The coronation ceremony of any king in Nigeria, from the Alaafin of Oyo to the Emir of Zazzau, and from the Obi of Onitsha to the Oba of Lagos, has remained a high point of pomp and pageantry. And this is especially so because it represents a traditional and cultural manifestation of all that is aesthetically appealing in the cultural heritage of the people. However, beyond the significance of the kings as the custodians of the cultural heritage of their people, little else seems to interest an average modern Nigerian in the institution of traditional rulers. And the reason is not far-fetched: in the context of modern democratic government, traditional rulers and the institution of monarchy seem to be in steady decline. That decline is further accentuated by the inglorious roles traditional rulers in Nigeria have played in the polity with history stretching from being accomplices in slave trade, their dubious role in the colonial state and to cultural imperialism in time and space. One critical consequence of this however, is that it leaves the people without grassroots influence and an abiding local governance model. Even the local government that ought to be the tier of government that brings governance closer to the people is comatose.
The 21st Olu of Warri, Prince Utieyinoritsetsola Emiko—the Ogiame Atuwatse IIIAnd then a new Olu of Warri got coronated; and we need to rethink the significance of traditional rulership, national development and inter-generational dynamics. The 21st Olu of Warri, Prince Utieyinoritsetsola Emiko—the Ogiame Atuwatse III—is not only very young at just 37, he is also a Christian, demonstrated a very deep sense of history, so far, and a reflective understanding of Nigeria’s economic trajectory. And in this knowledge society of the twenty-first century, the new king breathes freshness that radiates this, according to a commentator, in terms of his age, his exposure, his educational pedigree and stature. It is heartening to see a monarch that resonates with the Nigerian youth because he understands technology, entrepreneurship and the role of women that departs from the patriarchal denigration of tradition. I come to this unique coronation from the perspective of a reflective question: In what deep sense does the ascension of Ogiame Atuwatse III, and his rousing coronation speech, signal a reawakening of national consciousness and a stimulation of an inter-generational consciousness?
For all those with an abiding interest in cultural studies, and the cultural antecedents of the Yoruba nation, the historical trajectory of the Itshekiri nation should arouse deep interest. That interest has always been constant for me as I follow the political and cultural twists and turns of my Yoruba nation. The relationship between Itshekiri and Yoruba goes beyond the Itshekiri language being Yoruboid, and deeply affiliated with the Yoruba dialects from Ijebu to Owo. The Itshekiri also followed through with a political relationship with the Yoruba. In the 1959 pre-independence elections, the Itshekiri political class stood solidly with Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the Action Group. That relationship consolidated the cultural affiliation of the two nations. Unfortunately, the alliance between the two nations led to serious historical consequences. Those who opposed the alliance between Itshekiri and the Yoruba during those elections conspired and deposed the then Olu of Warri, Olu Erejuwa II, Wilson Gbesimi Emiko—the new king’s grandfather. The deposed king found refuge with the then Oba Akenzua II of Benin Kingdom. And both of then subsequently placed a curse on not only the Itshekiri nation but the whole of Nigeria. It is more than interesting that the two nations were not only bound by political affiliation but also spiritual debilitation. Yoruba history also narrates the curse placed on the nation by Alaafin Aole who was betrayed by his lieutenants, and who condemned the nation to many years of self-inflicted treachery.
And so, the first royal act of the new king, with all historical and spiritual urgency, was the repealing of the curse that had supposedly undermined the development of the Itshekiri nation, and her significant place in the larger national dynamics of the Nigerian state. This tells a significant story in itself. And it is the narrative of the emergence of new and vibrant young rulers with the unstated mandate of redressing the denigration of the monarchy by those who subjected it to the base greed that undermined transformative politics. From the Ooni of Ife to Oba of Benin and the Obi of Onitsha, and from the former Emir of Kano to the recent Olu of Warri, we have new monarchs who are determined to bring the traditional rulership back into grassroots governance dynamics for the well-being of their people. And these new and youthful monarchs are determined to facilitate this transformation of the monarchy through anchoring either the cultural heritage or religious affiliations to modern technological and entrepreneurial knowledges. The former Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi, often challenged some of the theological interpretations of Islam that seem blatantly anti-developmental and inhumane.
The Ooni of Ife has been calling on his entrepreneurial competence in managing his domain and the Yoruba. The Pentecostal affiliation of the new Olu of Warri was obvious in all his coronation actions and speech. In reversing the ancient curse, the Ogiame Atuwatse III, calls on the African and Pentecostal belief that see a continuum between the physical and the spiritual. It seems clear, therefore, that the Christian king would be looking for a framework that allows him to fuse his faith and his culture into powerful development dynamics on behalf of the Itshekiri.
Two issues are key for me in the interrogation of the coronation speech of the new Olu of Warri. The first is the continuing significance of rethinking traditional institutions as agents of change and development. In development theory, it is an already taken for granted maxim that development is about the people. And the people can essentially be found at the grassroots where modern federal and presidential exigencies, especially in Nigeria, have voided their relevance. One of the significant discourses in Nigeria’s political development is the comatose status of the local government as the third tier of government. I suspect that it is rather too late in time to continue debating whether traditional institutions, like the monarch, is commensurate with furthering democratic ideas and ideals. I also think that despite our modernity, traditional rulership is not an outdated institution that ought to have faded away. On the contrary, traditional institutions offer a fundamental basis for modern traditions that could foster democratization and modernization.
This is one mode powerfully signaled by the Ooni of Ife, Obi of Onitsha, Alaafin of Oyo, Emir of Kano, and now the newly coronated Olu of Warri. In his magnificent speech, the Olu of Warri speaks to the need to “reposition the Ikwerre kingdom within the prevailing realities of today’s Nigeria and the world at large.” There is even a progressive symbolic transformation and modernization of the crown, from corral to silver and now gold. And this, for me, is also a signification of the expected spiritual, physical and developmental trajectory of the Itshekiri nation. The new Olu of Warri is poised to redefine what that throne signifies not in terms of anachronistic traditions but as to what could be done to make distinct progress. That, for me, is the implication of tradition metamorphosing through the dynamics of modern exigencies.
The second key issue which the speech of Ogiame Atuwatse III signifies for me is the search for an inter-generational link that locates a generational capital Nigeria can deploy in nation building and national development. Most poignantly, the new Olu of Warri had the presence of mind to speak directly to the Niger Delta youths who have been nearly damaged by bad politics and misdirected youthful energies. “We must look beyond oil and gas,” the new monarch warns. And we cannot afford to neglect the significance of women in charting a new developmental path that is not tied to the violent stakes that oil politics suggests. The youths constitute the most significant developmental force that Africa, and indeed Nigeria, can look up to now.
As a youthful state in a youth continent, more than 70% of Nigeria’s population falls below 30 years of age. And yet, 34.9% of these youths are unemployed. It therefore become significant that Ogiame Atuwatse III kept linking the past and the present as a seamless interconnected whole. And in addressing the youth of Itshekiri and the Niger Delta, he threw a fundamental challenge to the Nigerian state. The Yoruba hold the belief that the collective wisdom of the old and the new is what founded Ile Ife. Could that be less so for the transformation of the Nigerian state? As a symbolic representation of the link between the present and the past, the Olu of Warri, with his educational background, competences and royalty, defines a framework around which traditional institutions can become significant development frames of reference for jumpstarting progress. “We must look beyond oil and gas” constitutes a gem of collective wisdom that not only links different generations in complicity to the debilitation of Nigeria, but also challenges us to forge an inter-generational alliance that will take us beyond that complicity.
With the new Olu of Warri, and a cohort of other rejuvenated monarchs, we have a traditional institution that is rising up to its urgent responsibility of redefining the governance tasks that bind the government to the people in a crying call for true, inclusive, and sustainable development, leadership purposefulness and transformational remodeling of governance.
Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary , and currently a Professor of Public Administration, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies
(NIPSS), Kuru, Jos
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When Engineers Go Unethical
A few years ago, Effiong Bob walked into the hallowed chamber of the Senate clutching about half a dozen bills. That was unprecedented in the history of Nigerian legislature. All the bills were listed in the Order Paper for First Reading, and were taken; the same day. When passed into law, one of them granted full operational autonomy to the Federal Inland Revenue Service.
As a senator, Bob’s voice on the floor of the Senate was not so loud. But at the Committee level — which is the engine room of legislative business — he was a master of the game. Those who should know, know that the Senate in plenary is a Senate on exhibition, the Senate in Committee Room is the Senate in its workshop. It is at the Committee level that the worth of individual senators is measured and graded.
As Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, and later, Chairman, Senate Services Committee, Bob noiselessly discharged his functions with amazing speed and accuracy. He pursued each task with messianic commitment. So, when he was invited by the Nigerian Institution of Mechanical Engineers some weeks back to present a keynote address at their annual event, he took the ball straight into their court.
Speaking on “Impact of Legislation on Engineering Practice: The Mechanical Engineers Experience”, Bob said the theme of the presentation, aligned completely with the dominant issues of the season; especially in a country where impunity seems to run riot almost everywhere and in everything.
Without any doubt, he said the relevance of engineering and engineers to our everyday existence cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand. Despite their failings and excuses, we cannot forget to applaud their little successes.
He was right. A close look at the environment will always reveal that the major infrastructural creations around us — things that contribute to make life worth living — are products of engineering ingenuity. Some engineers create, others maintain. I can only imagine how boring and drab life would be without engineers.
Bob stated that the formal regulation of engineering is crucial because it is the law that separates the practice of engineering from other natural sciences. The law provides guidance, spells out controls and gives impetus to the practice. The legal frameworks ensure public safety.
He defined legislation in engineering as the process of enacting and applying laws to ensure qualification, safety and quality compliance, application and use of engineering outcomes. It also means the protocols of how ethics and legal frameworks are used to ensure quality delivery and public safety in the profession.
The former senator told the attentive audience that legislation in engineering practice is meant to prevent certain problems and behaviours observed in the application of science in the public interest, in a bid to protect life and welfare of the people; because it would be against the run of play for a practising engineer to endanger public safety.
By implication, the law places a high responsibility on the engineer to uphold sound ethical standards in his operation, as system failure would most likely attract legal action, particularly if such failure creates liabilities by causing harm to the public or incurring other unintended costs, as a result of unprofessional or ethical breach.
Bob stated: “It is one of the reasons a practitioner must be registered for proper identification, regulation, monitoring, training and discipline. He is expected to practise professionally and within the ambits of the regulations governing the practice. Legislation confers both moral and legal authorities on practitioners of the profession. It also comes with expectations and punitive measures.
“Let it be made clear that any person who calls himself a professional in any aspect of human endeavour, if what he practises is not governed or regulated by law or is not known to any existing law, that person must be engaging in an act that is inimical to the interest and safety of society. The reason is because he cannot be justifiably held accountable if anything goes wrong because where there is no law, you can’t talk about breaking the law.”
What he meant here was that an unregulated space is likely to be governed by impunity. Regulation generates sanctions. Every human endeavour requires the knowledge of the laws governing the discharge of that responsibility and the rights of others within the environment of practice.
Truly, since an engineer deals with a wide range of activities that involve lives and the environment, he must be guided, and in fact, arrested by the law, if misguided. The law is there to control and give impetus to the practice. Bob went ahead to cite specific existing laws that are intended to guide engineering practice in Nigeria.
He observed that without legislation, engineering practice would be subject to infiltration and severe abuse by unqualified persons. Of course, even with legislation, the practice is richly infiltrated by various grades of persons who have not received the requisite training that qualifies them to practise.
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Referring to Sections 6 and 7 of the Engineers (Registration, Etc) Act, 1992, he said it clearly specifies who should be registered as an engineer as well as titles to be used. Section 7 stipulates that a registered engineer shall use the abbreviation “Engr;” an engineering technologist shall use “Engr Tech;” and a technician shall use “Tech;” while a registered engineering craftsman shall use his full title with his trade in bracket under his name.
Declared Bob: “But there are lots of people who go about with the prefix Engr, yet have not received professional training from relevant institutions and definitely not certified by the appropriate body to practise as prescribed in Section 6 of the Act.”
He said these persons go about executing projects and, in most cases, create image problems for the profession through ethical and criminal failures. But again, even some certified practitioners also flout the codes and bring the profession into disrepute.
This is where the relevance of legislation comes in, to preserve the profession from quacks. But though the relevant statutes are there, it is the duty of the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) to ensure that they are enforced for the sake of the profession and the safety of the society.
It was revealed that different aspects of engineering legislation deal with different activity areas. Without tort, for instance, impunity would have a field day especially in our clime where the propensity for substandard deliveries is high. The law assigns blame and penalties.
In addition, contract law defines the rules of engagement between engineers, business partners and clients. Product liability law talks about quality. There is also the intellectual property protection law; and the safety legislation codes and regulations.
If legislation provides checks and balances, Bob wondered why “We have had several cases of collapsed structures in our society including buildings, roads and bridges; and these are structures that a number of professional engineers must have or are supposed to have been involved in building.
“Let’s look inward. Can COREN honestly absolve itself from blame or complicity in the collapse of these structures since its members were involved or are supposed to have been involved in the building of such structures?
“How come that in spite of the uproar that greets each incident with accompanying casualties, it still happens again and again? Does it mean that the regulatory authorities are not doing much to whip members into line or deal with quacks to act as a deterrent?
“This is an area that should be focused on. The body has a responsibility to save the profession from this embarrassing situation which in some cases has claimed lives. There is an urgent need therefore, for the strict enforcement of legislations governing the practice of engineering if professional integrity is to be maintained.”
COREN, don’t pretend you did not hear, please.
Akpe, a journalist, lives in Abuja.
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Civil Service Commission As Catalyst In Repositioning Nigerian Public Service
Let me begin this piece with some form of syllogistic administrative argument. It has become axiomatic in the diagnosis of Nigeria’s post-independence predicament to point at the leadership lacuna in governance and policymaking. The need for a visionary and strategic leadership that will drive the whole development process cannot be overemphasized. In the whole of Nigeria, the example of Lagos State stands out firmly as the most exemplary in terms of the leadership succession that has impacted the culture of good governance. From Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to Babatunde Fashola. And from Akinwunmi Ambode to the incumbent Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Lagosians have been blessed with a leadership trajectory that has kept building good policies on good policies in a continuity loop that has kept Lagos State on top of the democratic governance game, and has made the state the best example of good governance so far.
However, leadership needs a strong institutional and structural basis around which its vision could become concretized. It is around these structures and institutions that the weight of governance and service delivery is laid. This is where we arrive at the crucial point that leadership is bare without an accompanying complement of structural and institutional frameworks around which the vision and strategy of leadership can be articulated in concrete terms. With this point, we critically undermine the agency-structure argument in the social sciences. We also undermine the strong man/strong institution dichotomy. This is because there is no point to that dichotomy. One is incomplete without the other. The further point of the institutional argument is that the public service is the institution par excellence that carries the weight of democratic performance and productivity. Indeed, the public service is the necessary complement to a democratic government. In the literature on developmental states, there is a strong axiomatic consensus that we cannot even begin to think of such a state outside of the administrative coherence provided by the structural framework of the public service and its capability readiness to deliver on intelligent policymaking made possible by the state and its functionaries and politicians.
And the strength of the public service must derive from a measure of public-spiritedness and professionalism of the public servants that the state has recruited and had committed to working with. Public service is a vocation that is more of a calling than a mere profession. A proper understanding of the spirituality involved in the public service is derived from likening it to the Levitical Order of the Jewish priesthood. A public servant is called to a deep and spiritual service of the public to which she is expected to dedicate all her capabilities and focus to the exclusion of every contrary emotion and desire that might undermine that commitment. As an administrative virtue, public-spiritedness places the responsibility of the professional within the context of a personal and public accountability that motivates the professional to personally hold him/herself responsible for the discharge of his/her duties to the public. It is this public spirit or civil virtue that instigates the public servants to an efficient, effective and equitable management of the civil service system.
And of course, the quality of any public service at all, cannot be divorced from the professionalism and resilience of the Civil Service Commission (CSC). Given the spiritual significance of the professionalism and public-spiritedness of the public service, it becomes dangerous to leave the gateway into the profession unmanned. The danger of an over-bloated workforce is not only the lowering of the performance and productivity profile but much more the compromising of the professional remit of the public servants. The experience of Nigeria is telling. With independence, there was a dilemma with regard to the basis of recruitment into the public service. Representativeness was chosen over meritocracy due to Nigeria’s delicate multi-ethnic status. By the Second Republic, the public service was already so over-bloated as to be unable to achieve the capacity readiness to carry the weight of Nigeria’s development planning. In 1975, the hammer of brutal downsizing fell on the public service, and it crushed the system not just to size but with the professional confidence and esprit de corps which made it tick also lost.
Thus, the locus of the modernizing imperative and professionalism of the public service has remained the CSC. This is crucial because the CSC is the interface that mediates between the government and the public service system itself in ways that facilitate a synergy of performance and productivity the state can work with for democratic governance that positively affects citizens. In this sense, the CSC needs to keep reforming its gatekeeping dynamics to be able to also properly gatekeep the professional requirement for repositioning the public service as a profession. In 1954, the Nigerian Public Service Commission was established, and the 1979 Constitution enshrined and changed the name as the Federal Civil Service Commission. The FCSC has the vision to “To build a core of highly focused, disciplined, committed and patriotic Civil Service totally dedicated to supporting the Government in the development of a strong, united and virile Nigeria.”
Its objective is four-fold: (a) To appoint qualified candidates to man the different Ministries/Extra-Ministerial Departments in the Federal Civil Service; (b) To ensure that such appointments maintain/represent the federal character of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; (c) To make recommendations to the Federal Government on personnel policies aimed at improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the Federal Civil Service; and (d) To ensure that personnel decisions are taken objectively, promptly and competently in accordance with the policies and interest of the Federal Government. However, about six decades after its creation, we can legitimately worry whether the FCSC has put in place the necessary institutional mechanism to attract, retain and effectively utilize administrative skills and competencies on behalf of the Nigerian civil service. To what extent has the FCSC been able to protect the principle of merit in recruitment without buckling under political pressure, especially for representativeness? This is a good question to ask for one fundamental reason. There is a massive skill and competency flight away from the public service to the private sector or to other countries. The flight of Nigerian doctors to Saudi Arabia is a most recent and public instance.
Every CSC is confronted with the necessity of modernizing its structural, institutional, procedural and ethical frameworks. Reforming the civil service itself entails the reform of the CSC and its managerial dynamics and regulations. This derives from strategizing its own performance management system in ways that allow it to perform better at its gatekeeping responsibility. This is one of the imperatives of the managerial revolution that requires not only a technology-based public service, but also an efficient and effective workforce that is able to achieve a performance trajectory that services good governance. To grasp the importance of professionalism that undergirds the gatekeeping responsibility of the CSC, there is a need to situate that professionalism within the larger context of workforce dynamics and HR function in the twenty-first century.
Such a reform at a general level entails the following critical issues. First, there is policy advice and analysis. New technologies demand that the CSC must be on the lookout for global best practices on the relationship between these technologies and policy analysis and intelligence, and their relationship in informing policy research. The second issue is service delivery and citizen engagement. The CSC needs to monitor what new skills and competence are demanded in transiting the civil service into the period of open government that leads to the co-creating of better services and engagements with citizens as customers. The third issue has to do with commissioning and contracting. The CSC must also be on top of the contracting of non-core functions of the public service, and the commissioning of third parties who have the requisite competences that complement the core functions and efficiency of the public services. The fourth issue concerns managing networks. The CSC must be aware of the urgent needs for collaborative need that brings the public service into communication and strategic relationship with governmental and nongovernmental organisations in ways that generate trust and commitment that leads to efficiency. It is therefore the responsibility of the CSC to regulate skills that lead to mutual understanding.
The fifth critical issue is workforce and HR. The advancement in artificial intelligence and robotics speaks to the necessity of reconstructing our understanding of what work entails. Most fundamentally, the fourth industrial revolution makes it imperative that work would be attended by the urgency of changing skills and competences that have to keep pace with the changing dynamics of work itself and the administrative context within which work must take place. Once technological innovations have taken over the workplace work dynamics, then employers and employees have to come to terms with how the existing skills and competence framework address the new challenges that technology introduces. The last significant issue to address is the urgency of a change management strategy and model. This is required by the mandate and challenges of professionalization and re-professionalization. The first issue here is for the FCSC to reflect on what change management model to adopt that will enable it to adequately engage with the urgency of re-professionalizing the civil service system. This is not an easy issue as the commission must adopt and adapt a model that best suits the peculiar administrative environment and dynamics of the administrative context. Indeed, a best option, rather than reaching out to some pre-existing models, is for the FCSC to generate its own model that best suits its administrative realities.
At the specific levels, the FCSC of the future cannot overemphasize the significance of performance management in the determination of the staff appraisal and professional development of the public servants through the proactive activation of those dormant components of the APER, by deploying training- and activity-based assessment metrics. This would be determined around not just the idea of a performance-induced interviews like assessment center, but also the initiation of a performance-based contracting system backstopped by a commensurate pay and compensation incentive system that will ensure the attraction and retention of the brightest and the best into the public service. This will force the FCSC to begin to creatively juggle with some out-the-box leadership pipelining and talent management frameworks with strict guidelines that, first, enable the identification of star-performers within the system who, second, can be rewarded through special promotion that signals the system’s willingness to streamline creativity and innovation that push the public service into the dynamics of a state already moving into the technological and administrative frameworks of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This is important as a way of undermining the naturally occurring urge for institutional inbreeding.
The FCSC, finally, must also not foreclose the possibility of staff exchange with industries and even the diaspora. This also involves the possibility of staff sabbatical leave that allows staff to strengthen their professional horizons through sharing and learning from other professional spaces. A proper recruitment framework must enable the effective involvement of the MDA line and personnel managers so as to be able to achieve a fit between skill and competency gaps and recruitment into the public service. This is one irreducible imperative of the Decree No. 43 of 1988 which failed in its professionalization remit, but provided a significantly understanding of a decentralized understanding of HR function for efficiency. Within the Nigerian public service system, these skills are mostly missing in the constitution of the senior executive service. This means that the office of the head of service would be required to revise the skills domains required to constituting the SES, while also collaborating with management development institutes (MDIs) and government training/tertiary institutions to mounting courses and designing curricula that speak to this skill sets. In all of this, CSCs will never be able to make significant impact unless the chairmen and commissioners are professionals and knowledge workers who could deploy the strategic advantage of the multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary to harness the strength of a professionalized high-end specialists’ strategic HR expertise of service commissions’ secretariat to change-manage the public service into a capability-enabled track, towards desired world-class status.
Excerpt from a lecture delivered by Prof. Tunji Olaopa, retired Federal Permanent Secretary and Professor of public administration/Directing Staff, NIPSS, Kuru, Plateau State (firstname.lastname@example.org) as Guest Speaker at the Lagos State Civil Service Commission 2021 Annual Retreat on the theme ‘Changing the Narrative: The Civil Service Commission’s Role in Repositioning the Public Service’ held on 15-16 October, 2021 in Ikeja. Lagos State.
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Dealing With Mental Illness In The Family
Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
One of the most difficult health challenges to deal with when it strikes in the family, or a group is mental illness. In one of our webinars, a specialist spoke on ‘Dealing with unseen illnesses’ because some mental illnesses are not seen! Can you see a mind that is troubled as we see the symptoms of malaria? Mental illness is when a person’s thinking, feeling, behaviour or mood becomes affected negatively by clinical depression, anxiety disorder, psychotic disorders, impulse control, or substance abuse. Sometimes the effect is visible. A mentally ill patient could simply go naked and run amok. In other cases, it is hidden for years, managed by the victim because they do not understand what is happening. Do you live permanently in fear, expecting the worst to happen anytime? Are your thoughts always negative? Are you paranoid about how your parents died and how you may die as they did? Do you think of death all the time like an obsession? Are you permanently sad, unable to laugh and enjoy the common things that people do? Are you in permanent grief over the loss of a loved one? Have you been unable to move on since your last breakup which took place years before? Are you having nightmares from a traumatic experience? You may need the help of a therapist.
In some cases, especially in old age, there is dementia whereby a person forgets who they are and cannot recognize family members. Sadly, mental illness is widely misunderstood, mystified, treated with suspicion and superstition and stigmatisation. Indeed, once you tell most family members or friends that you think they ought to see a clinical psychologist, they put up a big wall of defence. Am I mad, is the question they ask? Madness for them is the only reason that someone should see a psychiatrist. This is not correct.
Yet, mental illness is highly present in all societies. It comes in different forms. It can affect anybody, no matter the class, background, religion, or race. In the last three odd years since we started work as an interventionist NGO (Mind and Soul Helpers’ Initiative- MASHI) on mental health, using professionals to counsel and refer people, we have come to see how widespread, how misunderstood, how poorly appreciated it is in society. Today, I write not as a professional on mental health. I write as an advocate for the full recognition of and provision for mental health services in the country. I write to educate the public on why they should not hesitate to consult a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist when a person has a mental illness, that is, when a person breaks down mentally. The professionals are not allowed to advertise their work.
Often, there are warnings, yet we ignore them. Do you have a son or daughter or cousin who lock themselves up in the room, avoid the rest of the family and remain moody throughout the day or week or month? That young man who returns from school a different person? That lady who suddenly said that school is not for her, that she would rather be a preacher. That young man who becomes violent in the hostel or in the house, screaming all manner of things. That young man or woman who is troubled by thoughts of suicide, thoughts of ending it all whether by jumping in front of a moving vehicle or taking the notorious sniper insecticide.
In the last three years, we have encountered too many persons who are down today because of trauma from the past. Why do some fathers or uncles like abusing daughters sexually from a tender age? What is attractive in a five-year-old child to a father, a full-grown man? Why should a father or a brother sexually abuse a child of five years old till she gets to fifteen? Why do some mothers keep silent even after catching their husbands molesting a girl child? Many years after the experience, some ladies start feeling the effect of the trauma and go through mental illness for the rest of their lives. Some of the ladies are scarred or destroyed for life. Do you want to destroy that beautiful daughter of yours for life because of your sexual peccadilloes? Think twice daddy, think twice.
Sexual abuse is one among many. There is verbal abuse. There is physical abuse. Some parents like berating their kids, calling them all kinds of names. What such parents do not know is the indelible pain or sore such an experience leaves on the child. ‘You, ugly fool! That child grows up believing the insult of the mother or father or uncle. Some do not realise that even a baby can be traumatised. This could affect them forever.
The truth is that any behaviour which we do not understand should be brought to the attention of health authorities. First line of course is the general hospital from where a doctor could refer the person concerned to a specialist. Some people are just scared or reluctant about taking their family members to a psychiatrist. What will people say? they always ask. They will say there is madness in our family. It is not what people say that matters. It is the health of the person that is crucial.
When a person in a family has mental health illness, family members need to show understanding. Some of the complaints, like sudden fear of doom, h ot flushes in the body, seeing a dead mother daily, creeping sensations, fear that they could fall, vibrations and sensations in some parts of the body, are real to the sick person. It is not enough to say ‘snap out of it’. They need help. We have encountered families who treat dementia patients with scorn and derision. One family accused the elderly woman of witchcraft. We must remember that the person concerned is not in control of his mind. True, it is difficult even trying to handle a family member who keeps returning to hard drugs or alcohol after being treated. It is double jeopardy to accuse a victim of panic attacks of stupidity or foolishness. It is double jeopardy to accuse a clinically depressed person of wickedness or deliberately disturbing the family.
Mental illness is like any other ailment. If one has a bone problem they go to an orthopaedic surgeon. If it is pregnancy, they go to a gynaecologist. Indeed, there is a type of mental illness which comes just after a woman gives birth. She should see a specialist. If it is the mind that has a problem, they should see a mind doctor- a psychiatrist. There should be no stigma attached to going to a psychiatrist hospital. A mentally ill person should not be taken to a pastor or a babalawo to cast out spirits. Mental illness is not caused by spirits. There are prescribed medications for treating the mentally ill. Sometimes, it is a long haul, lasting a lifetime. It could also clear within a year or two, depending on the severity of the nature of mental illness.
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Finally, let us spread the awareness. Mental illness is not infectious nor is it something to be ashamed of. It is just like any other disease. As the slogan goes, there is no health without mental health. There is not enough information about mental illnesses in the country. There is also too much superstition about mental illness, even among some highly educated people. This therefore is a clarion call to everyone to take their mental health seriously. Traumatic videos and pictures should be avoided. Government should take mental health seriously. At the individual level, seek help if you hear voices.
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