Memoir from the prison hall

 

By Dominic Ayegba Okoliko

I called it an unusual day, a day of rare privilege. That was what the new day seemed to promise. So I must look different – not in my usual jeans and polo shirt flying down my loins. I searched my box and found a well-starched and a long-sleeved white shirt ironed into crisps. I picked it up and laid it on my bed, and brought down a pair of plain cream-colored trousers from the hanger to join the shirt. When I paired the two to match, they were an appealing choice; and so, I set about preparing for the day.

I realised now that I would have to knot a tie.

“Damn it!”

I’d never succeeded in knotting one before. Never. I immediately wished my brother was around, or a friend. For the few occasions I had had to do a tie, it was one of them who helped me put it right. Until that day, knotting a tie was a no case for me as I could count the number of times I’d had to use tie anyways. I looked through the mirror in the guest inn where I was booked. I sighed.

“This is really silly!”

Almost at a flash, I discovered I had an oracle that I could consult. She had rarely disappointed me on a day like the one I was having. Gently, I knocked at her temple, pressing on the right combination of keys. Boom! She opened and I threw at her my puzzle. With a little divination, she popped me a slide.

“Ever want a perfect knot? This is it”; the oracle proclaimed.

I sat expectantly before my new teacher. One stroll, two, three, and I was at the sixth.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>><<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

 

“What’s the offence counsel?”

“My Lord, it’s stealing. And he’s been in the prison custody for eleven months. I’m applying for his bail, and if possible, a discharge”.

That was Barrister Jude Ogbunkwu of Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Centre (HRCRC). His voice, a gentle sound, was raised from among a host of colleagues who had gathered for the occasion. Barrister Jude and I had travelled down from Abakaliki that morning in the company of Chief Richard Unigwe and Mr. Ipa Oyene, the baba who steered our wheels. We were a team from HRCRC, a civil organisation that champions the cause of justice, peace and development with a preference for the vulnerable in Ebonyi State of Nigeria. We had come to offer our spontaneous services for some prisoners who had spent lengthy days in prison without trial. On my part, it was my first time being out in the field with them.

The court session was holding in a relatively small hall within Nigerian Prison yard in Afikpo, Afikpo North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. The hall was about fifteen by twenty metres. Its walls were painted in what looked like creamy green but appeared to be worn-out with some hoary look here and there. The celling looked as if it had been designed to bear some inundated maps. From the faded whited ceiling hung fans having their coordinated dance to the entertainment of the guests. The breeze dusting from their waves provided coolant to the rather tensed ambience of the makeshift courtroom. The walls of the hall were adorned with pictures of the suffering Jesus; what Catholics regarded as Stations of the Cross. They were pasted in sequence following the fourteen steps of Jesus’ journey from the place of his prosecution to the place he was buried. The presence of the pictures suggested that the hall was equally used as a worship centre for inmates. And for some reasons, I could relate what was depicted in the pictures, especially in the first station where judgement was passed on Jesus, with what was transpiring in the hall.

In the hall, the prisoner, a very young man, about 27 years old was stationed right at the centre of the room with his hands crossed behind his back. There was no ceremonial look about him. He wore a buttoned long-sleeved safari shirt with arms loosed. He looked quite worn-out with weary face that seemed to say, life behind bars had not been well. On his legs were a pair of shorts very squeezed from a fresh wash that gave the impression that ironing in the cloister was a luxury. It was worn on a pair of bathroom slippers. No other form of indulgent appearance could be noticed of him. As I processed his image before me, I considered it a parallel to the common trial scenes I used to see in movies. The prisoner stood right there, in the centre, under full view of everyone in the hall. He was inexpressive and appeared anxious, not knowing what to expect of the proceedings.

Right behind him stood a prison warder. He was the opposite of the young man. He was neatly dressed on a khaki Nigerian Prison Warden uniform. His trousers were ironed to wear sharp edges that seemed capable of tearing through any surface. They were adorned on a pair of black force shoes, deftly polished to scare a fly. He stood also, with his hands crossed behind and had to his back a congregation of lawyers, activists and senior prison warders.

About two metres from the makeshift prisoner’s stand was a table for the court registrars. Two men and a lady sat around it. They took turns to read out files of prisoners to be attended to. The state prosecutor; he was called the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), from the Ministry of Justice, Ebonyi State, and his colleagues, were seated to the left-hand side of the registrar’s table. Their bench had about four lawyers. The leading counsel there was a fair averagely old man who seemed to run out of words each time he had to respond to inquiries. Directly opposite them belonged the sits for the different magistrates from the Afikpo axis of the State.

And right on the stage was the Chief Justice (CJ) of the State. He was flanked left and right with judges from different high courts within the State, about four of them. He presided over the court proceeding. It was a Gaol Delivery service and no one wore any ceremonial outfit except a show of legal suits and other formal wears.

“Has there been any information filed on his case?”

“None my Lord”, Barrister Jude responded.

“And has the Prosecutor anything to say?”

“Eehm, my Lord.”

The DPP turned towards the man seated on his left-hand side and made face to him as if to beckon on him to say something. The man shrugged, indicating he had nothing to say.

“My Lord”, the DPP continued.

“The state has not been able to file any information…”

Haba! For 11 months? I virtually said those words beyond my breath but had to choke it half-way through. However, almost in congruence with my thoughts, the court was thrown into a thunderous murmur with different clicks discussing what the DPP’s response could mean. Then, one of the clerks shouted: “Order!”, and quietness was restored.

Meanwhile, the CJ had become busy with his pen scripting on his pad. When he eventually returned his attention to the court, he pronounced:

“I hereby order the discharge of the prisoner …”

The young man stood up, and in a fleeting moment he looked entranced, perhaps he was confused. Perhaps it felt surreal for him. For the past 11 months, days had circled out on him in the closure. During that period of 11 months, no attempt had been made to present him before a judge. And there he was, on a first chance, he could hear the sound of freedom. As if oblivious of the environment, he made out for the door and started jumping with a loud yell that jolted even the prison walls from their slumber.

“Be quite and go back to your cell!”

That was an order from a warder standing outside the hall where a verdict had been passed. The hall was the last building leading from the entrance to the prison yard. It stood in perpendicular direction to the two rows of prison cells. One of them, the building to the left as from the entrance to the yard, stood nose-to-nose with the hall. It was made of pure zinc materials with no brick walls, safe for the foundation.

The freed prisoner was led back into his cell located in that zinc building pending when the judgement of the CJ would be effected. Not deterred by this momentary constraint, the man allowed himself to be led away while his spirit visibly celebrated his freedom. I could imagine him say, “just a matter of time. I will be free again”.

“Call the next case”, the CJ ordered.

“Ejim Uli…”, came the voice of the clerk woman.

The case was about theft. Ejim was led in by a prison warder and made to take his position at the centre of the room. Like the previous man, his arms were crossed behind. His own short was ostensibly tattered. It was a faded blue jean whose colour had become tainted by years of use. It was worn on a pair of bathroom slippers with a somewhat round-neck creamy polo shirt. He stood with his head bowed and hardly could look up while the case was opened.

“My Lord.” It was Barrister Jude again, from HRCRC.

“This man was charged for theft and had been reminded in prison for 2 years without trial. I’m asking for his bail.”

“What’s his offence?” The CJ inquired.

“What did he steal?”

“A fowl.”

“A fowl?”

“Yes my Lord. Just a fowl!”

Laughter rippled across the room with many mooning the charge. For stealing a fowl, an individual had spent 2 years in jail and without trail.

“But stealing is stealing, whether fowl or cow or towel”.

One young man seated directly behind me whispered those words. He must have been one of such fellows who proudly arrogated to themselves, the title of ‘learned colleague’. Gosh! I had always wondered what fate the rest of us who studied under different disciplines had if they and their colleagues remained the only learned ones.

“Order!” the Clerk ordered again. As usual, his Lordship was busy scripting.

“Young man. If you’re released, will you go about stealing fowl or anything again?” The CJ spoke, looking up from his pad. In response, the prisoner mumbled out a word that sounded like no.

“Eh?” the Judge quipped. Perhaps, he had not heard very well the prisoner’s response.

“No sah!”

It came rather too quick and strong. But it was genuinely remorseful.

“…you are hereby discharged”.

“And don’t go out there making troubles because if I hear anything; I’d make sure you rot in jail.”

“Thanku sah”, “thanku sah”.

The man’s head, hands and lips were raining the words as he made his way out of the courtroom into the prison yard.

Then, the court had had another fun again. A fowl must have been a really funny item to shoplift in any stall or market!

“My Lord.”

It was the Chief Welfare Officer of the prison who spoke this time.

“If you will permit me, I would like to mention a case please”.

The CJ consented and the warder went on.

“It is about one prisoner, Onyeka Uche”.

One of the clerk immediately rose and scrolling through the list, he provided the full information of the prisoner. Onyeka was then led into the court and positioned at the prisoner’s stand.

“My Lord”.

This time, it was one of the lawyers, from the other corner of the room that spoke up.

“I’m Barr. Benson Obi, ESQ. I’m asking for the prisoner’s discharge given the nature of his offence and the terms he has spent in the prison.”

“What’s the offence counsel?”

“It’s court contempt my Lord, and he’s spent 7 months”.

“7 months?”

“Yes my Lord.”

The Chief Justice became furious. It shocked him that one of his magistrates could retain an individual in jail beyond the legal term allowed for such a case. As if to douse any doubt about the maximum sentence for such a case, he took his time to read out the section of the law which stipulates that an individual convicted of court contempt cannot be retained beyond three months. In this particular case however, the man was rather thrown in the prison without a clear pronouncement of sentence and thus, left in the prison for 7 good months.

“Tell his magistrate that he must see me and explain why he would do such a thing”, the CJ ordered.

We all had our time nodding our head. I wondered what sort of explanations the concerned magistrate would give for such obvious abuse of office.

“Having served beyond the term permitted for this crime, you are hereby discharged”.

Unlike the others, the man in question walked out unceremoniously and went his way while being followed closely by the prison warder attaché.

 

Dominic is a nascent Nigerian writer with interests in poem, prose and essays. Some of his works have appeared in Afreecan Read, Pulse.ng, Words Rhymes and Rhythm, myNews24.com, and Poemhunters. Dominic works with Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Centre in Abakaliki and can be contacted via okolikoda@outlook.com or on twitter @Ayedom1

 

Painting a Dread-full-picture: Rastafari, Misogyny and Homophobia 

By Afro-Planet

Painting a Dread-full-picture

The thought of Rastafari can summon feelings of admiration as well as contempt from the general public; but usually it’s that of confusion. Questions like: Is ‘Rastafarianism’ a religion? Is Haile Selassie their god? have been commonly raised throughout the history of the movement.

To finally put these common queries to rest, you must first answer this question: Does Rastafari have any scope outside of its Neo-Christian characteristics?

The answer? Well, to begin with, think of it like arriving in the middle of a painter laying his craft onto the canvas, you have yet to witness the master piece in its completion. Rastafari, as with life, is in transition.

Painting in Red[1]

Self-righteous and misogynistic behaviour?
Whattagwan?

One has to acknowledge the fact that Christian dogma is deeply entrenched in the Rastafari way of life. So in some sense, it is safe to say that Rastafari is now in its Neo-Christian phase. What is tragic about this transition is that Rastafari seems to be stuck in this phase indefinitely.

I need to point out why religious doctrines are no good for a movement as encompassing as Rastafari. The problem with doctrine-like thinking in a movement that is meant to be a reflection of life, is that life changes. Life is constantly transforming and recreating itself, whether it’s a new sunrise or new cell growth; whereas a doctrine remains unchangeable throughout time. In a doctrine, there is no room for processing new information, gaining new perspectives, and developing broader outlooks; everything has already been decided – you don’t have to think any more. In life, there is no day that is the same as the day that came before it; in a doctrine the same ideas from thousands of years ago will apply today and tomorrow for those who believe it.

Rastafari is Life!

Painting in Yellow[2]

Is Haile Selassie a Rasta god?

To its well-deserved credit, Rastafari has moved a tremendously long way away from the spiritual captivity of traditional Christianity, but the shackles are not completely broken. So it is no surprise that despite the fierce condemnation of all things “Rome”, certain Christian ideologies and traditions still penetrate the Rastafarian psyche. Jamaica has long been engulfed in Christianity, with the island having the most churches per capita on the planet. It is safe to say that no matter how poor a family was, there was at least one Bible in the house. Pioneering Rastafari elders in the early 20th century began to read and reinterpret the books of the Bible compiled by King James. Their mentality was of one that perceived everything they read from an African lens, and rejected all things that were of the enslaver, the very same ones that translated and bestowed the book unto them in the first place. No easy task, but within its time and context, a reinterpretation was necessary and completely logical. This began the journey towards our spiritual liberation.

Now the story of the divinity of His Imperial Majesty (H.I.M) Haile Selassie I (King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Elect of God, Lion of Judah) is an interesting one. In Revelations 5:5 it talks about the unworthiness of anyone anywhere to fulfil a particular task, (which was apparently of immense importance), until lo and behold, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Lion of Judah arrived on the scene to carry out this important task. Then on November 2nd 1930, at the pinnacle of the colonial era, lo and behold an African King with an established lineage that dated back to important figures from the very same Bible, is coronated as Emperor of Ethiopia, the only country in Africa completely untainted by colonialism; and given the same titles that were mentioned in the biblical story. Anyone can acknowledge the connection was uncanny.

So herein lies the duplicity: the gift and the curse. Whilst the connection did put HIM as the central figure of the Rastafari movement (hence the name “Ras Tafari”); it also, in a sense, created an indefinite union between Rastafari and Christianity, via their common relationship with the Bible. So, Rastafari may well be a free, enlightened and majestic way of life, but to the average onlooker, it can appear little more than a sub-sect of Christianity, where God is replaced with Jah, and Jesus is replaced with Haile Selassie I.

Now obviously, I’m writing this from a very privileged position. I’m privileged in the sense that I bore witness to the full life and reign of HIM as Emperor. I have read his words, I have seen the results of his efforts, and I have feasted on the fruits of his labour. Haile Selassie, by his actions has lived up to the reputation given to him by Rastafari as “Earth’s rightful ruler”, having been the moral conscience of the world for well over 50 years. Established institutions like the United Nations, ideas of collective security, not to mention Africa’s total political decolonisation, are merely a sample of his work for which he receives extremely little credit. I’m sure if the elders were around (and some of them are) to witness the work of HIM, they would no longer need to rely on the Bible to justify his divinity. It’s a shame the young ones still do.

When Rastas continue to present Haile Selassie to the public as Jesus Christ in Black face, it’s no wonder that decades of his work and achievements are overlooked – some people just see him as the “Rasta god”, while others as people can’t get past the audacious comparison of “just a man” to such a divine (and possibly fictional) character as Christ.

In addition to the lack of respect or even acknowledgement the African world has for the contribution of Haile Selassie towards putting Africa on the path towards its liberation, the Christianized version of Rastafari also comes with other problems, namely misogyny and homophobia.

Painting in Green[3]

            Are there any Rasta womxn?
Just left a Rasta group chat with about 200 men
No womxn!

So where are the womxn?
Especially in Africa?

Only place where womxn really represent is in South Africa.
And they have a shit load of horror stories!
but that’s another story…

I credit the misogyny to Old Testament ideas like “A woman can only come to the Lord through her husband”; and that “women must be silent and submissive”. So in a sense, Rastafari was bound to display elements of patriarchy as books expressing patriarchal themes were used as the main spiritual reference. Thus, despite the rhetoric of “equal rights and justice for all”; women (wherever you can find them) are often playing a subservient role.

It has even reached the point where there is a feminist backlash reaction to the misogynistic nature of the movement. Hence the need to elevate the divinity of Haile Selassie’s wife Empress Menen, as a way to patch things up. If only women were allowed to embrace their equality, they might have been able to see themselves in Haile Selassie, and therefore not have to shift the focus away from his plan of action and work ethic, to an issue of gender.

 And homophobic behaviour
Whatta gwan?

Some of the stigma attached to homosexuality in the Caribbean stems from the history of sodomy being used as a form of punishment to disobedient enslaved Africans. Our African ancestors held in captivity in the Caribbean and Americas were anally raped by their enslavers, often in front a crowd including their spouses and children.  However, most of the homophobia that exists today stems from conservative Christian ideologies. This of course spills over into Rastafari, which is one of the reasons why Rastas are so vehemently opposed to the lifestyle.

Books like Leviticus are commonly used to condemn gay people; ironically enough that same book was used to justify the enslavement of our ancestors, along with isolating women whilst on their period and not wearing clothes made from two different types of fabric. Even worse than that, is that it makes the movement seem rigid and unsympathetic.

Now critiquing homosexuality is one thing, but using religious doctrine to do it and questioning people’s morality because of their sexual preference is something completely different. It undermines the entire argument. There are many negative issues within the homosexual community that gets completely overlooked even by gays themselves because they are too busy fighting for their right to exist as free and equal human beings. So, while gays and their supporters are out flying the rainbow flag, issues like the sexual grooming of young boys and the high prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases and cancers within the gay community go unaddressed.

If you’re going to be in any way critical of the lifestyle, those should be some of the key talking points instead of condemning someone to moral and spiritual damnation because “the Bible told me so”. Plus, being so passionate about what takes place between consenting men in a private setting is absurd and a bit weird. It doesn’t really sound like the “Equal rights and justice stands for all” ethos of Rastafari, but more of an overzealously religious and fundamentally judgemental way of thinking.

That energy could and should be directed towards something that can actual have a positive and favourable impact on the movement and on the people we claim to represent. And we’ve all seen the backlash to the onslaught of homophobic lyrics in reggae music during the 90s. Artists’ careers have been destroyed, the music heavily censored and closely monitored, and now gay people have a bigger platform more than ever. Rastafari people should know more than anyone that whatever you fight against will only grow stronger.

Letting the Paint Dry

The Rastafari Elders that founded this movement set us out on the journey towards our total liberation. They established a solid foundation based on the pillars of peace, love, equality and justice. They also instilled in the movement a resilient desire to seek a greater knowledge and understanding of life and how to live it the best way possible. It would be a great dis-service to these elders if the Rasta of today chooses not to seek or use their knowledge and understanding to advance the movement; and instead remains stagnant and inactive as Rastafari is continued to be perceived as “Rastafarianism”, a cult-like sub-sect of Christianity; and Haile Selassie’s militant work-ethic and tireless efforts continue to be undervalued and ignored.

Those that came before us used the tools available to them and built the structure we see before us today. It’s only right we use the tools available to us to expand that structure to its fullest potential.

“The temple of the most high begins with the body which houses our life, the essence of our existence. Africans are in bondage today because they approach spirituality through religion provided by foreign invaders and conquerors. We must stop confusing religion and spirituality. Religion is a set of rules, regulations and rituals created by humans, which was suppose to help people grow spiritually. Due to human imperfection religion has become corrupt, political, divisive and a tool for power struggle. Spirituality is not theology or ideology. It is simply a way of life, pure and original as was given by the Most High of Creation. Spirituality is a network linking us to the Most High, the universe, and each other…”

― Haile Selassie I

 [1] In Rastafari signifies The blood shed of the African people

[2] In Rastafari signifies The Sunshine of  the African land

[3] In Rastafari signifies the lush Greenery of the African continent

 

AfroPlanet was a cabinet minister in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the time of independence. After the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, he fled into the forests to escape capture. While there, he ingested a rare precious metal, which gave him immortality. He has since been on a one man mission throughout the African continent, contributing in any way he can. He currently writes for Afreecan Read.

 

“Mad” people in a mad country

Part ii: Whirlwinds and Flies on a Dunghill

by Elisha Gwanzwang Godswill
if you missed part one, Gathering Firewood”, you can read it here

I think you remember what I yarn last time…. that ‘na everyting for Naija go drive you mad’ and that ‘Madness is a foreign country’?  I think you also remember the shocking statistics of the Medical Director of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital? These gut-wrenching stats vex me and like Dante (reading the words on the gate of hell) their ‘meaning is dire to me’. But unlike Dante, I don’t have Virgil to guide me in this foreign land of ‘various tongues, horrible languages, outcries of woe, accents of anger, voices deep and hoarse, with hands together smote that swell’d the sounds, made up a tumult, that forever whirls round through that air with solid darkness stain’d, like to the sand that in the whirlwind flies’.

Sweeping Ones Home Clean

There is an old Africa proverb that goes ‘it better to sweep your home clean than sweep the streets’.  I think a modern equivalent would be ‘charity begins at home’ or ‘as the family goes, so goes the world’. The family system is the chief and sole supplier of the mentally disordered to the world. Therefore, it is wise for us to pay attention to our setups and members of our family.

If a person has a mental health disorder, it is very likely that the manifestations would be felt at home first.  And It is also the family that can come to his aid as with the case of the souls in purgatory as Catholic theology teaches.  Like the wretched souls that Dante hears wailing,  our family members experiencing mental health challenges are powerless to help themselves due to their state of mind.

My dear uncle Emma now roams around the streets of Zango-Kataf in his state of nature. I remember him as a devoted Catholic, hardworking and prayerful. As time went on, we noticed some changes in him. All of a sudden, he took to the consistent praying of the rosary and lectio divina like a Catholic monk. As time went on, he became somewhat aggressive and violent. It was in his violent mood of his unstable mind that he attempted to machette my late father. Fortunately, my father was able to dodge from the aggression, overpower him and snatched away the arm from him.

Not quite long after this incident, Emmanuel was returned to the village where he came from.  His condition, I learnt, deteriorated while in the village. I strongly feel now, that had it been we took the right measure as a family by not leaving him alone to himself and his creator, by taking him to Barnawa (Neuropsychiatric Federal Hospital, Kaduna) he would not have been the being he is today. Worse, I do not know the whereabouts of his wife and child today.

Stitching the Social Fabric

We live in a society that is flooded with misconceptions about mental illnesses. One of such misconceptions is that mental illnesses are spiritually induced, this might be true to an extent and reasonable to the average African who believes that to every physical occurrence there is a spiritual force behind it. Perhaps, this is why we prefer to rush our relatives to prayer houses – Traditional, Islamic, and Christian – on discovery of any questionable behaviour that is against the social standard.

There is a prevalent ideology among Nigerians that psychiatric care is expensive (which may be true). We also believe erroneously that if you are not sleeping in dunghills and going about without cloths, nothing is wrong with you, with this attitude of ours we allow our brethren with mild mental issues that could be easily curtailed to worsen.

It therefore comes to me as no surprise when I overheard my classmates classify a lady that stands alone somewhere near the new garage that leads to my university campus to beg for alms as being normal just because the demarking appearance are yet to manifest all over her. In my view, she’s far from being normal. I do not think an able-bodied person in her normal senses would chose not to work but to live on the Naira notes she gets from generous Nigerians from begging with her then infant child, without giving a thought to the sad event of her child falling off her body and being crushed by a vehicle. We have this category of people everywhere in Nigeria.

Our scepticism about a person’s mental health should not deter us from giving attention to their mental and psychological state of mind and lending a helping hand to them. We should endeavour to cultivate a culture of awareness to little details in our lives and that of our neighbours. It is a trite saying that, ‘A stitch in time saves nine’.

Prayers Don’t Gather Firewood

In Nigeria, I have too often seen religion being employed negatively or abused to its own detriment. The way we practice religion in this country leaves a lot to be desired. We fight and destroy lives and properties, nearly on a daily basis, in the name of God. Others want to forgo all ownership and responsibility, in hope that God will do it for them.

In the case of the mentally disordered person, we attach our spiritual sentiments to their problems and instead of taking those affected by mental illnesses to the appropriate place (psychiatric hospitals), we rush them to prayer houses – a classic example of placing round pegs in square holes. I believe in the efficacy of prayer and rarely go a day without communing with God by means of prayer. However, when it comes to allowing our God to do everything for us, I am totally opposed to it. If we believe that God has fashioned every person with a thinking faculty and bodily abilities to do things for ourselves, then that’s exactly what we should do when it is possible.

Behind my dormitory at school, is the Dynamic Apostolic Church. Without them singing, dancing, preaching praying, one could easily mistake them for a traditional healing centre. Here, people with all kinds of diseases are being attended to. I know of two mentally disordered people who lived in the church for over a couple of years. When the administrator of the church felt their cases were beyond his power, and perhaps beyond the power of his God, they were discharged and now worse off. Ade Bendel and Alaba are their names. The last time I sighted Alaba, he was hurrying towards Ijebu-Oru from Ago-iwoye – all in the Ijebu North Local Government area of Ogun state, without any cloth to cover his nakedness. I think it is high time Nigerians stopped hunting for penguins in the Sahara.

A Deadbeat Government

Euphemistically, people experiencing mental illness in Nigeria are being referred to as ‘government pikin’. The term suggests that they are under the care of the government. In reality, the case is exactly the opposite. For if the government really cared about them, how come they are homed by the streets like proper vagabonds? How is it that we have just a single neuropsychiatric hospital in Kaduna? How come they have not taken it upon themselves to sensitise us on the fact that mental illnesses are not spiritual? How come psychiatric health care is beyond the reach of the average Nigerian?

Often times, I wonder if our mentally inadequate brethren are not Nigerians. Often times, I wonder if they are in any way deserving the kind of life they are getting. I cannot prevent myself from calling the sanity of all those in the echelons of power into question. I cannot understand why any sane person would take an oath to help contribute to progress of his country, but instead of doing so, he adds to the problems by ignoring real problems and carting away the wealth.

It is pertinent to state, that the bulk of psychiatric service is provided by the eight regional psychiatric hospitals and the departments of psychiatry in twelve medical schools[i]. From my observation, government seems to worry less on the issue of mental health, perhaps because they feel it is not as pressing as security, food production, battling corruption to mention but a few. This may be true in some essence, but we cannot neglect the fact that one problem leads to the other. Further, it is not ideal to overlook some sectors of our national life even if the same amount of attention would not be paid to them.

Market of Betrayals

So many times, when things are not going well in a country we point accusing fingers at those at the helms of affairs in the state, well, this is not out of place because they formulate policies and are saddled with the task of implementation. I strongly feel that we have our own share of the blame to burden. We talk as if we are governed by people from another planet who have nothing to do with us. We are the government. We present ourselves to contest for elected positions. We vote those who represent us in the running of the state.

We are either directly or indirectly connected to governance. For those that are politically nonpartisan, we have relations in power. Similarly, the religionists that capitalise on our gullibility to make us do absurd things are products of the family. Without the family, there will be no society; this goes to show that we are the principal actors in orchestrating our problems- mental problems inclusive. In one way or the other we are contributing to the alarming number of mad people in Nigeria. We do not care a bit about our welfare. Some of us engage ourselves in acts capable of impeding the smooth running of our brain. We deceive ourselves on solutions to problems of mental health. We do not provide our ailing people with the needed facilities and conditions to return to sanity. In brief, we are the source of our own problems. We are the building blocks of our families, our congregations and religious institutions, we form the society and we are the basis of our government. We are all at fault as well. We need to admit this and take responsibility ourselves.

An aspect where the four factors (family, society, religion and government) have combined to a devastating effect to mete out what I perceive as unmerited wickedness on the mentally challenged is in the shameful act of sexually abusing them. Some highly irresponsible members of our family and society do sneak out under the cover of night from the warmth and love of their spouses to the slums and dunghills to see their mistresses and fancy men. Some of the results we see in the pregnancies they carry about.

In Literature that is generally accepted as the mirror of society, Nigerian dramatist, Niyi Adebanjo in his ‘A Market of Betrayals and a Monologue on a Dunghill’ captured this barbaric act aptly. Inquire from the perpetrators of this beastly act, you will get to hear that a religious minister ordered them to do so in order to acquire wealth or in the case of politicians vying for and those in power to gain it or remain in power. Is this true? Well, that is for the experts in that field to tell us. To classify the four factors into one I will say it is Man. The four factors are human. This is a case of man-killing-man.

As a family, society, people of God and countrymen, we need to go back to the drawing board to think, devise and implement ways of ameliorating the pangs of the tragic conditions of the mentally disordered person. As a matter of fact, we are all praying not to be in their state but if truth must be told, we must realise that we could be in their shoes tomorrow. After all, there is only a thing line severing sanity from insanity.

Elisha Gwanzwang Godswill is a Nigerian obsessed with knowledge and has a wide variety of academic interests. He hopes to research Conflicts, especially as it relates to Africa