Nigeria among 21 countries where suicide is still criminalised

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The Nigerian law does not address the social determinants of suicide, serves as a barrier to both help-seeking and data generation.

The Nigeria Suicide Advocacy Group has called for the decriminalisation of suicide to advance suicide prevention and control in Nigeria.

This was made known by Prof. Taiwo Sheikh, a Consultant Psychiatrist, at the Maiden Virtual Meeting of the Group in Lagos.

Sheikh, also a Lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, said that the major barrier to suicide prevention and control was the law that criminalises attempted suicide. He lamented that Nigeria was among the 21 countries in the world where suicide was still criminalised, as other countries had decriminalised it.

According to him, the law that criminalises suicide in Nigeria came as a result of the British colonisation, stressing the need to review and change the law.

He explained that the law, which did not address the social determinants of suicide, serves as a barrier to both help-seeking and data generation. Sheikh said that the Nigerian suicide rate was 6.9 per 100,000 as reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO), using 2019 figures.

He explained that across a country of 218 million people, this reported suicide rate equates to around 15,000 people dying by suicide each year. According to him, this also equates to 300,000 people attempting to end their lives annually (allowing for a ratio of 20 people to each death by suicide).

“It’s important to note that the data on suicides in Nigeria reported by WHO, has been provided a data quality/reliability score of 4, which is the lowest data rating used.

“What this means practically, is that the actual suicide rate in Nigeria could be higher.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people and it’s most committed by low and and middle income countries, which Nigeria is one of them,” Sheikh stated.

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Speaking, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mohammed Tajudeen Mohammed said that suicide was a criminal offence in both the Customary Law and Islamic Law obtainable in Nigeria. Mohammed said that even before the coming of the Colonial Law, suicide was recognised under some instances in the Customary Law.

According to him, in Nigeria, virtually every law has a certain position that criminalises suicide and attempted suicide, emphasising that it is the State laws that regulate suicide and attempted suicide.

“In Nigeria, it is a criminal offence for anybody to attempt suicide or robbery.

“However, if a person successfully commits suicide; there won’t be anybody to be punished. But, if a person attempts suicide, he/she will be punished.

“And even with the punishments attached to robbery and attempted suicide in Nigeria; such offences are still on the increase.

“Hence, the need for more advocacy and education so that the public will be well informed because what those people that attempted suicide need is help,” Mohammed said.

Prof. Cheluchi Onyemelukwe, a Lawyer, said that the way to go was to ensure enforcement of the National Health Law. Onyemelukwe, who emphasised the need to engage the government at the earliest stage in the fight for decriminalisation of suicide, said that National level engagement was key to its success.

According to her, suicide is a health issue for many people, saying that if one is depressed; it can lead to suicide. Dr Jibril Abdulmalik, a consultant psychiatrist, said suicide was avoidable, advising that people should pay attention to everything possibly needed to prevent it.

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Abdulmalik, also the Founder of Asido Foundation, an NGO, identified the strategic measures needed to prevent suicide to include early identification and intervention, reduced access to means, public awareness campaigns and responsible media reportage of suicide cases, among others.

“Religious and social support is also crucial in successful prevention of suicide in the society.

“Be nice and kind to others. Pay compliments and visits to your neighbours, friends and relatives to ensure that they’re fine. And encourage people to seek professional help.

“Let’s remember that suicide is preventable and we can all do something,” Abdulmalik added.


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