“Mad” people in a mad country

Part 0ne: Gathering Firewood


In February 2015, Nigerian psychiatric expert Dr. Rahman who was then the Medical Director of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, stated that 12.5 per cent of Nigerians “have one form of mental disorder or another”. With Nigeria’s population reaching an estimated 170 million, Dr. Rahman’s estimation indicates 21.2 million people are affected by mental disorders. For an illustration of this number, 21.2 million nearly reaches the entire population of Cote d’Ivoire and is about twice the population of Belgium.

One out of every eight Nigerians is mentally disordered. How sure am I that I am not in the number? How sure are we that Mr. President or any other high ranking political office holder is not in that ‘state of on and off’. Going by the figure given by Rahman and if the saying that ‘as the people are, so is the country’ is truthful, then, I can safely conclude that Nigeria is a geographical entity that is considerably “mad”.

Living in a Foreign Country

One acada, after study plenti plenti, say ‘Madness is a foreign country’ (I think his name be Roy Porta). If Rahman’s figures are anything to go by, 21 million of Nigerians experience foreignness while still living in Naija!

I see them everywhere across the Nigerian federation. I have seen many of them waste away their lives in neglect, scorn, misery, in dilapidated environments and without the leisure and pleasures that make this life wonderful and worth living. I have a couple of them as family members. You might also know someone in this condition. In a nutshell, they are everywhere in my country – Nigeria – the giant of Africa. I am referring to the alarming number of people in Nigeria with mental disabilities and impairments.

Frankly speaking, sorrow grips me like tick glues to the body of a dirty dog, each time I stumble across the wake of their clan. I feel sorrowful for the crude and miserable ways of their life. It pains me greatly because no one seems to care a bit about their plight. The picture I have about these members of our society is an image of a human with the filthiest rags you can ever imagine as cloths. Barefooted, they traverse the length and breadth of our nation without giving a consideration to climatic conditions.

Commonly, they wear a “shaggy” as their hairstyle. The shaggy hosts an innumerable population of lice. You hardly can take a dose of oxygen when you enter their proximity, jocularly; the odour oozing out from them is capable of disrupting the proper workings of your cerebrum, cerebellum and medulla oblongata all together at once.

When they are bored, they find their way to the various dunghills and garbage dumps of the big cities and towns for them to be entertained by rats, lizards, ants, fleas and cockroaches. At dusk, when the shining sun, fatigued by the day’s task had retreated to where it came, they follow suit by retreating to their filthy abodes where dirt is the cosy mattress and stones from Olumo and Zuma rocks as pillows.

They sleep and dream of something I know not, and have conferences while sleeping, perhaps with inhabitants of the elusive world. At the crowing of the cock, they arise again as in the previous day and forge on with life, at times they are accompanied by idle and playful children who delight themselves by singing, dancing and playing on the mental vulnerability of their victims to the maximum.

How they survive in the absence of shelter, inadequate food and water, hygiene and health care is a mystery to me (to you as well I suppose?). I wonder if they are immune to diseases. Each time I think of them, I cannot help but to ask again and again; do we as humans really care about them?

Scattered Firewood

This is the view that comes to my mind when Dr .Rahman discussed the incidence of Nigerians with mental disorders. However, admittedly, my perception of ‘mad’ people does not entirely encompass those with ‘mental disorders’.

In his interview, Dr. Rahman never explained to us what he meant by mental disorders. Since the expert stated that 12.5% of Nigerians are suffering from ‘one form of mental disorder or another’, without listing any, I will presume that he is making reference to the over two hundred forms of mental disorders. These mental disorders include; autism, schizophrenia, pica, phobic disorder, Parkinson’s disease, etc. It is pertinent to note that there are a good number of people who look normal and we all perceive them as being of good mental health, which in reality they are not.

That said, my main concern are those in Nigeria commonly referred to as “mad”, or “crazepesin” in Nigerian pidgin English, or “mahaukaci mutane” in Hausa, or “ara ndi” in Igbo, and “asiwere eniyan” in Yoruba. To me, we use the term “mad” in Nigeria for those exemplars of people unfortunately plagued by mental disorders. Those facing mental disorders in manifestations clearly demarking their existence as separate from what is the normal manner of social relations. These people we know and refer to as “mad” are just a portion of those plagued by mental illnesses.

From my own (non-academically informed) perspective, I am not entirely surprised by the number of “mad” people in Nigeria. Reflecting upon the great wealth of this country and how a large population of this country live on less than a $1USD per day is enough to make you mad. How can you remain sane when you’re starving for food, when the gutter is where you find water, when the roads have deteriorated into death-traps, when you light a candle in place of electricity, when first aid units replace hospitals, when playgrounds are schools – all while corruption stifles good governance and injustice becomes the lubricant for rampant inequality in Africa’s largest economy? In this context, it’s a surprise anyone is sane at all.

As youths and students, we go gaga when we study very hard – some among us abusing stimulants and other drugs in this pursuit – only for some lecturers to score us down for the most unacceptable reasons unbecoming of a professional.

Or we can go crazy when our thoughts are rather not on academics at all, but on an explosive going off in our vicinity at any given time and when the images of dismembered bodies are what cloud our minds. These are more than capable of distorting the proper functioning of the brain.

Life in this country is a feat in itself, sane life here a miracle! Living in Nigeria is ‘survival of the fittest’. The fittest in this regard is not just the physically strong, but the ones with enviable mental strength. In the words of Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor, ‘the firewood of this world is for only those who can take heart, that is why not all can gather it”.

Suffice it to say, the state of Nigeria is more than enough to drive you crazy.

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