Few days ago, news headlines were agog with the story of a young man who tried to commit suicide by jumping into the Lagos lagoon. The pictures that accompanied the headlines showed a youth dripping wet, being dragged by his belt by someone in uniform. The first thing that struck me about the image was how he was being dragged like a common criminal. That hand-to-belt grip IS the ‘yoube thief’ grip many people are familiar with when arrested by the Nigerian police.
A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. And that picture simply says: suicide is a crime here. It says we don’t have the patience or empathy to give to troubled people. It tells depressed and suicidal people: if we catch you, ehn, we will show you pepper. It echoes the majority of comments you find under such kind of news reports: you can’t escape this.
Because that’s what those people are looking for in the dark waters of the lagoon. That’s what they seek when they tie the noose around their necks behind locked doors. That’s what they hope to achieve when they sniff and smoke and drink and mix and cut and inhale. They just want to get away, to escape this
Except in Nigeria, people don’t care so much about backstories. Depression in young people is waved away as joblessness, laziness and the result of being broke. People, here, believe that anyone who has money or a job won’t have time to be depressed. Never mind that there aren’t even jobs around. Drug use is seen as a sign of irresponsibility. Organizations declare war on drugs, they initiate campaigns targeting young people. They say SAY NO TO DRUGS,
But they provide no alternatives. What about the void inside? The demons? The holes in your brain from where the mice have been chewing you out? The voices roaring in your head? What about the constant feeling of despair? The insecurity and unhappiness? What about that feeling of being lost, being alone in one of the most overpopulated places in the world? What about the sheer hopelessness you are confronted with daily as a young person in Nigeria? What about the lack of options? The choking feeling, the helpless feeling, the brokenness? How does one get to escape from all of that? How many institutes do we have in Nigeria to cater to mental health? And I am not talking about psychiatric hospitals where they bundle you to when the thread holding your sanity finally snaps.
That’s why we have a drug problem among our young people. Because most of them are broken children dying inside. Lost souls with nowhere else to go. As a young person myself, I know how it feels. It is like being an animal in a cage. Nigeria is the cage. And you feel not only locked in, you feel the cage getting smaller and smaller. And smaller.
That’s when you start looking for an escape plan. That’s why we have young people with drug problems.