By Francis Ewherido
Some Nigerians approach life with herd mentality. You remember when many people became emergency investors in the stock market until the bubble burst. People without requisite skills were just buying shares based on which shares were “reigning.” The problem of herd mentality did not start today; it has been with us for a while. One of my professors at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Okwudili Nnoli, called it “me-too-ism” in his book, “Ethnic Politics in Nigeria.” Yes, the same herd mentality is what made ethnic politics to grow taproot in Nigeria even before independence.
Today, kidnapping has become a big national problem due to herd mentality. That is why I find the recent upsurge in suicide cases worrisome. If it becomes a fashion fad, we are in trouble, because herd mentality or me-too-ism will drive it, not the economic hardship people are pointing fingers at. For very good reasons, government continues to be the weeping boy in Nigeria. In fact, for a long while now, I have been waiting for somebody to blame or sue the government for his inability to make love to or get his wife pregnant. Shockingly, I have not heard such a case, but when it happens, I will not be surprised because our blame game many a time borders on the absurd.
That is not to exonerate the government. Beyond the poor state of the economy and insecurity, government needs to come to the aid of the ordinary people. Many Nigerians who go out every day to earn legitimate income face all kinds of obstacles. Importers are at the mercy of customs, transporters by road are at the mercy of touts, local vigilantes, government officials and policemen. I was shocked recently when a policeman at a checkpoint on Nsukka-Enugu road asked our driver to produce his road worthiness certificate. Policeman, road worthiness certificate, how? Electricity distribution companies are killing consumers with bills for electricity they did not consume.
Every day, people in offices and positions complicate simple procedures to enable them exhort money from members of the public. People are increasingly getting more frustrated. Government needs to come to the aid of Nigerians. Nigerians cannot endure these cases of injustice forever. The weak might take the path of suicide or resign to fate, but some people will fight back and you never know the outcomes of such fights, especially when it involves the mass of the people.
Meanwhile, some experts have expressed the need for the passage of the Mental Health Bill that has been dragging on for over 10 years. They also express the need for more trained psychologists to tackle increasing cases of mental problems. These are good moves, but individuals and families need to help themselves in a Hobbesian society like ours where even the fittest are gasping for breath. The traditional family structure, as we used to know it, has broken down, partly due to new technologies and new ways of doing things. But it is not all bad news. When I undertook my maiden journey to Nsukka in the 80s to commence my degree programme,
it took weeks before my letter arrived Warri, Bendel State (now Delta State), to let my family know that I arrived safely. These days, it takes seconds to convey a similar message. The same technology that is destroying the fabric of the family can be used to build the family. Use WhatsApp and other social media to mentor your children. If you cannot generate contents, go online and look for contents that can edify their lives. Also, use social media to bond with your children. Social media have really made the world a global village. No matter where your children are, you can virtually be with them on time, real time, 24/7.
Parents have a responsibility to help their children find their purpose in life. We spoke about it last week. This has become even more urgent with the spate of suicide among young people. Let your children have something worthwhile that makes them jump out of bed every morning. Let them immerse themselves in their passion; they should be driven by their passion and purpose. It is rare for young people with dreams, goals or destinations in mind to commit suicide. Let them have something to live for, it helps. Nigeria is tough a place for young people; there are myriad of problems, but these problems also offer opportunities. Breakthrough is tough, but possible.
I was reading about 10 recent cases of suicide in Nigeria. Two were adults of over 40 years, six were teenage and adolescent males, while two were young teenage girls jilted by lovers. The large percentage of the young males took my mind back to a discussion I had with a friend some days ago. Parents naturally rally round their daughters because they are the weaker sex. We protect our daughters because we do not want them to sexually abused, we do want them to be entangled with teenage pregnancies.
What about our sons, who is helping them to sort out their emotional issues; who is providing them a shoulder to lean on. The emotional well-being of male children is overlooked in many homes. Parents just look at their grades, pay school fees and basically expect the male children to come good by some magic. “They can only impregnate other people’s daughters; they cannot get pregnant,” some parents feel, so their private and emotional lives are not priority. The male child, like the female child, is fighting many private and emotional battles. Parents should be close to them so that they can help out where necessary.
As for the two girls who killed themselves because their boyfriends jilted them, I would say misplacement of priority caused their death. At 17 or 18 years, the priority of a young girl should be to get good education, find her niche and pursue her dreams. A boyfriend is a distraction. Most boys of that age only want a relationship because of sex. Sexual relationships outside wedlock are double-edged swords and many youngsters, boys and girls, at that age are not just mature enough to deal with the heartaches and heartbreaks that come with failed or troubled relationships. Their bodies and peer pressure always want them to experiment with sex and relationships at that age, but if parents help them to get their priorities right early in life, it could help them in navigating the turbulence of adolescence.
Life, especially in difficult environments like Nigeria, does throw many challenges and situations at you. Some of these challenges and situations are quite unpleasant and seemingly hopeless, but suicide is not an option; we must collectively work to prevent suicide from becoming a fashion fad.