In most parts of Africa, tradition, religion and social norms regard suicide as abomination. Those who take their own lives, for whatever reason, are seen as abnormal people. And so, they are not buried as normal people when they die. Rather, they are thrown into the ‘evil forest’ where they rot and stink and become food for vultures. In some African communities, suicide is associated with “ancestral possession.” If, for instance, the head of a family was the chief priest of a local deity and he dies, his eldest son is expected to take over the mantle of authority from his father and serve as chief priest of the deity. If he fails to step into his father’s shoes, which often happens when, perhaps, he has been educated at school and considers his social position incompatible with the office of high priest of a local deity, the deity could later turn against him and curse him to commit suicide. But these days, such situations are rare. In the prevailing circumstances, the most important and yet disturbing fact about suicide is that it is not usually a spasmodic action. It is never committed on the spur of the moment. It is always premeditated. This is why, sometimes, what people who are known to be suicidal say or do are monitored by their doctors or relatives who feel it is their responsibility to stop them from taking their own lives. This is also the reason why in recent times, in Nigeria, the increasing rate with which students in local institutes of higher learning are committing suicide has become a source of worry, not only to parents but also to university authorities. The disturbing news of young people frequently committing suicide is, indeed, becoming routine on the pages of Nigerian tabloids. No one is sure why they are doing this. There have been speculations that in some cases these students may have been overwhelmed by financial problems. In other cases, they may have faced the problem of love gone sour and had become heartbroken. Some may have suffered depression. Some may have felt they could not face the shame of failing in their examinations. Obviously, there are many more reasons why these young people are taking their own lives. But no one is really sure what they have always had in mind. So far, the Minister of Education, Professor Ruqayyatu Rufai, appears to be silent on the increasing incidents of young Nigerian students committing suicide and many Nigerians in Diaspora are beginning to feel that the authorities ought to show a greater concern about the ugly development.
There was the case of a 24-year-old student in Ilorin, Kwara State. Bola Adeniran committed suicide early this year. A level 100 student of Marketing at Kwara State College of Education, he killed himself by hanging in his apartment in Opo-Malu. His body was discovered dangling from a ceiling fan. One of his co- tenants had noticed that his door was still locked from inside hours after dawn and had alerted neighbours. The door was forced open. And what did the shocked co-tenants and neighbours see? Adeniran’s lifeless body was dangling from the ceiling. His suicide was a huge tragedy. He was said to have shown no sign of distress before the incident. He was just a handsome and jovial young man who always enjoyed playing with people. He had packed all his belongings from the house and deleted all the contacts in his mobile phone. Those who knew him said that that was a strange way for him to behave. It gave no clue as to why he took his own life. He did not leave a suicide note, so no one actually knew what had gone wrong. One of his numerous friends did say that Adeniran, who hailed from Oyo State, was a self-sponsored student who operated a commercial motorcycle in Ilorin. It was this friend who confirmed that Adeniran had shown signs of desperation when his motorcycle was stolen two months earlier. But even at that, one would wonder if losing one’s motorbike to thieves was, by any stretch of the imagination, a reason to commit suicide.
Four months ago, in May this year, Muili Awolumate also committed suicide. Muili was a 27-year old Nigerian who graduated with a National Diploma in Business Administration from Osun State Polytechnic. His dangling body was found on a tree at Ifon village, in Osun state. Again, no one was sure of why he decided to take his own life. But there was evidence that he actually committed suicide. Those who knew him identified that the belt he used as noose was the same one he always wore. That fact forestalled any speculation that he might have been killed somewhere else and his body dumped where it was found. Awolumate was unemployed at the time he committed suicide.
In the same May this year, students of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, woke up one morning only to find that one of their fellow students had committed suicide. He was named as Onyebuchi Okonkwo. His dangling body was hanging from a rope suspended from the ceiling of an uncompleted building beside the hockey field in the campus. A level 300 Physics and Astronomy student, he was said to be the Class Representative in his Department. Not only that. He had multiple scholarships from MTN, Shell and his home community, Oraukwu in Idemili Local Government Area of Anambra State. A suicide note found on him read: “The controversy has ended.”
That note did not in any way throw light on why the young man decided to commit suicide. His course mates believed he would have made a First Class. The sad story was that he left his room in the hostel at about 2 a.m. to an undisclosed destination. When he left, his room-mates thought he was going to the classroom to read. Their shock came at dawn when they saw their mate’s body dangling from the roof of the building. He was only 23. And even as we speak, his death remains a mystery. What made Okonkwo’s death more intriguing was that apart from the fact that he had so many scholarships, his older brother was a Bank Manager. So, his death was certainly not a case of poverty.
In a more recent incident, two students committed suicide in Asaba, the Delta State capital after failing in the recent school certificate examinations. After they checked their results and found out they had failed, they convinced themselves that the best thing to do was to take their own lives. Sources close to the two young people said they had written the exams three times and each time, they failed to pass the Maths and English Language papers. They had also struggled to gain admission into the University in the last few years without luck. In their frustration, they decided to commit suicide. For a while, no one saw them and their associates thought they may have travelled. But when no one came up to say they saw them travelling, a search party was set up by their community. The Division “B” police in Asaba confirmed that the students were found dead in their various rooms by the search party. They had taken their own lives.
These incidents are by no means isolated. It is increasingly becoming the life-style of Nigerian students in higher institutions to commit suicide.
There was the sad case of 22-year old Kehinde Akintunde. He was a student of the Federal University of Technology, Akure. But just last month, on August 20, he decided to commit suicide in a hotel in Apata near Ibadan, Oyo State. A level 400 student of Civil Engineering, he checked into the hotel at about noon, reportedly having with him, a laptop bag. He booked for accommodation for the night. He was to check out by noon the following day. But he did not. The receptionist observed that he had not submitted his room key by past noon. She contacted the hotel manager, and the manager informed the director of the hotel. They waited for few hours to see if their guest had mistakenly gone out with the key. When he was not coming back, the director instructed that the door should be opened with the master key. The hotel staff members were shocked to find the guest hanging on a rope tied to the hook of the ceiling fan in the room. He had committed suicide!
The hotel management quickly contacted the Apata Divisional Police. The Police went to the scene and took pictures of the dangling body. A diary found in his bag gave police the clue to his family whereabouts. His family members were immediately contacted. The suicide note found on him read in part: “This is the hardest thing for me to do – having to part with my family this way. As far as I am concerned, I have lived my life. I felt like an old man… like a person who has seen it all. I can’t just see any purpose in living. Besides, if you can’t help build it, move to one side. Allow others who can.” To his family members he wrote: “I cherish all the years together, but a performer has to leave when the applause is still sounding. I love you.”
These pathetic situations have become a source of worry to many Nigerians both at home and abroad. Some prominent Nigerian citizens who spoke to Education Review, a very reputable Nigerian tabloid, on the increasing proclivity of Nigerian students to take their own lives tried to explain what could be wrong.
A Reverend Father in Ogun State, Emmanuel Oriyomi, was of the opinion that most students who commit suicide are usually under the influence of spiritual forces they find irresistible. He said that when a student passes through the six years of secondary school, writes the JAMB, eventually gains admission into the university and only ends up committing suicide, that student must have been under the influence of some supernatural forces. He advised Nigerian students to be more spiritually alert.
Dr Uwaoma Uche who heads the Mass Communications department in Abia State University confirmed that the issue of some students taking their own lives in recent times is giving the authorities concern. “It is quite worrying to find a student who came to the ivory towers to learn to make himself and humanity better ending up by taking his own life in a most brutal and wicked manner, bringing pain and anguish to his family, his friends and well wishers. We are all concerned about this condemnable development and we should do everything within our purview to ensure an end to such unholy attitudes.”