Recently, the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) declared that about 90 per cent of lunatics undergoing treatment in various psychiatric hospitals in the country were victims of illicit drugs.
Deputy Commandant of the agency, Jigawa state Command, Malam Abubakar Dauda, who made the startling revelation at a lecture on sale and consumption of hard drugs, organised by Sankara District of Ringim Emirate in the state, said the sufferers of mental imbalance were mostly young men and women.
He lamented that the youths had made it a duty to be taking unwholesome substances like tramadol, roche, codeine, Indian hemp and alcohol, among other hard drugs which invariably drive them into criminal activities like armed robbery, terrorism, kidnapping, thuggery, indiscriminate sex including rape and homosexuality.
The deputy commandant also categorised the drugs into three: the ones they take illegally and attract punishment by law; the ones which are legal but have to be prescribed by doctors before being taken and the ones that the consumers cannot be prosecuted but counseled. He said the illicit ones could attract sanction ranging between 15 and 25 years upon conviction.
Consumption of illicit drugs has become a national phenomenon. Although no reliable data on the population of the mentally challenged in Nigeria are readily available, the current economic hardship has been steadily pushing many more people into the fold. Besides endemic corruption which is an invidious crime that impoverishes the masses, another major factor responsible for this state of affairs is bad governance which has been the hallmark of successive administrations.
It is common knowledge that most of the victims of mental ailment do not have access to modern therapy. Many patients are subjected to undignified treatment, such as being chained to trees or beds, locked in a cage, left without food for hours, deprived of family support and adequate personal hygiene.
Mental health patients deserve respect and compassion as they cope with their disease, as it is expected for those who suffer from any other disease. Some governments in other climes have implemented various measures to restore the dignity of patients and improve awareness and access to mental health services at all levels of the healthcare system. This includes revision of their mental health legislation in order to protect the rights and dignity of persons affected by the condition.
However, the promotion of good mental health and understanding of its challenges, together with early detection, treatment and dignity of the patients are still a major concern in the country. For instance, most towns and cities have their own fair share of insane people living among sane members of the public. During the colonial era, asylums for lunatics were established in different parts of the country to cater for all categories of mentally challenged persons.
Today, many of such institutions have vanished. There seems to be no clear-cut demarcation between psychiatric wards in hospitals and asylums. We, however, know that wards are meant for patients whose cases may be within redemption, while asylums are used to quarantine those who have slipped into permanent insanity.
Some of them that are on the loose look harmless, but there are others that constitute public nuisance along the streets, at worship centres, motor parks, social gatherings and market places. Some beggar-lunatics go violent when denied alms or when the alms fall short of their expectations. There have been incidents of lunatics attacking motorists or smashing their vehicles’ windscreens unprovoked. These days, some Nigerians are seen talking to nobody in particular, at the top of their voices, while walking along the streets. Some even cross the roads without minding vehicular movements.
Psychiatric patients should not be stigmatised regardless of the circumstances leading to their conditions. At the first sign of trouble, patients or their family members should seek medical attention and treatment. However, they should be wary of spiritual homes and herbalists that lay claim to curing insanity by subjecting their patients to all manner of physical tortures as a way of casting out demons in their bodies. Many of such patients have been dispatched to their early graves through battering.
Nevertheless, we call on government at all levels to consider bringing back lunatic asylums as a means of curbing the public nuisance that lunatics constitute. There is also the need for aggressive public enlightenment campaigns by relevant agencies like the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that would discourage our youths from embracing such habits that lead to mental imbalance. The NDLEA should be strengthened to carry out its mandate effectively and rescue the nation’s future leaders from the jaws of lunacy.