The gruesome tales remain untold; about thousands of people who patrol the streets, neglected by a seemingly in-human population. Some are raped in the dead of the night by sex-starved
maniacs, stoned occasionally by shop owners, killed very often by drunken drivers, and hunted down by organ harvesters. This is what has become the reality of those who suffer mental health problems in Nigeria. An ordeal which Omotola and her daughter experienced first-hand.
Omotola like all other teenage girls always had plans to raise a child, but never while roaming the streets of Abuja as a mentally deranged woman with a child strapped behind her back or hanging loosely around her arms. Even residents of Abaji Local government, a community well over 100km from the heart of the FCT had become accustomed to seeing the duo quiet regularly.
Luckily for her and her daughter who she calls Sophie, in June 2014 Dr. Mustapha a resident doctor at the Abaji General Hospital was able to convince his colleagues as well as the Chief Medical Director at the hospital that medical aid could reform Omotola and they were both picked up by an intervention team set up by the hospital. Omotola was restrained and sedated by the group and then admitted at the hospital. After an initial examination by Dr. Mustapha she was transferred to the Federal Neuropsychiatric hospital in Barnawa Kaduna where she has since been receiving treatment from him and other doctors and is slowly coming through.
However, like many who come out of these situations Omotola has been unable to give any concrete information about her past. She remembers nothing about her parents or family, except that she hails from Ogidi in Anambra state, and says she spent a large portion of her adolescent years in Port Harcourt, Rivers state. Dr, Mustapha explains that this condition known as Temporary Amnesia is typical among those facing mental health challenges adding that it could have been induced by a traumatic experience and further developed as an auto mechanism by Omotola’s brain to protect her while she lived through her ordeal.
Dr. Mustapha who has been at the Abaji General Hospital for three years decided to specialize in Mental Health and began a career in that line by receiving training in India on Mental Health from several non-governmental organizations. Mustapha says conscience, as well as the need to change community perception about mental health was the driving force behind his decision to specialize in the field as well as seek intervention for Omotola.
“When I spoke with Omotola, she was seriously abusive and aggressive and could not hold a logical train of thought; after a physical examination, I discovered she had no external injuries or abnormalities and concluded that her problem could be purely psychological and perhaps induced by trauma. My initial diagnosis showed she suffered from Schizophrenia, and this made me hopeful she would come through”
It also remains unclear who the father of her child is, or how it was that Sophie acquired a scar across her chest which looks like a surgical operation. Omotola cannot remember if she was married and pregnant before her illness began or raped during the ordeal but she has cared for Sophie under her condition over the years. The intervention paid off considerably, Omotola though still under treatment at the Federal Neuropsychiatric hospital is now able to hold lengthy conversations, carry out little tasks, and has developed an optimistic attitude towards living.
Though certified by the Principal Nursing Officer at the Federal Neuropsychiatric hospital Maryam Audu as reasonably recovered, the fate of Omotola remains unclear. No family member has come forward to identify her and efforts by Dr. Mustapha as well as the intervention team to contact anyone related to Omotola has not been fruitful. Information provided by Omotola has been very sketchy. The doctor has attempted to reach people at places where Omotola has identified with no meaningful result.
Dr. Mustapha has begun to face more challenges with the increasing cost of keeping her under treatment and care at the hospital on his personal expense and the on-going strike by the Nigerian Medical Association is beginning to limit her chances of proper medical attention, a scenario which Mustapha says is likely to precipitate a backslide in her medical condition.
Omotola who has been a patient of the neuropsychiatric hospital for over 90 days says she feels grateful to the hospital and is looking forward to a life beyond her current state. She exhibits an eagerness to re-introduce herself to normal society.
For Omotolas daughter, life has also taken a different turn. Sophie, like her mother was found naked, unkempt and aggressive by the doctor at the same spot where residents say they had spent most of their time over the last 6 years. Her new identity as a resident of the FCT Unity Children’s Home, Gwako in Gwagwalada is a different turn from the years on the streets, deprived of proper food, shelter, healthcare and education with a mentally challenged mother. Her current care-taker Mal Ahmed Dikko who works simultaneously as a Welfare Officer at Abaji Local Government Area and the Accident and Emergency Unit of the Abaji General Hospital says he feels fulfilled seeing Sophie re-adjust rapidly. Dikko was among the intervention team under the supervision of Dr. Mustapha handling the mother and child. At the orphanage, Sophie has begun to make new friends and is slowly learning how to interact and live with others.
Efforts by Dr. Mustapha as well as the intervention team to contact anyone related to Omotola has not been fruitful. The doctor is also faced with the problem of continuous funding, the intervention taken to ensure Omotolas return to normalcy was personally funded by him with donations from his colleagues and the Abaji General Hospital and this has begun to take its toll.
“We have been able to restore her reasonably but she is going to need someone who will be continuously responsible for her and this is where we are facing problems. Every day she spends at the hospital receiving treatment we try to locate her family so we can hand her back over and if we cannot do that anytime soon, then we are going to face a new problem of creating an environment for her where she can sustain herself or be forced to let her go on her own.”
Mentally challenged patients who roam the streets often have to deal with problems beyond what to eat and where to sleep. The most pressing problem as described by Dr. Mustapha is society’s perception of them, and this he believes needs to be re-structured.
“People have to stop seeing mental illness the way they do now. Mental illness is just like having Malaria, HIV or any of those common diseases, not all of them cannot be treated and the growing cases of neglect have become alarming.”
Families and institutions burdened with the responsibility of taking care of patients suffering from mental illness in different parts of Nigeria have been known to respond poorly to these cases. In most instances some families try to avoid the social stigma of housing an insane person, as well as the piling medical bills for treatment and often abandon the patients at places from where they hope they could never return.
The memory lapse often leaves the patients un-able to return to their places of origin and they live at the mercy of an un-caring society. Mentally challenged patients who roam the streets often have to deal with problems beyond what to eat and where to sleep. Some are run over by vehicles and die of severe injuries, others are gang raped and at any point of time a majority of them are lured and killed by organ harvesters. Most suffer from severe cases of memory lapse. But remembering her past isn’t Omotolas most pressing need. Getting back on her feet and taking a proper care of her daughter she says is what is most important to her now. Asked if she wanted to be re-united with her family, Omotola stated that she had no family; that anyone who was allowed to roam the streets for over six years does not have a family.
Dr Maruf Damilola can be reached via the details below: