The Metamorphosis of Lunacy

Raped, vandalized and discarded in their bloom without a deliberate rehabilitation program, Nigeria gradually incubates a generation set to explode with scattered brains

 By Gbenga Ogundare

It’s alright if you cannot tell the location of the frontal lobe in the complex human brain. But for your information, it is situated in front of the parietal lobe and above and in front of the temporal lobe right inside the cerebrum cortex.

Take this too: the frontal lobe is said to be the “control panel” of the human personality, and according to psychiatrists, one of the parts of the brain that is forever scarred when little girls like Maimuna Abdulmumini and Wasila Tasi’u are sold to sexual slavery at ages 13 via a damned sharia marriage.

Remember Wasila Tasi’u. She is the child bride who spent 17 months at a Gezawa prison in Kano two years ago while waiting to be executed for allegedly murdering her 35-year-old husband, Umar Sani, and three others at her own wedding party in April 2014. By the time the state eventually succumbed to international pressure in 2015 to drop the charge of culpable homicide slammed on the little girl, Hussaina Ibrahim, her lawyer, expressed concern that Wasila had morphed from being a bubbly little girl to become more withdrawn, quiet and even depressed during her time in jail.

That couldn’t have been otherwise. What Ibrahim and her teenage client couldn’t put their fingers on is that Wasila’s developing brain had become greatly traumatized in the course of her trials, and because the frontal lobe controls important cognitive skills in humans, such as emotional expression, problem solving, memory, language, judgment, as well as sexual and social behavior, Charles Umeh, Consultant Clinical Psychologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital [LUTH] says it’s only natural that Wasila suffers some psychological afflictions, including some from a potential Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] as she grows into a full-fledged adult.

Spare the sigh yet. Wasila’s tortuous experience is nothing compared to what her kindred, Maimuna Abdulmumini suffered as she endured the grueling spin-offs of being a child bride and a child convict –waiting on death row for three grueling years in a Katsina State gulag for allegedly setting alight the man she was forced to marry at age 13. Not even her status as a minor would prevail on the Katsina State Government to rethink the tortuous court trials little Maimuna was made to go through for five years until she turned 18 and eventually condemned to death.

By the time she was eased out of the prison where she shared a cell with six other death row inmates in September 2016, The Guardian UK reported that the young lady, now 22, was already betraying signs of mental breakdown.

“Once somebody is traumatized, it doesn’t matter  the age, and once it is repeated like the instances you just cited, the severity of mental health problems worsen. And the issue is we diagnose post traumatic stress disorder with time after the experience,’  Umeh explains to this newspaper.

“And this is a major mental health problem that will affect the person’s general functioning–health, social and occupational functions,’ he reveals.

It’s not unlikely that both Maimuna and Wasila degenerate with their emotional breakdown soon. Both girls were handed over to their poor and uninformed families, without an option of a deliberate rehabilitation and reintegration program to build their capacity to adjust to life after their traumatic experiences.

“The case of the two girls is a true replication of what we’ve been talking about and the ignorance about some of these mental health issues in this part of the world,’ Umeh laments to this reporter.

“Somebody has been traumatized, you sent her to prison and then release her to the family without a reintegration and rehabilitation program. How do you think those persons will function knowing fully well those experiences are still haunting them?

“But if the person is debriefed, taking into psychotherapeutic program to desensitize her,then she will learn to live with that condition in a  more adaptive way.”

Janet hanging on the noose

More Brain Crashes

That is not all about the ravages the brains of traumatized victims in Nigeria’s abusive communities can be made to suffer yet. Oludolapo Oseji, Consultant Psychiatrist at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Lagos explains to this reporter that the hippocampus too is a part of the brain important in memory formation. So also is the Amygdala which plays a role in emotional processing.

“These two areas are implicated in the psychological response to a traumatic event such as sexual abuse,’  Oseji points out to this newspaper.

The psychiatrist is spot on. Aisha Nur is one live case who couldn’t help but allow the vandalized memories of the child in her leap to the fore at a state safe home in Maiduguri where she threatened to rape male workers February 2017.

Captured by the Boko Haram militia and married off to one of its commanders in the Sambisa forest, Aisha was exposed to everything but morals and decency for three years before the Joint Task Force rescued her ravaged remains in a raid.

“I had many slaves –they did everything for me,” she narrates.

“Even the men respected me because I was Mamman Nur’s wife. They could not look me in the eye,” Aisha reminisces.

She wasn’t exactly kidding about her threat to rape male workers in the safe home to satisfy her sexual urge. So the men had to flee for two weeks when they couldn’t dare her advances. Yet Umeh insists to this reporter the girl’s crude reaction is not unexpected.

“I  don’t think anything is wrong with her mind,’  says the LUTH Psychologist, ‘she is only acting her experience.”

“Now, when you are used to a particular form of habit and someone suddenly starts to take that away from you, how would you react?  Exactly the same thing that happens to people that abuse substances. Once you get addicted to it, it becomes your way of life. And if it’s taking away from you, how does the body react? As if something is missing! So you start looking for it, and once you get it, the body comes back to normal. That is the process of dependency in psychiatric substance use. It is the same thing that happened to the girl. She’s been exposed to sex at a very young age.”

Oseji also explains that both the Hippocampus and Amygdala which are involved in memory processing and emotional response, when not functioning well, may make it harder for traumatized victims like Aisha to navigate through the psychological reaction that take place following a traumatic episode.

“Some theories also suggest that a negative psychological response arises when the normal processing of emotionally charged information is overwhelmed such that the memories of the event are not well processed and intrude into patient’s thoughts from time to time.”


Horror, Horror Everywhere!

Janet, 15, perfectly exemplifies that failed efforts to reconcile a traumatic episode as explained by Oseji to the reporter. The teenage girl committed suicide after being gang raped by three unidentified men in October 2013.

And the then Spokesman of the Bayelsa state Police Command, Mr Alex Akhigbe, confirmed to Nigerians that the girl hung herself  due to the attendant shame and stigmatisation she experienced after the rape incident.

Umeh saw it coming. A lot of young girls you see on the streets are potential dangers to themselves and to others, he reveals. According to him, rape is not something that is announced, but based on experience, he narrates, you can hardly find some of them that have not been molested or outrightly abused as part of growing up.

“And these are things they can’t come to terms with if they continue to live in such world, until it begins to manifest in the form of aberrant behaviours or outright mental health issues.

“And do you expect them to be the same again? Truth is that rape is something that touches the essence of their existence. A lot of people hold their virginity dear to their existence, and once someone violates them and takes that away from them, it leaves them hollow and make their lives meaningless.”

So you need to give them back their lives through therapy, Umeh insists . That sounds like a sensible thing to do in a normal society where self esteem and wellbeing of the vulnerables matter.   Except that reforming the lives of vandalized victims through systematic psychological evaluation, rehabilitation and reintegration isn’t an attractive option in Nigeria yet.

You will not be exactly insane to blame that on a depressing culture of ignorance, stigma, inequalities and lethargy really. But don’t be so sure you are not at risk already. Professor Oye Guruje  says about one in four Nigerians have one form of mental disorder or the other.

“In Nigeria, one out of seven persons will have serious mental illnesses, while one in four persons will have some form of mental disorder; and this is a conservative estimate,” the University College Hospital, Ibadan Psychiatrist reveaals.

Don’t hiss at Guruje’s statistics yet. The figures can only add up as Umeh explains to this reporter that traumatized victims are not the only ones who come down with the PTSD. Witnessing a traumatic incident, Umeh also warns,  can lead to a post traumatic stress disorder too!

Now that’s a grim reality for an already distressed people indeed, and chances are that the burden of a mentally ill population in Nigeria—already put at a conservative 30 million—will rocket in a short while, especially as rape, domestic violence, ethnic clashes and Boko Haram insurgency continue to thrive unabated in Nigeria.