By Marie Obiora
Happy New Year and Happy New Decade. I had hoped that this year and this decade the ugly incidents of suicide would come to an end but I do realize that the circumstances that led to them are worsening and the news has started filtering in of suicides this new year. In most Nigerian cultures suicide is a taboo, it’s forbidden and all sorts of punishments were attached to it to dissuade people from committing the act. Punishments ranging from the family not mourning the individual openly; to being thrown in the forest without a proper burial were meted out on survivors. Unfortunately, today, the advent of modern cities and the migration of many people to the cities has meant that such punishments are not as effective as they used to be. There are cemeteries in the city where people can be buried and social media and the telephone means that relatives can grieve without isolation since people can text and call to show sympathy.
Stories of the people involved in the suicide are often very sketchy and there is always a lot of speculation. Sometimes the individuals described do not match the act and this makes me wonder: how many of these deaths are actually suicide? People are very smart and one only needs to watch some crime movies or read some detective novels to know that someone can kill another person and make it look like the victim committed suicide. We are too quick to jump to conclusions that all these acts are suicide. I am not saying that people are not committing suicide but the rate is becoming alarming and the individuals mentioned do not always match the act.
The motive for suicide is usually despair but some of the victims described do not appear to be in such desperate situations. When hanging is the method used there needs to be forensic pathology to prove that someone did not strangle the victim and then hang him/her on a rope to make it look like suicide. When the method is taking an insecticide like Snipper forensic tests have to carried out on the blood to rule out other forms of poisoning, one can easily poison another and then pour Snipper all over the individual to make it look like it was consumed. Stomach contents need to be analysed to be sure the person ingested it.
When suicide has been proven beyond reasonable doubt then we need to begin to look at the motive. How come an act forbidden and abhorred by many cultures even by nature, become suddenly rampant? ‘Self-preservation is the first law of nature’, there is a school of thought that can prove this, animals run away it they feel that their lives are being threated and people even children normally run away from danger in order to preserve their lives, it is an instinct of nature to dodge life threatening danger. Why would someone now purposely take their own life? Questions need to be asked and answered. Has Africa lost its family value system for which it was known? Does the extended family system still exist? Do we keep in touch with relatives the way our ancestors used to? Does civilization mean that our relatives no longer are part of our lives? Does moving to the city totally estrange one from the rest of the family? Does being educated and self-sufficient mean that we no longer care about close family relatives? Why are people afraid to confide in others? Is a problem shared still half solved? Or is a problem shared broadcasted?
Social media is meant to be a good thing and a lot of people are hooked up to it but even as we share jokes and all sorts of mail, do we actually take time to visit ourselves. Not everything that happens in one’s life can be shared on social media and very often a good old fashioned face to face meeting is required to actually solve life’s problems but alas, we are all busy on social media communicating in a shallow manner whilst leaving real life hard core problems to weigh us down. In civilized societies, they have therapists where people can go and talk and have someone actually listen and not tell another person what was said, all this for a fee. Is there no one people can confide in? Nobody wants his or her personal problems to become the talk of social media but that unfortunately is what is happening and one of the results is suicide. Once upon a time, very many years ago, people could hop on a bus and visit a relative or a friend and pour out their heart to that person without fear of another person knowing what was said and also with the sympathy and understanding of the relative or friend. Many times in the past the person visited would encourage the relative or friend and sometimes offer solutions or run around trying to solve the problem. There would be return visits to know how the other person is faring with the problem and solutions will be discussed. Does this scenario still occur today?
Mankind is a social being that is why we are born into families; we need one another to survive. Selfishness, indifference, neglect, refusing to assist others, gossip and the lack of keeping confidences are all contributing to people committing suicide. Who will I tell? They will only laugh at me and talk about me. I asked for help and got insulted for it. I have no one to help me. I have no one to turn to. These are the statements that go on in the minds of people who commit suicide. What are we going to do about these problems?
I have some simple solutions; let us start by visiting friends and relatives once in a while. ‘Hello’ on social media is not enough. Let us become good friends to our friends, if someone comes to you with a problem please do not share with another person unless the person you are sharing with can solve the problem. Let us behave like our ancestors and keep in touch with extended family. Let us behave like them and have family reunions occasionally, at those reunions let us all eat out of the same plate and drink from the same cup (brush your teeth o). I strongly believe that if someone had another person to confide in or another person that showed concern, then suicide would never be an option.
Marie Obiora is a Public Affairs Analyst.