By Obadiah Mailafia
I HAVE written before expressing my deep concern about the attitudes and behaviour of some of our youths. But we must not be unfair. We as a society have actually failed our youths. Nigeria has become as cruel and heartless as the proverbial desert ostrich. We have mortgaged the future of our youths. In our own days, having a good degree was enough guarantee of a great future. Today, even having a masters and a doctorate guarantees you nothing. If your parents are influential – like emirs, chiefs, ministers or senators – letters of employment are delivered to your home from top public organisations without a job application or interview. But if you are the son or daughter of a pauper with a first class honours degree you are condemned to wandering the streets for years.
Ours is a society governed by plutocratic oligarchs, where merit is at a discount and whom you know matters more than what you know. As a consequence, our youths are now scheming how to move to Canada or some other Eldorado. Many engage in the Long Trek across the Sahara in the vain hope of crossing the Mediterranean into Europe. If they do not end up as slaves in Libya they perish in rickety boats in the treacherous Mediterranean Sea. It is a horrendous tragedy.
Several cases of suicide are being reported on a daily basis. Many of the victims are middle class professionals – accountants, lawyers, doctors and engineers. In the past week alone, three pastors belonging to three major churches have committed suicide. The very notion of a pastor committing suicide sounds to me like an oxymoron. Pastors who are supposed to counsel troubled youths are themselves troubled souls needing desperate help. The body of Christ has become an organisation controlled by money-changers who fleece widows of their meagre earnings. Sin, repentance and salvation are no longer preached. Rather, it is peddled is what German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer terms the theology of “cheap grace”. They don’t want to know you if do not turn up in a glistening brand new jeep. And you must “sow a seed” directly into the pocket of the so-called “Overseer”. We have reached those end times when John the Apostle prophesied that “the love of many will grow cold”.
On Monday, May 13, Chukwuemeka Akachi, a 22-year- old final year English and Literary Studies undergraduate at Nsukka committed suicide by drinking ‘Sniper’, an insecticide. In one of his profile updates on Facebook he had written a caption under a photograph: “Demons”. On April 11, he wrote: “The music stopped”. And on Sunday, May 12, a day before he took his own life, he wrote: “My mental health has been on life-support for a while now. Thanks to those who call. Text. Visit. 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 on life-support is expensive, right? Thanks for trying. Amen.”
He was known to have attempted suicide before. Two lecturers, we understand, were closely counselling him. From all we know, Emeka was a rather bright student and a budding poet. He described himself on Facebook as: “Human…Survivor and Finit hic Deo (God ends here).” He left a suicide note at 7.01 am on the morning of his death: “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 Joe Nkeitah’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 to when they die?”
When I was a graduate student in England I encountered several such cases, although it had more to do with the highly pressurised academic environment of my alma mater rather than anything else. I remember the bright African-Caribbean girl who took her life during first term. A friend of mine from Kenya, a brilliant biochemist and grandson of a Mau Mau general, lost his mind and was sent back to his parents in Nairobi. There was the tragic case of a Chinese student who went straight from his final paper to Magdalene Bridge where he jumped to his death. He believed he had flunked his exams. The irony is that when the posthumous results came out, this son of a Hong Kong billionaire was awarded a first class honours degree!
Being bright and sensitive is a path of loneliness and high risk. Japanese mathematical genius, Yutaka Taniyama (1927-1958) had achieved world renown in his twenties. He suddenly took his own life one morning without any apparent reason. He said he did not see how he could face the future anymore. He left a note for his fiancée pleading with her to forgive him for any “embarrassment” he might have caused her.
Poets, in particular, are highly vulnerable. American poet Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) who was married to the British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, took that easy road to oblivion. Fresh from Harvard, South African writer Ndazana Nat Nakasa, plunged from a seven-storey building to his death in Harlem, New York in 1965. His Afrikaans compatriot, Ingrid Jonker (1933-1965), who was a lover to the novelist André Brink, also took her own life in 1965. A young woman of striking beauty and grace, she wrote a final poem for her mother: “My mother, dying, was as sunny as a ladybird, so full of secrets, so surprising, so tender.”
The recent case of Emeka has given me sleepless nights. For one thing, I believe the authorities could have done better. He should have been prevailed upon to see professional psychotherapists. And his parents or close relations should have been brought into the matter. He should never have been left alone to fend for himself.
The suicide epidemic in our country has been worsened by the fact that the traditional moorings of kinship and family that held us together as a people are being eroded by the day. Young people in particular feel increasingly lost. We must offer them hope. We must give them love and succour, otherwise we shall all be the worse for it.
To those of our youths that have become dispirited with life, I urge you never to give up. Once there is life there will always be hope. Prayer helps. So does faith. Live a life of purpose. One of the books that changed my life when I despaired as a young man is, Man’s Search for Meaning (Beacon, 1959), by the German-Jewish neuropsychiatrist Victor Frankl. He lost his entire family during the Nazi holocaust in Germany. He himself spent years in a concentration camp. Every day he watched his inmates die, some by suicide and others by sheer despair. He reveals that what saved him was a vision of the great scientific works he wanted to accomplish in the future.
To everyone there comes, sooner or later, the great renunciation, says the philosopher. If endured, suffering can be redemptive. Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky once said, “There is only one thing I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings”. Everyone has a destiny and a purpose to fulfil upon this earth. No-one can take your place.
Young man, young woman, you are precious in the sight of the Almighty. The world will be the poorer for you not being here. In the wise words of Frankl, “Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfilment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”