It was such a pitiable sight when news broke that a certain young medical doctor, Allwell Orji, on March 19, 2017 committed suicide. More worrisome is that since then many have attempted to follow his footsteps and indeed some did while others were saved at the point of committing the crime. This new phenomenon is more disturbing because of the resolve by these persons to carry out the suicide in public places. For example, Dr. Orji, 35, a physician working in a popular Lagos hospital, stopped his car on the Third Mainland Bridge, and dived into the Lagos lagoon towards the end of the bridge near Adeniji Adele area of Lagos Island. On the same day, a middle-aged lady climbed the rails of the Maza Maza Bridge, near FESTAC gate along the Lagos/ Badagry Expressway and dived into the lagoon. Fortunately, 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 lagoon. On March 18, a day before Dr. Orji’s suicide, a fifth year student of a federal university reportedly hung 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 reported in the media. We are pretty sure there are many more that go unreported. While Dr. Orji’s case seems health-related, as reports claim he had either sickle-cell that has been difficult to manage or some kind of epilepsy, others seem to have been victims of socio-economic realities of our time. For instance, 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 citizens. The middle class has drifted downwards to join the poor. With inflation galloping which has made 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 all products and services.
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 majority of other citizens live below the poverty line. The millions of our citizens in this category 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 condition. Nigeria is a good example of unmitigated social inequality with a strong potential for social upheaval.
But what also befuddles is that Nigerian like to hide what ails them. Secondly, we do not take mental illness seriously. Depression surely is a disease but we do not see it as such. We tend to ascribe mental illness to some spiritual attack thus allowing such illness to deteriorate. Worst still, our hospitals and health care professionals do not do enough; even where they do, government pay lip service to training and equipment and remuneration. No public hospital is fully equipped or has the capacity to attend to patients. Our public hospitals are always overcrowded. Doctors don’t have time to attend to patients except by private arrangement.
It is so pathetic, even the ministry of health has been shirking on their responsibility. No advisory on what citizens should do. No health boot camp across the country to check citizens and figure out what ails them and respond immediately. We just carry on as usual. We appeal to all levels of government to do all they can to reduce inflation and providing 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 average Nigerians. This should be reversed. We may never find an answer to all the issues 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. Government should work hard to reduce poverty.