“Attempted suicide in itself is a risk factor for contemplating suicide. In 2015, Lagos State amended its law to recommend hospital treatment for those who have attempted suicide.
Last year Ifeanyi Ugokwe was arrested and locked up for weeks. His crime: he tried to take his own life.
After weeks of being hungry and jobless, the 25-year-old says he reached breaking point after a security guard pushed him to the ground while he was searching for work at a building site.
“I was tired of walking around that day. And I was determined to work there… so I tried to force my way in, then he pushed me, and I fell down flat on the floor,” Ugokwe told CNN.
“I started begging him because I was tired, I really needed that job because I needed to eat.”
Humiliated, Ugokwe went to a nearby lagoon and jumped in.
After being rescued by passing fishermen, Ugokwe says he was handed over to police officers who arrested him and put him in jail.
The World Health Organization estimates that there are 9.5 suicides per every 100,000 people in the country. It is the predictor of the fact that somebody will commit suicide. There are frequent reports in local media of survivors being arrested and tried for attempting suicide.
Attempting suicide is a criminal offense in Nigeria, under Section 327 of the Criminal Code Act, and carries a penalty of up to one year in prison. A holdover from when Nigeria was a British colony, the law was abolished in Britain under the Suicide Act of 1961, which happened after Nigeria gained its independence in 1960.
The Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Adeniji Kazeem told CNN that although attempted suicide is criminalized in the country, the state does not recommend that anyone should be locked up.
Ugokwe says he’s speaking out about his attempt to take his own life despite stigma around the subject in Nigeria because he doesn’t want people to suffer as he did.
When he woke up on the fisherman’s boat, Ugokwe says he was angry that his attempt had failed.
“I believe it doesn’t reflect who we are as Nigerians… it is inhumane and I know that we can do better than that. I think it is probably the worst possible thing that you could do to somebody who finds themselves in that sort of situation,” he said.
“People who are thrown into a cell right after… wonder why the suicide wasn’t successful. It makes people that I have spoken to feel helpless and feel like there really isn’t a reason to go on.”
Ugokwe says he contemplated suicide again while in jail because of the conditions he was held in.
“The worst part of it was not just that they put me in prison, it was that they locked me in a cell with crazy people. I was with mentally disturbed people. Most of the people there were talking to themselves and jumping around.”
In jail, Ugokwe says he and other inmates were forced to take pills.
“At first, when they brought the pills to me, I refused… there was nothing wrong with me, but then I was beaten and forced to take the pills.
“Those pills had terrible effects on me… all I want to do is sleep and eat.”
Suicide rates are usually underreported in Nigeria because of the stigma associated with it.
A spokesman for the Lagos division of the Nigerian Prisons Service, which operates prisons in the country, denied Ugokwe’s allegations.