Aspects of Suicide in Nigeria

Key words: Suicide, Nigeria, cultural, legal, religious, prevalence, cry for help.


Aspects of Suicide in Nigeria. What is the rate of suicide in Nigeria? Do certain Nigerian cultures or religions encourage suicide? What does the law say about suicide? Is the rate of suicide rising in our country, Nigeria?

Suicide is the act of intentionally killing oneself voluntarily. There is a pathway to suicide, and in majority of the cases, suicide is a planned action. This pathway includes:

Suicidal ideation – This is usually the beginning point. At this point, one starts thinking and believing that one is better off dead. But the person is still afraid of death.

Suicidal plan – This is planning the actions that will culminate in ending one’s life. At this point, the person has made up his mind to die. The fears has gone.

Suicidal attempt – This is an attempt or attempts aimed at killing oneself, without succeeding.

Completed suicide – This is the successful act of killing oneself.

Suicide is a planned act most times. And the planning of suicide is quite rigorous. In many of the cases, a note, called a suicide note is left behind by the person. In this suicide note, the person states the reason for the action. Apologies are also rendered to the family and friends. But in very few occasions, it is an impulsive act.

It is important to know that not everyone who has suicidal thoughts or ideations go ahead to attempt it. Also most suicide are planned to fail from the onset. Because no one really wants to die. The people that contemplate suicide are actually hurting inside. They just want a way to get relief from their sufferings. Suicide is actually a CRY FOR HELP.

Cultural perspectives of suicide.

The Igbo culture and suicide.

In the Igbo culture, the life of the human being is made up of 3 parts. These parts are the body, the heart and the spirit. And this life of the human being comes from God. So life is sacred. And it also believes that suicide is caused by spells, punishment from gods, ancestral curses, madness, etc. So suicide is thus not accepted in the Igbo culture for any reason what so ever.

Death by suicide is seen as a bad death, so it is a taboo. Anyone who attempts suicide or dies by it, is not only excommunicated from his community, he/she is also excluded from the spirit world. This means that he/she can never reincarnate back into the community.

The land, where the death occurred rituals to cleanse it are performed. If it occurred inside the house, the house is burnt.

The family and friends are not allowed to mourn the person. In some occasions, the family members are banished from the community.

The Yoruba culture and suicide.

Although the Yoruba culture abhors suicide, but it accepts it under certain conditions. Under these conditions, the culture believes that death is better than shame or dishonor. Unfortunately, this can encourage suicide.

The Yoruba culture believes that the loss of one’s dignity is a very serious issue. So suicide done to prevent the loss of dignity is accepted. A Yoruba person can advice another person to kill himself. To such people, suicide is a manly act.

In the Edo and Yoruba cultural belief, when a person dies a natural death, the soul goes to heaven. But for those who die by suicide, the soul will be seen roaming about on earth. This soul can become physical and live in a different location.

Funeral rites are denied those who die by suicide. But those suicides done for honor reasons are excused.

In the Hausa culture.

Suicide is abhorred. But under certain conditions, like to avoid shame, suicide is accepted in some communities.

The Nigerian law criminalizes the act of attempted suicide. The law says that anyone who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to one year imprisonment. A misdemeanor is a minor offence.

The Penal code also says it this way. “Anyone who procures another to kill himself;  or counsels another to kill himself and thereby induces him to do so; or aids another in killing himself; is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for life.”

Religious perspectives of suicide.

The Christian Faith.

In Christendom, suicide is seen as a crime and a sin. It is a mortal sin among the Catholic denomination and the person is liable to go to hell.

Life to the Christian is sacred. And this belief is hinged on the 6th Commandment that says that thou shall not kill.

The Islamic Faith.

The Muslims see suicide as a sinful act which negatively impacts one’s spiritual journey. The person will go to hell. In the 4th chapter of the Qur’an, it is written “And do not kill yourself, surely Allah is most Merciful to you.”

Medical perspectives.

Suicide is due to mental health conditions such as depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, Schizophrenia, etc. in 90% of cases. And out of these 90% of cases, 60% – 70% of the cases are actually due to depressive disorders. Then in 10% of the cases of suicide, it can be due to impulsivity, etc.

The general belief of Nigerians on suicide.

The act of killing oneself in Nigeria is not acceptable. It is seen as a taboo or sinful. .

In one study it documented that 55% of Nigerians believe that those who die by suicide are cowards. For these people it is believed that they could not face their life challenges.

Up to 40% of Nigerians believe that those who die by suicide have weak personalities. Only 15% in one study believed that suicide is due to mental illness.

If the person survives it, he or she is stigmatized. The stigma also extends to the family members. Almost half of the population says that they will feel ashamed if any of their family members died by suicide.

The rate of suicide in Nigeria.                                                                        

General prevalence rate:

Conflicting rates.

Are there suicide cases in Nigeria? The simple answer is YES. And the rate is increasing.

The World Health Organization reported a rate of 4.3/100,000 in 2012. Other papers reporting a fluctuating rate 6.6/100,000 in 2012 and 9.9/100,000 in 2015.  While some report 9.5/100,000 in 2016.

There are conflicting prevalence rates in Nigeria. And whatever figure documented does not reflect the true rate in Nigeria.

But one thing is certain. Nigeria had the highest suicide rate in Africa. With over 17,710 deaths recorded in 2016. This is 17.3/100,000. This was the highest rate in Africa as at 2016. This was according to the World Health Organization. This makes Nigeria the epicenter for suicide, since global rate is 10.5/100,000 and Africa is 12/100,000.

Despite all these conflicting results, one thing is certain, that the rate of suicide has increased over the years. It has increased by 60% over the past 45 years worldwide, Nigeria inclusive.

Why the conflicting rates?

It is actually very difficult to get an authentic suicide rate or prevalence in Nigeria. The reasons are due to the cultural, religious and legal implications written above.

So even if the death is due to suicide, the family members will cover it up. They may report person may even be said to have died during sleep.

Gender rate:

Suicide occurs among both males and females. More women attempt suicide than men. But more men complete the suicide than women. This is the figure globally.

In Nigeria, majority of those who succeed in killing themselves are males. About 81% are males. And also, males are more likely to attempt suicide. This is due to the fact Nigerian men are less likely seek help from mental health services. Even when they do get treatment, they are less likely to comply with the treatment. The culture views the man as very strong and mental health issues should be for the weak. They also have easy access to lethal means.

Age factors.

All ages are affected. It is more on those who are between the ages of 18 years to 29 years in Nigeria. 

In some studies in Nigeria between 2010 and 2019, majority of the cases were between the ages of 25 and 34 years. This age group is followed by those who are 35 to 44 years.

A study in Lagos state showed that 6.1% of adolescents had suicidal ideations. Of these 4.4% of them go on to plan the suicide act. But only 2.8% actually attempt it. In another study, 20% of the youths had ideations, while 12% had attempts.

In a study at Ibadan, 20% of the elderly who had suicidal ideations actually went ahead to plan the suicide. And only 6% finally attempted suicide.

Professional factors and suicide in Nigeria.  

Suicide affects all profession, some are documented here.

The health workers:

Health workers are not spared. In the recent times suicide among health workers is being brought out in the limelight in Nigeria.

 The prevalence rate of suicide attempts among health workers in Lagos state is 7.5%. This is especially among doctors and nurses. Completed suicide is also common among these sets of professionals.

Reluctance to seek help is a contributory factor. They may be afraid of stigma, and losing their jobs.  The fear of lack of confidentiality is also there. Besides, the public sees them as being immune to health problems.

Agricultural Workers:

In Nigeria, suicide is also high among these set of professionals. Suicide cases among farmers in the rural areas of Delta state is 0.74% of all deaths. This was between the years of 2016 and 2018. But the prevalence of attempted suicide was 15.8%.

Suicide among Nigerian University students:

Suicide has been increasing among Nigerian University students. A study period of between 2009 and 2018, gave an average crude rate of 10 – 25/100,000.

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