By Ngozi Nwoke
The spate of suicide in Nigeria has become disturbing and left many people wondering what might be responsible for the unhealthy development. Efforts by health experts and social welfare organisations to discourage people from taking their own lives seem not to be yielding the desired result.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) disclosed that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in people aged 15 to 19 years (male and female). It added that more than 700,000 people die due to suicide every year, and 77 per cent of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries. Ingestion of pesticide, hanging and firearms are among the most common methods of suicide globally. Suicide is a serious public health problem; however, suicides are preventable with timely, evidence-based and often low-cost interventions.
A typical case was that of a Warri-based teenager identified as Blessing Uduagan, who reportedly committed suicide on September 19, over her boyfriend’s alleged infidelity.
The 16-year-old girl, who resided at Arubayi Street, Warri, Delta State, was said to have drunk a bottle of banned popular insecticide. Blessing’s body was reportedly discovered in the bathroom by neighbours, who raised the alarm. She was immediately rushed to a nearby hospital, where she was confirmed dead.
Sources disclosed that the deceased had unwillingly broken up with her boyfriend, who was allegedly dating another girl.
It was gathered that Blessing had always threatened to kill herself over the infidelity of her boyfriend.
Similarly, a 23-year-old student of Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State, identified as Solomon Oboh, was found dangling from the ceiling of his room on the night of September 10. According reports, the student left a suicide note behind with the instruction that his mobile phone be given to his girlfriend and course mate, whom he begged for forgiveness in the note.
Curiously, thinking of what might have led to the suicide, it was gathered that, earlier that day, the deceased had felt humiliated by his inability to spell the words “computer technology” correctly in the presence of his classmates.
A source, who chose anonymity, said: “Solomon was in class on Friday and left for home after class. We only came home later in the evening to find him dangling from the ceiling of his room at Bawack area of South Ibie, Auchi.
“He was a very quiet boy who didn’t joke with his academics. He wasn’t the social type, but he never showed any sign of depression or whatsoever.”
Elijah Jude Anuoluwapo, also identified as a 400-level English Language student of the University of Ilorin, Kwara State, reportedly ended his life in the early hours of September 16 by taking illicit drugs. It was reported that the undergraduate died in the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH), where he was rushed by his colleagues for medical attention.
His colleagues disclosed that Anuoluwapo had on two occasions attempted to commit suicide before he finally succeeded.
The deceased was said to have been frustrated by alleged rejection by his immediate family after the death of his mother.
Similarly, an anonymous source disclosed that the deceased had suffered rejection and attempted suicide more than once.
“His father had abandoned his mother since she was carrying Jude’s pregnancy, which later led to his mother’s death out of depression. Jude was raised by his maternal grandmother who died last year of cancer complications.
“The development had become the main factor that had given him severe depression and frustration and made him attempt suicide twice before the last one that led to his death on Thursday morning. Jude was a very brilliant student and even one of the very best with mastery of languages in the whole of the university campus. Many of us pleaded with him and even referred him to the school counselling unit after the second unsuccessful attempt, which was about three weeks ago. It came as a surprise that he later proceeded with another attempt around 8:15pm on Wednesday.
“We actually tried to save his life, as usual, but to no avail, as he gave up the ghost early on Thursday in the hospital,” the source said.
Funke Oladoyin, a nurse in a private medical facility in Lagos, told Daily Sun that she attempted to take her own life early in March this year.
The mother of triplets said she started entertaining suicidal thoughts after being abandoned by her husband for bearing three female children.
She said: “Life has been unfair to me, I thought. It was until I was rescued by other patients from attempting suicide and resuscitated that I understood there were people in worse situations than myself. The whole crisis started one day after I gave birth to my three daughters, and was still on admission when my husband visited me.
“First of all, my husband falsely accused me of lying to him about the sex of our babies. He said I told him the children were boys and he came with the expectation of seeing ‘his boys.’
“Thereafter, he refused to pay the hospital bills and abandoned us there for three months. During the period, his family members stopped taking my calls and none of them ever came to visit me in the hospital. I spent all the money I had to cater for my babies and myself. When all these were happening, the hospital management was on me to pay my bills and threatened to hand me over to the police.
“They actually did it, if not that people who witnessed the scenario intervened and pleaded on my behalf and made me sign an undertaking on when I would pay the bills. I still signed the undertaking even when I knew I had no money to pay.
“It was at that point that I began to consider taking my life and leaving my innocent daughters behind. I was terribly depressed. I was done with life and was ready to leave this world. So, on that fateful night, around 11pm, I drank a little quantity of poison and my whole system was on fire, I started screaming out of pain and fear. That was when other patients and nurses heard my voice and came to my rescue. I tell you, it takes courage to attempt suicide.”
Tonto Dikeh, Nigerian star actress, also shared her experience on her attempted suicide over criticisms and negative perceptions about her personality due to her controversial lifestyle as she said at the recent TEDx where she reflected on her past struggles with suicidal thoughts and how she managed to leverage the controversy.
“For years, I allowed the controversy to break me because I was not using it. Every time someone said a negative thing about me, I would go home and absorb it. I never knew what to do with it, I was stagnant. I let negativity get to me so much so that I became what people thought I was. Then, if you called me a fool, I would act like one for you because I was in pain and needed to let people know they were hurting me.
“One day, I was in my room and I was so tired. God knows that I was so tired that I took a bottle of Sniper and drank it all. I just wanted it to be over. It was too much for me. I couldn’t control it.
“In my mind, I know who I am but you are telling me I am someone else. My life was in a fix. I took the poison and kept waiting for what would happen. In that instant, Jesus spoke to me ‘I gave you a second chance.’ I am probably one of the most controversial persons on earth, proudly. The only reason I can be proud of it is that I’m not fighting it, I’m using it for my advantage and for my growth and satisfaction,” Dikeh said.
Why they do it
Health experts, however, stated that aside from mental stress, which is considered a leading cause of suicide, chronic insomnia, long-term pain, depression and rejection are factors that cause suicide.
James Rapheal, a licensed psychologist and counsellor in Lagos, admitted that there has been an increasing spate of suicide in Nigeria lately. He said, among other factors, depression and mental disorder were at the root of suicide.
He said: “When we talk about suicide, we must understand that suicide is multi-determined, meaning that many factors are involved. First, we must look at factors that can lead to suicide to have a clear picture. There are social and environmental factors.
“For instance, based on my findings from the numerous suicide cases I have handled, many were caused by social isolation within family, schools and workplaces, the lack of social connections, where people feel unwanted or as a burden to others. We have psychiatric risk factors of suicide, which are depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, humiliation and even addiction.
“There is also a hereditary influence, for instance, children of parents who died by committing suicide or attempted suicide may most likely develop suicidal thoughts and behavioural patterns. Insomnia has a very strong link with suicide attempts. The chances for someone to be suicidal is increased when there is the absence of sufficient sleep. Most suicidal patients have suffered chronic insomnia. But with the help of well-prescribed sleeping pills, that aspect has reduced.
“Financial distress is another possible cause of suicide. Even though rich people commit suicide too, however, the inability or not being able to feed and provide basic amenities for oneself can lead to suicide. People who are exposed to trauma and violence have an increased risk of developing that acquired capability to kill themselves. This is seen in cases of child abuse victims.
“There is also the story of how, during the slave trade era, Igbo slaves preferred suicide than being taken into slavery and even the few that were arrested and taken into slavery ended up committing mass suicide because they believed that, if they committed suicide, they would return to their native villages.”
On how suicide could be prevented, he said it was unfortunate that Nigeria does not have rehabilitation centres specifically for suicide issues.
“Another crucial part of suicide therapy is called suicide management, which is the ability to manage suicidal victims and give concrete steps so a person is less likely to attempt suicide in the short term. There should be more pronounced counselling centres that handle suicide cases by certified experts. Cognitive behavioural therapy, dialectical behavioural therapy and collaborative assessment/management of suicide are all strategies to manage suicidal victims.
“Constant communication, showing love and care to people are helpful ways to prevent suicide. As a way to help reduce the rising cases of suicide, I ran a suicide hotline programme, where people who were having suicidal thoughts and suffering from depression could call in and express themselves.
“The programme recorded tremendous success as it was able to rescue and discourage a large number of people who were on the verge of attempting suicide,” he explained.
David Vareba, a medical doctor based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, noted that the cause of suicide varies among cultures: “Recent global statistics noted that over 800,000 people die by suicide annually, representing one in every 40 seconds, globally. Suicide is the leading cause of death in many European countries. In Nigeria, it is the third leading cause of death. Suicide is a complex phenomenon across all ages, groups and cultures.
“By definition, it is the act of killing oneself, most often as a result of depression or mental illness or medical illness. It is an intentional self-inflicted act that results in death. The cause of suicide varies among cultures and races. The leading causes of suicide in America, Europe or Asia are quite different from the causes in Africa.
“However, generally, mental health disorders, alcoholism, feelings of hopelessness or guilt are causes of suicide that cut across culture and race. In Asia, for instance, people are unable to cope with failure. Hence, one who fails in exams, research or any endeavour is prone to committing suicide. Years back, those who committed suicide in Asia over failure of any kind were referred to as brave. The tradition inflated suicide in Asia. In Europe and America, suicides are mainly caused by health disorders, alcoholism or guilt over an action.
“In Africa, especially here in Nigeria, poverty, psychological trauma, religious fanaticism, some cultural beliefs, mental disorders, loss of property or loved ones and failure are causes of suicide. By way of preventing suicide or managing suicidal victims, there is need for psycho-social centres in Nigeria, as it is in Europe and America.
“We need protective factors like problem-solving, conflict resolution and handling problems in a non-violent way, strong connection to family, friends and community support. Everyone needs these skills, especially in Nigeria where depression is very high due to the high poverty rate, scarce resources, joblessness, gang violence, robbery and kidnapping.
“Our government has failed and has a lot to do. Creating jobs and improving the economy will go a long way in curbing the menace. This is because most suicides in Nigeria are caused by poverty,” Vareba said.
Meanwhile, the spiritual leader of the Maharaj Spiritual Temple, Lagos, Jude Miracle, explained that it was possible to hypnotize or use diabolic means to possess an individual into committing suicide.
“There are many ways suicide could occur. The focus is mostly on the mental, psychological cause. We fail to recognize the fact that people could actually be hypnotized or brainwashed to commit suicide and even the use of diabolic means could be possible.”
In a telephone interview with Emeka Chimanula Nwoke, a Port Harcourt-based Anglican priest, he explained the position of the Bible as it concerns suicide.
“If you look at the 10 Commandments in the Bible, it states, ‘Thou shall not kill,’ or ‘Thou shall not commit murder.’ Now, this means that God condemns spilling of blood or killing in general, whether by anyone or in any circumstance. The Bible is vehemently against murder of any kind. No one can give life. Therefore, no one should take a life even if it is your own life. God commanded us to go into the world and multiply, not to go into the world and take life.
“Suicide is even a crime before the law. You see someone who attempted suicide being charged to court and you wonder why. That is because, before God, man and the law, taking one’s life or that of another is a sin. One’s life is the property of God. Christianity does not believe that one can be made to commit suicide using evil manipulations,” Nwoke noted.
According to a Muslim cleric of the Mushin Central Mosque, Lagos, Sheikh Ali Aminu: “Islam believes in the sanctity of human life. All human life is sacred. Islam views suicide strictly as sinful and detrimental to one’s spiritual journey. Allah the Almighty says, ‘And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden (to be taken) except by (legal) right. This has he instructed you that you may use reason’ (Qur’an 6:151). ‘And do not kill yourselves (or one another). Indeed Allah is to you ever merciful’ (Qur’an 4: 29). “Whosoever kills himself with anything in this world will be tortured with it on the day of judgement’ (Qur’an 1).
“So, basically, Islam is against suicide and it is a fact that people can be spiritually manipulated into committing suicide,” he said.