The plight of lunatics

No matter our predicaments, frustrations and discontents at any given moment of our life, we are surrounded by scenes and events that readily remind us of Allah’s mercy upon us. Such situations also repeat in our minds the fact that there are others whose circumstances are worse than we imagined ours to be. As I recently drove  in to a petrol filling station, the sight of a lunatic by the roadside sent cold blood down my spine. It reaffirmed in me the belief that for one to be alive (whether healthy or ill) but not insane is a strong reason for us to express gratitude to the Creator of heavens and earth.

One is involuntarily prompted to ask about social welfare officers because of the growing number of persons with mental disorders on Nigerian streets. We are specifically referring to persons whose behaviours suggest that they have psychiatric challenges. Crazy persons taking shelter under bridges or at refuse dump sites is common sight in many Nigerian cities and state capitals today. 

In many African societies, a person is considered insane only when he or she walks without wearing clothes and or fails to differentiate between nakedness and dressing. In Nigeria, some individuals are classified as crazy even though they do not exhibit symptoms of any mental disorders. They are labeled as crazy because their behaviours are akin to those who are actually insane. Although they have clothes on their body, their behavioural patterns are worse than those medically certified to be psychiatric patients. Those who loot public treasury and steal as much money as they do not need belong to this category of lunatics. 

Perhaps, this was what informed the erstwhile Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Farida Waziri, to call for a policy that would make it compulsory for all public officers to undergo psychiatric test before they are considered for appointment in to public offices. Not too long ago, the Emir of Kano Malam Muhammadu Sanusi II expanded Farida’s proposal to include emirs and chiefs because according to Sarkin Kano, the idiosyncrasy of some royal fathers has become very questionable.

Insanity, craziness or madness refers to behaviours characterized by mental or attitudinal patterns which may manifest as violations of societal norms even though not all acts showing indifference towards societal norms are acts of insanity. In the medical profession, the term ‘insanity’ is now avoided in favour of diagnoses of specific psychiatric diseases. When discussing psychiatric illness in general terms, ‘psychopathology’ is considered a preferred description. Insanity exists in different forms; some more serious than others.

Without necessarily enquiring about the factor(s) that led to their mental disorders, lunatics deserve attention from the structure of government closest to them, the local government. As human beings and as Nigerians, they are entitled to basic necessities of life including healthcare. They seem to be one of the most miserable and piteous categories of vulnerable persons. They roam the streets under rain storms and scorching sun; sleep in the cold at motor parks, markets and under bridges; feed from refuse dump sites and drink from gutters; just as they wear rags. This is the daily plight of lunatics often with no one extending a helping hand to these hapless individuals. Suhanallah!

Some of them could be cured if they were to be properly cared for by relevant government authorities. Social welfare officers have the training of how to help persons with mental disorders access necessary medical attention and shared care. I feel bad just as it leaves me flabbergasted each time I see a female lunatic that is either pregnant or breastfeeding a baby. Such a situation permanently leaves the questions, ‘how come and why?’ on my lips. What I’ve heard people say to explain these ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions are too poignant to be penned down on this page.

As I lamented to a colleague how Local Government (LG) councils and municipalities in the country have relegated social welfare officers and ruined their services, my colleague questioned and cautioned me against any high expectations from LG chairmen; saying ‘you are asking LG chairmen to care for lunatics when they cannot cater for those who are sensible’. He asked, ‘how do you expect a lunatic to be cared for when the same person or body you are calling upon cannot provide people who are in their senses with access to clean water?’ He also queried and said, ‘how can LG councils attend to the plight of lunatics when they cannot efficiently deliver primary healthcare system?’

Like headmasters, public health officers and agricultural extension officers; social welfare officers used to be one of those whose jobs bring them closer to members of the community in which they serve. However, the neglected state in which the care for the vulnerable groups of Nigerians is almost entirely left to Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) makes one to wonder whether the social welfare cadre still exists in the civil service particularly at the LG level. If it does, then, there are strong indications that suggest their disuse by government. By extension, such denotes government’s regrettable value for human life.

It amounts to self-indictment for any agency or authority to evacuate lunatics from streets or their locations whenever a minister, governor or president is visiting the area. The funds spent on some frivolities could be spared and expended for the welfare of lunatics. I find it ridiculous that we, as government or individuals, spend so much to feed and look after some of our domestic animals such as horses and dogs, but cannot save a little fraction to alleviate the plight of lunatics. As dogs, horses, cats and parrots are transported in SUVs to veterinary clinics for medical attention; human beings with mental orders are ignored and abandoned to their fate. 

With many NGOs in Nigeria founded to steer campaigns against various health, cultural and socio-economic hazards including HIV/AIDS, child trafficking, child labour, violence against women, female genital mutilation, discrimination against albinos, street begging, vote buying, election rigging, corruption and bad governance; little is heard of any Foundation or Charity Organization established for the cause of lunatics. Maybe, the funding from donor agencies for this sector isn’t as juicy and others. We call on LG councils to, as a matter of responsibility, revive and make their social welfare offices functional. May Allah (SWT) touch the heart of affluent individuals to care for the mentally ill, amin.

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