Psychologist Counters Lawyer On Criminalization Of Attempted Suicide In Nigeria


Suicide, an act of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally has become increasingly rampant in Nigeria while cases of failed suicide attempts are now a daily occurrence.

While the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria does not criminalise suicide, it clearly stipulates punishment for cases of attempted suicide.

Section 327 of the Criminal Code Act in Southern Nigeria states: “Any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanor, and is liable to imprisonment for one year.

Also, section 231 of the penal code, Northern Nigeria, asserts that: “Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both.”

These sections of the constitution clearly imply that anyone who attempted to take their own life but failed is a criminal in the eyes of the law and is liable to be jailed.

However, the constitution does not provide any remedy or solution for the avoidance of suicide such as mental health examination or rehabilitation.

Psychologists say most people who attempt to take their own lives do so for a number of reasons but none of the reasons for suicide can ever be linked to crime, rather many have been attributed to mental health challenges, economic problems, trauma, shame, violence, frustration, amongst others.

In 2021, the Lagos State Police Command paraded a middle-aged man for attempting to commit suicide

It was reported that the 45-year-old man, attempted to jump into the lagoon over N500, 000 debt he owed a microfinance bank, a debt that was later cleared by the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

In 2017, a Magistrate court in Lagos Island jailed one Ifeanyi Ugokwe. Ifeanyi tried to kill himself because of frustration from being unemployed years after school.

Also in 2022, a 19-year old undergraduate in Cross River State could no longer bear the financial burden of caring for his sick mother, paying fees and caring for his siblings, attempted suicide.

He was, however, rescued by neighbours who alerted the government before help came his way.

This is just one case, many others never make it to the news and they never get help.

From the evidence available in the press, it is clear that none of those who attempted suicide had crime in their minds, however, they were looking for an escape from their demons.

This is why there are calls for psychoanalysis, counselling and support for victims rather than jail terms.

But a Lagos-based activist lawyer, Samuel Okoli who spoke to our reporter on the issue said the punishment for attempting suicide as enshrined in the constitution was for deterrent purposes only.

Okoli explained that the law would prevent people from thinking of committing suicide.

He said, “For something to be an Act and for an omission to be an offence, Section 36(12) says, “that act of omission must be made or passed by a written law in the country.

“Anything that is an offence, when you look at section 36 of the constitution, there must be a law that says this thing is an offence and this is the punishment for such an act.

“Now, when it comes to attempted suicide, recently there has been a rave of suicide, and I think Lagos State passed a law that it becomes an offence when you try to take your own life. What the government is trying to do is that they are trying to prevent people from killing themselves. Instead of committing suicide, you have an option of seeking counsel, so that is why the law has to punish those who try to commit suicide.

“If you try to commit suicide, you will be arrested and detained. Of course, nobody wants to be in detention, so the law prevents people from committing suicide, which is the rationale behind it.

The reason for the word is deterrent; that is the keyword. If there is no law prohibiting it, people will just commit suicide.

“When the victim is arrested, a therapist is consulted who would talk with the person, but then, it does not stop the fact that they will counsel you, and at times, if you are not charged to court, they will let you go.

“Therapy is also an alternative way you can talk to the victim, and the essence of punitive measures is that before you think of committing suicide, you should also know that there is punishment for it.”

Okoli’s position on the criminalization of attempted suicide was faulted by a Psychologist, Jeph Oluwagbemiga.

Oluwagbemiga, the Managing Director of Mindvalve Emporium, Psychologist, and Family Enhancement Coach in Abuja said people who attempt suicide should be subjected to therapy and not imprisoned for one year.

The Psychologist noted that people who attempt suicide are mentally sick or must have suffered some devastating losses before thinking of such.

Speaking with DAILY POST: Oluwagbemiga said, “Before someone will decide to commit suicide, the person must have been going through trauma of different degrees. And for the fact that the person is contemplating suicide means things are not balanced either due to frustration, societal pressure, or ignorance.

“By the time someone tries to kill himself and fails, it’s an increased trauma. Now, for the law to say it’s a criminal offence with a jail term of one year, you have added to the trauma.

“The law should be correctional in that sense and not punitive because you are adding to that person’s problem. If they are in a normal state of mind, suicide might not be an option, but now that the person decided to end it all instead of causing havoc to people; and you now subject the person to court cases, litigations, and a jail term for one year, it does not make sense.”

He stressed that punishing people who attempted to take their lives due to failure and misfortune makes no sense, “this is because you have not heard this person; for someone to decide to commit suicide it is not because of himself alone; something around such a person may have failed him.

”Yahoo boys may have swindled some people, and they thought of ending it all by killing themselves. Now, the Yahoo boys who swindled people may also be a product of a failed society and that failure now leads to more failure, and at the end of the day, the person decides to kill himself, then the law says you are going to jail for one year. It does not make sense.

“You don’t know the primitive rationale to the survival of suicide, the people who make the law do not understand the psychology of suicide; they don’t understand the mind of someone who is suicidal and the circumstances surrounding such a person. They are just trying to single the person out for punishment.

“Punishing those who think they have failed and are not getting help while trying to kill themselves does not make any sense.

“We have had cases of people we were able to talk out of killing themselves. In some cases, we failed, and in others, we succeeded. Even those we succeeded, we had to help them put away the blame because they blamed everything on themselves. One of the approaches we used was putting all your problems together and throwing them towards me. We were trying to take the blame and pressure off them, and the law will now say they should be punished?

Oluwagbemiga called for the reeducation of lawmakers over the issue of attempted suicide.

He said lawmakers should amend laws to allow for counselling of those who attempted suicide instead of punitive measures.

“Those who make the law need to be reeducated.

“The law should be amended to reward people who attempt suicide. It should be stated that anyone who attempts suicide should get free therapy and get correctional advice and not be subjected to punitive measures. That one year should be used for therapy, one year of salvation, one year of helping the victim return to their sanity and normalcy and not punishment because there is a lot to rearrange in the life of somebody with suicide orientation as we have a lot of young people like that,” he added.

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