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Overtaken by depression, undergraduates find solace in ropes, poison

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Taking an extreme measure like committing suicide has become a common practice among Nigerian undergraduates in recent times. Eric Dumo, who interacted with family members and close friends of victims, writes on why urgent steps must be taken to arrest the situation

If not for sheer providence, Mr. Eyinnaya Ariwodo would have been put six feet below the earth’s rusty surface by now. A peasant farmer from Uzoakoli, a sleepy community 40 minutes away from Umuahia, capital of Abia State, he was bitten by a snake in the morning of August 28 as he set out for the day’s work. Though rushed to a nearby clinic by a handful of kinsmen for urgent medical attention, the father of five has since moved past the scary moments to continue his long and painful road to recovery.

But while there is a very high chance of him getting well one day – soon – despite his swollen legs and pale-looking skin, Ariwodo may never fully recover from a wound of a different kind he suffered six months before August. On the night of February 24, 2018, fate dealt him a terrible blow. His first son and biggest hope in life – Wilson – a final year student of Optometry at the Abia State University – gave his family a terrible shock. In the confines of his room, away from the watchful eyes of his aging father, mother and siblings, the 27-year-old tied a thick rope around his neck and hanged himself. Perhaps, he had had enough of a life that had lost its meaning to him.

After waiting tirelessly for him to come out of the room the next morning – a Sunday – to prepare for church, the now heartbroken farmer decided to check on his son. A few minutes later, following several unanswered knocks at the door, Ariwodo forced his way in. His entrance was greeted by the lifeless body of his son. Hurtful memories brought by that gory scene have continued to torment his peace since then.

“It was the worst position any parent would want to see their child in,” the grieving farmer told our correspondent recently in a voice laden with gloom.

“I felt like my soul was flying out of me that moment. That terrible picture has refused to leave my mind; it flashes through my mind almost every minute.”

Born on January 2, 1991, Wilson – a handsome and energetic young man described by all who knew him as ambitious and intelligent – carried the hopes of not just his parents in life but siblings as well. He was the first son of the family. In their native Uzoakoli, he was seen by many as one of the community’s brightest prospects and promising youths. Even as a medical student in ABSU, his community’s young and old approached him for help when they had challenges with their sight. But just when he was about to become a full-fledged optician – eye specialist – he took his life. His father described Wilson’s life as a candle snuffed out by a cruel breeze before its light had the chance to shine through the darkness.

“Wilson didn’t complain about anything or discuss any issue that might have been bothering him with me. He did not demand anything from me which I refused to give or do for him. He did not even disclose anything to his mother or siblings. He was acting normally and showed no signs of having any sinister plan. I really cannot say what came over him,” the elderly man said.

According to findings by Saturday PUNCH, the deceased had some challenges with some of his courses in the sixth and final year of his study at the university and was therefore unable to graduate with his peers. Consequently, he couldn’t go for the one-year compulsory housemanship for medical students in Nigeria. After also failing to overcome the challenge the following year, he decided to listen to an idea that got into his head – suicide. It could be said that months of depression had finally taken their toll on him.   Sadly, Wilson’s death has left his father with similar ominous thoughts.

“He was a very gentle child who never drank alcohol or smoked cigarette,” his heartbroken father reminded our correspondent.

“He never associated himself with bad boys; I don’t know where he got that crazy idea from. Even as a student, a lot of people in our village used to come to him for medical check-up when they had problems with their eyesight; he was indeed very brilliant.

“Since he died, a lot of things have been coming to my head. If not for the grace of God, maybe I could have done something funny as well because the pain of losing my first son and hope of the family is very heavy in my heart.”

Confirming that the courses Wilson failed had made him depressed in the university, Chibueze, his bosom friend and course mate, told our correspondent that the problem was compounded by his late friend’s failure to pass the subjects during his extra year in school. According to Chibueze, the fear of not living up to the expectations of his parents as the first son of the family probably overwhelmed him.

“I knew Wilson had issues with some of his courses in school during our final year, leading to an extra year for him, but he never really discussed the problem with those of us close to him.

“Whenever I tried to find out the courses he had problems in, he would tell me not to bother. Later, he told me that he had gone to beg some of the lecturers whose courses he was having problems in to assist him but that they refused. They told him that he must pass the courses or continue trying. He became depressed from that moment.

“The next I heard about him was that he had taken his life. I am still in shock because Wilson was a very brilliant and promising young man who was like a brother to me.

“I think he may have been disappointed with himself, feeling that he the entire family was looking up to as the first son had failed to live up to expectations.

“Two of his sisters were told to wait until the completion of university education; they were waiting for him to graduate so that they could go to a higher institution as well. His sisters were told to wait because his parents could not afford to send all of them to school at the same time. Maybe that got him frustrated and pushed him into taking his own life.

“There was a friend that was with Wilson in Umuahia last December; he told him that he was frustrated and that he would kill himself if he didn’t pass the examinations the second time. It was after the incident happened that the mutual friend forwarded the message to me. I felt so sad.

“We were all planning to be doctors after graduation. We were three friends who started from childhood together up until university level; I don’t know why he took this expensive decision. It is so painful,” he added.

Two of the deceased’s siblings, Chidinma and Nelson, when contacted by Saturday PUNCH to speak about him and what might have pushed him to suicide, declined to comment. According to them, no spoken words would bring him back to life.

Like the late 27-year-old, Daniel Aduba is another young undergraduate, whose death has left family and friends reeling in pain. A 22-year-old student of Insurance at the Niger Delta University, Amassoma, Bayelsa State, was described as easy-going and lively. But on the evening of July 9, 2018, all of that changed. The young man, after allegedly falling into depression after failing four courses, chose death over life. He reportedly committed suicide by ingesting a deadly insecticide. By the time his colleagues found him, he was writhing in pains and it was already too late to save him. He died the next day at a private hospital.

Narrating events leading to the sad incident during an encounter with our correspondent, the deceased’s roommate, Godgift Jackson, 20, revealed that there was no premonition that such a tragic occurrence was around the corner when they returned to school at the beginning of a new semester in July. But he could not say if Aduba’s failed courses had pushed him to suicide.

“By the time Daniel was rushed to the hospital on the day the incident happened, his condition had deteriorated badly,” he told Saturday PUNCH.

“He was at the hospital till the next day before he died. He did not tell me any issue related to his education was bothering him; he seemed very lively. At the start of the semester, we were discussing how we would pay for our accommodation, so I was shocked to find out that he committed suicide two days later. His death is still very painful to me because he was a very good person.

“If someone offended him, he would be the one to beg that person because he didn’t like trouble. He attended church programmes regularly. He was a brilliant boy; I really cannot say what pushed him into committing suicide.”

A request to speak with family members by Saturday PUNCH was declined but in a Facebook post after his death, the deceased’s sister, Deborah Aduba, said, “Those special memories of you will always bring a smile; if only I could have you back for a little while.

“You always meant so much and the fact that you are no longer here would always cause me pain. You are forever in my heart, my dear brother Daniel. Until we meet again.”

Friends and classmates of Mercy Afolaranmi, a 16-year-old student of Microbiology at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, Osun State, are still trying to understand what could have prompted her to allegedly take her own life on the evening of October 26, 2017. She was said to have taken a poisonous substance, leading to her death. An indigene of Ekiti State, the young lady was fondly described as amiable and promising by colleagues. The teenager was said to have taken her own life after failing a compulsory course dreaded by many students in the Faculty of Science – CHM 101. She was said to have died in her own vomit.

Victoria Owoeye, a close friend and classmate of the late Afolaranmi at OAU, told Saturday PUNCH that the young lady’s death remained a mystery to many of them as no one was really sure of why she took her own life. According to her, the deceased, a childhood friend from their days back in secondary school in Ekiti, never complained of emotional stress before her demise, making it tough to pinpoint the actual cause of her death.

“A few days before the sad incident, Mercy came to me that she needed some money to transport herself to Ekiti and I gave her what I had,” she began.

“But I was shocked to hear a few hours later that she had died. It is surprising because she didn’t complain about anything to me, so it was difficult to know what could have been bothering her to the extent of taking her own life as people have said.

“We attended the same secondary school in Ikere, Ekiti State, and also the same church. We were also in the same university and department.

“Her death really baffles me; I got to hear about it on a Whatsapp platform that I belong to in school. It is just so painful how everything ended for her like that,” she said.

Also speaking on the death of the 16-year-old, Esther Olowolade, a 200 level student of Botany Department, who attended the same Christian fellowship with Afolaranmi, described the deceased as a steadfast student, who related well with everyone. She said since the deceased didn’t perform badly in class, she was at a loss as to why she could have even contemplated suicide and allegedly taken rat poison.

“Even though we were not in the same department, Mercy was a nice girl,” she said.

“We usually met in fellowship on campus; she was always wearing a smile and was full of life. But it was shocking to hear that she committed suicide. She was a devout Christian; only God can tell what really happened to her. We will never stop missing her.”

As if to give credence to claims that Afolaranmi might have indeed taken her own life, the pretty teenager had a few days before her death, left a cryptic message on her Facebook wall. She wrote, “Above all other things, I just wanna see God, see what He looks like, speak with Him face to face. I don’t wanna miss heaven. Lord help me.”

But despite such a suggestive post, family members claimed the young lady, against widespread belief, was murdered by persons who knew her closely in school. According to them, having been raised with strong Christian values, there was no chance that she could have taken such extreme measure as committing suicide.

Her father, Mr. Matthew Afolaranmi, said, “She knew that anybody that commits suicide is going to hell fire. Even though she was staying outside campus, she never allowed anything to distract her from the things of God.

“Before the incident, she met the president of her fellowship for counselling on her spiritual life. How could such a thing happen and the next thing is for her to kill herself?”

Matthew insisted that his daughter must have been killed.

“She was murdered and the police must find all those responsible for her death,” the grieving father said.

Heartbroken since the incident, the teenager’s bereaved mother, Elizabeth, said that no matter how long it took, the truth about her daughter’s death would one day surface.

“My daughter was a child of God,” she said. “She became a born-again Christian at a tender age, how can she kill herself? Evil people did not allow my daughter to fulfil her mission in life, they cut short her life. I know that as long as God lives, the truth would be known one day,” she added.

Sad as it is, the case of Wilson, Aduba and Afolaranmi is only a fraction of a growing number of undergraduate suicide-related deaths in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions in recent times. While a handful have been established to be directly caused by the frustration of failing certain courses, others have been inspired by factors not totally related to academic performance by victims.

For example, on September 11, 2018, a final year student of Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu State, Desmond, was reported to have committed suicide shortly before taking an examination for a carryover course. His body was said to have been found hanging in his room. During Saturday PUNCH’s visit to the school said to be owned by a reverend father, authorities, though confirmed that it was a case of suicide, refused to speak on the matter. Students of the institution were also barred from speaking to journalists about the incident or face punishment.

In April 2018, a student of Pharmacy Department, Delta State University, Abraka, Orumah Efemena, allegedly committed suicide over poor results during his final year examination. According to his classmates, the deceased became depressed after discovering he had been placed on probation following his unimpressive performance.

He was said to have been found dead in his hostel room after ingesting insecticide. Management of the institution declined to speak on the matter when contacted by Saturday PUNCH.

Not too long before then, Sarah Imoleaya, a female student of Bayero University Kano, reportedly committed suicide after failing a course and not being able to get a waiver to graduate. The student of Library Science was said to have committed the act by ingesting insecticide.

“I will not apply for course suspension. My academics is all I live for. If I can’t get it right, F… K existence (sic),” a suicide note she left behind, read.

Similarly, a 300 level student of Physics/Astronomy of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Onyebuchi Okonkwo, took his life by hanging himself in an uncompleted building. A note he left behind read, “The controversy is over.”

It is not known if he failed any course in school, prompting him to take such extreme measure.

Shortly before that time, a 30-year-old student of Nigerian Law School, Abuja, Auwal Haruna, allegedly committed suicide by hanging himself in a hotel room in Taraba State. Police Public Relations Officer, Joseph Kwaji, confirmed the incident while speaking with journalists in Jalingo, the state capital. It is hard to tell if his death was related to poor academic performance.

Also not finding enough reason to live again, the body of a final-year student of Computer Engineering at the University of Benin identified only as Adams was found dangling from the roof of his room recently. The reason behind his action has yet to be ascertained.

Apart from the few reported cases, observers say there are dozens of other such deaths among undergraduates in many parts of the country.

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