Suicide and battle for the soul of Nigerian students


The federal and state governments have not said anything. For the politicians, pretentious technocrats and eggheads in the corridor of power, it is a season of jamboree. For Nigerian youths in various tertiary institutions, it is a season of anomie, writes Head, Education Desk Guardian, IYABO LAWAL on the rising cases of suicide among Nigerian students.

You would think he was joking – making an expensive joke.

“Everything about today is just bad… God help me. This month is not smiling,” he had posted on the internet.

“Why is today like this? God help me throughout this month. From June 1, everything hasn’t been good. All I want to do now is to commit a crime and be sentenced to life imprisonment. So, keep off so you won’t fall a victim.”

The sometimes indifferent internet users did not pay attention to him. But he continued to voice out his despondency.

“Life and education is something I don’t want again. I guess going off is the best for now,” he said in resignation. “I’m dropping this in case you call me and I’m not picking or you send a message and I’m not replying. God be with the living.”

Before he gulped the poisonous liquid, he made one last statement: “I regret ever coming to this world and I regret ever choosing to be educated. I swear. Ekiti State University (EKSU) you are cursed.”

Then, he gulped the poisonous content. Unlike many others, final-year EKSU student, Oluwafemi Akindeko was saved from taking his own life.

He had become despondent because of his academic difficulties. He was waiting for his results to be released so as to proceed for clearance for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme.

But he flunked a major course – BUS 418 – which he believed meant an extra year in school.

However, under the distressing circumstance, the university public relations officer, Deji Aleshinloye demonstrated the inanity that has characterised many of Nigeria’s tertiary institution, the government, and society.

“The boy just finished and he just got his result of BUS 418, one of the second-semester examination results. You know when you fail a second-semester examination; it is going to be an extra year. And, it’s not a big deal,” Aleshinloye said sheepishly.

He ranted further: “It’s not about sniper now. Why do you have to go and take sniper? Life itself is not a straightforward thing. Who said you are not going to fail again? Do you know how many people have failed in this world? Do you know how many times Abraham Lincoln contested and lost?
Aleshinloye is not alone in that inanity.

Until his tenure expired as Nigeria’s minister of education, Adamu Adamu did not deem it necessary to address the incessant cases of suicide happening on campuses.

Isaac Adewole, erstwhile minister of health, was apparently unperturbed about the urgent need to make mental health a priority in the country even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) raised the alarm that many Nigerians are grappling with mental problems.

The erstwhile minister of youth and sports, Solomon Dalung, would rather lazy around beret-headed than think about how to get youths to explore their potential.

The federal and state governments have not said anything. For the politicians, pretentious technocrats and eggheads in the corridor of power, it is a season of jamboree. For Nigerian youths in various tertiary institutions, it is a season of anomie.

Sadly too, President Muhammadu Buhari and vice president Yemi Osinbajo could only muster a whimper when news headlines kept screaming, ‘Suicide!’ The Federal Government ordered a partial ban on the deadly insecticide, Sniper.

The fatal narratives of Nigerian students dying of suicides by the Nigerian media have hardly explored the underbellies of what often push promising youths to take their own lives.

To illustrate: Christabel Owoicho, a 300-level student at the University of Benin (UNIBEN) did not take her own life because of a failed love affair. There are strong indications she was raped before her tragic end. According to a claim by her uncle, Ben Bamiyi, she had been raped before she died of suicide.

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“She had never had a boyfriend. Christabel was exceptionally brilliant,” Bamiyi had said.

Last May, Chukwuemeka Akachi was found dead in an uncompleted building at the Sullivan Road, Nsukka, reportedly after taking two bottles of Sniper.

“Forgive me. In case you are the one who found the body, I am really sorry. It had to be someone you know. I have chosen Jo Nketaih’s poem as my suicide note: They said you came looking for me. I didn’t drown, I was the water. Where do atheists go when they die? Lol. Amen,” he wrote in a Facebook post before he took his life.

He admitted what he was going through and it appeared he could not carry on again.

Akachi said: “My mental health has been on life support for a while now. Thanks to those who called, texted and visited. Speak to me. May we always remember. May we never forget. You may have added a few hours, months or days to my time here. But you know life support is expensive, right? Thank you for trying. Amen…”

Two scholars, R. Animasahun and V. Animasahun noted that suicide is a serious health problem as it is currently the third leading cause of death for teenagers between the ages of 15 and 24 years.

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They explained further that depression, which is also a serious problem for adolescents, is one of the significant biological and psychological risk factors for youth suicide.

“Substance use remains extremely widespread among today’s youths and is related to both suicide mission and depression,” the duo stated in their research work.

Based on the findings of their study, they recommended that more effective ways of working with Nigerian youths who are at risk of suicide or have the potential to take their own life needed to be designed.

“First,” they explained further, “it is necessary to understand the unique characteristics of adolescents‘ physical, mental, and socio-psychological features. By understanding adolescents‘ unique features that may be related to suicidal risks, counsellors, social workers, and parents could work proactively to prevent suicide and make more effective interventions.”

A therapy consultant, Salem Pat Ogunlowo, also considered depression and unresolved grief as major causes of suicide among the youths. He did not think like Aleshinloye who likened those with suicidal feelings as cowards.

He noted that no youth actually wants to kill himself.

“But you see, there is nothing good about depression. It’s something that when it’s there, you go to bed feeling good and the next morning you just find out that you are not yourself,” Ogunlowo stated.

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“Depression that becomes clinical craves death –that is, suicidal adulation and then suicide itself. The route to depression is unresolved grief. Maybe, somebody, you look up to suddenly died and you just feel that your life cannot go on. Unresolved grief could also arise from anger, abuse, bullying, and peer pressure which the youths are facing these days,” he added.

It is apparent that such unresolved grief gripped Joseph Mayowa, a part-time student at the Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH), Ikorodu campus. He took his life after what many said was a quarrel between him and his girlfriend, Olokodana Bolaji.

Their nine-year relationship was allegedly tainted with physical and verbal abuse. When his girlfriend got tired of the abuse-ridden affair, Mayowa chose to end it all – by taking his own life.

Another grief-stricken Nigerian youth who took his own life was Samuel Elias, a final-year student at the Department of Religion and Culture, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). He was 25 when he chose to end it all.

He had always lamented his lot in life: lost his father and had some academic challenges that prevented him from graduating.  

Uzakah Ebiweni’s dream was to save people’s life. It was not surprising when he chose to study medicine –yes; it was medicine or nothing. In trying to achieve that he encountered a daunting circumstance.

At 300 level, Ebiweni, a medical student at the Niger Delta University (NDU), was among some 50 students out of 169 who sat for the Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) examination but failed. It was a general practice every student must pass the MBBS examination before progressing to the next level of academic pursuit.

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However, Ebiweni and 21 others were said to have failed beyond the level that they could be placed on probation for another academic year. They had to be withdrawn.

A life’s dream was broken for the young man. It felt like there was nothing else to live for but everything to die for. He took a plunge and ended his life.

Another 100-level student at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Hikmat Gbadamosi, was also reported to have taken her own life after a bout of depression.

A psychiatrist at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Prof. Olayinka Omigbodun, explained that there is a universal intervention in preventing depression and suicide in children and adolescent to promote mental health and well-being and child adolescent mental health.

Omigbodun said: “We cannot talk about the proper treatment of mental health issues if we do not have a law to back it up and we also need to understand that mental health issues affect everyone.”

The psychiatrist added that the burden of depression on adolescents affect their interpersonal relationships and could be linked to other problems including smoking, drug abuse, academic failure, physically inactive and secondary behavioural problems like truancy and stealing.

Another psychiatrist, Prof. Oye Gureje, is convinced that eliminating mental health stigma will encourage affected persons to seek treatment and boost their quality of life.

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According to him, the challenge with depression is that people who are affected are not aware of their conditions, let alone getting treated.

“It is also unfortunate that most symptoms will present themselves like malaria and before one will understand exactly what is happening, depression would have eaten deep. Symptoms of mental health include irritable mood, low concentration, low self-esteem and guilt among others,” he added.

Yet, other stakeholders in the education sector believe that the Nigerian government and various tertiary institutions –including basic and secondary institutions – should have a unit or department with at least one mental health specialist to attend to the country’s teeming youth who must deal with suicidal tendencies.

Banning or restricting the use of Sniper is like scratching the surface of the suicide crisis. Education experts also think it is necessary that the government go beyond paying lip service bedevilling not just the education sector. The government will do well to revamp the economy and health care delivery.


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