Suicide is an ongoing conversation around mental health discussions — it is the final vote of no confidence a person passes on himself or herself; a final resolution with the quorum of one’s insides. For the ones who have been through the lows of depression and lack, they get it. The ones who have, however, not been there criticize people who take their own lives.
The divide remains perpetual and conversations will forever walk along that dichotomy. This year alone, major figures like Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and Avicii were reported to have taken their own lives at different times. On Christmas day, December 25, 2018, a Nigerian man announced via his Twitter account that his girlfriend had committed suicide.
Today, CNN again reports that 25-year-old Ifeanyi Ugokwe was imprisoned in Nigerian for trying to take his own life. See, Section 327 of the Criminal Code Act, criminalizes attempted suicide and it carries a penalty of up to one year in prison. Sadly, it is further evidence of the recidivism of Nigerian Laws, where whole Laws, governing whole nations are so outdated.
The criminalisation of suicide is a holdover from the when Nigeria was a British colony — but then, even Britain abolished criminalization of suicide by the Suicide Act of 1961. The abolition of such Laws is premised on the principle that a man owns his own life, not the government. He has a right to it, until such time he does not have the reasonable capacity to make sound decisions for that life.
People with mental health issues require empathy, not force.
While a decision for suicide might qualify as one of those moments where he cannot make sound decisions, he has not robbed another man of his life. Suicide might be a moral wrong, but it’s not a legal wrong — the law mostly guides human coexistence. Outlawing suicide attempts might aim to control the sad reality, but a man on a suicide trail isn’t of a rational mind.
In 2017, Ugokwe was frustrated as he attempted searching for a job, only to be pushed to the ground by a security guard. He then decided to end it by jumping in a Lagoon, but was rescued by fishermen and handed to the Police and was put in jail before being transferred to another cell on Lagos Island after appearing before a magistrate.
While Ugokwe was still fuming from his failed suicide attempt, he was hit with the reality that attempted suicide is a criminal offence in Nigeria. Ugokwe says, “When they put me in the cell, the first thing that came to my mind was what did I do? I didn’t kill anybody. I did not steal. What am I doing here? What did I do wrong? It’s my life, not (the) government’s life.”
While on Lagos Island, Ugokwe met Imanuella Ojeah, a criminal defence lawyer and a member of the Elevation Church who volunteers at prisons every week. Ojeah and his team represented Ugokwe at his next court date in April 2017. They also helped him find a guarantor which made the magistrate dismiss the case.
While convictions are rare on this premise, health law expert Cheluchi Onyemelukwe says, “I believe it doesn’t reflect who we are as Nigerians… it is inhumane and I know that we can do better than that. I think it is probably the worst possible thing that you could do to somebody who finds themselves in that sort of situation,” she said.
“People who are thrown into a cell right after… wonder why the suicide wasn’t successful. It makes people that I have spoken to feel helpless and feel like there really isn’t a reason to go on.”
While in jail, Ugokwe claims he contemplated suicide again due to living conditions, “The worst part of it was not just that they put me in prison, it was that they locked me in a cell with crazy people. I was with mentally disturbed people. Most of the people there were talking to themselves and jumping around.”
He claims to have also been forced to take pills, “At first, when they brought the pills to me, I refused… there was nothing wrong with me, but then I was beaten and forced to take the pills.
“Those pills had terrible effects on me… all I want to do is sleep and eat.” A spokesperson for the Lagos division of the Nigerian Prisons Service has since denied Ugokwe’s allegations.
For nuance, the World Health Organization estimates that there are 9.5 suicides per every 100,000 people in Nigeria with main causes reported as depression and anxiety — which result from poor quality of life and poverty. A WHO report found that Nigeria has around 7,079,815 people suffering from depression — 3.9% of the population.
This also brings to the fore the constant discussions around suicide in Nigeria. While tough love might work for some, it won’t work for most people. But if you are thinking about ending it, please don’t. You have too much to live for.
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