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Blood on our hands: The huge cost of ignorance

Case I: North Central Nigeria

Fatima (not real name) is a 15-year-old female secondary school student wrote a love letter to a male teacher to express her love for him. The teacher in question, took the letter to the school principal who then called an emergency school assembly where the girl was called out and her letter was read out to the entire assembly.

She was then publicly punished, with jeers of derision from the other students. The young girl went home, weeping from the public humiliation she had received. To her mind, she will never live down the shame and humiliation and would never be able to raise her head in the school or the community ever again.

Unfortunately, her parents were not at home when she got back. So, she bought rat poison, locked herself up in her room and drank the poison. When she was discovered after some hours, she was still alive but she later died in the hospital.

Case 2: South West Nigeria

Tunde (not real name), a 4-year-old boy and student of an urban primary school started having seizures that went on for a few minutes. The teachers made a fire and put the boy’s feet over the fire, because they thought his epilepsy was caused by “ile tutu”, meaning ‘coldness of the ground’ according to some Yoruba mythology.

The poor boy ended up with significant burns to the soles of both feet. His parents are contemplating legal action against the school but as these things go in Nigeria, it may soon end up a ‘family affair’. ‘They meant well’; ‘let’s just thank God the boy is alive’…..and then the case dies a natural death.

Case 3: South West Nigeria

Iya Tunji (not her real name) is a 65-year-old widow who lives alone in a rural community somewhere in south west Nigeria. Two of her three children are dead: one from complications of childbirth and the other from a road traffic accident a few years back.

Rumours have been making the rounds that she is a witch and that she killed her husband and two of her children. For the past one year, she hardly comes out of her house neither does she interact with neighbours. Sometimes she comes out of her house crying and begging for forgiveness – even from random strangers on the street.

This behaviour did not sit well with the neighbours who then organised the youth and broke down her door in a bid to extract a full confession. The crowd demanded she tell them all her sins, and she duly obliged. She was responsible for her children’s death and for all the negative things that had happened in the village over the years, she said. That was all the evidence they needed to set upon her.

She was beaten with sticks, clubs and stoned until she breathed her last. Her son reported to the police but they claimed it was a mob action and they could not hold any individual responsible. He was counselled to quietly bury his mother and leave the rest to God.

Commentary:

Case I: The avoidable suicide of this young girl is heart-breaking because it reveals such insensitivity by the teachers towards the developmental realities of adolescence. A phase of life that is characterised by feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem and fragile ego issues – where even the emergence of pimples on the face can be a major crisis that would make them want to hide from peers. The humiliation meted out to this young girl was ignorant at best, harsh and very cruel.

Case 2: The pervasive ignorance about epilepsy is a recurring but very worrying theme. Sometimes, it is from other parents, or from the school. But it again highlights, the need for health education (physical and mental health) for teachers in our schools.

Case 3: All over the world, women live longer than men. Second, depression is twice as common in women than men. It is also common in the elderly, sometimes as a complication of loneliness. It is characterised by feelings of sadness, poor appetite, fatigue, feelings of guilt and confessing to crimes not committed or claiming responsibility for every negative thing that has happened. Thus, it is very likely that Iya Tunji was depressed.

Conclusion:

These cases are adaptations of real life events that have happened (Cases 1 and 2 within the last one month) and no one knows for sure, how many similar cases go unreported. We all have blood on our hands, on account of the pervasive ignorance and lack of understanding, as well as stigma and discrimination in our society. We need all hands to be on deck, to push back against this costly ocean of ignorance.

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