We live in very dangerous times, aptly referred to by the Holy book as perilous times. Evils of different kinds dominate our social space. The atmosphere is populated by demons of inexplicable characteristics who have abandoned the jungle, relocating to human habitation, causing havoc and instilling grief in the hearts of men. Nigeria is gradually transforming into the biblical Sodom and its twin city, Gomorrah. Recall that these ancient cities were notoriously famed for unrivalled immorality, pervasion, and corruption.
In the same way, these same vices are gaining a strong foothold in our country even if a deluded polity will argue otherwise, pretending that all is well. The airwaves and sundry news channels inundate us with information that accelerates the pulses. Mainstream media, the promiscuous social media that accommodates everything, continually violate our inner peace with very depressing stories and suddenly, suicide has found its way in the mix.
As a scholar, I continue to interrogate and query why Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” committed suicide at the end of the novel. Didn’t he have a choice? Was suicide the best option for him in the circumstances? Agreed that he didn’t want to face humiliation and death in the hands of the irreverent white men after he murdered a fellow kinsman, was suicide the only option left for “one of the greatest men in Umuofia”?
In the same vein, Tonye, in J.P Clark’s “Song of Goat” commits suicide after his amorous relationship with the elder brother’s wife Ebiere becomes public knowledge. Tonye had taken over his brother, Zifa’s bed and impregnated his wife when the latter became impotent. Did Tonye have to commit suicide? Was it the only option left for him? Will the elder brother have killed him if he didn’t kill himself?
This week, I focus on suicide which has become a very disturbing trend in our country. Suicide is in the air. Every day, you read how a person has exited this life through suicide. The rate is quite alarming. Among all the anomalies that beset our country, insecurity, kidnapping, banditry, and prostitution, suicide stakes a claim and looms large in our social reality. I once wrote an essay titled “Nigeria: Echoes of suicide” published in this column.
Writing the essay then, I was minded to call the attention of the government to the increasing trend of suicide and also dissuade those who are headed in that direction. However, many months after writing that essay, the trend has only increased which warrants another essay on the issue but from a different perspective.
Never in the history of this country, not even during the civil war, have such feelings of despair, angst, and depression, hardship, and regret forced people into multiple, absurd behaviour. Indeed, Nigeria has never recorded so many instances of suicide as they have done in the last two years. Whatever that will make someone take his life is requires an inquest. From a hopeless economy which guarantees very poor business climate, unemployment, and high cost of living to personal life issues and emotional trauma, suicide stares us in the face in different categories.
These days, people mostly drink pesticides, or jump into a lagoon, or hang themselves or even jump from very high elevations. Most times, people embrace suicide because they can’t stand a shameful situation or face humiliation. Sometimes, people see no hope in life anymore and therefore decide to take their own lives. The trend is indeed disturbing. Unfortunately, the government, through its numerous agencies has not made any official statements about it or even demonstrated any form of awareness to the trend. How many more people will commit suicide before the government will react? Unfortunately, society has a very poor attitude towards those who attempt suicide or even commit it. People tend to deride victims of suicide and malign them. In fact, the government criminalizes attempting suicide and in some cultures, it is a taboo which requires propitiation and cleansing.
As I write this essay, many people are contemplating suicide quietly in their hearts. Regrettably, the society, in a conspiratorial mode, input religion as a remedy for those nursing suicide thoughts. It goes beyond such temporal approach. Suicide victims need help, they are apparently victims of mental challenge, therefore require counselling. When I say mental challenge, some people will immediately misconstrue it as madness or derangement. This is totally wrong. Those who contemplate suicide need urgent mental attention and this is where the roles of psychiatrics come in.
As a project director of a non-governmental organization, Help A Soul Alliance (HASA), I have come face to face with children who confided in me that they were contemplating suicide because their parents were very uncompromising and verbally abusive. During a series of seminars on suicide in selected Lagos secondary schools for students between13-18, many of them revealed that sometimes they toy with the idea of suicide because of poor results and constant punishment from their teachers. A girl said she was contemplating suicide because her foster father was sexually harassing her and she didn’t have anybody to confide in.
What is the way out of the current challenge posed by suicide in the country? What must we do to revert this trend? No one will be happy to see the child, wife, husband or relation commit suicide. It leaves a stigma on the family, and a dent on the personality of those left behind to mourn the victim. Some people have suggested that the government should ban the sale of insecticides as was done in Sri-Lanka since most of the cases of suicide were committed by drinking these lethal substances.
Other people have argued that banning such substances is short-term and cosmetic. The latter group is of the opinion that the government must show concern and go to the root of the matter to address the reasons why people commit suicide? The government, both at the federal and state level cannot continue to pretend that suicide does pose any challenge in the country. Something must be done. Social groups, churches, mosques, corporate organizations must be involved in the fight against suicide.
If the trend is left unchecked, the geography of victims can extend to those who think they are protected in their comfort zones. Records have shown that both the highly placed in the society and the lowly placed, the educated and the not-too-educated, lawyers, bankers, engineers, pastors, lecturers, doctors, undergraduates, graduate job seekers, businessmen, and businesswomen have all either committed suicide or attempted to do so.
While moral suasion and counselling are recommended approaches to curb the trend, the government must be involved in a bigger capacity by taking mental health seriously. People are hanging by the thread of their lives and because we are not all equally gifted to withstand hardship, they take the easy way out. It is a heavy burden on us all but the government of the day must pay attention to the growing trend of suicide in the country.
Dr. Adiele writes from Lagos via [email protected]