-level student of Medical Laboratory Science, was discovered to have committed suicide, allegedly over a failed love affair.
Again, on Saturday, July 13, a patient at the Accident and Emergency (A & E) ward of the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH), stabbed himself to death with a broken glass louvre beside his bed, while awaiting doctors’ attention.
On June 17, a final-year student of the Department of Religion and Culture, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), 25-year-old Samuel Elias, also committed suicide by drinking Sniper pesticide. His mother, Kate Elias, a staff of the university, said she came back from work that fateful day to discover that her son’s mood was bad. “And he was staggering when he came to collect a bottle of coke from the fridge. I followed him immediately to his room and started talking to him, but he could not respond, and when I looked closely, I discovered that his teeth had tightened up,” she said.
The distraught mother continued: “As I looked around, I saw an empty Sniper bottle. At that point, I raised the alarm and my other children rushed to the room. We tried to give him red oil, but his tightened teeth did not allow the oil to enter his mouth.
We immediately rushed him to Faith Foundation Hospital, Nsukka. We were referred to Bishop Shanahan Hospital, Nsukka, and that was where he eventually died.”
On May 29, while residents of Borno State were celebrating the inauguration of their governor, Babagana Zulum, an official steward of outgoing Governor Kashim Shettima, John Achagwa, allegedly hanged himself from the limb of a Neem tree (dongoyaro) behind the Presidential Lodge, Government House, Maiduguri.
It was not clear why he took his life in such a manner, but his colleagues said he had maintained unusual quietness since he resumed work the previous day.
“He had not uttered a word to anybody since morning. He just kept to himself. We were together till about 2pm until he suddenly disappeared,” a colleague volunteered.
On May 17, a 400-level student of the Department of English and Literary Studies, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), Chukwuemeka Akachi, committed suicide.
He allegedly drank two bottles of Sniper in a lonely, uncompleted building along Sullivan Road, Nsukka, after which he became unconscious. His body was discovered by passersby, who rushed him to the UNN Federal Medical Centre, where he was declared dead.
One of his close friends who preferred anonymity said he posted a suicide note on his Facebook wall shortly before the incident.
The suicide note, according the friend, read: “Forgive me. In case you are the one who found the body, I am really sorry. It has to be someone you know. I have chosen Jo Nketaih’s poem as my suicide note – they said you came looking for me. I didn’t drown, I was the water. Where do atheists go when they die! Lol. Amen.”
He was also alleged to have posted on his Facebook on May 12: “My mental health has been on life support for a while now. Thanks to those who call, text, visit; speak to me. May we always remember; may we never forget. You may have added a few hours, months or days to my time here, but you know, life support is expensive, right. Thank you for trying, Amen.”
Recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a damning and frightening report, where it puts the yearly suicide estimate at approximately one million people; a figure that represents a global mortality rate of 16 people per 100,000 or one death every 40 seconds. The world health body equally predicted that, by 2020, the rate of suicide would increase to one every 20 seconds.
Suicide in Nigeria in recent times has assumed a frightening dimension, with overwhelming percentage of the cases traced to the use of Sniper. From north to south, east to west, fear pervades every nook and cranny of the country as the gale of suicide spreads like wildfire, particularly among young people. On a regular basis, there have been reports of secondary school leavers seeking admission to tertiary institutions, undergraduates with poor academic performance as well as jilted and heartbroken lovers travelling the suicidal route mainly by consuming two to three bottles of the now infamous Sniper.
In the last two months, many young Nigerians, including students and working class people, have attempted or actually committed suicide, mainly by drinking Sniper.
Worried by the ugly trend, and following last month’s death of Ayomikun Ademorayo, who innocently applied Sniper on her hair to combat lice, leading to her eventual death, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), responding to public outcry over the open sale and easy access to Sniper, banned the product from the open market, particularly the 100 millilitres pack. NAFDAC equally ordered the withdrawal of consignments already on sale, and a total ban from the month of September (next month).
Death is an inevitable end for all mortals, but when a person deliberately ends own life, it becomes as disturbing as it is incomprehensible because God, who created man, did not design that he ends his own life.
This has given a lot of Nigerians serious concern because, apart from the popular Guyana tragedy, where about 900 persons allegedly committed suicide on the advice of their leader, Jim Jones, people are believed to go for suicide when they are totally depressed and hopeless. Jim Jones, also known as “The Mad Messiah,” led a congregation called the Peoples Temple cult. He told his followers that there was nothing to live for anymore on earth and that they should commit suicide and go to heaven. They all killed themselves by drinking a poisonous substance. He also drank the substance and died.
A concerned Nigerian, Chidiebere Eze, attributed suicide to many factors. He said: “Spiritual factors are there, if you believe that, apart from our physical body, we are also spirit beings. Most people who commit suicide are constantly persuaded by an imaginary voice within them to end it all. Some people who have had the courage to confide in some people about these strange voices have managed to survive, but those who tried to bear the torments silently have always taken to suicide.
“Suicide can also take the form of extreme egotism and selfishness. People who cannot accept defeat or those that cannot bear the thought of other people being better than them, as well as those that are hungry for public adulation and adoration are too prone to suicide.”
Psychology of victims
A consultant psychologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, Dr. Leonard Okonkwo, said there are many factors responsible for suicide but depression is the major cause.
He explained that man is naturally driven by a principle that makes him to seek pleasure and avoid pain. So, when man begins to seek the opposite, like seeking death, then it becomes abnormal. And that is to say that suicide is not an accident but a deliberate act by an individual to terminate own life, which runs contrary to what man is driven by; that is the love of pleasure and avoidance of pain. So, it is abnormal.
So, why do people commit suicide? He answered: “The most characteristic feature that you find in suicide is a sense of hopelessness and an intense psychological pain that one experiences and he feels that the only way out of that pain is death. He kills himself because he sees it as the only option out of the psychological pains he has found himself in. That is why many people commit suicide.”
To situate his points, he said: “According to a renowned psychiatrist, Carl Meninger, there are three dimensions to suicide. There is a sense of hate or vengeance, where there is a desire to kill. There is a sense of depression and hopelessness, where there is a desire to die; and there is also a sense of guilt, which is a desire to be killed. So, it is an interrelationship among the three dimensions that eventually leads up to suicide.”
Sounding technical, he continued: “When you are feeling a sense of guilt, it means, for instance, that you are blaming yourself for not doing what you are supposed to do, which is why certain things have happened the wrong way. And, because you have failed to do what you were supposed to do and certain things have happened the wrong way, you are regretting your action; and that personal guilt would culminate in vengeance towards self for being the cause of a particular situation. Then, there could be anger to kill, which is done towards oneself. So, in a nutshell, suicide involves a desire to kill, a desire to die and a desire to be killed. The three are interwoven in the person, leading to suicide.”
He also distinguished between a suicide and deliberate self-harm, which, according to him, could lead to suicide: “There is a difference between suicide and deliberate self-harm. In suicide, the three dimensions are there, but in deliberate self-harm, the person involved does not really want to die, he only wants to draw attention to himself. So, he deliberately harms himself to draw attention. There may be suicide note and all that, but the real intent is not to kill self but to draw attention to oneself. However, deliberate self-harm becomes suicide when it is overdone. Not all suicides are actually meant to kill; some of them are deliberate self-harm that got out of hand.”
Although he believes depression is the major cause of suicide, mental illnesses also comes into play. “Mental illness is also a form of depression, but there are other mental illnesses that are not part of depression, which are also powerful causes of suicide.”
He explained that depression could also come in the form of physical pain experienced as a result of protracted illness. For instance, someone who is experiencing physical pain as a result of illness may feel tired of the illness and want to commit suicide. He may desire euthanasia (mercy killing) but, where nobody is ready to offer that assistance, he just takes overdose of drugs and kills himself.
“People can also commit suicide when they have failed relationships, which is also a case of depression resulting in hopelessness. When people are isolated or ostracised in a community, they also tend to commit suicide. And society would say the gods have killed the person, but the fact is that it was the isolation or ostracism that led to depression and, consequently, hopelessness, which made the person to feel that the only way out was suicide,” he said.
Throwing more light on depression, he said: “Before one commits suicide, there must be a sense of psychological pain and hopelessness, which are the major elements of severe depression. Most people who commit suicide are suffering from depression, but depression is not the only reason people commit suicide. We also know that people may be motivated as a result of mental illness, which is also a kind of depression. But, there are mental illnesses that are not depression. For instance, when a person is hearing a voice like in the case of schizophrenia, it is not the same as depression. because one of the major things you find in schizophrenia is not being in touch with reality. The person is hearing a voice, saying, “Kill yourself, kill yourself,” which usually is a command, and he obeys the voice and kills himself. It is a mental illness and the end result is suicide. The person commits suicide not necessarily because he is depressed but because he is responding to a voice telling him to kill himself. So, looking at all these, you find that mental illness, a sense of hopelessness or helplessness and a feeling that the only way out is death combine for suicide to happen.”
Some suicides may also be politically motivated. On the political suicide, he said: “When you want to protest a government policy for instance, you could kill yourself to register your displeasure towards the policy. Some people who indulge in hunger strike could actually die as a result of it. Some other people actually kill themselves to draw attention. Even some of the Boko Haram suicide bombers are all part of political suicide.”
He equally cited religion as a strong factor that could lead to suicide. Using the Guyana tragedy and Boko Haram Islamist sect as examples, he said: “Religion is another reason people commit suicide, especially when they are given command by their leaders to do so. For instance, the Guyana tragedy, which happened when Jim Jones led his congregation of about 900 people to commit suicide, is a good example of religious suicide. He told them that they would go to heaven when they died as the world was not worthy for them to live in. It is the same thing with the Boko Haram suicide bombers. They are also brainwashed to believe that they would go to heaven, where they would be married to virgins if they killed themselves fighting religious war.”
Okonkwo also stated that suicide has a link with genes, when he said: “It is also known that suicide may be more common in some tribes or there may be some biological link. But, that link may also be associated with mental illness because mental illness also has biological or genetic link. People who are prone to depression, and as a result have committed suicide in the past may have passed the same trait down to the next generation. In other words, if somebody has committed suicide in a particular family due to depression, there is every tendency that a descendant of that family in future could suffer depression and commit suicide. So, it seems to have little genetic implication just as it is in mental illness.”
He also looked at the role of urbanisation in suicide. He believes that the western lifestyle occasioned by urbanisation has broken down the traditional social support of large families, especially in Africa, thereby leaving the frustrated with no choice but suicide, especially when the individual concerned does not want to go into crime.
Explaining further, he said: “Urbanisation increases the level of breakdown of family structures of social support. The structures are no longer there. When one is passing through a lot of frustrations, such as joblessness, hunger, and lack of money to buy drugs or even rent an accommodation, among others, and there is nobody to help out, it could lead to depression and then hopelessness, which paves the way for suicide. So, it is a whole lot of issues that are responsible for suicide in our society today.”
For the consultant psychologist, understanding the progression of suicide is the very first important step in tackling it. He believes that something can be done at the early stage of the progression to arrest the ugly development.
Looking at the progression of suicide, he said: “Suicide is a progression starting from the suicidal ideation or suicidal thought, where one develops the feeling of being trapped. There are people who are passing through some forms of pain, physical, emotional or psychological pains, and they are trapped in that pain. That is where it normally starts.”
He argued that the progression is in three stages. “Sometimes, the pain gets to the point of hopelessness. It also gets to a point where you can still feel the pain and be optimistic that it will stop. But, the first stage arrives when you feel trapped in that pain and feel hopeless about it.
“The second stage is when your feeling of entrapment and hopelessness about the pain has any attachment to this world. For instance, some people feel trapped but they don’t want to leave their children or their wealth. If there is a form of attachment to anything in this world, that can modulate the severity of the ideation that they feel.
“Then, the third stage is genetic. Some people will have high threshold for pain, while others have low threshold for pains. Those who have high threshold are more prone to taking their lives than those who don’t want to inflict additional pain of taking their lives. It also has to do with the availability of tools for committing the act. One of the factors responsible for the recent high spate of suicide is knowledge and availability of the chemicals that are used. For instance, you find out that people use Sniper because it is everywhere. So, hanging or stabbing or shooting oneself is no longer fashionable because of the additional pain; people just drink Sniper, which has less pain. Again, the availability of the instrument of suicide is very important; how many people have access to guns? Even those that have access to ropes think of the pains of hanging themselves, but for chemicals like Sniper that you can buy anywhere, it makes the act easier.”
On what should be done to stem the dangerous tide, he said: “We first have to recognise people that are prone to committing suicide. People that have ideation have a way of communicating with people that they are fed up with life and they want to end it and all that. They say it in different ways. One way of stemming the tide is to recognise the suicide-prone people and offer them some hope and support.
“Secondly, remember that suicide is also about the way people see things. People start to see things in a different way when their perception and emotions change. People are not disturbed by the things that happen but by their views of those things. So, when people’s attraction to things change, the consequence or the effect on them changes. Therefore, offering people hope concerning the kind of things they experience is another solution.
“Another important step is to ensure that something is done about the availability of these chemicals that are readily available everywhere. We talked about tramadol and government is doing something to mop it up from the market; what is being done about Sniper? Something has to be done to control the availability of Sniper.
“Again, the importance of social and family support cannot be wished away. Many suicide-prone people rescind their decision when they remember that they have a reason to stay in this world, like the attachment to family members. It usually reduces the intensity of the ideation they have.
“Finally, they must also seek professional help. Once a person is identified to have such problems, he/she must seek professional medical help. Don’t just keep the person but ensure that he/she has access to a mental health worker.”