Suicide is the act of intentionally taking one’s life. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1 million people die each year from suicide. It is difficult to anticipate suicide in most instances and this makes it a terribly dangerous menace in any society. What drives so many individuals to take their own lives remains a serious puzzle though depression is at the center of the probable cause, according to scholars and counselors. The fact is that a suicidal person is in so much pain that he or she can see no other option. Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable. A suicidal person is often blinded by feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, hopelessness, and isolation. The person hardly sees any way of finding relief except through death.
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 more Nigerian men committed suicide in 2019 than women. 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 75% (52 persons) were cases involving men while 15% (17 persons) were women. The study further showed that 22 students committed suicide in 2019; 59% of them were male students while 41% were female students. 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, which was counted here among the 53 young adults on the suicide incidents list.
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. Data further showed that the Southwest geopolitical zone recorded the highest suicide incidents with 34 (53%) of the entire cases while the Northeast recorded the lowest with just one case (1%). Southeast had six suicide cases (8%), South South recorded 12 (17%) of the incidents, Northwest recorded six (9%) of the incidents, while North Central geopolitical zone recorded ten (12%) of the incidents.
It was further gathered that the most common method of suicide in Nigeria in 2019 was the use of Sniper insecticide which had 37% of all cases, followed by hanging (28%), 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 and Ogun state which had four incidents each, then Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa states which recorded three incidents each. States that had 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.
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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 more Nigerian men committed suicide in 2019
Several perspectives have been put forward as to why people taking their own lives. Popular among these perspectives are psychological, spiritual and societal issues. At the center of these views is depression, a situation which seems exist unnoticed among people within the same community. What could be the reason for the incidents of suicide in Nigeria in 2019? Why did more men commit suicide in Nigeria in 2019?
Prof. Stella Okunna of the Department of Mass Communication, Nnamdi Azikiwe University told massmediang in an interview that the society placed so much pressure on men and this forces a number of them to cave in when they could no longer cope. She said the expectation from men was too high, adding that culture has pushed them to the extreme.
“This is what I think about the Nigerian culture and the African culture; you push men to the brink. For me I am not surprised, your findings are in order. Even from observation. The society is just wicked. Even a small boy that is in secondary school has already started having big ideas on what do to make money. I’m even surprised that women are committing suicide.
“The economy is bad. Men dream so big, their expectation is so high, and at the end of the year the person sees that nothing is coming out. Frustration sets in. He is planning to impress his family by coming home in an SUV, but November approaches and nothing is happening.
“The case of women may be based on relationship but that of men is primarily due to high expectations,” she said.
Prof. Nkwam Uwaoma of the Department of Psychology, Imo State University also agreed with the notion that culture and high expectations forced Nigerian men into desperate situations.
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According to him, “Well, generally it’s a man’s world. You look at it from the cultural perspective. The man thinks it’s a man’s world, the society looks at him. There are certain things he may not endure since the society looks at him for greater achievements. So there is this ego. In our culture women are already, so to say, conquered. So there are certain things the man would not take that the women would take. So what the man sees as a hopeless situation the woman may not see it that way. Remember the basic thing about suicide is issues of hopelessness and helplessness.
“Secondly, in our own culture the women tend to be dependent but the man is independent. There is an Igbo adage that says if a man is broke and the person he intends to borrow from is also broke then there is serious problem. The men see that they may not be able to take care of their responsibilities and there is no body to depend on.”
Professor Lai Oso of the School of Communication, Lagos State University, also spoke on the possible reasons why more men committed suicide in Nigeria.
“The reason could be that men are under more pressure than women, extended family pressure. One trend I’ve noticed is that it appears more men are losing jobs in the formal sector than women. So you know the patriarchal nature of the African family, the impression that my wife is now the one that is feeding me. That could make some men go into depression and take some of these extreme measures.”
Professor Veronica Okeke of the Department of Sociology/Anthropology also gave her views on what might be responsible for more suicide incidents involving more men than women in Nigeria. According to her, “I believe men feel that they must achieve their goals within a certain time of their lives especially if their contemporaries are doing better. Women seem to be able to withstand pressure better than men.”
Professor Danjuma Gambo of the Department of Mass Communication, University of Maiduguri, gave his opinion on male dominated suicide incidents in Nigeria in 2019. His view: “Apparently you have more men with reasons to commit suicide. But now you have to go down to investigate the circumstances. But it shows you that there are more men coming under stress and more women likely to resist the temptation to commit suicide.
“Probably the system in which we live puts more pressure on the male than the female gender. It also shows lack of capacity to withstand the stress of life. Pressure leading to hopeless situations they cannot cope with and they would rather vacate the earth than continue living.”
Why 22 students committed suicide in 2019
The study revealed that 22 students committed suicide out of the 67 cases in 2019, as reported in the media. Of this number, 59% were male students while 41% were female students. Experts and scholars attempted to explain why a relatively large number of students committed suicide in 2019.
Prof. Okunna says peer pressure played a key role. According to her:
“Peer pressure is a primary cause in this case. Your peers assessment of you; you can blame social media somehow because people are living a false life on social media. Sometimes people are not what they present on social media. As they keep pretending and things don’t turn out the way they expected they become frustrated. This also happens to couples. Come and see the way some of them refer to themselves in public, “oh my darling wife, oh my lovely husband” yet at home they’ve not spoken to one another for a week. That frustration of living a double life forces you to the brink.”
To Prof. Nkwam-Uwaoma, “You talk about academic frustration. This issue of sex for grade, money for grade, some of them may not be able to pay, especially those from poor families. Apart from this, even the students from wealthy homes, some of them are reading the courses they were forced to read and the family expectation is so high on them and things like that.”
Prof Oso also contributed his opinion on the involvement of a relatively large number of students in suicide incidents in 2019. According to him;
“If you look at it they may be on the same pressure. The shame that you can’t measure up; you know African society we tend to put so much value on the male child. So if the male child thinks that he has disappointed the family by not measuring up there is that tendency to want to go to the extreme. Women could be able to bear so thing.”
Among the 22 students that committed suicide in 2019, there were more male students (13) than female students (9). So the argument of high expectations among men possibly relates to this finding.
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 experts interviewed unanimously agreed that suicide was not an option. They insisted that people should strive to push on despite difficulties they might be facing.
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.”
Suicide has continued to remain a major social problem across the world, Nigeria not being an exception. Nigeria is among the countries with no national suicide prevention strategy and it is something that the nation needs to key into by reducing access to the means of suicide. The strategy, according to WHO, includes “responsible reporting of suicides by the media” to avoid the risk of inspiring copycat attempts as well as care for people suffering from mental and substance use disorders, chronic pain and emotional distress. The suicide hotlines which are common in Western nations should be made a serious part of the Nigerian society. Facts contained in this article show that the Nigerian government and several other stake holders in the society need to do more to ensure that the nation those not witness the spate of suicide incidents in 2020 as witnessed in 2019.
(Updated December 22, 2019)