Ray Ekpu

In the last few years, Nigerians have witnessed the horrible spectacle of people taking their own lives, sometimes in a dramatic fashion. A few of them have chosen to take a plunge into the lagoon off the Third Mainland Bridge. It then becomes the business of the municipal authorities to find their dead body, locate their identity and speculate on the reason they did what they did. In most of these instances, they left no suicide note and their families were only left to do an educated guesswork on the reason for their decision to end it all.

However, Aisha Omolola, a 300 level student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, did it differently. She left a suicide note before she drank a bottle of insecticide on December 26 last year. She died instantly. In the suicide note, she blamed her parents for her decision.

Hear her: “If I am no more, please hold my family responsible. I have tried to be the best I can be, stayed away from them just because they blamed me for their mistakes and they can’t love, help and take care of me like their own. My mum has made life a living hell for me because she is bipolar and frustrated, accusing me of being a witch and a cursed child even though my brother is responsible for my education and upkeep. The only thing she helps me with is my feeding money. I have gone out of my way to take care of my mum by giving her food and money but I still end up being her problems.” Aisha went further to say, “My brother can’t stick to his promise anymore because he feels I am not his responsibility and I have my own family. I hope and believe that now that I am gone, it will bring them relief and happiness.” To her friends she said, “ I am so sorry Collins I had to leave you this way. Maryam Olayemi, you have been more than a bestie to me. I am also sorry to all my friends and well-wishers. I love to be happy but I am nothing but a broken child. I don’t believe in God anymore because I can’t see my purpose anymore. I love you all so much.”

She demonstrated that love for her friends by leaving her ATM PIN and her cellphone password for them.

As at the time of this writeup, there was no word from her parents, her brother or her friends but I am certain they must all be shocked to their marrows. We cannot say whether everything she has said about her parents is absolutely true or whether there is a chance that she may have felt differently from them about the role of parents in their children’s lives. But it is obvious that from her own perspective the parents did not love her, and did not try to make her as happy as she wanted to be. That to her was enough for her to take the difficult decision of taking her own life, although some other children deprived of parental love may not have taken that kind of decision. It is clear that despite the disagreement with their daughter, they would not have wished her dead. Her death will not only shock them and perhaps this death and the manner of it will remain a deep stab in their hearts. I am almost certain that if they knew that their daughter was going to take such a drastic decision they would have done everything to stop her. No parent, no matter how cruel, would like his or her child to take his or her life because that is a stain on the family’s name, no matter how plausible the reason.

This column cannot say whether or not her parents were skillful or not or successful in parenting but parenting is not an easy task. I know of no school in Nigeria that teaches mothers and fathers how to be good parents. So, fathers and mothers basically pick parenting skills from the roadside or from whatever experience they had from the way their parents treated them.

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Parents may want to treat their children the way their own parents treated them. But times change. Today’s children are more literate, more desirous of freedom, which is expansively available by the gift of modern technology in a globalised world. If the parents are far behind in education and civilisation, then there will be an obvious clash of cultures and beliefs on how life should be lived and what kind of relationship should exist between parent and child. There seems to have existed a terrible gulf of misunderstanding between Aisha and her parents. She seemed to have been haunted by the suspicion, imaginary or real, that they did not love her. Or was it an issue of tough love, the desire by parents to be cruel in order to be kind, the kind of cruelty that children realise when they grow up that it was kind cruelty, the kind that puts them on life’s straight and narrow road to a blissful future?

Aisha’s letter, well-written even in a moment of torment, was bitingly furious. The rage in her showed up in the letter which reflects the super-changed tension that existed between her and her parents. If it was meant to stun her parents and give them a niggling guilt of their inadequacy as parents, it must have delivered as scheduled. For Aisha, this must have felt like she has had a satisfying victory over her parents. This may give her a feeling of relief wherever she is but she has, by her death, done more harm than good to herself and her family. If her (suicide) letter is any guide, she would have been successful in life if only she had tarried awhile. Within another year or two she would have been a graduate and from then on she would have had, with hard work, a steady climb on life’s totem pole.

The main issue between Aisha and her parents seemed to be money and her brother was, even if grudgingly, filling the money gap. Life is generally a tough adventure and only the fittest survive. Many undergraduates are indigent and they find creative ways of surviving. Some of them do barbing, hairdressing and buying and selling of various items to go through school. Aisha, who seemed to have supportive friends, could easily have gone through school without the agony of suicide. There are many orphans in the world who have, through their bootstraps, their hard work, their tenacity, their perseverance, become successful in their chosen line of work. So, any person who has parents, even bad ones, can learn to survive without them. Aisha may have thought that her life was the worst. I am sure it wasn’t. There is the story of the man who used the last coins he had to buy two fingers of bananas. He said that would be his last supper as he saw no use continuing to live in penury. He climbed a tall tree and told himself that when he finished eating the bananas he would plunge to his death below. He peeled the banana and ate and threw the peelings down. As he wanted to plunge to the depths be- low he saw someone eating the banana peelings he dropped. He knew that his life was not the worst. He quietly came down and continued with his life and surprisingly made a success of it. His case was not the worst.

In Nigeria, young people are not privileged to go through counselling about life. They grow up blindly and expect their parents to provide everything for them. Their parents are also complicit, they think they have to provide everything in life for their children. Some parents buy question papers or school grades or degrees for their children without worrying about the obvious repercussions in future. Those children turn out to be misfits in society because they were not taught the virtues of self-reliance.

A Nigeran professor who lives in the United States employed a young white American aged 18 years as his gardener. On the day that the boy was to be given the letter of employment the boy’s father, a billionaire, went with him. He told the employer not to pay his son beyond a certain sum of money because he wanted him to appreciate the value of hard work. In Nigeria, a billionaire’s son would not work or be allowed by his father to work as a gardener for somebody. In the United States, children who are 18 years and above are expected to be able to find their path in life with or without their parents’ support because opportunities are available everywhere, if you are bright and hardworking. Nigerians who go to the United States are ready to clean toilets and streets and make a living. They don’t feel awkward about it. In Nigeria, they would shun such jobs. Some years ago, we employed some undergraduates to serve food in our office canteen. They rejected the job. They wanted to work in offices. That is the orientation here. Work is when you work in an office. Anything else belongs to a labourer, a menial worker. That is why many of our children are disoriented and go through life with a sense of entitlement.

Many young people in Nigeria will tell you that if their parents had money they would go to school, they would earn a degree, they would go for a masters’ degree. Everything comes down, in their estimation, to having rich parents, having doting parents. But there are many scholarships available in the universe, both in Nigeria and abroad. They are there on the internet, in the newspapers, in government bulletins but many of our youths fail to access them. They are only hoping that their parents can cough out all the money that they need so that they can go to school. Some of them gain admission into university to do courses they do not want because they do not have an idea what subjects lead to what courses. We need counselling centres not only for education but also for work and life as a whole so that our young people can have a balanced expectation from life.

Aisha, if you did not want to live for your parents why didn’t you choose to live for your brother, your Collins, your Maryam Olayemi and yourself?