THE pathetic suicide of a young medical doctor, Allwell Orji, on March 19, and other similar successful and attempted suicides in recent times, have left many Nigerians wondering about the seeming rising wave of suicides in the country. Dr.Orji,35,a physician working in a popular Lagos hospital, stopped his car on the Third Mainland Bridge,and dived,head-first,in to the Lagos lagoon. On the same day, a middle-aged lady climbed the rails of the Maza Maza Bridge along the Lagos/Badagry Expressway and dived into the lagoon. Fortunately,alert fisher men in the area brought her out alive. Dr. Orji’s body was recovered three days after he took the plunge.
Two days later, another lady attempted to kill herself by also jumping into the Lagos la- goon. On March 18, a day before Dr. Orji’s sui- cide, a fifth year student of a federal university reportedly hanged himself in his hostel room. In January, a 19-year old second year student of a private university also reportedly took his own life.
These are the sensational cases that were re- ported in the media. Many other cases go un- reported. While Dr. Orji’s case seems health- related, since he is said to have sickle-cell that has been difficult to manage, others seem to have been victims of the economic downturn. One of the women complained about how she was unable to face the world any longer with a debt of N300,000, which she had no idea of how to pay.
She is probably unaware that so many Nigerian families are equally financially challenged. That the Nigerian economy is in recession is not theoretical, many citizens are finding it difficult to eat even two meals a day. Many are living from hand to mouth. Poverty is writ large on people. The middle class has drifted downwards to join the poor. With the cost of living rising so high, often through artificial price manipulation, even local agricultural products are priced beyond the reach of ordinary citizens on the specious excuse that the price of the Naira has fallen in the foreign exchange market. There is a sharp rise in the price of virtually all products.
Even more observable and frustrating to many is that the recession is not affecting all citizens. Nigeria is a country of contrasts, with some people, especially the politicians, living in unspeakable opulence, while the vast ma- jority of other citizens live below the poverty line. The millions of our citizens in this cat- egory live a sub-human existence in shanties with no potable water or electricity, and very little food. Worse still, they have next to zero prospects of a change in their desperate con- dition. Nigeria is a good example of unmiti- gated social inequality with a strong potential for social upheaval.
Two years ago, a professor of psychiatry, Joseph Adeyemi, discovered that annually, 800,000 Nigerians suffer from depression that is so severe that they could attempt to kill themselves. This is where the government must step in by providing outlets where citi- zens suffering from depression can get some help, even if it’s counseling or, where need be, mental health care. This is not a service that
should be left to the different levels of gov- ernment alone. We urge non-profit organ- isations to extend their charitable services to the depressed and the mentally challenged. They should also help to dispel the stigma at- tached to mental illness in the country. We urge Nigerians to be their brothers’ keepers by watching those going through difficult periods in their lives, such as divorce, broken relationships and loss of jobs, money or their homes. They should ask questions when re- lations, friends and associates are showing signs of hopelessness, worthlessness and a sense of guilt or shame. When people appear withdrawn, isolated, lonely and indifferent to the things they had cared for, it is time to ask probing questions and show love.
We are no longer under any illusions that our cultural safety net – extended families – which used to provide cushions in times of economic distress, are no more strong, where they exist at all. Because we may never replace them, there is need to have social services in our general hospitals and community health centres to take care of those who need help. In times of economic dis- tress as Nigeria is experiencing now, people easily fall prey to all kinds of scams like the Mavrodi Mundial Moneybox (MMM) and other Ponzi schemes, money trees, and other confidence tricksters, who roam our streets setting traps for the gullible and those in search of quick fixes. When MMM froze the accounts of its subscribers, it is hard to know the exact number of people who took their lives but they included a Benue State woman called Gloria who jumped into River Benue and drowned, having borrowed N400,000 and invested it in the fraudulent scheme.
We appeal to all levels of government to do all they can to reduce inflation and provid- ing basic services such as electricity, potable water and healthcare. Nigerians are asking that resources be invested in food production, transportation, housing, education and new technology, to lower the costs of these services. Drugs for diabetes, malaria, high blood pressure and other widespread ailments have gone beyond the reach of aver- age Nigerians. This should be reversed.
We may never find an answer to all the is- sues that push some of our fellow citizens into taking their own lives, but the government must improve the living conditions of all Nigerians so as not to be complicit in their suicides.