Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the recent upsurge in suicides, either successful or attempted ones in Lagos, has proven worrisome and should spur the government and society at large to action
Bridges across lagoons are meant for one thing, a means for motorists and pedestrians alike, to cross over from one side to the other. However, in Lagos, which is known as the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria with its bustling and hustling, bridges have been turned to something else; a spring or jumping boards into the lagoon not for exercise purposes but to commit suicide.
In the course of three weeks, over five cases of suicide attempts have been made from bridges across the state, with one being successful, thus earning the state the sobriquet ‘Suicidal Lagos’. This picture of course does not define the true Lagos, a city where people throng to on a daily basis to make ends meet.
Who would have thought that suicide cases would become very incessant that a hotline for suicide cases in Nigeria would need to be put in place? Well, since the trend seems to be on the rise, some certain persons created two hotlines to attend to suicidal persons (08062106493 and 08092106493), but despite these hotlines, the sharp rise of suicide cases within two weeks in Lagos certainly caught society’s attention with many clamouring for solutions to this recurring menace.
It would therefore simply be stating the obvious when ones says that the increasing wave of suicide cases in Lagos has taken a fearsome and worrisome proportion.
In some of these cases, suicide which is the act of intentionally causing one’s own death, was caused by depression, indebtedness, lack of money and hope for survival. But generally speaking, other symptoms of suicide can be attributed to mental disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism or drug abuse, troubles with interpersonal relationships, and bullying, which often make the suicidal persons attempt to desperately escape by ending their own lives.
The 1990-2013 statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that no fewer than a million people die annually from suicide, which represents a global mortality rate of 16 people per 100,000 or one death every 40 seconds. The report also stated that there were an estimated 10 to 20 million attempted suicides every year.
WHO had also reported that over 800,000 people die by committing suicide annually and that it was the second cause of death among young people between15-29 years in 2012. Breaking it down further, the organisation also said in 1990 it resulted in 712,000 deaths and rose to 842,000 in 2013 making it the 10th leading cause of death worldwide.
In its 2012 statistics, the report also showed that out of Nigeria’s population, 6.5 per cent committed suicide out of which 10.3 per cent were male and 2.9 per cent were female. This report certainly reveals that suicide cases continue to pose a big problem to Nigeria.
Recent suicide cases
Last year alone, no fewer than 12 suicide cases and five foiled attempts were recorded in Lagos within six months. As was confirmed by the then Lagos State PPRO, SP Dolapo Badmos, she said the core need for the police was to find out why people would want to commit suicide. Given the criminal nature of suicide, it is expected that those who attempt suicide be arrested and prosecuted, but for Dolapo, the best option would be awareness creation. She said, “We can prosecute anyone who makes an attempt to kill himself or herself but that seems not to be the solution. The real solutions lie in finding out from such persons the reason for such an act and talk them out of it. We always advise victims’ families of victims to monitor them closely because those who commit suicide do so out of depression and frustration ranging from marital, economic, loss of job and some other vices.”
This year, the trigger that seemed to have started all these was the suicide of Dr. Allwell Chiawolamoke Oji, a medical doctor attached to Mount Sinai Hospital, Papa Ajao, Mushin. The middle-aged unmarried medical doctor had jumped into the lagoon at Third Mainland Bridge after he ordered his driver to park his car, a Nissan Sports Utility Vehicle with registration number LND476EE.
It took about four days of frantic search by law enforcement agents before his body was recovered and his family identified him. But this was after another body was found by the divers. According to those in the know, the doctor had been battling with Sickle Cell Anaemia, accompanied by severe seizures.
Due to his passion for surgery, he was said to have written the exam for his residency in surgery so he could become a consultant and passed but due to his ailment, he was turned down. The hospital was said to have turned him down because they felt his ailment, which was accompanied by seizure, could be a deterrent to performing his duties. This was said to have triggered off another bout of depression that led to his suicide.
The same day, a woman simply identified as Emerald also attempted suicide by jumping into the lagoon from Maza-Maza Bridge in the Mile 2 area of Lagos.
According to eyewitness account, the middle-aged woman was walking along the bridge when she suddenly got to the middle, climbed the rails and jumped. Luckily she was rescued before she could drown by some men who were under the bridge.
Few days later, operatives of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS), rescued two women who attempted to commit suicide by jumping into the lagoon. The women, in separate incidents, attempted to jump into the lagoon from the Third Mainland Bridge and Carter Bridge in Lagos.
One of them, identified as Abigail Ogunyinka succeeded in jumping into the lagoon but was quickly rescued by divers, while the other woman, Taiwo Titilayo Momoh, was rescued while attempting to jump into the Lagoon from the Third Mainland Bridge.
When giving reasons why she attempted to kill herself Ogunyinka said: “I owe two microfinance banks, one N60,000 and the other N90, 000 and the banks have been troubling me. I have looked all through and there is no help. I don’t want to further face embarrassment. I took my house help along with me and I told her we were going to the market.
“I took her along so she would tell my people and those that I owe that I did not run away with their money. I wanted her to tell them that I had ended my life, but, she raised alarm when I plunged into the lagoon. If I had known, I wouldn’t have gone with her because I am going back to the same problem.”
Momoh, who also blamed financial problems, said: “I am blaming the police and the people who rescued me. I am a trader at Balogun Market and I took goods from four foreigners who trusted me. I owe $36,000 and I was swindled by a bureau de change operator. Since I was duped, I have not been sleeping. It is as if I am carrying a heavy load. I have not been sleeping. I see those I owe in dreams.
“My problem now is that I have been rescued, I will still face disgrace. I still want to die because I have betrayed the trust my business partners had in me.”
Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Fatai Owoseni, who met with the woman at the RRS headquarters at the Lagos State Government Secretariat in Alausa, said Momoh was in a taxi heading towards Oworonshoki on the Third Mainland Bridge when she told the taxi driver to stop on the bridge.
According to Owoseni, the woman was about to jump into the Lagoon when a police team on a routine patrol on the bridge sighted her and rushed to stop her, adding that from his interaction with the woman, she had depression as a result of unpaid loans, adding that she was still insisting on ending her life. He said the woman would be taken through a post-trauma programme and do a medical evaluation on her to ascertain her condition.
The next day, in what appeared to be a rising trend in Lagos, the police again rescued a man, who reportedly attempted to jump into the lagoon. The middle-aged man was prevented from jumping into the lagoon through the Third Mainland Bridge by policemen from the Rapid Response Squad.
It was gathered that the unidentified old man, said to be in his late sixties, was peeping into the lagoon from the bridge and attempting to jump, when he was rescued. He was immediately taken to the RRS headquarters in Alausa Ikeja, from where he was transferred to the State Criminal Investigations Department (SCID), Panti, Yaba.
All these happened this year but there were many reported and unreported cases of suicide in Lagos, prominent among it was the banker who shot himself dead after going to see a priest for confession. The deceased, who was a manager with First City Monument Bank (FCMB), Mr. Olisa Nwokobi shot himself in Lagos. The the 44-year-old bank manager and graduate of Abia State University, killed himself because he was under pressure from his bank over a huge loan he was owing.
He had reportedly gone to his priest at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church, Northern Foresore Estate, Lekki, Lagos and complained bitterly on how he approved a loan for a customer who had refused to service the loan. It was alleged that he had told the priest that he would not stand the shame and disgrace of being dragged up and down by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
He told the priest to help him beg his wife and his 10-year-old daughter to forgive him and as the priest was trying to advice him, he brought out a pistol and shot himself. He died instantly. The loan was about N350 million.
Also last year, a police corporal, Agi Elias, committed suicide at the Nigerian Police Training College, Ikeja, Lagos, for missing a crucial examination of the corporal to sergeant promotion course. Barely 24-hours afterwards, a yet-to-be identified youngman also committed suicide at a private estate in Lagos.
The deceased person was said to have died by hanging himself on a mango tree inside an empty plot at Prayer Estate, Amuwo Odofin Government Reserved Area, around the Mile 2 axis. Attempts to discover the identity of the deceased proved abortive even after policemen from the FESTAC Police Division stormed the scene in the afternoon to bring down the body.
The deceased was said to have hung himself on the tree after depositing a bag on one of the branches, but when the bag was brought down, it was filled with kolanuts.
A medical irrespective
According to UK-based Dr. Chin Akano, a psychiatrist, it was usually better to seek for help as soon as possible when one is depressed. The doctor said some of the common risk factors that lead to suicide include depression, severe anxiety, acute stress due to any reason, severe adjustment reaction, drug and alcohol abuse, side effect of certain prescribed medication for example certain anti- depressants, psychotic illnesses for example schizophrenia, other mental illness like mania and personality disorders, previous suicide attempt and family history of suicide, cultural and religious beliefs and lack of supportive social cycle.
In a lengthy post shared by the doctor, he picked depression as one of the most common causes of suicide, adding that the symptoms can be identified when one feels low for most of the time for at least two weeks or when one experiences lack of pleasure in doing things, especially things that you used to enjoy and again this has to be most of the time for up to two weeks ( known as anhedonia).
He listed other symptoms as when one gets tired so easily, poor sleep or sleeping too much, poor appetite or over eating, poor sex drive/libido, erectile dysfunction, lack of concentration that makes doing common things a chore, poor self hygiene, poor or reduced motivation, feeling that you have let yourself, family or friends down, feeling that life is no longer worth living that you may feel like hurting or killing yourself and you may also start hearing voices telling you that you are useless, dirty, failure or even telling you to harm or kill yourself.
He said, “Please if you or a loved one have a few of these symptoms, they are likely to be suffering from depression and must seek help urgently. There are available ways to help them. These may be in form of counseling and other forms of psychotherapy including cognitive behavioural therapy CBT. This may be the only treatment they require especially in reactive depression where the stressful event is known.
“They could need medications known as antidepressants. Most of them especially the newer ones SSRI and SNRI work if taken regularly at approximately same time for several months. It may take a couple of weeks before the benefits are noticeable. I can assure you that they do work. You may also require both psychotherapy and anti-depressants
“If you are hearing voices or displaying some psychotic tendencies, anti-psychotics like Seroquel , Olanzapine may be added. In very severe cases of depression or in psychotic depression like above where immediate response is required, you may receive shock treatment known as electro-convulsive therapy ECT. This is hardly administered these days but it works. Personally, when I was a senior trainee in psychiatry in the UK I administered that treatment on several hopeless cases and I saw them transform overnight.”
Finding workable solutions
As expected, this sudden rise in suicide and attempted suicide cases across Lagos have proven worrisome not just for the society at large but for also the state government, security and emergency agencies.
The Lagos CP, Owoseni, who recently lamented the rate at which people now commit suicide provided an option of having policemen patrol bridges across Lagos. According to him, he had already deployed the police to begin patrol of bridges across the state to forestall other cases. But the question remains, how many bridges will they patrol and what is the workforce or manpower of the policemen that can cover the number of bridges across Lagos?
He also revealed that the number of people who have committed suicide in Lagos between January and March alone in 2017 has nearly passed the entire number for the year 2016. According to him, suicide cases, both attempted and successful ones, within the Lagos metropolis in 2016, totaling five persons, as compared to this year, when more than five persons had attempted to take their lives between the months of January and March and one succeeded.
Owoseni, who acknowledged that there has been an increase in the number of suicide cases in Lagos this year said the most worrisome part was that people who survive a suicide attempt were likely to try again, adding that his command was not taking the surge in suicide cases lightly.
Also, taking it a step further, the Lagos State Government through its Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) has established a marine unit to patrol waterways to prevent suicidal persons from taking their lives.
The agency, acting on the directive of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has also stationed local divers for quicker responses should anyone fall into the lagoon or attempts suicide. All these are in a bid to contain cases of people jumping into the lagoon.
Commissioner for Special Duties, Seye Oladejo and General Manager LASEMA, Adesina Tiamiyu, stated this during a stakeholders forum held recently which was attended by THISDAY. According to Oladejo, people who can do immediate rescue on the waterways have been deployed and stationed strategically.
He said: “The recent increase in water related emergencies such as drowning in the lagoon, wells, soak away pits and boat mishaps have worried the state government. To this end, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has approved the establishment of Aquatic Rescue Unit with requisite equipment in LASEMA to effectively respond to this trend.
“This unit would compliment the activities of sister agencies such as Marine Police Unit, Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), Lagos State Ferry Services among others. We have deployed people who can do immediate rescue on our waterways. And as a deliberate policy of government, we have decided to set up a unit that would be stationed permanently to provide help whenever there is an occurrence like that. That’s not to say we are encouraging people to jump into the lagoon.”
On the importance of the conference themed ‘a new dawn in emergency/disaster management in Lagos State’, Oladejo said there was need for better synergy and collaboration between emergency responders in the state, adding that such fora would emplace seamless disaster risk reduction strategies across the state.
Earlier, Tiamiyu stated that the agency receives an average of 80,000 calls through the control room on various issues such as rape, child abuse/trafficking, domestic violence, land grabbing, which are dispatched to relevant authorities for necessary actions, adding that the meeting was an avenue for stakeholders to review and understand their collective roles in emergency or disaster prevention, preparedness, management, mitigation, response and recovery.
According to him, responding to emergency wasn’t for LASEMA alone, just as he disclosed that the command and control centre was being upgraded to interface with those on the field for support and necessary deployment.
He said: “We have partners. When I came onboard, I visited them individually and solicited their cooperation. I also told them the capacity of LASEMA and when to contact us. We reinvigorated our monitoring and surveillance unit, which goes ahead to check things and give us report. We also undertake in-house trainings. The state government has bought a lot of heavy duty equipment for us. We have invested a lot of money and have been trained on how to use the equipment. What you see now is the result of the investment.
“Before the governor gave the directive on the aquatic issue, we had retainership of some divers in Lagos. It was one of our retainers who went underwater to latch the vehicle that fell into Elede river on our crane and we pulled it out. He was also involved in the recovery process of Dr. Oji. He was in the water. We have the Lagos Waterways Authority and the Marine Police as well.
“So, all of these agencies usually patrol the waterways but very soon, you would see LASEMA branded boats joining forces with those on the waterways to improve the capacity of emergency services on the waterways.”
While the state government, emergency and security agencies continue to find workable solutions to prevent people from taking their lives, it is pertinent to note that often times, the first responders for suicidal persons are usually their family and friends, who should always reach out to them once the symptom has been established and show them unmeasurable love and care.