IN societies with responsive and responsible leadership, the increasing rate of suicide is all that is needed to put things right. But here in Nigeria, the major concern of those at the helms of affairs is whatever threatens their hegemonic control of the national commonwealth.
While suicide is not peculiar to Nigeria, the dimensions of suicide in Nigeria and the characterisation of those who have attempted or actually died of this reflects the mood of Nigeria. A society experiencing sudden changes in its social structure will alter the lives of her citizenry who may find it difficult to adjust to the new social reality.
Put in other words, the country is hard and we live in anomy and what follows is anomic suicide. Emilie Durkheim, in his study on Suicide noted that ‘what the rising rate of voluntary deaths denotes is not the brilliancy of our civilisation but a state of crisis and perturbation not to be prolonged with impunity’.
By that he meant actionable policies, pragmatic enough to halt people from exiting the world ‘untimely’, must be formulated and social support mechanisms put in place. This is because Durkheim believes suicide to be a ‘pathological phenomenon becoming daily a greater menace’. Of course, people now come to the public to voluntarily kill themselves. Because, suicide is mostly of social origin, understanding this and remedying it socially may be a timely intervention.
Only a society with moral power (hardly true of the present Nigeria) can exercise control over the needs and aspirations of her members. In this season of crisis (recession, unemployment, loss of jobs, unpaid salaries, business collapse, botched relationship, poor/weak bonding, hunger etc), Nigeria lacks the moral power to regulate the needs and aspirations of her people who are experiencing unprecedented changes in their needs and values.
This is why suicide is on the increase during this anomic season. Durkheim had categorised suicide into egoistic suicide (which occurs when man no longer finds a basis for existence in life due to excessive withdrawal from the society and lofty but unaccomplished aspirations); altruistic suicide (insufficient individualism); and anomic suicide (which results from man’s norm-lessness and moral deregulation and its associated sufferings). The underlying deductions extractable from the narratives of those who left suicide notes or those rescued on their way-out-of mother earth as well as observations of those around them attests to the anomic state of things.
History of kingdoms and their rulers are replete with suicide as voluntary action or imposed/induced. Kingdoms were ruled by warriors due to its functionality, a need for defence against external aggression.
With such responsibility to protect their people, a conquered kingdom becomes a slave to the conqueror while the head of the ruler of the defeated kingdom is cut off as a means to humiliate and shame a supposed powerful entity. In the face of imminent capturing of self and defeat of his armies, a king may act ‘manly’ (se bi okunrin) to demonstrate responsibility and bravery.
This story is better told that he was met dead than he was captured, shamed around the kingdom and had his head severed. This is why the Yoruba saying iku ya jesin lo (better to die than being shamed) aptly captures such suicide which is both altruistic and egoistic in character. The king may also be pressured to ‘open the calabash’ in other situations.
The king could also save his community from impending danger by sacrificing his life for the community and thereby preserve his name and his people. Thus, suicide can be committed as a sign of bravery/sacrifice; an expression of guilt; acceptance of failure in responsibility and above all, to avoid shame.
Voluntary killing does not end there; its unintended consequences are borne by the significant others who have to live with the stigma of having a suicide instinct in their family blood. For instance, people may prevent association of marriage between their children and family of a debtor who committed suicide unlike a warrior who sacrificed his life for his people to live. This however happened in relatively homogenous communities where collective conscience subsisted.
Fast-forward to contemporary forms and dimensions of suicide. Different approaches had been adopted to achieve termination of lives: from jumping into well/river, hanging self to the ceiling, poisoning, stabbing, electrocution and gunning.
Suicide cases reported are also planned and well executed: people want to die covertly and spring surprises to attract sympathy or overtly such as those who went to the scene of suicide with their driver and kids. At the University of Ibadan, an undergraduate lady reportedly drank ‘Hypo’ because of a botched relationship.
That phenomenon is now called “Hypo-love”. Why should we bother? That people attempted to and resorted to taking their own lives should trouble us. They point our attention to reasons underlying their decision; mostly the narratives of those who committed suicide and left notes (it is instructive that leaving note is a conscious state of feeling of responsibility by the person who committed suicide to those who will ask questions about the incident), narratives of the relatives and the narratives of those rescued from dying are vital data which must be used in designing interventions both by State and non-state actors.
No human being can be happy unless his/her needs are sufficiently met including being accepted as a member of a group. In other words, if the needs fall short of expectations, human beings will only painfully function and respond to social reality.
Human needs are insatiable and we compete on a social stage where all men are born equal but some are more equal than others. How will people with normative responsibilities not give up when governments owe salaries of eight months!. How shall people not give up when they have borrowed to get involved in MMM and the handlers decided to halt money circulation?
Why will people not die in a country where the reality being experienced by the ruled is different from that experienced by the rulers? Why will people not die when society expects so much from them yet they are seen as less human or failures when unable to fulfil societal expectations? What is the worth of the life of ordinary Nigerians?
What is their standard of living? How many thousands have been put out of jobs due to the ongoing recession? Who supports the vulnerable in Nigeria? We even steal from the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, yet we wonder what endeared people to the Boko Haram insurgents!
If we take care of the social factors causing suicide, there will no need for us to bother about depression. If there is any time that we need to be our brothers’ keeper, it is now.
Dr. Oludayo Tade, a Sociologist , wrote via firstname.lastname@example.org