WHY are more Nigerians opting for untimely death, putting an end to their lives via varied means? Unfortunately, the answer is not that simple. Even where the victims had left notes behind, they hardly address the ‘why’ poser as the loved ones they leave behind reel in anguish, looking to the sky for a solution to the tangled riddle. In an attempt to put a finger to the scary rate at which people now commit suicide with brazen aplomb, analysts have come up with divergent permutations. With the little I have read on the social media and during interactions with friends, there seems to be an agreement that we have, over the years, paid scant attention to the reality that depression and mental health issues pose serious danger to the society at large. And, to be sincere, death is not an easy route for anyone. Something triggers the thought in the human mind and it is that thing that pushes the individual concerned to embrace the grimness with some sort of fatalistic equanimity—some sort of escapism from the psychotic torture that has put the victim on a cliff hanger, killing him slowly. Those who have felt it before know what I am talking about.
It is quite easy for those who have not experienced the mildest of depression to jump into the fray and condemn those who decided to end it all in a world that continues to place self-preservation above humanity. People ask, why should anyone commit suicide just because of a love gone sour or because of joblessness or even because one was being bullied in school? How, for example, can anyone justify those who, presumably, had everything going for them and still ended up jumping into the Lagos lagoon or cut off a blood vein and bleed to death, slowly? They say it was cowardice on display and such persons should not be pitied. Some cultures even dubbed it a taboo and anyone who commits suicide is cast into the evil forest. That is a savage mentality. Instead of digging deeper in order to understand why people take such drastic action, some society’s yamheads would rather treat it with levity. I once watched, with incredulity, as I sat at a gathering where people argue that only spoilt brats take ‘the easy way’ out. Now, isn’t that an unfortunate comment?
See, in our typical way of living in denial, we have lived the lie far too long in this country. But the reality is that depression is real and it is dangerous. We all have gone through one depressive moment or the other. That some are lucky to shake it off or come out of it doesn’t diminish its deleteriousness to society’s wellbeing. Societies that take all forms of mental illnesses seriously are more focused on its treatment and it is high time we start focusing more attention on it. Let’s face it, Nigeria, as it is presently structured, gives little hope to its citizens especially its teeming youth. The errant aloofness and despondency that one witnesses daily in its governance structure depress the soul. A governance policy pegged on a pseudo-welfarist construct that impoverishes and alienates the citizens can only breed this harvest of deaths by a disoriented populace.
We miss the point when we assume that the society doesn’t owe the citizen anything in the battle for survival. Communal living shouldn’t be like a game of thrones in which the fittest finds the niche to exhale while the weak and vulnerable is damned. It is one thing to condemn some persons’ overreaching sense of entitlement which, when denied, pushes them to commit suicide. It is another thing to accept the fact that alienation sets in at the point where the society has lost its moral compass and fails to attend to the basic needs that depress the alienated citizen. It is a gradual process that eventually culminates into the tragic impulses that we now read about daily. Here I speak not of the tokenism of gifting cash, shelter and food materials to those in need. That should be appreciated. Yet, it is sometimes more of helping a depressed citizen to merely stay alive for some few days more. When hope dims, evil thoughts become such a soothing balm. I was once a victim. I was once on the edge of ending it if help had not come at that time. For eight harrowing years, this writer, who is now bursting with life and a measure self-assuredness, was a complete recluse. Mine was a depressive ailment inflicted by the inability to secure a job even with a top notch certificate and awards for exemplary performance. When I remember the aimless walks on the tough Lagos streets with certificate-laden file tucked under the armpit and the negative response one routinely got from one office to the other, I always marveled at what kept nudging me on, with a glimmer of hope that it would be well someday. How many nights did I sleep in despair with an overwhelming feeling of alienation? And how many countless times did that voice keep pushing one to end it all, especially when one’s aging parents were the ones paying the bills? Wasn’t life cruel and was living worth this pain?
The point to note here is that suicide becomes a tempting option when every other thing appears to have failed. Here I do not speak for suicide bombers even when that could also be a function of depression which exposes the victims to easy manipulation. I speak of the regular, otherwise happy-go-lucky guy or girl in the neighbourhood who suddenly turns into a recluse. When we ignore those early signs, we are only preparing the ground for a tragic end. Just look around and you’d see how the harsh economic realities of modern day living have affected the mental health of most Nigerians. Perhaps, it was that brilliant, young graduate who has become tired of counting the years of endless wait for a job or that father or mother of children who could barely afford a round meal a day as the bread winner has been retired or fired due to the downturn in the fortunes of the firms. It could be that tongue-speaking, fire- spitting fiery pastor that bellies his innermost torment in the outward display of faith with a doomed fate. It could even be that young lady or man who gave it all to love and had been reaping a whirlwind of sorrow. Alienation breeds nothing but ill wind. We cannot afford to just sit by and think everything is okay. No, nothing is okay until all is okay. Sometimes, the deepest sorrow is expressed in weird laughter. Certain things are too deep to comprehend with ordinary mindset. That is why people say depression is deep.
We may not have the right answers to all cases of depressions, but we sure can find a soothing balm to halt the recourse to suicide by those who feel hard done by this strangulating economic policy. At its plenary sitting on Wednesday, the Senate linked the general insecurity in the land to a palpable sense of inequality and joblessness. It also advises the President Muhammadu Buhari government to “declare a state of emergency on unemployment,” create more pro-poor safety nets and dedicate 20 per cent of recovered loot to fund same and take urgent measure to stimulate production. These steps, if taken, might reduce the tension that this legacy of non-inclusive economic policy has inflicted on the psyche of the populace. Bad as things are, it is not everybody that can embrace criminality in this battle to survive against all odds. There is nothing ennobling about slapping the streets daily for jobs that exist for the sons and daughters of the privileged to grab. Joblessness is a disease which not only alienates but also depresses. It takes more than words on the marble to convince those who have lost hope to continue holding on when all they see are motions without movement. It may be true that suicide cannot be an option. But we may also ask ourselves what we have collectively done as a people to positively engage those suffering silently amid the hedonistic display of wealth by those who hold the yam and the knife?
And in case no one is getting the drift of the argument about disillusionment, despair, alienation and depression, here is a graphic picture of what it means as described by billionaire businessman and Founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Mohammed Ibrahim, to depict Africa’s crisis of motion without movement.
Listen to him: “This continent is a continent of young people. Half of our people here are below 20 years old, look at the average age of our presidents; it’s about 63, 64 years old. We are the only continent in the world where we have presidents at 90 years old starting new terms; I mean you guys are crazy or what? We see people in wheel chairs, unable to raise their hands standing for elections, this is a joke. Yes, you are right to laugh because the whole world is laughing at us.
“Look around you, look at the United States an economy of 15, 16 trillion dollars. We, all of Africa, are less than 1 trillion dollars. This (US) is a 15, 16 trillion dollars economy right? The most important country in the world, like it or not. Obama, who happens to be half African anyway became president when he was 46, 47 years old. If Obama was in Kenya, what will he be doing now? He will be driving a bus, maybe. Clinton became president at 46 years old; J.F. Kennedy was 43 years old when he became president. Why do these big countries, much bigger than us, entrust their economies, their nuclear weapons and all resources to people in their 40s? And we (Africa) only pick people at 90 years old to lead us. To lead us where? To the grave?”
And so, I ask: Can this government aloofness resolve the riotous rage troubling the soul of a disillusioned, alienated and depressed citizen without an impactful safety net or feasible policy to cushion his suffering