Nigeria witnessed an unprecedented spate of suicides in 2019, especially with media coverage of such incidents. Some schools of thought have argued that suicide incidents had existed in Nigeria possibly on a large scale but most of such incidents were never reported in the media. Well, 2019 saw a number of incidents reported in social and mainstream media. The fact is that several articles in the media cite cases that happened across the years. This article contains facts about suicide incidents that occurred in Nigeria in 2019.
A new study has revealed that the North East geopolitical Zone recorded the lowest suicide incidents in Nigeria in 2019. The study carried out by hypothesis.com, an independent research group, was a content analysis of reported cases of suicide in both mainstream and social media from January to December 2019. The figures showed that 69 suicide cases were recorded in 2019 out of which 74% (52 persons) were cases involving men while 26% (18 persons) were women. Data further showed that the Southwest geopolitical zone recorded the highest suicide incidents with 34 (49%) of the entire cases while the Northeast recorded the lowest with just one case (1%). Southeast had six suicide cases (9%), South South recorded 13 (19%) of the incidents, Northwest recorded six (9%) of the incidents, while North Central geopolitical zone recorded ten (14%) of the incidents.
The study further showed that 22 students committed suicide in 2019. Out of the entire suicide cases, 53 were young adults/adolescents (here operationalized as age 39 and below) while 16 were old adults (here operationalized as age 40 and above). One child (a 9-year-old girl) was involved.
Massmediang adopted the data journalism technique in reporting the trend of suicides in 2019 with facts from the study conducted by hypothesis.com. Full list of all suicide victims is also available.
The complete list of suicide victims in various states of the country was also recorded in the study. Most of the incidents were cross-checked in both social and mainstream media to further measure authenticity of the incidents. The doubtful incidents which appeared in just one or two social media platforms were not recorded.
The study further showed that only three cases were murder-suicide incidents while the rest involved only the suicide victims.
It was further gathered that the most common method of suicide in Nigeria in 2019 was the use of Sniper insecticide which had 38% of all cases, followed by hanging (27%), and ‘others’ (26%). Others here refers to the use of other methods such as use of gun, jumping into river, setting self ablaze, drinking other chemicals not Sniper, jumping in front of moving truck, among others. Sixteen percent of the methods were not stated in the reports so such incidents were classified as ‘unknown’.
Lagos state had the highest cases of suicide in 2019 with 21 out of the 68 incidents. This was followed by Oyo, Bayelsa and Ogun states which had four incidents each, then Delta, and Rivers states which recorded three incidents each. States that had only two reported suicide incidents are Osun, Ekiti, Enugu, Anambra, Benue, Imo, Edo, and Kogi. Those that had just one incident of suicide as reported in the media are Ondo, Akwa Ibom, Jigawa, Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Zamfara, Borno, Niger, Kwara, Nasarawa, and Plateau state. The Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, recorded two incidents. The following states had no suicide incident in 2019, Abia, Ebonyi, Cross River, Sokoto, Bauchi, Yobe, Adamawa, Taraba, and Gombe state.
Note that these cases are based on reports on mainstream and social media. Where an incident appeared only in just one or two social media platforms without presence in mainstream media or a number of other social media such incident was not recorded. Such a report on an incident in Abia State allegedly involving a retired civil servant was not recorded for lacking presence in other news platforms. There were no reported suicide cases in the entire North Eastern states, except one incident in Borno State. Every other zone recorded at least one incident in most of the states in 2019.
Massmediang sought to find out possible explanations for some of these findings from scholars in the society, especially regarding the fact that more Nigerian men committed suicide than women in 2019.
Why North East recorded lowest suicide incidents
Only one incident of suicide was recorded in the entire North East geopolitical zone. One would have thought that because of the cases of insurgency in this zone the rate of suicide might have been higher. But that was not the case. Only Borno state had one reported incident of suicide involving a personal steward to the state Governor. What could be the possible explanation to this?
Professor Gambo has lived in Borno State for years so he understands the chemistry of the state. He argues that the media reports might not be a true reflection of suicide incidents in the North East geopolitical zone. His view on this is very interesting.
“That may not be a good picture to look at because actually all the factors that should lead people into committing suicide are there. They are prevalent but may be the surveillance system has not been able to pick up as many cases as reported so far. You have also tendencies based on pressure from the environment. People have lost a lot of things. If you go to the Federal Neuro Psychiatrist hospital in Maiduguri you could find a lot of data to do with escalations in terms of the number of people coming down with depression and depression actually is a leading cause of suicide. So I’m actually saying that there may be under-reporting of the incidents in the Northeast.
“It is possible to under-report suicide in areas where it is a taboo. For instance, in some places a family is regarded as cursed if they have a case of suicide. Suicide in Islam is a taboo. Any family with a case of suicide is regarded as cursed.
It could be one of the reasons. Also, there is this idea that if I have, it is the will of God, if I don’t have, it is also the will of God so why should kill myself because of lack.
“Also, you look at the support system. The social support system in terms of supporting individuals is also high here. You may have a higher tendency for families to exercise a lot of control and influence over the thinking, the psychology of their members. So wherever you go, whatever happens to you, you can find your way back home and you will still be taken care of; and religion plays a very significant role here in the North particularly in Moslem dominated communities. Islam is clearly against suicide. People resort to religion to explain a lot of things especially misfortune,” Prof. Gambo said.
Blaming the Media
Some scholars have suggested that the media contribute in some measures to the spate of suicides in the society. The Nigerian mass media are not an exception. Both social and mainstream media published suicide incidents mostly with details of how the victims committed suicide. Suicidologists whose main interest is the study of suicides have argued that the media indirectly cause people to commit suicide. What is the view of Nigerian scholars on whether the media in the country are culpable in the spate of suicides in 2019?
Prof. Oso talks about possible moral panic caused by the media and the unethical practices of social media when reporting sensitive incidents.
“There is the moral panic argument that the more the media pay attention to some social problems the more those social problems increase. So it’s more like what we call the amplification spiral. The more media pay attention to a social issue the more it seems to increase. It’s just like this rape issue. The way rape is reported now it’s as if rape is going on every day. But rape has been there before; but because society is paying more attention now so the media is also paying attention. So that’s where you find media agenda feeding into public agenda and the agenda of the state.
“Social media people whether we like it or not, a good number of them are interested in the number of cliques. That’s one of the drawbacks of social media. That’s why they don’t bother about ethics, they don’t bother about social responsibility,” he said.
Prof. Gambo argues that there needs to be more research with extensive methodology before concluding that the media cause suicide incidents;
“Actually there is a factor if you look at the tendency to replicate. For instance, sniper that is formulated to fight a different thing has now emerged as a major killer. And it’s even a thing of pride these days for one to say well if they push too hard I’ll just go and take sniper. But whether actually we can blame the media in terms of causation is another thing entirely. We’ve not had significant number of studies and we have not used extensive methodologies to be able to arrive at such causations. We need to investigate more.”
Prof Gambo further suggested that suicide incidents could be reported responsibly. “There are many ways of reporting events and issues without even going into the gross description of such events and issues. If it is an ethical issue where we say we don’t want to lead people into details, we want to conceal some of the details because of possible offence or because we don’t want to lead people to commit suicide yet on the other hand we have a responsibility to report, we can report suicide using the appropriate language without going into that kind of details. This is because by presenting such description we’re automatically likely to be teaching those who have the tendency to commit suicide to do so.
“Whether it is the social media or conventional media the question of causation must be properly answered because you need the appropriate methodology to arrive at that kind of conclusion as to whether it is a mere association or there is a causal relationship. I don’t think that we can blame the media for that. People have different reasons for committing suicide. We might say the media are accessories to suicide, may be if we have substantial evidence we can say they have contributed a quarter but to what extent is this? It is very very dangerous to go into that kind of conclusion without proper studies. You already have a foundation for suicide in most instances but we can say the media may be responsible for a fraction but I don’t know the fraction,” he concluded.
High suicide rate in Lagos
Some of the resource persons interviewed by Massmediang had some explanations as to why Lagos state recorded the highest numbers of suicide incidents in 2019. These opinions provided interesting insights.
According to Prof. Oso, “Lagos is the center of all kinds of terrible things. The pressure in Lagos is so much. You find people staying in traffic for five hours. The race to make it in Lagos is so high it can drag people to the extreme.”
Prof. Nkwam-Uwaoma also provided possible reasons for the high rate of suicide incidents in Lagos state. “This has to do with high-tech. Technology goes with some problems. The issue of unemployment comes in here. In high-tech cities across the world the issue of unemployment has been known to be high there.
“Remember one of the things that goes with high-tech areas is that people lose their jobs. The moment jobs are computerized some people are put out of jobs. Lagos is more of a westernized city where individuality prevails, not a community-based life any longer. If an Igbo man for instance leaves the Southeast to Lagos, you don’t have your mother or father there. You are on your own. But if it is in the Southeast here if things become too difficult for you there is the option of running to your kinsman for assistance. Individuality plays a big role in places like Lagos.”
Suicide is not an option
All the scholars and exerts interviewed unanimously agreed that suicide was not an option. They insisted that people should strive to push on despite difficulties they faced.
According to Prof. Okunna, “No, you have to press on. It may not be easy but suicide is never an option. Anyone who commits suicide is a coward. I don’t believe in suicide. Suicide is a coward’s reaction to difficulties. This is a psychological problem. I don’t think anyone who commits suicide is normal.”
Prof. Nkwam-Uwaoma said; “There are suicide hotlines that some psychologists have opened online. In civilized societies there are suicide hotlines. Immediately anyone begins to have suicidal thoughts he or she presses the button and gets assistance in terms of counseling and probably more. We should be able to put in our school systems the development of the psych. The issue of suicide, the beginning point is the mind. When the mind is polluted, when the mind refuses to see a better alternative the body will now react. So people should open up.”
Prof. Okeke added her view on this; “In terms of suggestions, there should be proper reorientation of the youth, improvement in economic system/ income power of the people, sincere war against corruption and giving young people a sense of belonging. Suicide can never be the option because the dead person cannot solve the problems he has abandoned. Campaign/enlightenment programmes should be carried out on the evils of suicide using also the religious angle of it.”
Prof. Oso said: “Suicide shouldn’t be an option. We should try as much as possible to educate people that there’s always a tomorrow. The stress you’re going through today, the pressure you’re going through today, all things being equal it will go. Then you can go back to your normal life. I think we should try as much as possible to educate people that what is happening now may not be the end of life. Tomorrow may be better. There’s always a silver lining somewhere. The economy may be bad but some people are making it within the bad economy. Sometimes people tend to put their gaze too far. They rate themselves so high. If you live a very modest life you will still cope despite the harsh economy.”
(Updated December 28, 2019)