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•Shock, sadness trail action
•Mother upbeat her son is alive
•Colleagues described him as easy-going, thoroughbred professional
By Azoma Chikwe, Cosmas Omegoh, Chris Oji, Tessy Igonmu and Job Osazuwa
It has emerged that Dr. Alwell Orji, the medical practitioner who took his life last Sunday by jumping into the Lagos Lagoon, had attempted suicide a number of times.
Our correspondent, who visited his family home on Odunukan Street, Ebute-Ejigbo, off Morroco Road, near University of Lagos, was told that the young man had four years ago attempted jumping down from the family’s two-storey house. Only the intervention of neigbours staved off the disaster.
“Four years ago he attempted to kill himself and, thereafter, had tried doing so on a number of times,” a man who pleaded anonymity said, adding, “since then, his family had been monitoring him. We don’t know the kind of sickness he was suffering from, but we knew he was being monitored. That was why he was assigned a driver to take him around.
“He was such a gentle boy, who never made any trouble. His family has lived on this street for long; his father died four years ago.
“Perhaps the driver who drove him didn’t know about his condition because he was engaged about three months ago.”
Another neighbour said some concerned people had gone to the police pleading for the driver’s release as he was innocent and had no part in his former employer’s death.
When Daily Sun visited Mount Sinai Hospital on Plot 32, Olanibe Street, Papa Ajao, Mushin, Lagos, where Orji worked, the air was calm and sombre. There was grief hanging thickly in the air.
The staff on duty were evidently pensive; they were wearing very long, sad faces and had every reason to be profoundly sad. One of their own, Orji, was gone. He was supposed to be on duty yesterday afternoon, attending to his patients, who held him in high esteem.
But now he is no more, gone like the flower that blossoms in the morning but withers before sundown.
Orji, 35, took his own life on Sunday afternoon by plunging from the Third Mainland Bridge straight into the murky waters of the deep-flowing Lagos Lagoon.
On Sunday evening he had allegedly asked the driver of his vehicle, a Nissan SUV with registration number LND476EE, to hand him the keys of the vehicle and drove it himself with his driver on the passenger’s side. Then he pulled over on the Third Mainland Bridge and plunged into the lagoon.
He did that allegedly while he was on his way back from church, heading somewhere on Victoria Island.
When our correspondent arrived at the hospital, the staff on duty were all distraught, cast in deep mourning. They were discussing what transpired two days ago in hushed tones.
While our correspondent waited for a chat, the untoward happened, further magnifying the sense of grief hanging overhead. That was when the television screen in the out-patient hall flashed the story of the shocking death of Dr. Orji. Then some of them began to break down. The ladies among them let out wails of pain and grief. They could not fight back tears. They wished what they were hearing was a story made up by someone up to some mischief; they wished they were in a dream.
The Chief Medical Director, Dr. Adedoyin Adeniran, was also in a sad mood, clearly overwhelmed by emotion. He was not in any mood to talk to the press on the matter.
“We don’t want to conclude that he is gone, more so when his body has not been found. It is only his family that can speak on that,” he said.
However, one of the staff, perhaps a non-medical staff, who wanted to remain anonymous, managed to say a few things she knew about the late doctor. According to her, Orji had just completed his postgraduate studies in family medicine.
“Dr. Orji was such a dedicated person. He was the firstborn of his family. He was a thoroughbred doctor who paid profound attention to the very minute things in Medicine. He was such a quiet person and at the same time very active.
“He was most preferred by our patients. In fact, when some patients came here and he had not arrived, they would wait for him. He was sure to get to the root of things by asking penetrating questions. That was his trademark and why he was so much loved.
“Last Friday, he was here and we all played with him. We jocularly asked him to go and eat but he said he was going to see his patients in the ward. But we literally forced him to do so,” she said.
Another staff who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, described the doctor as “an easy-going person. He was every lady’s man. Last Friday, when he was here, he showed no signs that he was going through any form of challenges.
“His mother is a director in one of the banks,” the staffer said, suggesting that he was not married, “she was always coming to check on him.”
“He was such a happy person and the favourite doctor among our patients. He would listen to his patients and spend long hours with them. Even after treating his patients, he always called on them to find out how they were doing. He had personal relationships with them.
“The vehicle he was actually riding in belonged to his mother. Oftentimes, the driver used to bring him to work and came to pick him. It was sad that he had to take his own life.”
Ibrahim, a motor mechanic next door, who used to work on the late Orji’s car, equally expressed shock at what happened. He described him as a nice, easy-going person.
Meanwhile, more than 48 hours after the incident happened, Orji’s body is yet to be found.
Emergency workers and divers are still at the scene, with different patrol boats searching for his body.
The General Manager, Lagos State Emergency Management (LASEMA), Mr. Adesina Tiamiyu, who was at the scene of the suicide incident, said they were still searching the waterways.
“We have expanded our search to go further than where it happened. We engaged local fishermen and divers.
“Also assisting are the Lagos Ferry Services and the Lagos Waterways Agency patrol boats, which were deployed to the waterways.
“We have informed the residents to look out for floating bodies, and we have also contacted the family and they are still in shock,” he said.
A LASEMA official also at the scene of the incident stated that they were no longer looking at the incident as a rescue mission but a recovery mission.
According to her, the distance from where he dived into the lagoon was very far and since he dived in head-first, there was every possibility that he hit his head first before his body followed.
She explained that by jumping into the water from that distance, the water would feel like stone when it came in contact with the head, leading to unconsciousness.
Attempts to enter the green and lime two-storey building was not possible as the family members blocked access.
Daily Sun gathered that they wanted the media to give them space to deal with the issue in peace, adding that the 35-year-old man was not such an introvert that he would be depressed without anyone noticing.
It was learned that the mother was still in shock and was still believing a miracle happen and the body of her son would be found.
The doctor’s mother, said to be a member of the Deeper Life Bible Church, was in her room despite the presence of her church members, who had come to console her.
According to some family members, she was holding on to her faith that her son was not dead; he was merely missing, given that he showed no signs of depression prior to the incident.
Sympathisers at their residence were her church members, who had come to condole with her, as well as the late doctor’s colleagues and neighbours.
Neighbours described the doctor as an extrovert, who was very kind and took his job seriously; he had showed no sign of depression.
Meanwhile, the police has debunked rumours of a suicide note and claims that the doctor had received a phone call before he jumped into the lagoon.
According to the statement by the driver who was interrogated by the police at the Adeniji Adele Police Division, his boss had told him to park so he could urinate.
He obeyed, as he had no premonition anything untoward would happen and it was to his dismay that his boss jumped into the lagoon before he could prevent him.
Confirming the incident, Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, Olarinde Famous-Cole, said the driver was not arrested, rather he was taken in for questioning, and investigations were ongoing.
In the meantime, experts have been speaking on the possible reason Orji decided to take his own life the way he did, saying that he might have suffered depression, frustration or some form of mental health challenge.
According to Dr. Stephen Olamide Oluwaniyi, a consultant psychiatrist, Federal Neuro-psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, individuals have mental health, just as they have physical health: “People living with a mental disorder can experience positive mental health. An individual may experience poor mental health without a mental disorder.”
He also stated that health determinants include government policies, health policies, economic policies, educational policies, control of psychoactive substance use, road safety, etc.
“Poor mental health may manifest as a feeling of distress, dissatisfaction, persistent irritability, aggression and reduced productivity, without specific mental disorders.
“On the other hand, it may manifest as diagnosable mental disorders such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders or psychosis, and substance-related disorders. If mental disorders are not promptly and adequately treated, they may lead to poor productivity, disability and mortality,” he said.
The experts said that while some people have described depression as “living in a black hole” or having a feeling of impending doom, others felt lifeless, empty, and apathetic. Men in particular might feel angry and restless. No matter how a person experiences it, depression is different from normal sadness in that it engulfs the person’s day-to-day life, interfering with his ability to work, study, eat, sleep, and have fun.
However, “depression is not enough to make a doctor commit suicide,” said Consultant Surgeon, Dr. Emmanuel Enabulele.
He argued that the circumstances of Orji’s death raised a lot of questions: “He was coming from church, with no family members, then a phone call, he pulled up, came out of car, then plunged into the lagoon to end his life. A classical case of depression does not present that way. In suicide tendencies, people will see it coming before it occurs, but this one is so sudden, acute.
“These days, doctors are involved in other businesses other than medicine because of the recession. Maybe, he went to church to pray, got a call that things did not work out, he cracked and committed suicide.
“If you talk of manic depressive psychosis, usually, it is a build-up, with mood swings, lack of interest in the environment, lack of appetite, etc. It is not something that happens suddenly, then a plunge into a river. In fact, if it is the classical type, a person like that should not be allowed to go to church alone.”
He noted that more background information about Orji was needed to solve the puzzle of what really transpired to make him take his life.
“Which kind of church did he go to? Was it ‘white garment’ church? That could give a clue to what was pursuing him. We have to know where he worked, his age. Why didn’t he go to church with his family? If we say mental depression, this is not the pattern. Was he sick? Even if he was nursing any sickness, taking his life wouldn’t have been that dramatic.
“There could be other things involved, we need more information. A doctor is a human being, he could get involved in crime, he could be depressed, he could be blackmailed, so we need more information about the doctor and his last days before the suicide. However, the easiest thing to suspect is acute depression,” Enabulele said.
Oluwaniyi noted that some trauma or loss might elicit anger, which could lead to aggression. However, direct aggression towards the stressor might not be possible or it might be too dangerous to do so. Therefore, aggression might be displaced towards an innocent person, for example, a spouse. And “aggression may also be directed inwards, resulting in suicide.”
According to Dr. Charles Umeh, a clinical psychologist, if there were more information on Orji, it would be easier to profile him.
He said: “One cannot rule out mental illness such as hallucination, in which case he was hearing voices that might be telling him, ‘you are useless, just die.’ People can act on those voices.
“He could have suffered (financial) disaster such as duping, in which case he had lost his life earnings. Perhaps something drastic might have happened to him and he felt he had lost integrity and couldn’t cope with it.”
He regretted that “what he had done was to escape from reality. And he concluded that the best way out was to run away from the situation.”