Suicide, the willful taking of one’s own life, is, not only a widespread problem, it is also as old as mankind.
In fact, it has, in recent years, become some sort of a global pandemic.
If reports in and around the country are anything to go by, Nigeria has continually recorded an upsurge in the number of suicide cases year after year.
What we already know
Suicide, which we often recognise as a result of depression or other mental illness, is, basically, a tragic reaction to stressful life situations, such as Inability to deal with loss of job, loss of a loved one, setback, damaged reputation or financial problem.
It can also be a relationship break-up or a chronic pain and illness.
Sometime in October, a disturbing video went viral on the internet, depicting an octogenarian who took his own life by jumping off the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos into the lagoon.
According to the video, the victim had been struggling with an allegation levelled against him relating to stealing of money.
The same lagoon was also where a 30-year-old woman ended her life.
Another case was reported wherein a 22-year-old sales girl in Lagos drank a quantity of insecticide liquid, after discovering that her boyfriend had married another woman.
These are but a few of numerous accounts of people in Lagos State who opted to kill themselves, in a bid to find an uncanny solution to seemingly insurmountable personal issues.
According to the World Health Organisation, over 700,000 people commit suicide yearly, and over 77% of global cases were recorded in low-and middle-income countries in 2019.
Is suicide a crime?
Killing one’s self is a crime in Nigeria, according to Section 327 of the Nigeria Criminal Code Act.
It states that an attempt to commit suicide is punishable by 1 year in prison.
Section 326 of the same Criminal Code states that a person will be charged with a felony and will be liable to life imprisonment if he or she aids, counsels, procures another to kill himself.
On February 15, 2022, the Nigerian House of Representatives made a strong move to replace the one-year jail term with community service and counselling as punishment for attempted suicide.
This, according to the lawmakers, will achieve more in stemming the tide of suicides in the country.
Sadly, incidents of suicide have been on the increase annually.
As such, mental health experts, religious bodies and other stakeholders have gone on a feverish spike in educating the public, even in raising alarm on the worsening rate of depression, a key component of suicide.
Interestingly, too, they have also cautioned against the penalty for individuals who are suicidal, saying it will only worsen an already bad situation.
What do Nigerians feel about suicide?
Damilare Tejumade, a dealer in confectionaries, said the difficult economic situation, more than anything else, is the major cause of suicide in Nigeria.
“When there is no money to eat and extreme poverty is in the land, it can destabilise the human mind and those who do not have the capacity to bare it can take suicide as an option,” he stated.
Ololade Ibikunle sees it as a spiritual problem, which she calls “Asasi” in Yoruba.
“Na asasi, evil forces dey enter people mind, na evil spirit dey push them to jump inside water, na witchcraft dey make people drink sniper. Me sef I no get money, but I no fit kill myself because I believe one day things go change.”
She advised Nigerians to remain fervent in prayer.
Another Lagos resident, who wanted to be anonymous, said he attempted suicide twice but was rescued.
He explained: “I hated being alive; I have graduated for 12 years, no job. I am still living with my parents. my girlfriend whom I loved very much left me; I have done different jobs but I still can’t meet up.”
When asked if he has got over those suicidal thoughts, he said his family members “are always on the look out” for him. So it changed his mind about killing himself, and has become hopeful for “a better tomorrow”.
Mental health experts’ opinion
A mental health expert, Nnamdi Ikeazu said Nigerians prioritise their physical health and shy away from discussing their mental health with experts.
According to Mr Ikeazu, there is a lot of stigma attached to mental health. He, therefore, warned Nigerians on the dangers of not speaking out.
A psychologist, Ibironke Adeniran attributed the leading cause of suicide in Nigeria to poverty and peer pressure.
“Cybercrime among the youths have become the order of the day, yahoo boys now flaunt wealth, driving exotic cars and spraying at parties. It’,” she declared. “Not easy seeing this lifestyle on the social media and one will not feel the need to compare. I will call on the government to provide enabling environment for Nigerian youths, provide jobs and let them feel a sense of worth in their country.”
Ms Adeniran also advised Nigerians to pay attention to those around them and report persons with suicidal tendencies to authorities once they notice any unusual behaviour.
Writing by Omolola Ameen; Editing by Muzha Kucha and Tony Okerafor