3rd mainland bridge, Lagos - the new haven for suicide victims
“Who wanna die” is a popular reggae refrain. It used to be largely seen as a rhetorical question expected to be answered in the negative. But not anymore, especially among residents of Lagos who, apart from attempting suicide and actually committing it in unprecedented manner, are tapping into the window of opportunity provided by the state government to tell the authorities that they “wanna die”.
It is likely government didn’t bargain for what it got when it commissioned helplines for residents to call in if suicide cases walk on two legs or hibernate around them.
The lines were officially released to the public last Friday and by Wednesday this week after a check, it was more than a ratio of 10 calls to a day, bringing the total to about 50 in about four working days. That surely must be a cause for concern.
According to findings, of the over 50 calls received, four were serious suicide cases while three, though dire, were from other states.
One of the therapists who spoke to Saturday Tribune under anonymity said, “We have met physically with the four callers after counselling them. Some of the callers access the helplines from outside Lagos, from states like Borno and Kano. Although their cases are dire, we could only counsel them."
The therapist stated that some of the calls were misdirected due to certain semantic undertone of the helpline.
“Some people call the helpline asking for financial help. Some call because they lost their jobs or got divorced. We direct these persons to the social services for attention.
“But we wish to enlighten the people that it is a helpline for emotional distress. We offer counselling services. After talking to a therapist, you can decide if you want to meet the therapist face to face. The problem is separating what these lines are meant to serve from what people think it is used for. But it is not to provide money for people”, he said.
The acting Chief Medical Director of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Dr Richard Ademola Adebayo, identified the current economic crunch as a factor responsible for the upsurge of suicide cases in the state.
“Anywhere you have a recession, suicide is typically the fallout. And in our society where people cope with a drop in purchasing power, where there are no jobs, where those who have jobs cannot afford basic things like food, clothing and shelter, thoughts of ‘life is worthless’, thoughts of hopeless and loss of faith might set in. And where these factors are available, depression is present.
“Suicide does not just occur. It takes a prolonged period of time to set in and to mature. When an individual is depressed, they are very vulnerable to suicide”, he said.
The psychiatrist identified other factors that may lead to suicide.
“Lack of faith can lead to suicide. When an individual has a challenge, he does not immediately go to commit suicide, but when he thinks he does not have the capacity to face the challenge, he is first depressed then suicidal. So, we try to tell people to have faith that whatever it is they are going through can be solved.
“Now, it is important to state other factors that might make an individual suicide-prone. One of them is drug abuse. A person who is constantly on drug overuse is most likely to lose faith in life and to commit suicide.
“The second is terminal illnesses such as cancer, stroke and AIDS. Incurable conditions also contribute immensely to depression, which is a stage to suicide.”
He mentioned mental disorder as a contributing factor to the rise of suicide cases. “A mentally imbalanced person is more likely to see no value in life and then to commit suicide”, he stated.
Dr Adebayo, in enumerating the factors, mentioned certain remedial steps to preventing suicide, enjoining the people to be their brothers’ keepers.
He said, “Ordinarily, religion is supposed to provide hope to adherents. But more often than not, this is not the case. When we are no longer our brothers’ keepers, when people are honoured based on their social status rather than virtues, it likely makes the man who does not have the wherewithal to be honoured feel that his life is worthless. This leads to depression and then suicide”.
Beyond psychological solution, the government too has tried to fashion ways of stemming the suicide tide in the state with a blanket ban on any form of loitering on the Third Mainland Bridge which has suddenly become a suicide attraction.
The ban by the police has had its hilarious side. A well-circulated story on the social media asked the opinion of Nigerians on the morality of the sacking of a driver who refused to obey his boss’s order to stop on the bridge for him (the car owner) to ease himself. The boss, according to the gist, ended up peeing on his body and then firing the driver for the embarrassment.
The driver reportedly claimed that he didn’t want his boss to jump into the Lagoon like Dr Orji who ordered his driver to stop and then jumped into the river. If the police ban is factored into the driver/boss gist, the driver would have been correct to disobey his boss.
But what exactly is pulling Lagosians into the lagoon on the Third Mainland Bridge, which they have known for nearly three decades? The Bashorun of Oworonsoki land, Chief Jelili Aremu Lawal, one of the custodians of the traditional values in the Lagos community, which hosts the lagoon, gave an insight.
His community has suddenly jumped into the consciousness of many, considering its prime of place among other communities that are not only surrounded by the lagoon but also house the popular bridge that is fast becoming a controversial one.
Since the lagoon at different points became the choice place for suicide, some traditionalists have urged the government and the traditional institution to look beyond the individual’s reason for the suicide and attempts. They are of the opinion that some “water forces” might be responsible for the inexplicable urge to jump into the lagoon.
Is Otta deity angry?
The traditional institution in Oworonsoki has made efforts to appease the water spirit in the land, “Otta,” whom the custodians have exonerated over the latest rash of suicides and attempted suicide.
Chief Lawal disclosed that the recent attempts were not as a result of the anger of the gods and goddesses but rather as an expression of the individual mind. The traditional chief claimed that the people of Oworonsoki under Oba Bashiru Oloruntoyin Saliu had done everything to forestall the anger of the gods. According to him, sacrifices have been made after the latest suicide incidents to put an end to the trend.
“We have some deities that we worship. Many of them are in the river while others are terrestrial. The government does not believe in all this but we the indigenes do. Our major deity is Otta. It is a water spirit. We worship it in a big way. Whenever it is time to celebrate Otta, our sons and daughters come from far and near.
"Those who are based overseas usually come home because they know the importance of the festival. Whenever we celebrate Otta, peace reigns in Oworonsoki and our people experience prosperity. We also celebrate Egungun festival. We celebrate Otta every three years. We appeased it three years ago but our monarch appeases it every year. He invites Ifa and other priests to consult the oracle on what to do to appease Otta."
Chief Lawal described insinuations that the latest death in the lagoon was borne out of the anger of Otta and other sea gods as untrue. “The idea of people jumping into the lagoon is different from a ship capsizing. There are different ways through which people commit suicide. Some hang themselves while others jump in the way of a moving vehicle.
"These are very determined people. When a boat capsizes, people may die while others are injured. It does not mean that the water goddess is angry. Do you say road accidents occur because Ogun, the god of thunder, is angry? The fact that people are jumping into the lagoon does not mean that Otta is angry. There is no year that the Oloworo of Oworosonki doesn’t appease Otta”.
Dislodging spirits for bridge?
On whether there are issues relating to the construction of the Third Mainland Bridge as regards the culture of the Oworo people, which may be linked to the recent suicide upsurge, the Bashorun claimed that every traditional appeasement that had to do with the construction of the bridge had been carried out.
“The first part of the bridge was started by former President Shehu Shagari but [former military president], Ibrahim Babangida, completed it. Former President Shagari stopped at the Adekunle area. Then, we used to stop at Adekunle and link the Anthony area to come to Oworonsoki.
"The government did not make any provision for the appeasement of the water goddess in Oworonsoki at that time but we made the necessary appeasement. There were some of our deities that were affected by the construction of the bridge. We had to appease them to save the indigenes of Oworonsoki and other residents from the anger of the water spirit.”
The Bashorun, going down memory lane, said: “Our forefathers were the Awori people. They were fishermen who settled here over 400 years ago. The town has developed and there have been inter-tribal marriages between the Youba and the Igbo and other ethnic groups. We have been living in harmony."
Chief Lawal spoke on steps to be taken to forestall further suicide incidents at the lagoon. “Let me point out that the deity was not responsible for the suicide at the lagoon. Some people hanged themselves in their homes and other places. Only the dead know the reasons they committed suicide.
“Some people may decide not to jump in front of a moving vehicle as a way of ending their lives because they know that they might not die but only get injured, and that is not their plan. They may also not want to implicate the driver. But they know that jumping into the lagoon is a sure way of killing oneself. It all depends on the individual. It is just a coincidence that about four people attempted to jump into the lagoon at the same time. The first person might have influenced others.
“Otta and other sea deities get angry at times but the monarch of Oworonsoki does not wait for this to happen before appeasing them. For instance, look at the helicopter crash at the Oworo end of the lagoon last year. Out of the 12 passengers and crew members, only six people died. The monarch spent a lot of money and he was not reimbursed by either the government or the helicopter company. However, the helicopter company built a health centre in one of our schools”.
On if the traditional institution has carried out divinations to know if Otta or any of the other deities was responsible for the suicide, the Oworonsoki high chief said: “Almost every time, you find Ifa and other priests at the palace. Constantly, they consult the oracle on what to do for peace to reign. If there is the need for a sacrifice to appease the gods, the monarch would contact me, the Ajagunna baales, the Aremo, the Kekeniju and others to brainstorm on what should be done.
"We contribute money and buy whatever we are told to buy by the Ifa priest. The king donates a substantial part of the money. On this latest development, we have appeased Otta. Whether it is their decision to end their lives or they were under spells, we have called on the deities to put an end to such an incident on our water. We have made sacrifices to the deities. Our monarch does not take things for granted. He adheres to the instruction of the deities on how peace would reign in our land. We are referred to as ‘elebo’ because we make a lot of sacrifices”.
The chief criticised the government for not paying what he called proper attention to culture and tradition. According to him, the government only takes traditional issues seriously when a calamity befalls a community.
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