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How Poor Mental Health Costs Nigerian Economy N21.6 billion Yearly – Merino



Becoming A Better Boss: Leadership
Professor Akindotun Merino

Dr Akindotun Merino is a professor of psychology based in the United States. She is the president of Jars Education Group whose goal is to help restore people and organisations to optimal well-being and productivity. She is also the founder of African Mental Health Alliance. In this interview, she talks about her mental health programme holding in Lagos on Friday, the importance of mental health and the various roles government, institutions and individuals can play to have citizens with sound mental health. Excerpts:

Why are you in Nigeria now?

I am in Nigeria to push this mental health advocacy. We do have programmes in mental health, a round table, a symposium of sort and we are gathering legislators and stakeholders, psychiatrists, psychologists, policy makers and anyone who has interest in mental health to see how we can as a nation move forward in making this a structured and systemic part of the nation. When we talk about mental health, we are talking about the mental wellbeing of people, one needs to know that mental health issues contribute a lot to human right violation, premature death, all kinds of deterioration of health, global and national economic loss. A study says that over $6trillion is lost as a result of mental. Mental health has to do with anything about health.

What do you tend to achieve with the symposium?

The vision of the programme is to gather practitioners, gather advocates, legislators, gather laypeople interested so that we can start to talk about mental health. It is for both awareness and policy development. Our goal is that people achieve the highest standard of health and wellbeing they can achieve in this world. It is important that socially, in your marriage, academically anywhere, mental health is very important. We are trying to reduce the stigma, reduce the discrimination, we are ready to talk about it.

There are a lot of issues around mental health ailments in the US despite the awareness, what’s your take on that?

When we talk about people killing themselves or carrying guns, they have to deal with the second amendment in the US that allows you to protect yourself. People committing suicide is a global thing and the reason why we do not hear about it so much in this country and Africa is because there is no much report on that. People are committing suicide here, domestic violence. There is nothing much that is going on in the outside world that is not happening here, just that we are not talking about it. Most people do not even know it is trauma, most people do not even know it is mental health. When you see someone who cannot keep a job, always angry, tends to be crying all the time or something like that if you do not address it the way it ought to be, it could lead to serious mental problems. Even in the United States we still do outreach to the minority communities, African communities, religious communities because these communities we need to train them and make sure we begin to address the impact of all the mental health in the society.

Do you think we have enough structures to manage mental health ?

We are having this symposium to see what is out there, what people are doing, not like there is no structure but just that individuals will like to manage it in their own spaces, there is no guidance. If there is no mental health, there won’t be a sustainable economy. Depression and anxiety in Nigeria cost the economy N21.6billion annually. The treatment coverage is low, that is why we are doing this, to stop losing people to this pandemic, there is a mental health pandemic that we need to make sure that we address it. We hear of few cases of suicide, we want to tell people that this is treatable, no one has to die from it. Do you know that when you have mental health issues, it lowers your life by 10 to 15 years? This is so serious that we need to talk about it. What I do tell people is that if you are experiencing any sort of suicidal thoughts, some kind of anxiety, you have to talk about it. One of the cures for depression is connection to check on people. In Nigeria, people connect together. But it feels people are getting isolated, people need to be checked on.

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Which states do you think are investing in mental health?

The Kaduna State government is doing a lot, they have a structure, we are having a conversation with them and Lagos State has done somethings in mental health too. Everybody is at the beginning of putting structures together so that people can have access. The most fundamental thing is training, especially in trauma care so that they can care for people who are traumatized and when people are trained to know what to look for it tends to help a lot. One of the basic things we have to do as a nation is to know what to look out for. It is important to train staff members and teachers, it is just a little thing that is to be done in the system, to create a structure that is sustainable.

What’s your take on criminalizing suicide in Nigeria?

Criminalizing suicide, most states said they do not implement that legislation, it is an old law that needs to be changed, it has no business being in any kind of law in our land. It needs to be removed, it does not speak well for us a nation. It is like if you have cancer and somebody said they are going to put you in prison for having cancer, that does not make sense. People who commit suicide, it is not that they wake up one morning and decide to jump off the bridge, no, there are extreme mental issues that have impacted them. Sometimes it could be environmental, biological issue, it could be psychological issues and they do not just happen. It is one of the reasons we are having this symposium, it is very important so that we can talk about how to get our voices heard so that that particular law should be taken out.

A lot has been done n the area of mental health but yet not much outcome. What innovative approach are you bringing to ensure sustainability?

I am not sure a lot has been done, a little has been done in mental health in Africa. We have not implemented the WHO expectation of twenty something years ago, we have not allocated money to mental health. Saying that a lot has been done, I do not agree with that, we have not even done the bare minimum for mental health. What we need to do first, professionals have to come together, have a national resource and number two, we have a national mental health number so that everybody knows the number to get access to. We need to train all the medical staff so that they can know what to look for. We can start with these two basic things. Awareness, make sure medical personnel are trained in trauma and mental health 101 and also make sure that we have advocates who are championing the legislation.

People feel stigmatized and often seek refuge in faith-based institutions. How can these institutions be integrated into mental health care?

One of the things we need to do and are doing is to talk to faith-based institutions. We talk to churches about mental health that it is not opposed to faith. Mental health is everyone’s responsibilities. As a Christian, talking about mental health Jesus did not just die for our physical health but emotional and psychological health. So we connect with people with large congregations. We let them know we are not bringing anything, rather it is scriptural. We educate them on the importance of mental health wellness. Again, the faith-based institution need to get trained or hire trained personnel. We salute the work being done in some faith-based institutions who have done well in this area but one of the issues is that we need more rehabilitation centres and be monitored. Individuals, faith-based institutions need to be trained or hire trained people so that they can know what to do. If you want to have a mental health programme in your church, make sure you have to follow the mental health protocol.

What are the effective roles the government can play?

Government roles, create awareness, we need a mental health campaign, we need trauma-informed campaign, we need national and statewide campaigns, even at the local government. All hands have to be on deck. It is not a one-man show so that people will know that it is there. Trauma-informed care matters will need this sort of care. People need to know the symptoms to look out for regarding mental health issues, like if you see yourself yelling all the time, if you see yourself sleeping more than you should, if you notice you are crying when you are not supposed to, you have thought in your head you cannot go on, you need to talk to somebody. Persistent headache and stomach ache should also be looked out for.

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Interview With Beautiful Nubia



Beautiful Nubia

Please join us for a conversation with the renowned Nigerian Songwriter, Music Composer, and Band Leader, Olusegun Akinlolu (Beautiful Nubia).

Sunday, March 19, 2023

5:00 PM Nigeria // 4:00 PM GMT // 11:00 AM Austin CST

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Toyin Falola Interviews Holds Conversation With Kunle Afolayan



A  renowned Nigerian Actor, Producer, and Director, Kunle Afolayan will on Sunday, March 5, 2023 have an interview with the Toyin Falola Interviews at 5:00 PM Nigeria // 4:00 PM GMT // 10:00 AM Austin CST.


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Touching Base With Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections



Professor Ademola Dasylva At 70: A Labourer In The Vineyard
Prof. Toyin Falola

By Toyin Falola

Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is a well-versed law professor, international relations activist, and commentator. It was delightful to have her join us, alongside Miriam Oke, Chido Onumah, and Jibrin Hussaini, at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, where we discussed Nigeria’s 2023 elections.

If anything, the primaries being organised in the nation’s two most influential parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress, are pointers to what should be expected of the 2023 Nigerian elections. As is customary, the primaries have been rife with electoral malpractices, vote-buying, and unscrupulous voting figures, and there is a shocking video posted on Twitter by Bashir Ahmad, former Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, who lost his bid to secure the ticket of the APC to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives primaries in his home state of Kano. The video shows how supposed delegates are handed pre-ticked ballot boxes and are asked to put them in the ballot box without even batting an eyelid at the malpractice.

The ball is being set in motion. Atiku Abubakar is the People’s Democratic Party flag bearer for the presidential seat. The All Progressives Congress has recently screened its presidential hopefuls and will soon appoint its flagbearer. Peter Obi, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party to the Labour Party and has since been elected as the party’s flagbearer for the presidential seat, is a seeming third wheel in the routine two-dominant-party multi-party system practised in the country. The stage is set. Or is it?

This piece is not much of a sequel to the one on Chido Onumah’s perspectives on the 2023 elections because Dr Akiyode-Afolabi had her unique views on the questions asked. Nonetheless, it will follow a similar pattern, where we will examine points touched on by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi during the interview.

Electoral Violence and Nigeria’s 2023 Elections

Sad as it may seem, electoral violence is an immemorial issue rocking the Nigerian state. Throughout all its republics, Nigeria has witnessed killings and maiming during election periods — whether at the polling booths on election day or among political rivals setting targets on each other’s backs. Nigeria’s electoral process is peculiar, involving the recruitment of violent electoral mercenaries, often branded as party thugs. These thugs sign off their loyalty to a political party and wreak havoc on the party’s behalf — from ballot snatching to intimidating voters to bow to their party’s will.

In the Nigerian political scene, these party thugs sit with political kings. They are deemed crucial to the electoral process and candidates’ success. The recruitment and payment of these party thugs consume huge financial resources. However, political leaders and public officeholders fail to consider the expected uselessness of the party thugs within the governance period of three to four years that separate pre-election and election years. Having tasted ill-gotten wealth that far surpasses what they could have earned honestly, and without any honest and paying job, these party thugs resort to all sorts of vice to pay their bills and keep themselves in shape. Thus, it is not uncommon to find that party thugs become robbers, kidnappers, bandits, and street-terrorising thugs who incessantly cut holes through the state’s peace, security, and quiet.

In most cases, we would rather relate the incessant kidnappings and unrest to unknown gunmen or herdsmen-bandits rather than the true perpetrators of the evil — anarchical party thugs with weapons they were equipped with during the election period. Thus, the rivalry for power and politicians’ insatiable desire for control, regardless of the extent they go to get it, could be strongly linked to the violent crises that have rocked the country for a while now.

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For Dr Akiyode-Afolabi, violent political mercenaries in Nigeria and the political aspirants and parties who are their enablers act out of an abundant enjoyment of sheer impunity — the knowledge that they can do and undo, wreak whatever havoc they want to, without bearing the consequences. Although several of the perpetrators of this electoral violence are known, nothing is done to bring them to justice, further reinforcing the need to carry out their vice during the next election. Over the years, electoral violence has become a norm in Nigeria, and nothing is being done to curb the menace, especially in punishing the perpetrators. Thus, the electorate have joined the camp of political aspirants and political thugs who see electoral violence as part of the electioneering process in Nigeria. For members of the electorate who have difficulty processing electoral violence as a part of the electioneering process, the option of apathy kicks to the surface — especially among women and the youth who earnestly believe politics in Nigeria is a dirty game, and electoral violence is inevitable. Thus, it is not surprising that Nigeria has had a low voter turnout over the years.

The case of electoral violence and the state’s reaction to it is like several other policies in Nigeria. While the Electoral Act was proactively drafted to cover electoral violence and how to punish offenders and culprits, there has not been any action to make that part of the Act functional. It is akin to the numerous nation-improving policies whose existence has never gone beyond the paper. If we were to dig to the roots of why the aspect of the Nigerian Electoral Act that punishes electoral violence has not been enforced, we would be quick to find out that the average Nigerian politician is either directly or indirectly complicit. Thus, those at the helm and those willing to take over from them are all involved, making them reluctant to enforce the punishment for electoral violence, that is, if they consider punishing the crime at all.

Nigeria’s Three-faced Need and the Importance of a Long-term Agenda

The need for a long-term agenda should not be misconstrued as supporting the cabalistic unending Northern presidency agenda or any other agenda that does not mean well for Nigeria as a nation. Rather, it represents Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s thoughts on what is truly needed to get Nigeria out of its current quagmire. The international relations activist considers the 2023 elections in Nigeria a big issue for the country, particularly because there are more people interested in the presidential position than we have had in quite a while. Nonetheless, most of these aspirants are people who have either held a political position or currently hold one. They are people we know so well. Given their deeds while in office, it will be difficult to convince any right-thinking Nigerian that there is hope for the country if any of the candidates being paraded were elected as president.

The double tragedy that is Buhari’s eight years in office has seen the country go from bad to worse. The country’s debts keep piling up, with no way of repaying them year after year. The people are impoverished, and the currency continually suffers a blow of worthlessness and devaluation, inflation, and the unemployment rate keeps rising. To make matters worse are the rife killings, banditry, and the near state of anarchy that the country has been thrown into. Has any of the numerous candidates aspiring for the presidential seat shown they are the visionary yet pragmatic leaders that can help Nigeria realise a remarkable positive change?

Careful consideration of the likeliest players at the 2023 polls, vis-à-vis the criterion above, would show that Nigeria is not prepared for an election. Dr Akiyode-Afolabi proposed a three-aspect strategy to help us discover a new Nigeria. These are aspects that cannot be fully realised within a four-year term. Thus, there is the need for Nigerian politicians, regardless of their differences—although there are no marked differences in Nigerian politics—to consider government as a continuum and treat it as such. This will help ensure that even if power falls to the opposition camp, the remarkable and change-focused plans that have been kicked into action by the previous government will continue to be nurtured by the new government. This is the only way we can fully realise the three-dimensional solution proposed by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi.

Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s first proposed dimension is the need for an empowered political class. The Nigerian political field is riddled with whimsical people who are of the anything-goes breed as long as they get elected to office. That is why serial defection is nothing to them, and they can shamelessly befriend a foe today and betray a friend tomorrow. They are overly selfish lot who constantly put personal needs and gains before national needs and expected gains. The Nigerian political class needs to be empowered enough to engage the electorate in an ideological and issue-based manner. A look at the pre-campaign clamouring in the camps of the presidential aspirants will show that they think so little of Nigerians that they believe not much is needed in the way of plans and strategies to convince the people. It is also why Nyensom Wike, who lost his party’s presidential ticket, deemed it fit to incessantly chant, “give me power… power!” To him, that was enough to get him the ticket to become Nigeria’s next president.

The coming months will show us lamentable political campaigns with no depth, so shallow that every reasonable Nigerian would be too ashamed to identify with a country where such gimmicks pass as enough campaign to convince the people to vote for someone. There is a need to empower citizens and help kick structures in place to organise Nigerians and help them truly understand what they want. Nigeria has so much suffered from poor governance that asking the average electorate what they expect from the aspirants — what they look forward to hearing that could convince them to vote for an aspirant — would most likely render them stammering.

In Nigeria, constitutional reformation is of great necessity. The Nigerian Constitution has outlived its essence. What use is a constitution if it does not amply meet the state’s needs nor adequately answer its citizens’ burning questions? The systems of the constitution no longer effectively serve us as a nation, which is why there have been agitations and clamouring for secession, restructuring, regionalisation, and central policing, among other issues raised. In the end, until Nigeria intentionally kicks these three dimensions into action, and until there are successive tenures that consider the government as a continuum and reach a knowing agreement to nurture and not impede the realisation of the three-dimensional issue, a new and positive Nigeria will be anything but reality.

  1. *** This is the third and final report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.

For the transcript, see:




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