From Ighomuaye Lucky, Benin
When the Edo State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) raised the alarm last week over the alarming number of lunatics, destitute people, beggars and children roaming the streets in the state, particularly in Benin City, the state capital, it was merely confirming the obvious, as these categories of persons have swelled in number in recent times.
They appear with various behavioural patterns. Some are very calm and neat, while others are very erratic and dirty. They inundate the streets of Benin and and other major towns of the state. Some are obviously suffering from mental imbalance, which means they are variously referred to as mentally deranged, mad people or lunatics, while others are homeless people who find shelter in every available space, just as others roam the streets begging for alms.
At the Benin city centre, they are a common feature and have become a major source of concern to citizens who feel uncomfortable over their increasing numbers, which they say should be checked by relevant government agencies.
Speaking on the influx of these set of persons, Dr. Bright Oniovokukor, a resident, said some states transported them to other cities in a bid to get rid of them, noting that Edo State, perhaps, may have also had a fair share of these persons from other states.
He said in, the case of Benin City, though there are no referable statistic, it would be presumed that the increasing presence of lunatics, especially around the city centre, was a mix of persons from within and outside the city.
Specifically, he said many were stationed around the King’s Square, MDS building, along Oba Market Road, NUJ, and Mission Road, within and around the markets, among other places. He pointed out that the presence of lunatics and destitute does not give the city a good image.
X-raying the causes of the rise in their number, Dr. Oniovokukor said there was no specific cause, as there were multiple factors responsible for people behaving or exhibiting the crazy behaviour or appearance, adding that the role of anxiety disorders and depression could not be ruled out as many may have committed suicide but were tilted overboard thereby losing touch with reality.
Besides, he attributed the increasing number to lunatics and destitute to drug abuse and consumption of other psychoactive substances and suggested that, to reduce the number of mental cases and destitutes in the state, government, family and individuals should play significant roles in checkmating the activities of mentally deranged persons in the state.
“The government needs to work on social support system, where these person can be catered for with a confined setting till they get insight, become stable, rehabilitated for re-integration into the society.
“Individuals and organizations can also be involved in this to complement the role of government.
“Many of these persons termed or seen as lunatics would get better and stable, if adequate resources are made available to cater for them in our existing health institutions.
“It would just be a matter of mopping them off the street and subjecting them to treatment and they would get better with time,” Dr. Oniovokukor said.
However, Mr. Osazee Edigin, a rights activist, attributed the increasing number of lunatics and destitute to the previaling socio-economic situation in the country, saying, “Many Nigerians are depressed, oppressed and hopeless due to factors ranging from poor economy, insecurity, drug addiction, disorganisation of society and the insensitivity of government to citizens’ plight, leading to increasing number of persons with mental illness”.
In his view, government at all levels has a constitutional obligation to cater for the welfare of all citizens, especially those with mental disorder, just as he charged families and others saddled with the responsibility to do the needful, have a duty to rid the streets and towns of the mentally deranged and destitute.
“There are government agencies saddled with the responsibility of caring for lunatic persons and it is expected that they take up their responsibility.
“Some NGOs have been giving some support in mitigating against the societal menace occasioned by the presence of lunatic persons, however, there is little they can do as it is the primary responsibility of government to take care of citizens’ welfare.
“Government should see it as a deliberate policy in ensuring that such categories of citizens are provided free accommodation, feeding and medical care as they are unable to cater for themselves.
“Family members of such victims who have the wherewithal should take steps in taking proper custody and care of their relatives, instead of allowing them to constitute nuisance to society,” he said.
Acknowledging the increasing number of lunatics and destitute in the state, the permanent secretary of the Edo State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs. Dorcas Idehen, said the Ministry was doing its bit to check the situation.
Blaming the rising figure on other states who she alleged “transport and dump them in Edo State,” she said, “Immigration and the police should stop them at the borders. Most of them are brought from other states.”