Alimony: The incredible settlement
Marriages crash these days almost as soon as they are consummated. But women, especially those with young children, bear the brunt of divorce principally because of paltry amount of money courts usually award them as upkeep of their kids, writes ABIODUN BELLO
She sat in a corner of the bus with a boy of about 11 years old on her lap. That she was not happy was an understatement; it was written all over her face. It also reflected in her speech as she was soliloquising.
Later, the monologue became a dialogue between the woman and her son, identified as Mike. “Mike, when we get to the court, tell them that if you don’t get money, you will miss the admission.
You know your dad has refused to pay the little amount the court asked him to pay monthly to take care of you and your brothers,” she told her son, who responded in the affirmative.
With a little nudge, Mama Mike, as she prefers to be addressed, disclosed that she was married to a pastor who struggled to make ends meet at the outset of their union. But, according to her, after the couple combined resources and efforts, they built a church, which started to flourish after the initial challenges. It was at that point the devil burst into the home in form of a strange woman.
The woman, Mama Mike said, soon took over the pastor’s heart and home. Then the centre of the marriage could no longer hold, so, the once happy family started to disintegrate until Mama Mike was “pushed” out of her matrimonial home.
“It was a terrible experience. My children and I were subjected to traumatic experience until we could no longer bear it. It got to a stage I believed that I would lose my mind if I do not take steps. I felt it was better to leave the home and be alive to take care of my children than to continue to endure the bad treatment I was being subjected to. “I decided to end the marriage because if I die my children will suffer greatly.
So, I filed a suit for the dissolution of the marriage,” she said.
According to the woman, her former husband refused to pay the paltry sum the court asked him to pay for the upkeep of the three children.
She said: “Apart from the money he was asked to pay monthly for the feeding and care of the children, he was asked to take care of the school fees of the children.
But he has not done that as well; that is why we are going to court now as Mike has been offered admission into secondary school.”
According to her, the judge directed her to always approach the court registrar for school fees of the children which her husband was ordered to be paying through the court.
Mama Mike said it had been difficult taking care of the children without financial support from anybody. “But we are coping, with the special grace of God.
“I suffered with my husband to build the church. I ought to have contested the ownership of the church with him during the trial, but I just decided to leave him to God.
Now, another woman has taken over everything I struggled to build with him,” she added. Mama Mike is not the only woman caught in the web of bitter divorce settlement case.
Several women tread that worn path daily.
While some were probably lucky to enjoy their marriages for a while, trouble usually starts for several others almost from the first night of their unions.
When a tottering marriage runs its turbulent course and ends with the stroke of the gavel, the trauma goes both sides.
But the wife, in most cases, is more traumatised than the husband. This is probably because women are not as empowered financially as men, particularly in this clime.
Apart from this, the post-separation traumatic experience has always been a big challenge.
This is compounded by waking up to the reality of being out of marriage. When the custody of children, who are mostly minor, is awarded to the woman, the man is usually asked to pay a paltry amount of money monthly for the upkeep of the child or children, as the case may be.
On April 5, an Idi-Ogungun Customary Court at Agodi, Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, dissolved a 10-year-old marriage between Mr. Shina Ismaila and Mrs. Olaremi Ismaila over Shina’s drunkenness.
The President of the court, Chief Mukaila Balogun, and the court’s assessors, Ganiyu Alao and Aare Samotu, unanimously dissolved the marriage.
The court ruled that the first two children should be in the custody of the defendant (Shina) while the last child should be with the 28-year-old plaintiff. The court also asked Shina to be paying a meagre N3,500 to Olaremi as monthly allowance for the upkeep of the child in her custody.
If what Olaremi got to take care of her child monthly was paltry, Mrs. Sherifat Okunola’s own was miserably outrageous.
On March 14, the Iletuntun Customary Court in Ibadan dissolved the marriage between Sherifat and her then hubby, Mr. Taiwo Okunola, over sexual starvation and threat to life. The President of the court, Mr. Henric Agbaje, dissolved the marriage after the petitioner, Taiwo, told the court that he could no longer tolerate his wife’s behaviour of staving him sexually.
Agbaje held that the court had to separate the couple on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. He said: “We have taken cognisance of the fact that Taiwo and Sherifat have chosen to part ways, despite all efforts to reconcile them.
“Therefore, in the interest of peaceful co-existence, the union between the couple has ceased to be from henceforth. “Custody of the three year-old child produced by the union is hereby granted to Sherifat.” But according to the president of the court, N3,000 is enough for Sherifat’s child’s monthly upkeep.
“Taiwo shall pay a monthly feeding allowance of N3,000 for the upkeep of the child,” Agbaje ruled. He, however, asked Taiwo to be responsible for the child’s educational and health issues. “He (Taiwo) will be responsible for his education and health matters,” the president of the court added.
The marriage crashed after only four years. Also, an Oja’ba/Mapo Grade C Customary Court, Ibadan, dissolved the marriage between Mrs. Modupe Adesiyan and Mr. Dare Adesiyan because the latter abandoned his wife and daughter. The petitioner, Modupe, a trader and resident of Coca-Cola, Mokola area of Ibadan, said she wanted the court to dissolve her marriage because Dare did not care for her and her daughter. She said: “His parents also don’t want him to go ahead with our relationship.
“My husband has refused to take care of me and my daughter since four years ago till now. He doesn’t know what my daughter and I are passing through, whether we are eating or not; whether we are okay or not. He just doesn’t come around. “Though I was a divorcee before I met Dare and he had seduced me to marry him, but since there is no love between us again, I plead with this court to dissolve our union.” The defendant was not in court, but President of the court, Chief Odunade Adekola, dissolved the marriage. He said: “Having heard the evidence given by the plaintiff and the defendant intentionally absconded himself from the court, I therefore rule that both parties should be going their separate ways…” Adekola, however, awarded the custody of the child produced in the union, Oluwapamilerin, to the plaintiff.
“The defendant is hereby ordered to be paying N5,000 as feeding allowance for the child until she grows up. The defendant should also be responsible for her education and health and he must be served with a copy of the judgement,” he added. It is difficult to determine why judges award paltry sums of money as upkeep of children of broken marriages. But lawyers said there was no law stipulating the alimony a judge would award. According to them, it is discretional. Former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Adekunle Ojo, said alimony was not fixed.
He said: “The upkeep allowance is not a fixed amount but the court will always look at the status of the individual concerned before arriving at a figure. “If someone is earning as low as N200,000, he cannot be asked to maintain another person with N500,000. So many things are factored into that decision.
“The court will also look at the income and status of the wife as well. The reason is that if the man and his wife are working and they are earning good salaries where they are working, there is no point asking one to maintain the other. So, circumstance, income and status play a role in the court arriving at what an upkeep allowance will be.”
But human rights activist and lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said it was usually decided prior to the determination of the judgement. He said: “What happens is that at the period of the hearing of the divorce case, there will be a conference between the husband and wife. It will be used to determine the state of the children and the state of health and wealth of the partners.
“If it becomes clear that the husband is affluent and well to do, and the wife is indigent and probably have the children with her, surely the judge will make an order for her upkeep and the children.
The upkeep allowance will be determined by the status of the individual concerned and the quantum of his wealth.” This may explain the case of Mrs. Anulika Onyemechi, who got a huge alimony, at least, when compared with what the likes of Mrs. Olaremi Ismaila, Mrs. Sherifat Okunola and Mrs. Modupe Adesiyan were awarded when their marriages crashed.
On April 19, the Aba-la-Ohazu Customary Court in Abia State dissolved the eight-year-old marriage between Mr. Benjamin Onyemechi and Anulika over incompatibility.
Ruling on the divorce suit, the Senior Magistrate, Diamond Olewengwa, said the marriage had broken down irrevocably. Olewengwa said that in line with Anulika’s submission that their marriage was contracted based on religious manipulation of a pastor, the union could not be allowed to continue.
He ruled: “It is clear that the centre can no longer hold. This court will do a great service by severing this union and allowing them to be alive rather not doing so and one party would become history. “
This court must not condone irrationality.
The marriage has broken down irretrievably and hereby stands dissolved.” But Olewengwa ordered Anulika to return the N10,000 bride price Benjamin paid on her through the court and revert to her maiden or any other name she wanted. While granting Anulika the custody of the two children of the marriage till they are 18 years, the senior magistrate ordered Benjamin to pay N50,000 to the woman for severing their union and N30,000 for her property. The magistrate also ordered Benjamin to pay N60,000 monthly for the children’s upkeep.
In his own contribution, Biodun Owonikoko, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said decision on financial support was not about being a man or woman. According to him, it is based on the couple’s assets. He said: “Alimony is not the term we use in our own jurisprudence; that word is more of an American phenomenon.
There is no special position for a wife in Nigeria but rather what we have is settlement for a spouse, either a husband or a wife. And this settlement is on the basis of assets that were accumulated by the family during marriage. “If one of the spouses is the less endowed of the two, when they want to separate, the court would then access the total assets accumulated jointly, especially under the Marriage Act applied in Lagos and generally under the Matrimonial Causes Act which also gives provisions as to how those assets ought to be shared. Hence, the court uses its discretion, with some guidelines, to determine what goes to the spouse; but the court conducts this procedure strictly on the assets generated while the couples were married.
“However, our law on settlement after a couple is divorced is shown in the Matrimonial Causes Act and not in the constitution. The two basic things that come up in the Act when people file for either a divorce or separation are children’s custody and sharing of assets. It is in this process that the issue of settlement comes in and it is not called alimony in Nigeria.”
According to Owonikoko, if the marriage to be dissolved is blessed with underage children, the court will always make provisions for their upkeep and will allocate responsibilities based on the means of either of the party. He added: “If, as often the case, the man is the breadwinner, then the expectation would be that the court will ask the man to make contributions for their upkeep, especially based on their normal lifestyle, education and plan for the children.
That is the way it is done. “But in Nigeria, men are mostly regarded as breadwinners. So when there is a divorce and there are no underage children involved, then the man would contribute only to the upkeep of the wife; a settlement which is done in a belief that she is now left alone and can’t fend for herself. Hence, the court would apportion a certain amount of the assets that belong to the family, and not exclusive to the man, for the woman’s upkeep. Such portion created by the court is referred to as an order of maintenance.
“Now, in the case where the children are underage, depending on who has custody, if it is the man, he can decide that he does not want any contribution from the woman. However, the conduct of the wife is always crucial to this event. For instance, in a situation where the woman has gone to marry another man, then such settlements do not arise. This is because she cannot marry another man and expect another man to be catering for her.” But another SAN, Gani Adetola- Kaseem, recognises alimony. According to him, it is awarded based on the interest of the couple. He said: “The issue of marriage in Nigeria is found written within the marital laws.
We have a Marriage Act under the Matrimonial Causes Act and therefore, alimony is based on the interest of the couple. It involves the financial status of the man in relation to what he can afford, and the status of the woman also. “Alimony is something a man would pay to a woman after they are divorced. However, the sum of money to be paid is not general or fixed but it’s done within the interest of the parties. This simply means that nobody would be expected to pay a certain sum that he cannot afford in term of his income or earnings.
And of course, the income status of the woman would also be considered to determine how much alimony ought to be awarded. “I really cannot give you all the information in details but this is the basic principle.”
While Mama Mike and some others in her shoes feel the pains more especially because of the financial burden of raising the children alone, some other women are more concerned about getting out of acrimonious marriages alive. Some believe it is better to be alive to be able to take care of their children, with the hope that things will get better. Ironically, some women do not mind if they lose their lives inasmuch as they are not pushed out of their matrimonial homes. In that category is Ebere, a 28-year-old woman found in court agonising over her soon-to-end sixyear- old marriage.
The mother of an eight-monthold baby girl and a four-year-old son was narrating her ordeal to some court registrars and others who cared to listen, after court proceedings. Ebere said that despite what she was going through in her marriage, she doubted if she could ever live happily as a single mother.
She said. “I have no issues living with him even if he wants to kill me since marriage is ‘for bet- ter, for worse’. But since he is insisting that I leave the house with our children, I doubt I can ever live happily alone.” Her husband, Francis, had filed a divorce suit on April 20, 2016 but efforts by the court and both families to reconcile the couple were futile.
When asked why her husband sought divorce, Ebere said that he had earlier informed the court that he was afraid she would kill him with poison. She said: “He said that he is afraid I would soon kill him maybe by poisoning his food since I have refused to leave the house and that he has been having nightmares about when he died and I refused to cry.” Ebere was in court to appeal to the judge to ensure that her husband pays for her new accommodation before the date fixed for delivering judgement on the matter.
While leaning on her friend’s body, who simply identified herself as Cynthia (another divorcee), Ebere said that her marriage, which was a pure bliss at the beginning, had now become a huge mess. She said: “When he married me at 21, he was so caring and nice, especially during my first pregnancy but I never knew he was cheating on me. One morning, back in Enugu, I got to know about his affairs, when two single ladies, who lived on the same street and a bit older than me, were cursing and raining abusive words on each other.
“They kept calling each other an ‘ashawo’ and ‘boyfriend snatcher’. I was laughing at them as the scene was embarrassing and funny at the same time but I never knew that my beloved husband was the cause of the fight. I had gone gossiping with a neighbour only for me to be told that my husband was the ‘unknown lover.’
“I just hope that the court will persuade him to secure an accommodation for me and my kids because I don’t have money for that now. Taking care of the kids would be very tough, though my parents have agreed to assist me, after he returns my bride price.”
Some women, on the other hand, are financially stable, hence, do not see the responsibility of single-handedly raising their children as a burden. Ebere’s friend, Cynthia, who divorced in 2007, said she had single- handedly raised her children without support from her former husband. Cynthia said since the court awarded the custody of her four children to her until they are 18 years old, she had neither seen nor received a dime from her former husband. She said: “The court ordered that he should be sending money to me weekly for the children’s upkeep and school fees but he disappeared after deceitfully making the court believe he would. “I have catered diligently and painfully for these children since then; from paying their school fees to feeding and also taking care of my own parents, who are getting old.
Trust me; it is not an easy task being a single parent, especially when you know that the children’s father is still alive. At some point, I would cry when the burden gets too tough financially but I rely solely on God to help me through.” Meanwhile, a businesswoman, who identified herself simply as Mummy Funmi, said she had never been dependent on a man to cater for her needs, not to talk of waiting for alimony. She said: “I have been divorced for 21 years and had never imagined waiting for a man’s peanut to take care of the children I gave birth to.
Even before I got married, I was already rich because I had started my own clothing company and had different businesses running like floor marble tiles, furniture and printing. “I met my husband in the United Kingdom when I travelled for my Master’s degree and one thing led to the other, I got pregnant and we decided to settle down.
“We both come back to Nigeria and I even helped him financially with his business since I was more buoyant than him at the time. But his attitude started growing bad by the day. He stopped being sensitive to how I felt and my opinions didn’t matter to him, until I heard he got another woman pregnant.
Then I realised the cause of the whole issue. I couldn’t stand a cheating boyfriend while I was single and sure knew I can’t stand a cheating husband. “So, I immediately called my lawyer to file for divorce after confirming that he was guilty of the allegation. That was how we both went our separate ways and I kept custody of my three cute boys and a lovely daughter.
“The court ordered that he contributes 60 per cent of the children’s welfare but I wasn’t interested in all that.
All that mattered to me was for him to get out of my life first. I refused to collect a dime from him for the kids, at least to teach him a small reasonable lesson. And I am comfortably taking care of my kids. “Although we are still in good terms and he visits quite often, it always feels awkward when he comes around, because I always refuse collecting whatever he brings or gives to me. “I always encourage women to strive for themselves and not depend totally on men as their means of survival. You never can tell what would happen in that marriage or even to the man.”
But a broken home has advert effects not just on the man and woman but on the products of that failed union. Most times, husbands and wives seeking divorce don’t take the interest of the children into consideration. A broken marriage, according to a psychologist, Prof Bamishaye Oluwatimileyin, can cause ‘psychosomatism’ in children of divorced parents.
Oluwatimileyin, who teaches Psychology at the Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED), Ijagun, Ogun State, said such children would become psychosomatic, which, according to him, implies that the children will be traumatised.
He said: “Definitely, such children can now call any male they see around as their father, who they feel is irresponsible because already sociologically and biologically, they have a memory of an irresponsible father. That belief is supported by the story their mummy has told them and so such a bad picture of their father will stick to them.”
According to the psychologist, it can also lead to mental challenge for such children. He added: “There was a female psychologist, Anne Roe, who said there are three good experiences that are important for child growth, and they include emotional concentration and avoidance of the child.
“If a parent fails to cater for the children, this emotional concentration will be affected and it may lead to mental challenge. The same is expected of the avoidance of child, and the third one, which I cannot recollect now, will be affected in the child growth and development.”
•Additional reports by Akeem Nafiu, Mojeed Alabi and John Chikezie
Delta Steel: Prostate from mismanagement
CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK
Despite efforts to revive it and restart production of steel for local and export purposes, the multibillion naira Delta Steel Company (DSC) has remained comatose, writes YEKEEN AKINWALE, who visited the firm situated at Owvian, Aladja town, Delta State, in this concluding part
“When that place was flourishing, they said it was federal character; northerners were there, southerners were there, but when it was run aground, people accused us of folding our arms and being naive. We say no, before people accuse us again.” The case is still ongoing.
The communities want the court to issue an order restraining Premium Steel from continuing to take over the assets of Delta Steel without a valid sale and/or transfer of the company. Short-changed by AMCON and Premium Steel and mines management Former workers who worked at the plant between 2005 and 2012 when Global Infrastructure Company unsuccessfully managed it are demanding the payment of their entitlements.
The new investors will know no peace, they have vowed, until their debts are defrayed. At the time the new investors took over from AMCON in April 2015, the company had a backlog of seven-year unpaid salaries, which the workers say was calculated to be N3.2 billion – but AMCON says the amount is far less: N2.1 billion.
Other liabilities, according to findings, are indebtedness to contractors put at N2.5 billion, indebtedness to foreign suppliers placed at $4.4 billion and liabilities to statutory bodies and corporate creditors such as Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), which alone make up N12 billion.
AMCON, it was gathered, has settled some of these liabilities; particularly debts owed the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC), which recently restored electricity to the plant after seven years of darkness. The workers argue that the difference of N1.1 billion was due to the omission of some names and figures in the report submitted by the consultant hired to compute their entitlements.
They accuse AMCON of short-changing them despite their years of sacrifice at the company. Peace Oputu, chairman of Iron and Steel Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ISSSAN), reveals that efforts to make AMCON adjust the figure to N3.2 billion were fruitless.
“We (the workers) gathered ourselves and met with AMCON. We talked but the meeting was fruitless because they didn’t agree to our terms,” says Oputu, disappointed in how workers have been treated by the Federal Government after the collapse of the steel company.
“They calculated certain amount, N2.1 billion as what is owed DSC workers, but we have EDP that takes care of all expenditures and all the money that comes in for the company. “When we met with the committee set up by Delta State government, we made it very clear to them that our money is much more than that.
“Then we calculated the money with the EDP, and came out with N3.2 billion. This was what we took to AMCON in Lagos. AMCON said their own was just to acquire; they had paid the debts owed by the company and as a result, they didn’t have any other thing to give us. “They were just going to part with N600 million, representing 22.5 per cent of the N3.2 billion. So, the meeting was deadlocked because we were not happy.”
While waiting for their entitlements, ICIR gathered that about 500 retired staff of the steel company died in the 13 years that followed, that is 2005 till date.
This explains why, when AMCON came to disburse the N600 million in March 2017, those still alive ignored the directive of Oputu-led ISSSAN and Steel and Engineering Workers Union of Nigeria (SEWUN) not to collect the money. Though it was obvious that they had been underpaid, the workers, who were dying of hunger and sundry illnesses, could not resist the temptation of the AMCON payment.
“Hunger is there, you cannot tell anybody not to collect the money. We the union came out and instructed them that nobody should go out to receive it but the next day people went out. You can imagine the level of poverty among our people,” laments Oputu. But ISSSAN and SEWUN are insisting on the payment of 100 per cent allegedly agreed by the unions and AMCON, through its receiver/manager. They allege that AMCON acted without consulting them in the calculation and payment of “25 per cent of their total entitlements”.
Adewale Okeshola, general secretary of ISSSAN, laments that AMCON reneged on the agreements reached at the meeting with its receiver/manager. “We later gathered that AMCON through the receiver/manager was holding meetings with some disgruntled elements within the workforce in DSC who paraded themselves as seeking the interest of the workers who have suffered delay in the payment of their salaries for over five years now,” he says.
“These groups, we gathered, entered into an unholy alliance with the management to short-change the workers in the payment of their terminal benefits. After a protracted wait, we were shocked that the workers had been paid 25 per cent of their entitlements as final payment.
“This is not only a far cry from the agreement reached between the two unions and the receiver/ manager appointed by AMCON, but also unacceptable. We want to say that SEWUN and ISSSAN were not carried along in this decision.
We have made several entreaties through correspondences to the concerned authorities to rescind this dehumanising decision and honour every agreement both parties reached for the interest of peace and harmony. Up till now, our efforts have fallen on deaf ears, thereby creating tension and restiveness by workers.” Efforts by the state government to intervene have yielded only little result, at least not in assuaging the worries of the aggrieved former workers.
A committee on Delta Steel Company Affairs set up by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and headed by Moses Odibo, wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari requesting N5 billion bailout for AMCON to offset the salaries and other indebtedness so that the company’s new owners could resume produc-tion in November 2016.
The amount requested was not released. Rather, the President, it was learnt, referred the letter to AMCON to defray the debt since that is its statutory responsibility.
A breakdown of the sought N 5billion is as follows: N3.2 billion for staff salaries, N1 billion as part payment of N7.5 billion indebtedness to PHCN/BEDC, N198.7 million owed Nigerian Gas, N500 million for general supplies and N58 million to offset scrap supplies.
Despite these calculations, particularly the debt to workers, AMCON paid only 25 per cent of N2.1 billion that it said was the workers’ entitlement.
The workers argue that from the time when the Federal Government took over the company from Global Infrastructure Company till date, no letter was given to any staff regarding disengagement, retirement or any related matter. “Invariably, the government is not coming closer to us and we don’t know what is happening with this company for now,” laments Oputu.
“My members are working there because what gets to your mouth gets to your stomach. My people are dying in the township there. We lost minimum of three people every day.
When the new investors came in, they made several publications that they were going to turn Delta Steel Company around, promising to spend billions of dollars. “But today, that is not what we are seeing. If they don’t live on the account of the school; they won’t survive.
The proceeds from the schools are what they use to run the plant and one of the schools, school II, is grounded.
“We were over 5,000 when the company was working well, but we were reduced to almost 2,000 when Global Steel came in. Several people have died, more than 700 since 2011.” Jude Nwauzor, manager, Corporate Affairs of AMCON, did not respond to questions on the allegation of short-changing the former workers.
While he promised to get back, he referred the journalist to Joseph Nwobike, AMCON Receiver/ Manager for the company. In an SMS, Nwobike, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said he would not respond to gossips and unfounded allegations.
“Thank you for contacting me. I really do not respond to gossips and unfounded allegations. The records are there for all to see,” he says. But when he was further asked to make the record available by this journalist, he went mum.
AMCON, though, says it ensured that all verified former workers who were eligible and also participated in the agency’s verification exercise were fully paid directly. Following their inability to liquidate the debts they owed several banks, AMCON took over the assets and undertakings of Delta Steel Company Plc (DSC)/Global Infrastructure Nigeria Limited (GINL) and appointed a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Ajibola Aribisala, as the receiver/ manager of the company.
However, in 2015, AMCON replaced Aribisala with Nwobike, who subsequently engaged the services of an audit firm to carry out a verification of the former staff. “At the exercise, only those who were staff of DSC/GINL at the time of the take-over by AMCON were audited,” AMCON says in the report.
“At the conclusion of the exercise, Nwobike engaged the representatives of the staff – an engagement that led to an agreement to accept as full and final settlement of their outstanding salaries and gratuities, a percentage of the verified sums.” It was, however, gathered that although the percentage agreed to be paid was below the workers’ expectation, AMCON says the arrangement was the best in the circumstance, seeing that DSC/GINL was insolvent.
According to AMCON, over 1,600 staff were screened and paid in the exercise, which lasted between March 13 and 31, 2017. Hunger, sickness, deaths…the plights of ex-workers “My wife dey house now, to eat dey hard us; na so so quarrel. I don’t know where to start from and I get seven children.”
That is the lamentation of Francis Agbonkaro, who worked at the plant as a plumber for 25 years. With three university graduates and four undergraduates and a wife to cater to, life has not been easy for him since his retirement in 2005 from the company without the payment of his benefits.
The whole family, he reveals, lives on the petty trade run by his wife in the Steel Camp – the residential quarters constructed for staff of the company. “Na my wife just dey do small small thing wey we take dey survive. I get seven children. Three graduate, four no graduate, dem don already finish secondary school because no money to sponsor them. I no fit calculate how much dem owe me,” he says. But he is happy despite his poor condition of living because several of his colleagues who worked at the plant have died of hunger and treatable ailments.
“Population wey don die, dem no dey fit talk that one. I even fit say the population wey die dem plenty pass people wey dey alive. Some house dey here, the husband die, the wife die,” Agbonkaro continues in Pidgin, apparent signs of poverty all over him. Still, he can be said to be lucky. His colleagues, Salami Omokha and Osifo Mathew, are already cursing the day they joined the steel company – they have lost their sights due to years of exposure to high temperature without protective gears as con-casters at the plant. Omokha, who also retired from the company in 2005, was a melter of iron ore.
“Melting has to do with converting iron ore, which has been reduced to direct iron, and then you convert them to liquid steel, you convert them to any grade of steel you want,” he explains. Before iron ore can be converted, the melter must attain the temperature of about 1740 degree centigrade.
That, Omokha says, was usually done by him and others in that section “and not that you have the safety devices to look at those things”. “Those are the things we looked at and today now we are having the adverse effects; we cannot see.”
Trained in Germany and Italy for iron ore melting, he says 90 per cent of those that worked there “have this problem I’m having now; the problem of sight”. “I went to Germany and Italy in 1980 and 1981 where I was trained as an electro handler, melter, and caster. I trained many people on the job when I returned, and many of them today are happy to identify with us now that we gave them good training.”
Life after retirement has not been rosy, as according to him, “the situation after retirement is hopeless”. “We are surviving through charity, particularly from friends who are better placed. My children are not grown up yet; even the ones that have graduated have no jobs. Our wives are the ones jumping from places to places, converting whatever they have to money. We are also hoping for a better tomorrow whether the Federal Government will remember us.
“We are not getting our retirement benefits. I’m in my condition now, the plant is also in its own condition; we don’t know who to speak for who. Whether the plant is to speak for me, because the plant is also in the same condition in which I am now; the plant is sick. “I wish the Federal Government can have a little rethink and come back to that place to see exactly what they have there. They should not allow it go fallow the way it is now. People are there now but nothing meaningful is coming out of there. It is like the government is not taking the issue of Delta Steel Company seriously.”
When reminded that the plant had been handed over to a pri- vate investor, he asks: “How can you give the company to a private investor without following up, without knowing its profile and without know what they are doing there? “The government is weak in this area.
There are so many of their projects that are abandoned. Come to where we are residing in Township, schools have been abandoned, taken over by weeds. It is a nonchalant attitude by the government.” On whether the Premium Steel and Mines Limited has the capacity to transform the moribund plant, Salami retorts: “Those are not steel makers; if they are still makers we will know. The same government that allowed them in is the same government that owes us.
“My health challenges are numerous; one, I cannot see far objects. Doctors told me that there are cataracts in my eyes and these are the manifestations of areas where we worked. Again, the pains are there all over. Many of the people that worked with us have long died. “Government should live up to its responsibility and pay us our money, our entitlements, so that we can also straighten our heads and maybe we can live longer. With better treatment, nobody will know that you are sick; meaning that there is a solution to your problem. We have problems and the solution is there; only that we cannot afford it.”
Of the trio, Osifo Mathew is the worst hit; he has been suffering from stroke and has lost his sight. With his eyes wide opened though laced with mucous to suggest there are problems with them, Mathew could not recognise his friends. Twenty-five years of exposure to high temperature as a con-caster at the steel company is responsible for his battle with glaucoma. With such debilitating health condition, he is also not paid his entitlements after retirement from the company. Looking straight at this reporter as if he could actually see him, he says, “I worked at con-cast. We started the steel company and I was retired in 2005.
But up till now, I have not collected my entitlements. I have problem with my eyes. In fact, when the eye problem started, I was first affected by stroke. “The eyes have been bad for the past four years.
They said they cannot operate it because it is glaucoma. “They recommended drugs and eye drop. I can see just faintly. The last eye drop I bought was N9,000 and used it for two weeks.” Osifo makes one final plea to the journalist: “I want government to pay my money so that I can treat myself. As you are talking to me now, I’m just looking at you like a film. I’m not seeing you; I can’t describe the shirt you are wearing.”
•Akinwale is a snr investigative reporter, ICIR, Abuja
Delta Steel Company: Dashed hope of a nation
Sick workers, comatose firm, helpless stakeholders
Two years after the Federal Government handed over the Delta Steel Company (DSC) to Premium Steel and Mines Company Limited – a consortium of private investors – to revive the company and start production of steel for local and export purposes, the multibillion-naira outfit is yet to take off. YEKEEN AKINWALE, who visited the company situated at Owvian, Aladja town, Delta State, finds out that the company is still grappling with crises which look intractable
“Warri no dey carry last, na wetin we dey always talk, but for this Delta Steel Company matter, we don carry last,” quips Justice Iyasere, who looks towards the massive structure of the steel company with disappointment clearly etched on his face.
Although Iyasere, a community leader and local government chairman aspirant in Udu Local Government, is not one to give in to pessimism, he admits that it will take more actions than precepts to get the company running again – especially in the face of unending crises ranging from war by ex-workers, to huge debts to suppliers and threats from other interest groups.
Years of politicking, mismanagement and lack of interest by the Federal Government, he says, led to the collapse of what was once the pride of Delta State. If it were alive and running, Nigeria’s reliance on imported steel and aluminium products ought to have significantly reduced.
Its sales to Premium Steel and Mines Limited under the Federal Government’s privatisation programme, besides being opaque, is already a subject of litigation – communities hosting the company in Udu have instituted a law suit against Federal Government and Premium Steel and Mines Limited, to contest the sale.
At the moment, Nigeria spends N887 billion (about $4.5 billion) annually to import 25 million tons of steel and aluminium products. This is not going to end soon except steel plants such as DSC start producing steel locally.
In 1980, when the plant was established and inaugurated under the leadership of Fred Aghogho Brume, pioneer general manager, it was designed to produce one million tons of liquid steel per year. It never attained this maximum production output. Its best performance was in 1983, when it produced 500,000 tons. Since then, the plant has been aground.
“In 1985, the highest steel production a day was 23 heats in the whole of Africa and that year, Delta Steel was producing 21,” says Sam Agberhiere, one of its pioneer staff.
“If government is actually serious about steel making, by now we should have been one of the leading countries in the business. But the reverse is the case.”
From conception, DSC was designed to place Nigeria in the comity of manufacturing countries, particularly giving it an edge in the automobile sector. The Foundry Section, which earlier manufactured brake discs, drums and other parts for Peugeot Automobile Nigeria (PAN), Kaduna, has long been shut down.
“PAN in Kaduna was making order in 2002, 2003 and 2004. From here we made brake drums, engine blocks and other accessories in good quality,” says a former staff of the company who did not want to be named because of a running battle with the new management over unpaid entitlements.
The Phase II of the plant, designed to manufacture flat sheets for production of car bodies such as bonnets, car doors, roofs and booths, never took off. The natives who donated the land to government for the company to build the Phase II have reclaimed it.
“In one word, I’d say what killed DSCL is politics. They played politics with the plant. That’s why we have found ourselves where we are today. Warri don carry last here,” Iyasere adds.
Robinson Akpodovhan, retired manager, Shipping and Logistics at the plant, would also not spare government of blame. He says government did not effectively monitor the company.
“You cannot rule out the hands of government from the failure of the company,” he says. “Ajaokuta is over 40 years now and still grappling with construction, and it is also owned by the government.”
Truly, a desolate edifice of the company sandwiched by bush says much about its years of misfortune. Before now, the company supplied billets to Jos Steel Rolling Mill, Katsina Rolling and Oshogbo Rolling Mill. All three rolling mills are also dead.
Haunted by ex-workers, heavy debts, unseen forces…the face of a deserted plant
With a gun-wielding soldier and other private security guards manning the gate, a visitor without prior appointment will not have his way in. “Gaining access to the plant is not an easy task; you have to come back in two weeks’ time,” a security guard tells this journalist.
An insider says the new management of the company is haunted by aggrieved former workers who have vowed never to allow operation in the plant except their entitlements are paid. So, the main gate is under tight security against any unforeseen invasion by former workers. But its former owners, Global Infrastructure Holding Limited, is also laying claim to the company and indeed pressing to take it over.
Save for a few employees working on an excavation across the main gate of the company, there is actually no movement of heavy duty trucks that could suggest any activity going on in the company. No deafening sounds of iron casting coming from the plant or the razzmatazz that characterises a steel company.
It wears an old look, all the welcome signposts along the dual carriageway erected by the new management notwithstanding. Keen visitors get the impression of a company not working right from the corridor of the same highway.
The road was constructed purposely to connect the steel plant to the Warri Port, in order to enhance easy evacuation of finished iron products. But the road is not only deserted; it is dilapidated.
A trailer park a few kilometres away from the main entrance of the company that once served as the assembly point for heavy-duty trucks taking finished products is long gone; it has been taken over by bushes; no ancillary business along the road is visible. Business life of the area apparently died with the steel plant.
“As an A-Level student of Federal Government Warri, we were taken to DSCL on excursion; the noise there was deafening – noise of steel production and presence of heavy-duty trucks waiting to evacuate iron products such as iron rods, billets and other products were sights to behold,” recounts Onwuka John, a resident of Owvian.
“In those days, oil workers were resigning. I saw them join the steel sector. Many resigned from Shell to join Delta Steel because everything about the company was too attractive for anyone not to eye its workforce; housing estate, schools, football team and even hospital were owned by the company.
“No company impacted the lives of the Deltans like the steel company, but all that is history now,” he adds.
“It was operating three shifts and you need to see staff buses conveying workers from Steel Town for their shifts to the company. But now, the plant is just like a ghost town.”
The units within – harbour, Direct Reduction (DR) plant and the pellet plant, Lime Plant, Rolling Mill, Electric Air Furnace, and the Continuous Caster – are littered with wreckage and waste, while other auxiliary units of the plant such as the foundry, electrical and mechanical maintenance workshops and water supply system, have all been overtaken by elephant grasses.
Creating an impression of work in progress, however, are a few workers here and there strapping their safety helmets and putting on some dusty factory boots. But there is arguably no steel processing going on in the company.
Waiting for the promised facelift by the new owners, Premium Steel and Mines Limited, the brownish rusty bodies of the equipment and the broken-down or abandoned machines all over the place are relics of a dead giant.
In March 2017, a group of investors from the United States of America and Morocco were reported to have visited the plant, proposing a N600 billion investment to help revamp it – an indication that the new owners too might be in need of financial muscle to run the plant, like their predecessor, Global Infrastructure, which failed to turn it around.
But Victor German, general manager, Government and Community Affairs at the company, denies any such proposal from any investor. He says the Indian investors have both financial and technical abilities to operate the company.
This claim is already being contested. Ebhaleme Pius, a former employee of the company who worked there when it was sold to Global Infrastructure Holding Limited, says the management of Premium Steel and Mines, under the leadership of Prasanta Mishra, lacks not only the technical knowhow and financial muscle to run it successfully but also has no record of steel making.
“Those are not steel makers,” says Pius. “That’s why they are yet to manufacture a pin for the past two years. They cannot manufacture anything there because they don’t have experience in steel making.”
When its new owners took over in 2015, they promised to revive the comatose steel plant with N370 billion. Back then, with an established elaborate plan for the company’s revival with N70 billion in new investments in the first phase and N300 billion in the further phases, it looked like the company was going to have a new lease of life.
German admits that Delta Steel Company, as it is still called by the locals despite change of ownership and nomenclature, is still haunted by many known fears from disenchanted former workers who have vowed never to allow new investors take over the company until the N3.2 billion due to them is paid.
The workers are insisting that all industrial issues be settled, especially backlog of salaries and allowances, before the company can operate. German also confirms that the plant has been bogged down by demands of the former workers. “We met some rigid situations,” he says.
The basic reason the company has not resumed operations, according to him, is the delay in bringing the former workers on board.
“These former workers are waiting, but these issues of liabilities are also there. We have about 100 of them working with us now,” he says.“What we have been doing is trying to meet the demands of the former workers; those who worked with Global Infrastructure. You don’t just come and start work. They are asking for the payment of debts owed the workers.”
According to German, who is also a gas engineer, the management of the company is almost done with the resuscitation of its rolling mill, after which other sectors such as Steel Melting Shop (SMS) would be revamped. But there are arguably no signs that the mill will start work anytime soon.
“We are resuscitating the rolling mill, we are going to buy billets or get them from outside the country,” he adds.
Pius says the steel plant management will not succeed by revamping the rolling mill first because “Delta Steel Company is an integrated plant”.
“You can’t revive the rolling mill that ought to come last in the line of production first. It must be the last stage after they might have revived units like SMS and others. They can’t operate that plant; it is not a rolling mill.”
He alleges that the Indian investors have different plans for the plant. “They want to convert the building to a rice depot or a hotel,” he says. “You know they are Vaswani Brothers and we know their history in this country. They converted Volkswagen to rice depot.”
The payment of some debts by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) in April what was needed for the management of Premium Steel to gain access to the plant and commence its resuscitation.
“We started that April this year and we have gone far. We are almost through with the rolling mill. One hundred and sixty workers are going to be employed for the rolling mills when it is operational,” says despite all these commitments, the management of the company still has a lot of bridges to cross. A case before a Federal High Court, Warri Judicial Division, by Udu community, might be a major huddle to cross.
The host community says the details of the transaction between PSML and Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE), which gave the company to the new investors, was not made open.
“We do not know the extent of purchase; we do not know what AMCON sold and what they didn’t,” says Sam Odibo (Otota), Prime Minister of Udu Kingdom.
The communities claim they are stakeholders, having been allotted 22 million ordinary shares in the company, representing 10 per cent of its total shares at its privatisation.
Part of their complaint, according to Odibe, is that the Federal Government has continued to shut them out in the privatisation process while dealing with the assets of Delta Steel.
“When BPE concessioned the company some years back, the community did not even know that they had some percentage to be paid because the Indian company, Global, ran the place solo,” he says.
“We say no; we want to know what they sold to you because AMCON sold what was used to borrow money from the bank. Did they reserve anything for the community or is it that they sold everything in spite of huge expanse of land the Federal Government took from us in the name of national interest. But we believe that the Federal Government would not be stupid to sell everything off.”
Before heading for court, the host communities said their efforts to get both the BPE and the AGF to account for the privatisation process were shrugged off. Now, they want the court to declare that they are entitled to 22,000,000 ordinary shares, representing 10 per cent of the total shares of Delta Steel Company, and that both the BPE and the AGF have no right, power or authority whatsoever to sell or transfer to Premium Steel either directly or through any of the agents of the Federal Government, more than 80 per cent of the shares of Delta Steel.
The court, they argue, should also declare any purported sale and/or transfer of more than 80 per cent of the shares of Delta Steel to Premium Steel by the Federal Government, null and void.
“AMCON is done on the matter; they are not talking to us, same way nobody talked to us in the previous deal that allowed those Indians to run the place aground,” says Odibe.
•Akinwale is a snr investigative reporter, ICIR, Abuja
Suicide law: When the dead is guilty
Stigma, criminalisation not deterring suicide
JOHN CHIKEZIE x-rays prevalent cases of suicide in the country and blames the law for the upsurge
Stories of people committing suicide have now become an end to a means among the young and the middleaged in the country, especially in a city like Lagos where the hustle and bustle have tremendous effects on the mental state of residents. In 2017, the numerous shocking and alarming media reports of people taking their own lives appeared to have created an awareness in the mind of every Nigerian but what most folks didn’t know is that attempting to kill oneself is illegal and an offence against the state.
The alarm was raised when the sad and disturbing case of a 33-year-old medical doctor, Allwell Orji, who jumped into the lagoon from the Lagos Third Mainland Bridge, was reported on March 19, 2017. The deceased, who was being driven by his driver in a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) with registration number LND 476 EE about 4:50p.m., was receiving a call when he suddenly asked his driver to park. According to the driver, the doctor asked him to pull over, came out of the vehicle and jumped into the lagoon.
His body was recovered two days later. But there was uproar on social media when a 51-year-old textile dealer at Balogun Market, Titilayo Momoh, was arraigned before an Ebute Meta Chief Magistrates’ Court on April 24, 2017 for attempting to jump into the lagoon on the Third Mainland Bridge. Momoh, who pleaded not guilty, was arraigned on a charge of attempting to commit suicide.
The prosecutor, Kehinde Omisakin, said that the accused committed the offence on March 24 about 10a.m. contrary to Section 233 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2015. Omisakin said the businesswoman was prevented by security operatives from taking her own life. It was further learnt that the accused had been having sleepless nights since she was allegedly swindled of N18.7 million by a Bureau-de-Change operator sometime in 2015. However, upon her arrest, Momoh pleaded with the Lagos State government to pardon her actions on the claim that the weight of her debt pushed her into the act.
Although Momoh was granted bail by Chief Magistrate A. T. Elias in the sum of N500,000 with two responsible sureties in like sum, government later withdrew the case from the court. The judge directed that the woman be taken to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation.
Momoh’s attempted suicide and her subsequent arraignment brought to light Section 327 of the Criminal Code Act, Chapter 77 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990, which stipulates that any person who attempts to kill himself is liable to imprisonment for one year, as many people were not even aware that such a law exists.
Looking into the implication of the suicide law as against successful suicides, is a pathetic story of a 42-year-old wielder, Wasiu Alowonle, who killed himself by jumping off a Lagos courtroom window on December 6, 2017; simply out of frustration.
Alowonle was accused of stealing an iron rod worth N40,000 and arraigned before Mrs. O. I. Raji of an Ogba Chief Magistrates’ Court. The prosecuting officer, Yumi Egunjobi, said the deceased was earlier arraigned on October 16 on a one-count charge of stealing and had been in custody at Kirikiri Prisons.
Egunjobi said the deceased was arraigned on December 6 for his trial to commence but no one could explain what made him jump off the window. However, a security guard, who witnessed the incident and pleaded anonymity, told New Telegraph that the deceased was manipulated by a spiritual force to commit suicide as he was already looking pale and frustrated when he was brought in by prison warders for trial. He said: “Although people claimed he killed himself out of frustration from prison officials’ treatment.
But I cannot believe that the man was in his right senses because it sounds ridiculous to say that it was an attempt to escape through a three-storey. Escape from a tall building through the window; that is impossible! “I believe that he was compelled by a spiritual force to kill himself. His action was not ordinary especially for someone who has been locked up in Kirikiri for months. He was wearing a white T-shirt, written ‘Fly Emirate,’ and a pair of blue jeans when he was led into the witness box for trial. “But for one reason or the other, the magistrate stood down the matter. He left the box and sat with other defendants on the front row of the court, close to the window.
“I was told he was meant to pay N40,000 to the man he allegedly stole from. But barely a few minutes after the next case was announced, the deceased pushed the other defendant beside him and ran towards the window.
“Before the prison guards could grab him, he had already jumped off and landed on the floor with his head. He died on the spot because his head was badly smashed while his right hand was fractured.” Hence, the worrisome question stuttering on the lips of everyone was what would have been Alowole’s punishment had he survived the suicide attempt?
Would the prosecutor have amended the previous charge to accommodate his attempted suicide? Or would he be re-arraigned on a fresh count of suicide? Another related incident is the case of a 31-year-old man, Hammed Olojo, who was arrested by the police on August 27, 2017 while attempting to jump into the Lagos lagoon in a bid to commit suicide but was quickly restrained. Olojo was prevented from taking his own life and charged before an Ebute Metta Magistrates’ Court, Lagos.
The prosecuting officer, Kehinde Olatunde, said Olojo, who pleaded not guilty, was charged on a one-count charge of attempted suicide contrary to Section 235 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015.
He was also granted bail by Magistrate O. O. A. Fowowe-Erusiafe in the sum of N50,000 with two sureties in like sum and the matter was thereafter adjourned till November 16, 2017 for mention.
Late last year, Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Imohimi Edgal, directed the prosecution of a member of staff of China Construction Company of Nigeria Limited (CCCN), Mr. Folarin Odukoya, for attempted suicide. Odukoya allegedly attempted to take his own life about 11p.m. on December 17 by jumping into the lagoon near the Ebute Ero Jetty but was rescued by divers and handed over to the Ebute Ero Divisional Police.
However, when interrogated, Odukoya claimed he decided to kill himself because his employer allegedly refused to issue him a document he believed would augment his career. Nigeria, despite being ranked as sixth happiest country in Africa and 103rd in the world on March 20, 2017, according to World Happiness Report 2017, has witnessed more suicides than happy endings.
The giant of Africa, well known for its agility in business and perseverance despite economic hardship, recorded a large number of shocking attempted and completed suicides in 2017 than any other year since its history. However, according to a report made available by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global initiative launched by the United Nations, Nigerians were ranked sixth happiest people in Africa despite the country’s challenging economic recession.
According to the SDSN Director and Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General, Jeffrey Sachs, the happy countries refer to those with a healthy balance of prosperity in terms of social capital; like acquiring a high degree of trust in the society, low inequality measure and confidence in the government.
According to Sachs, the rankings of happiest countries are based on six essential factors such as per capital gross domestic product, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, social support and absence of corruption in government or business.
Unfortunately, such happy records soon became a pale shadow when Nigeria, from being one of the happiest people, sunk into the rank of the most depressed country in Africa, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports on April 7, 2017. Barely a month after ranking as one of the happiest on earth, WHO arrived at a conclusion that Nigeria has 7,079,815 people suffering from depression, about 3.9 per cent of the population.
The figures were released in a report ahead of the World Health Day (WHD) entitled; “Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates.” According to the report, “4,894,557 Nigerians, which is 2.7 per cent of the population, suffer anxiety disorders. Depression is the leading cause of disabilities worldwide, and a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. “Depression can lead to suicide, which is the second leading cause of death in people aged 15 – 29 globally. Consequently, the condition can lead to more suicide cases in the country.
“Nigerians are the most depressed in Africa because, since the number of persons with common mental disorders globally is going up, particularly in lower-income countries, the population is rapidly growing and more people are living to the age when depression and anxiety most commonly occur”.
A suicide attempt is often described as an act where a person tries to commit suicide but survives. Hence, most suicide attempts, in some countries, are often based on a terminal or chronic illness. The alarming rate of suicides in the world has varied in several countries while its sanctions still remains a greatly debated concept.
The law against suicide has reigned since antiquity and is believed to have emanated from a religious doctrine which claims that God is the sole determinant for the death of humans (meaning that God has the legal right to determine who and when a person should die).
According to the tales, especially in ancient Athens, persons who deliberately killed themselves were denied the honours of a normal burial. At the time, the punishment for anyone who commits suicide without an approval from the state entails that the person would be buried alone without a headstone or marker, on the outskirt of the town or city. Sometimes, the family of the deceased would be stripped off their belongings and handed over to the state.
Suicide, also referred as selfmurder, within the religious and moral objections, was a mortal sin in the eyes of the church and also a crime under the common law in England in the mid-13th Century. However, before the enactment of the Suicide Act 1961, an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, it was a crime to commit suicide, and anyone who attempted and failed could be prosecuted and jailed. Even the families of those who succeeded were equally not left unpunished but could also face prosecution.
The 1961 Suicide Act, however, decriminalised the act of suicide in England and Wales to enable people who failed while attempting to kill themselves escape prosecution.
Although the states abolished the penalties imposed by the common law (property forfeiture and humiliating burial), it was solely to spare the innocent families and not to legitimise the act. Recent studies on criminal codes of several countries around the world revealed that while most western countries decriminalised suicide acts, suicide attempts still remain a criminal offence in most Islamic countries. In Africa, where the legality or criminality of suicide attempts are mostly deduced from moral standards and religious tenets, several countries like Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Egypt, Eritrea, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe still legalise both attempted and completed suicide.
But in stark contrast, others like Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda enforce stringent punishments for offenders. Unlike in Japan where suicide is considered illegal but not punishable, offenders in Nigeria are not left unpunished but are arrested and charged to court for prosecution.
However, self-induced deaths have no judicial penalties, but suicide attempts still remain a criminal offence in Nigeria. Section 327 of the Criminal Code Act, Chapter 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 stipulates a one year imprisonment sentence for offenders. While Section 235 of the Criminal law ChC17 vol.3 Laws of Lagos State, 2015, prescribes a hospitalisation order for an accused.
The same chapter of the Criminal Code also criminalises aiding suicide; Section 326 states that any person who procures, counsels, induces another in killing himself is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for life. The implications of these laws interpret that anyone who attempts to harm his/her body, under any circumstance, shall be treated as a criminal and duly prosecuted.
Hence, anyone guilty of the offence shall face same treatment similar to an awaiting trial or convicted criminal like a murderer, an armed robber or kidnapper etc. Doctor speaks According to Dr. R. A. Adebayo, a former Acting Medical Director of the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, suicide occurs when an individual wilfully or deliberately attempts to end his life and eventually succeeds; while a failed attempt, whether by strangulation, hanging on a rope, taking a poisonous substance or jumping into a lagoon, is called deliberate self-harm (DSH).
Adebayo, who is also a clinical psychologist and consultant psychiatrist, said that suicidal acts should not be treated as criminal cases but as an abnormal mental disorder since 80 per cent of the indulged victims suffer from depression.
While advocating the decriminalisation of suicide attempts, the doctor said that suicidal patients were being admitted into the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital on a weekly basis but because the society decided to criminalise it, people barely heard of the reported cases. Adebayo maintained that suicide patients should not be tagged as criminals but as patients or victims who need to be accessed and medically examined.
According to him, what suicide patients need is an intensive medical care for their condition and not prosecution or a prison sentence. He said: “We should never criminalise suicide acts expect those who attack others through bombing.
Suicidal victims need treatment and not prisons because they are diseased. It would be inhuman to jail people with mental disorders since their condition is a pathological process. “It’s high time we de-stigmatised mental disorders. Hauling people with mental disorders into prisons would never solve their problems rather the Federal Government should provide more opportunities for treatment.
Prison sentence should only serve as punishment to suicide bombers whose intentions are to harm others in the process of taking their own lives. “There are medical factors which induce suicide such as: substance abuse (otherwise called drug addiction), epilepsy, terminal or chronic medical conditions like cancer, stroke and schizophrenia.
“Other non-medical causes of suicide include tough financial debt or condition; honour killings common in Japan and Middle East countries (a situation where someone, whose guilt and shame over an offence committed, kills himself in order to honour or cleanse the disgrace he brought to the image of his family); and suicide attacks in the Islamic states like Boko Haram.
“All these causes of suicide are induced by depression, aside suicide attack which is an element of religious indoctrination. But, on the contrary, suicide is a medical issue and not a criminal act as pointed by the law.
“A successful suicide victim cannot be prosecuted by the law since the person is dead already but the one who attempts cannot also be reported as a result of the fear of being stigmatised, tagged as a criminal and charged to court.
It is certain that more than 15 per cent of suicide attempts won’t be reported. “This, however, makes suicide attempts under reported or shrouded in secrecy. In this hospital, I have witnessed several cases of deliberate self-harm (DSH) patients especially those with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a major psychotic disorder where a patient claims to hear strange voices. This condition is also referred to as auditory hallucination.
“According to patients who suffer from this condition, these strange voices tell them to kill or harm themselves. Some of them adhere to that instruction while the lucky ones run into hiding or seek help. There are cases of patients who heard voices and thereafter jumped from a storey building or into a lagoon.
“There was a peculiar case of an epileptic patient who got tired of her condition and decided to end it by jumping into the lagoon. She jumped from the Third Mainland Bridge but fortunately she was rescued. Another lady also jumped into the same lagoon after hearing strange voices but she was rescued as well.
“Now, in the eyes of the law, these ladies have attempted suicide, but medically we call it a DSH. This is because when the cause of such behaviour is examined, we realise that depression or the strange voices prompted the act.”
Adebayo also explained that after the rescue, rehabilitation, and recovery from such illness, some of these patients eventually come to terms with the damage the illness has done in their lives and might still attempt suicide. He said: “Some of them may not want to continue or brace up with life simply because of shame or guilty.
Some might be ashamed of the things they experienced during the illness or the pain or harm they might have caused either to themselves or their families. So in order not to live with the trauma incurred by that illness, they wilfully choose to kill themselves. This realisation is called post schizophrenic depression.
“There are certain determinants to aid in identifying a suicidal person like previous at- tempts of harming self, family history of depression and child abuse (especially among teenagers)”. Lawyers speak A legal luminary, Prof Itse Sagay, SAN, said that the basic argument by most people is that if a person succeeds in the act of suicide, then he cannot be punished. But if he fails and is punished, then it sounds unreasonable. Hence, they imply that the person who fails is the one who gets punishment and not the one who succeeds in the act.
Sagay said: “I think that the purpose of that law is to serve as deterrent; to discourage a person from taking his/her own life. But the reason I agree with those who say it should be removed from our law books is that it doesn’t really act as deterrent. This is because a person who wants to kill himself is determined to succeed even though he may fail. So, he has no fear whatsoever. “It’s only after he fails that he realises that he could be punished.
But when he embarked on it, his mind was totally made up and firm that nothing else follows. “So, I think that the position of our law on suicide is unreasonable and there’s no justification for enforcing it. Instead, we should have a more robust provision for monitoring people, for tackling psychological problems, in order to discourage people from even desiring to commit suicide and not when the person fails.”
A human rights activist and Director of Access to justice, Joseph Otteh, who also shared same thoughts with the learned SAN, said that “the criminalisation of suicide in our laws is an incident of both our colonial experience as well as, ironically, our slow pace of reassessing the expediency or relevance of inherited colonial laws”. Otteh also called for a review of the suicide law.
He said: “The retention of the offence of suicide in federal statutes possibly hearkens to the fact that there has never been any systematic effort to review wholly, federal penal legislation since Independence from Britain. What has happens mostly are piece meal reviews, additions and few subtractions, leaving the body of colonial laws substantially intact?
“The Lagos position is a lot more thoughtful, sensible and realistic and offers a compassionate physiological and legal response to the problem. It regards attempting suicide as a possible mental health problem, and offers care in dealing with it.
“This is the way the problem should be addressed. It unwarps and unloads the historical political baggage associated with the criminalisation of suicide, and focuses on the needs of the person attempting it rather than perpetuating the flawed historical reasons associated with its use some centuries ago.
“In that era, criminalising suicide was seen to reflect the anger felt by the state at the use of suicide as a form of political defiance of its authority.
The countries where this began have abolished it as an offence, so why should we blindly continue to enforce it?” But Chief Gani Adetola-Kazeem, SAN, disagreed with anyone calling for the review of the suicide law while arguing that, “should people be permitted to willingly take their own lives?”
He said: “I don’t think there is any sufficient reason for someone to take his own life or be permitted to do so. We all have faith in God Almighty who gives life and has the ability to take it. “The point is, in principle, whether it involves taking one’s own life or that of another person, a believer must remember that he has not the power to give life and therefore has no responsibility in taking life. “It’s not for an individual to decide on terminating his or another person’s life. Even if it involves a terminal illness, they should be helped to get out of it and not encouraged to annihilate themselves.
“If there is a medical condition that warrants euthanasia or assisted induced deaths, which of course is not allowed, but generally, the health practitioners should know what to do in order to pacify or ease the pains affecting such a person.
“Aside those who commit suicide out of frustration, depression and medical challenges, there are those who also do same after committing a crime because they feel the best way to escape punishment is to take their own lives. Would you also say that such suicide is right? “I don’t support suicide neither do I think it is right to decriminalise attempted suicide.
I think that the law against attempted suicide should stand just like the law that makes manslaughter and murder a crime. I stand in support of the law against attempted suicide as a believer and not just as a lawyer”. Also speaking in favour of the law, Yusuf Ali, SAN, said he is in full support of the law against attempted suicide.
He said: “I support the law because it’s not right for a man to take what doesn’t belong to him. Life wasn’t created by man so why should he wilfully take it? “Attempting is what the law punishes since those who succeed are never alive to face prosecution. I do not support any form or type of suicide.” The reality of suicide seems to be catching up with other criminal counterparts like murder and manslaughter, but its stringent punishment to impede further actions remains a questionable approach.
If hospitals are built for the sick in order to aid health challenges and prisons serve as rehabilitation centres and reorientation facilities for lawbreakers and offenders; what happens when a mentally impaired person, instead of being taken to a psychiatric home, is arrested, prosecuted and jailed on the premise of an uncoordinated insanity? How do we punish someone who sees suicide as the fastest way or solution of putting an end to a life’s threatening challenge?
These are obviously questions begging for answers in view of the Federal Government’s reviewing of the law on suicide and its implications.
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