Suicide By ‘Sniper’: How Insecticide Has Become Popular Choice For Suicidal Nigerians

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He inhaled deeply and loudly, as if trying to savour the freshness of the dusky air. He held a small white plastic bottle with his left hand and a camera device understood to be his phone, with his right hand, to capture the epic moment.

It was barely evening. The yellow sun — seemingly not scorching — filtered through the bamboo trees behind him, playing on the dry leaves on which he sat. Depressed, he looked downward, then upward. He stared ahead. His eyes rolled sideways, seemingly forcing back some sordid tears, some prickly reflections.

Suddenly, he accompanied the white bottle mouthwards. And in two gulps, he emptied it down his bowel.

It was a Sunday in the month of February, a day when believers were expected to be in God’s presence, worshipping. However, Adekunle Olanrewaju wouldn’t attend church service like he used to. He preferred to be alone under the bamboo shed in a nearby bush. He appeared to have a much bigger task at hand; bidding this mundane world a goodbye on a sojourn to heaven, where God himself resided. The young lad, Adekunle, barely 20 years old, wanted to commit suicide — which he did.

Moments before drinking from the white bottle, young Adekunle had texted his friend on Whatsapp to alert him of his location, where his remains could be found, before he would be wrongly thought to be missing. “Goodbye,” he wrote. “My dead body is inside bamboo.”

Attached to these strong words was the picture of his death note — splattered with blood, beside which a blood-clad razor laid — believed to have been written, signed and snapped in his room. In blue ink, with hobble handwriting, Adekunle wrote his suicide note on a foolscap scheet, rife with omission signs and strikes, beginning with a short but strong title: ‘THE WORLD IS NOT WORTHY TO BE LIVING.’

He continued: “You as a person need people around you to make life lively. [Yet those] same people are so wicked, cruel and heartless. Why? People do evil to people they ought to help. People are collecting from those they ought to be giving…human feelings are absent from human beings. Why? Is this life worth living [at all]?”

Adekunle, who had just bagged his OND from Federal Polytechnic Ede in 2018, admitted that “although all these [aforesaid] might not be genuine enough for a person like me to poison myself… [nevertheless] never trace my death to someone else but me; I decided this on my own.”

The young lad, honey-fair complexioned, stated in his death note what agent of death he employed for his suicide mission and why. He mentioned how he “personally went to market to buy rat poison” for his own consumption, “instead of giving it to rats”.

Apparently, the rat poison Adekunle referred to was the small white bottle; the content of which he would later gulp under the bamboo trees. Findings revealed that the “rat poison” is a lethal pesticide named ‘Sniper’ — a DDVP (2,2-Dichlorovinyl dimethyl phosphate compound), marketed by Swiss-Nigerian Chemical Company — originally meant for the farm, but which has over time been wrongly domesticated by most Nigerians for use as household insecticide and rodent-killer.

“I have thought of series of ways of committing suicide, but I found rat poison [Sniper] as the simplest and fastest way of doing so,” Adekunle wrote, as if to eulogize that powerful pesticide that has come to his rescue, when other means proved too difficult and discouraging.

For Sniper, Adekunle was not the first suicide victim. In fact, a few weeks before him, besides scores of unreported cases, swarms of suicide-by-Sniper cases had set the media abuzz.

Sniper, the Viper

Late last year, Aisha Omolola, a student of Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, committed suicide, upending a bottle of Sniper insecticide down her bowel. Aisha’s suicide sparked a lot of controversies on social media, due to the mysteries attached it. She also dropped a suicide note like Adekunle.

But unlike the Adekunle, young Aisha had someone to blame for her action: her parents, especially her mother who she said “made life a living hell” for her and considered her the “witch” responsible for the family’s predicaments. “I hope and believe that now that I am gone, it will bring them relief and happiness,” she wrote in her death note. Although it was rumoured that she survived the Sniper poisoning, findings affirmed that she gave up the ghost while being taken to the hospital — just like Adekunle.

Meanwhile, barely a week after Aisha’s death, a disk jockey in Lagos, Seun Omogaji, popularly known as DJ XGee, would also consume the Sniper insecticide, after an alleged unresolved marital crisis with his wife. Ironically, he reportedly performed at a New Year party on the eve of his suicide, excited and full of life. Yet, to the perplexity of his fans on social media, DJ XGee would post a cryptic death note on his Instagram page some hours after, asking them to “please rock white [to his funerals] because [he] loves the colour so much.”

Flashback a couple of years, somewhere in Ekiugbo community in Delta State, a teenage girl aged 18, Loveth, would consume three bottles of Sniper, because she couldn’t meet JAMB’s cut-off mark for studying the course of her choice, Medicine. This is despite the fact that she had been assured of admission into a polytechnic by her father. A moment after the father-to-daughter persuasion, she discreetly strode a few meters from her mother’s shop, purchased three bottles of Sniper insecticide, gulped them all inside her room and passed away.

In his final year at Isaac Jasper Boro College of Education, Bayelsa State, Prince had a “little misunderstanding with his girlfriend” which made him acquire a bottle of Sniper on a suicide mission. This incident occurred barely two months after Aduba Daniel, a student of Niger Delta University, drank a full bottle of Sniper “because of his carryovers at school” — which instantly damaged important parts of his intestines.

Orumah Efemenah, having spent five years studying Pharmacy at the Delta State University, Abraka, was visited by his father who had come to scold him for not performing well in his grades much unlike his younger ones. It seemed this didn’t meet Orumah well, so that he decided to end it all, washing down his frustration with two bottles of Sniper.

Then, another news broke of a secondary school girl in Warri, Delta State, Slimzy Jay, who drank Sniper because her boyfriend broke up with her. The trauma of being pregnant at such a young age was what allegedly led to her suicide action.

Although quite a handful of suicide methods have been explored by many suicide victims — hanging, jumping, electricity, laceration, etc. — what Adekunle described as “rat poison” has notoriously stood out over the months in Nigeria as the most widely adopted of all.

In the past though, research shows that Dane guns and Gammallin, an erstwhile agricultural insecticide, were the commonest suicide agents; the trend seems to have taken a drastic turn over the years, since Gammallin was banned, casting the spotlight on Sniper.

In a study by the Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative (SUPRIN) conducted in Lagos State University Hospital. Out of 66 suicide victims cumulatively recorded in 2018, only about 37.9 per cent committed (or attempted) suicide through conventional means, while nearly 62.1 per cent bit the dust by consuming poison — often Sniper.

Suicide: Permanent Solution to Temporary Problem

On the flipside, what is it that makes people think life is not worth living anymore? What makes young ones, hale and hearty, give up on life and hurry out of this world?

“Hopelessness,” replied Dr. Patrick Ogbolu, Consultant Psychiatrist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). “It is about the strongest indication that someone will go on to kill him or herself. When in the mind all hope is lost, then the essence of living is lost. However, the question is, is all hope truly lost? Definitely not. So, this is where depression comes in.”

Depression is a medical condition, a psychological state of unhappiness or low morale, which lasts longer than several weeks, and may include ideation of self-inflicted injury or suicide. It is usually caused by a decrease in the level of serotonin, a chemical in the brain which serves as a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness in human.

“Although, depression could be genetic, or as a result of other chronic ailments such as diabetes or hypertension,” said Dr. Ogbolu, “it is however often due to psychosocial factors, such as demise of loved ones, stress, drug abuse, stigma, etc. In other words, if five good things happen to a depressed person, and one bad thing also happens, their mind tends to focus more on that single bad thing that went awry, which makes them feel hopeless, and eventually suicidal.” 

Meanwhile, some professions and occupations pose a higher risk of suicide on their personnel. Healthcare practitioners for instance, police officers, military personnel, electricians, farmers, lawyers, etc., are at a higher risk of committing suicide. This is because of the high level of competition, uncertainty and unpredictability attached to their professions, exposing them to prolonged stress and/or depression, which oftentimes culminate in suicide.

Depression, Dr. Ogbolu emphasised, is not a pleasant experience. “This is what most people don’t understand when they unleash unfair judgements on suicide victims. It’s all centred on the concept of human frailty. As human beings, we are both strong and weak; in fact very weak. The only thing that differentiates us is how much we are able to withhold and hide that weakness.”

During the #faceofdepression campaign on social media in 2017, a young suicide survivor, in her early twenties, posted about her encounter with depression.

She wrote: “Depression is cruel and unforgiving; it has no look. Sometimes, the day I look the least depressed, I’m suffering the hardest. There’s a stigma of having to look fragile, broken, makeup running, bottle of vodka and a suicide note in your hand to be worthy of help or attention for your pain.

“Depression is cowering away in bed; depression is also faking a smile in public. Depression is sometimes being exhausted getting out of bed; depression is also excessive burst of energy to try and distract yourself. Depression is crying, self-loathing and dread; depression is also laughing and trying to fit in. Depression is dark, black and cold; depression is also leading a ‘normal’ life and appearing ‘functioning’. Depression is agony; depression is also a friend, a comfort. Don’t judge; you never know what someone is going through behind a smile or a laugh.”

Low Resilience and Bad Parenting as Suicide Factors

Associate Professor of Sociology, Dr. Jimoh Amzat, identifies bad parenting as one of the major factors responsible for the high rate of suicide, especially in Nigeria.

“The reason more people, particularly young ones, are attempting suicide nowadays is as a result of the over-regulation and lack of integration plaguing most Nigerian households,” said, Dr. Amzat, adding that “oftentimes, children who grow up in such homes feel despised, sometimes isolated or lonely, and in the long run, they end up killing themselves, just like we have seen in Omolola Aisha’s case.”

While Dr. Ogbolu explained that in the current generation of young people, low resilience is a hallmark, this according to him is not unconnected to some environmental factors, including defunct parenting and excessive availability of information, due to the advent of the internet.

“If a kid, for instance, gets embarrassed, say at school, the news spreads like wildfire on social media, and he/she gets immersed in shame and frustration which they feel they can’t deal with, and may end up attempting suicide — which was not the case in the past,” he said, adding that the lost culture of community and the prevalence of the every-man-to-himself philosophy has reduced the level of resilience in young people of nowadays, thereby drastically increasing the rate of suicide.

On building resilience, Dr. Amzat expounded that one has to understand that “life itself is defined by challenges; in fact, they make like interesting. No one will have it all so rosy, even the religious icons like Jesus and Muhammad didn’t, and being a person is how you’re able to handle those challenges.”

In order to steer clear of considering suicide someday, Dr. Amzat admonished that one should not define their happiness in relation to others. “Because you can be in the jungle and be happy, you can as well be in the city and be sad; whatever situation you find yourself, you should try to manipulate yourself to achieve your goals in it and move on. Suicide shouldn’t be the last option; because it never is.”

Controlling the Availability of Sniper

Originally invented for agricultural use, Sniper’s domestication into the home as insect and rodent killer poses a serious threat to public health. Even on the farms, quite a lot of farmers have died due to mishandling of the pesticide. In fact, recently, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) banned Sniper from use on beans, due to the several health implications it has caused.

Mental health practitioners are worried that the pesticide is readily available almost everywhere in Nigeria: at local stores, fancy supermarkets, even on hawkers. There is little or no restriction as to how it is being accessed. Sadly, “there is no way we can effectively prevent suicide without controlling the availability of its means,” Dr. Ogbolu lamented.

Though the fact that Sniper has gotten into the wrong hands may not suffice to outright placing of a ban on the pesticide, due to the economic realities of the country, said Dr. Ogbolu, nevertheless, its availability must be controlled by the relevant authorities, if truly they are committed to curbing the suicide in the country.

“We also need to educate people on how to stock and use Sniper, because even its presence in the house is tempting enough to make one commit suicide without a second thought,” he added.

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