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Are Nigerians mentally normal?

When on March 24, 2015, a German wings plane, flight 9525 crashed, into the Swiss Alps, killing all 150 passengers on board, aviation investigators never imagined that the reason the plane crashed was because the co-pilot himself had deliberately crashed the plane. Andrea Lubtiz, the co- pilot , unknown to his employers had been  declared unfit to work and admitted to a psychiatric hospital a fortnight before the crash, but managed to conceal his history of mental illness and flew the ill-fated plane. He had meticulously executed his plan by locking the pilot out of the cockpit, setting the plane on cruise control to its demise. All those around Andrea Lubitz, who had interacted with him ,had noticed no sign of abnormal behaviour, he seemed a normal man doing normal things, yet for years he had been a mentally ill patient going  in and out of  psychiatric care, and permanently on strong anti-depressants.

Similarly  sixteen years earlier on 31 October an Egypt air flight crashed into the Atlantic ocean killing all 217 on board, and the conclusion of the US National Transportation Safety Board (NSTB) stated that the co-pilot himself crashed the plane deliberately as suicide thereby taking all 217 passengers with him.” On a garbled tape recorder recovered from the crash, the co-pilot El Batouty seemed to declare, “I place my fate in the hands of God” several times before shutting off the plane’s engine, shortly before directing the 767 into a 40 degree nose dive.  Later, it would be discovered that El Batouty’s was psychologically troubled and his motive for crushing the plane had revenge. Apparently as punishment for a series of wrongs he committed he had been had been told by one of the Airlines executives, who was also on that flight that he would never fly that route again, so he decided to crash the plane so that , that flight would be the last for the executive too.

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I do not normally observe World Mental Health day, nor have I ever been aware of the date, but this year I happened to watch a morning show aired on the NTA in honour of Mental Health week and the revelations were astounding. The biggest problem in this country is that many people with mental illness are undiagnosed, because of the stigma attached to mental illness. Nigerians fear being seen going into see a psychiatrist or even admitting to anyone that they have a mental health problem, because they are afraid that medical records will surface and hinder political appointments or destroy their careers. This in effect means that in Nigeria mentally ill people who are meant to be taking medication   and unfit to hold certain positions of authority are in fact being treated as normal people.

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Yet in country such as the Unites States mental health aides such anti-depressants are taken by many just so they can function and be normal.

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As the discussion progressed, I had a pressing question in my head which fortunately very quickly one of the presenters asked the professor, Andrew Zamani, “Do you think there is a relationship between mental health and what some public office holders are doing in this country? And my worst fears were confirmed, the Professor answered yes, there is no doubt if some of these people committing atrocities and squandering public funds were given psychological tests I am very sure some of them would be declared mentally ill. “When someone uses government funds and buys 100 houses or has two hundred cars, it is not normal, and so in the context of things, with the way this is so rampant now, there is definitely something abnormal about us.”

On many occasions, when startling revelations about corruption have been made in this country, we have certainly used phrases such as “this is crazy!” Or “is he deranged?” Or “is she mad?” Well now know that we need to start believing it literally – when public officers commit an act of corruption so insane, that it is exactly what it is.  It is evident from the case of the airline pilots that  mentally ill people can go about  in society as presumably normal, but with their ill mental health playing in out in tragic ways that affect the lives of many around them . A mentally ill pilot takes the lives of few hundreds, but what about a public officer who commands billions of naira and whose actions affect millions of Nigerians? Are the people leading us all mentally fit to be in their positions? Why is psychological testing for all public officer holders not mandatory as a pointer to possible causes of corruption? Have the people who have been incarcerated for corruption charges been checked to determine their psychological state? This is a starting point to figuring out, what is wrong with this country, because we have still not figured it out.

Hajiya Amina wrote this piece from Abuja

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