Not too long ago, two pupils of St. John’s Anglican Primary School, Agodo, in Ogun Waterside Local Government Area of Ogun state, were murdered by a man named Lekan Adebisi, suspected to be suffering from psychiatric disorder. The incident which drove shock into the residents of the area once again brought to the fore the debate on securing the society from the danger posed by mentally ill individuals.
The hapless victims of the brutality were Mubarak Kalesowo and Sunday Obituyi, both four years old. Lekan, believed to be well known in the community, was reported to have stormed the school while the pupils were on lunch break and mowed down his targets before taking to his heels.
On April 12, 2017, a similar tragedy occurred in a community called Mgbakwu in Awka Local Government Area of Anambra state when a mentally ill man hacked to death a pap seller whose name was given as Theresa Obalum while on her early morning routine sale of her commodity. Her assailant, Mmadubueze Orakwulu, who was said to have been deported from Morocco on the grounds of drug abuse, was descended upon by angry villagers. He was paid in his own coins and his cadaver set ablaze.
The two tragic incidents in Awka and Agodo are not peculiar to those communities alone. It has become a regular experience to encounter filthy and not too filthy-looking men and women wandering the neighbourhoods and streets of major towns and cities, some of them appearing half naked, and harassing passersby.
The recent rise in population with its accompanying social problems has brought greater levels of insecurity and tension on the populace, resulting in an increase in the number of people suffering from anxiety, depression and mental illness. However, what remains of the country’s mental policy has failed to keep pace with the change. The existing mental health legislation is archaic, dating back to the colonial era. In 2003, a bill for a mental health act passed a public reading and was passed by the Senate but failed to be adopted into law.
The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), as a body, once expressed concern over the absence of a mental health policy in the country, noting that such lacuna has left the sufferers of the ailment vulnerable. The association, therefore, resolved to work closely with the National Assembly to pass a comprehensive bill on mental health in Nigeria.
Also, a mental health specialist, Dr. Vincent Udenze, who is the Medical Director of Synapse Services Resource Centre, Lekki, Lagos, at one time, revealed that one out of every four Nigerians is living with one form of mental disorder or another.
During the colonial era, asylums for lunatics were established in different parts of the country to cater for all categories of mentally challenged persons.
Today, many of such institutions have vanished. There seems to be no clear-cut demarcation between psychiatric wards in hospitals and asylums. We, however, know that wards are meant for patients whose cases may be within redemption, while asylums are used to quarantine those who have slipped into permanent insanity.
It is common knowledge that most of the victims of mental ailment do not have access to modern therapy. Many patients are subjected to undignified treatment, such as being chained to trees or beds, locked in a cage, left without food for hours, and deprived of family support.
Some mental disorders are inherited, but insanity could also be triggered off by socio-economic challenges and drug abuse. At the first sign of trouble, family members should seek medical attention and treatment. However, they should be wary of spiritual homes and herbalists that lay claim to curing insanity by subjecting their patients to all manner of physical tortures as a way of casting out demons in their bodies. Unfortunately, many of such patients have been hurried to their early graves through battering.
The two hapless pupils at Agodo would have been alive today if their assailant, believed to be well known in the community, had been promptly taken out for medical attention instead of being allowed to roam freely.
We call on the various governments to consider bringing back lunatic asylums as a means of curbing the public nuisance that lunatics, often referred to as “government pikins”, constitute. There is also the need for aggressive public enlightenment campaigns that would discourage our youths from embracing such habits that lead to mental derangement.