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Opinion: Suicide in Nigerian Universities: What Can We Do To Stop It?

Trigger Warning

The year 2017 was easily my saddest year. I wished I died. My days were filled with sorrowful thoughts like, ‘Is there really a God? If there is, is He not a devil? Why will God allow man to suffer on earth? Will I make it in life? Should I run into a car on the road? Should I poison myself? Should I hang myself?’ These were the questions that kept me awake at night. The sadness came after I wrote my part two examinations and I failed to receive my results. I went to my department’s office, explained my plight and was asked if I remembered to sign in and out of the exam hall. I confirmed I did. I wrote a letter to the university’s Information Technology and Media Services (ITeMS) explaining my predicament and was asked to come in for a meeting. I went and they did nothing so I went back to my department to report their inaction. I was then directed to the Head of my Department who then followed me to ITeMS. In the end, I received my results after a year and this only exacerbated my depression.

At the time I had three roommates who failed to notice anything was wrong with me. They did not notice I was deeply sad. We laughed, joked, in fact, whenever I met my classmates I was so playful I was basically a clown. But beyond my pretence lay the anguish I battled with. I wrongly decided not to tell anybody of my suicidal thoughts and as a result of this, I became aloof and this was when I noticed I was constantly going to the mosque late. Prayer felt like a well rehearsed exercise and I knew I was not really worshipping God because many times, I was challenging the existence of God in my head.

However, one day, I walked up to my mentor with whom I shared my academic struggles. Somehow, this discussion filled me with hope for a brighter day as he relayed his own struggles with the same department, narrating how his file was misplaced in the same building. The misplacement of his file meant that he was not recognized as a student of the department but he was still confident that his file would be found. His confidence paid off because eventually the department found his file. We shared somewhat similar stories, so I concluded I had no reason to kill myself and that if God could give him his, I would get mine too. In the end, of course, I got it.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the privilege to speak to someone who has gone through what they are going through. Some people are better at bottling up their feelings for fear of courting negative remarks and this leads them to taking drastic actions, such as committing suicide, sometimes.

Just this year, Kolapo Olowoporoku, a student of Obafemi Awolowo University, committed suicide after repeatedly failing his courses. Perhaps, his untimely death would have been averted if he talked to people who could have bolstered his faith in himself and his ability to be better. Also, Mercy Afolaranmi, a 16-year-old hundred level student of Microbiology in the same university took her life after failing a course as well. These two scenarios show a link between academia and suicide. The burden of academia can sometimes lead one into depression especially for freshmen who get admitted as soon as they finish secondary school. These students do not understand the rigours of higher education in Nigeria and they have no experience. As a result of this, they are more likely to fall into depressed states after encountering even slight difficulties. Thus, school authorities need to give them adequate orientation about the stress and burden they may encounter in their course of study.

Lecturers who find joy in failing students add to this. In saner climes, if students fail a course, it amounts to worries for the lecturer who is teaching the course, because it means the lecturer has not done his or her job well. Although I recognise that not all students have the same brain, but it should be a cause for concern (for the school and lecturer alike) if half of the class fails a course. Here, it is rare to see a lecturer who will make it their responsibility to ensure that students pass their courses. Instead, some lecturers tell students not to bother striving for an A as, traditionally, no one can get an A. How does one learn in this kind of environment? How can students strive for excellence when they have already been pre-informed of impending failure? A humane lecturer will find a way to talk to his/her students when they fail the course. They will seek to understand why and strive to eliminate problems from their end, which will have a domino effect of ensuring a large percentage of the class understands and passes the course.

The lackadaisical attitude of the school authorities towards the alarming suicide rate among the students is worthy of note too. The school authorities are not interested in the mental health of the students and it is evident in some lecturers’ attitude to lecturing. Imagine a lecturer who does not come to class regularly and only shows up two weeks to the examination. This lecturer will be forced to cover a term’s worth of topics in a very small space of time.These lecturers, as Niyi Osundare described them in his Valedictory Lecture titled: Universe in University, are more dangerous than the usual armed robbers we know, for they murder minds. They kill students and they kill the nation.

Finally, in order to combat this attitude, school authorities need to be more invested in the mental well-being of the students because this will ensure that they do better in exams (and in their future careers) which will do well for the school in the long run. They can start by giving out questionnaires to know the mental health status of students, because not all students can speak up about their plight. Then, when they get the responses, they can organize a seminar to sensitise them on how to combat their issues.

Sadly, to a person who is blinded by their problems, suicide appears to be the only viable solution, but it is not. Time it may take, the stamerer will call his father. Time it may take, a child will become a father. Time it may take, our sweat will become a huge wealth. Time it may take, we shall have a better life. Time it may take, our sadness will turn to happiness.

I believe it is high time we gave hope to people. Let us begin the essential campaign of speaking to people, helping the needy and showing love to humanity. No man is an island and we are all interconnected. Any man’s untimely death should diminish us. We should show concern by preventing our fellow human beings from dying if we can and I believe we can.

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