Quiet and unassuming, he went about life so easily that nothing suggested he had worries tucked in his heart. At age 21, a first degree in Quantity Survey was already done and dusted.
Everything appeared smooth sailing for Toju Daibo until last Saturday when the fresh graduate of the University of Lagos reportedly plunged into the lagoon from the Third Mainland Bridge. The sudden turn of events has raised lots of questions, many of which still beg for answers.
He had hurriedly disembarked from an Uber car that morning on the pretext that he had stomach upset and was nauseous. The car had picked him up in front of a hospital close to Sosanya Street, Gbagada-Soluyi en route to Ikeja airport where he would board a flight to Abuja – his parents’ place of residence.
Many concluded Daibo could have been battling depression in silence, snowballing into suicide. But for his family who knew him as “an easy-going, kind-hearted, wonderful boy all along,” the narrative stood fact on its head.
“Toju (Daibo) on his normal self will never jump into the Lagoon,” his sister, Omasan, said.
With many beautiful plans queuing for the young man, Omasan and other members of the family saw no reason why Daibo would end his own life.
“He studied Quantity Survey at the University of Lagos and just graduated; the plan his father has for him was to further his study in Canada after the National Youth Service Corps. He does not do drugs or touches substances or cracks,” Daibo’s mother, Kemi, told Channels Television.
“We have not heard anything from the police. His body has not been found and I want them to find him; everybody is just keeping quiet as if he does not have people. Toju is somebody; he has a family. They should find him, where is he? What happened to him? Where is Toju?” she bemoaned.
Weird as it is, Daibo was not the first person to willingly jump to their death on the Third Mainland Bridge.
Creepy suicide on alluring lagoon
Stretched on 11.8 kilometres length (7.3 miles), the nation’s longest bridge cuddles the sprawling lagoon to reveal astounding scenery. With an average of 117,000 vehicular traffic on a daily basis making it the busiest road in the country, the flyover since it was opened in 1990 has served as the major route from Mainland to Lagos Island, Victoria Island, Lekki, Ajah and Epe, where thousands of Lagosians work in government establishments, local and multinational firms and embassies.
However, in the recent times, especially in the last three years, the dark side of the bridge as a preferred suicide spot has manifested on several occasions.
In March 2017, a medical doctor, Allwell Orji, asked his driver to park on the bridge while he disembarked and hurriedly plunged into the lagoon.
A few days later, a textile dealer on Lagos Island, Titilayo Momoh, contemplated suicide at the same spot but was rescued by policemen on patrol before she jumped into the lagoon.
The 65-year-old woman said she was tired of life as a result of a huge debt hanging on her neck.
In November 2018, a middle-aged man and official of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, Sheriff Oladejo, went on a suicide mission on the bridge.
That day, there was light traffic along UNILAG waterfront end of the bridge as a result of a vehicle that broke down on the road.
Oladejo, who was sitting at the back of a car, hurriedly opened the door, clung to the railings of the bridge and jumped into the water.
In May 2019, an unemployed Accounting graduate attempted suicide at the spot but was rescued by some Rapid Response Squad men. Five months later, in October 2019, the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency rescued one Ayinla Rilwan, who attempted to dive into the lagoon from the bridge.
On February 2, 2020, police team from Bariga Division on routine traffic patrol sighted a 65-year-old man, Awolusi Olusegun, trying to jump into the water and came to his rescue.
Sunday PUNCH learnt that his son, Damilola, told the police that the sexagenarian was depressed and receiving treatment at the Yaba Military Hospital.
About 10 kilometers from the Third Mainland Bridge, one 36-year-old Ikechukwu Ibeh, on a suicide mission was rescued on Tuesday, January 21, 2020 by LASEMA officials in the marine unit after he plunged into the lagoon from the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge.
Though disturbing, bridge suicide is not only in Lagos. Cities in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, among others, have recorded hundreds of suicides on their bridges.
For instance, The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, US, has recorded about 1,500 suicides – the highest number across the world with an average of 30 suicides per year – since it was completed in 1937, Opentravel.com revealed.
Connecting the city of San Francisco on the northern tip to Marin County, the bridge has become favourite spot for those who want to end their lives. It is said people travel to San Francisco specifically to jump off the bridge – 1.7 miles long and 245 feet above the water.
However, in the light of the incessant suicides, the US government commenced the construction of Suicide Deterrent System in 2017 and it’s expected to be completed in 2023. The net barrier is being placed 20 feet below the sidewalk, extending 20 feet out from the bridge.
“The selected design allows open, scenic vistas to remain intact, while preventing anyone from easily jumping to the water below. The net will have minimal impacts to the architecture,” said the firm handling the barrier construction.
Opened in 1918 in Toronto, the Prince Edward Viaduct was constructed to aid traffic but it later turned out to serve a different purpose. With over 400 suicides, the bridge ranked as the second most fatal flyover in the world after the Golden Gate Bridge. At its peak in 1997, the suicide rate averaged one person every 22 days.
This ugly trend prompted the construction of a suicide barrier, called the Luminous Veil along the bridge. The construction was completed in 2003 at a cost of $5.5m. It is built of 9,000 rods, each five metres tall and spaced 12.7 cm (five inches) apart and held in place by steel frame. There has been no suicide at the spot since the construction of the barrier according to Opentravel.com.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, UK, is also a notable suicide site with 1,000 deaths recorded since it opened in 1864. New barriers were mounted in 1998 to stem the tide.
Another bridge often used for suicide is The Jacques Cartier Bridge in Quebec, Canada. Inaugurated in 1930, it parades approximately 35.4million vehicular movement annually, making it the second busiest bridge in Canada.
Ironically, it is also infamous as the busiest suicide bridge in the country with 140 deaths recorded so far. In 2004, a suicide prevention barrier was installed to deter would-be victims.
Keeping suicidal persons away from the bridge
A psychologist at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Prof. Toba Elegbeleye, told Sunday PUNCH that many people opted for bridge suicide because it offered an easy way to end it all.
“It is cheaper and makes suicide commission an absolute mission because the victim is not likely to be rescued alive,” he said.
A civil engineer and former Chairman Nigeria Society of Engineers, Mr Olatunde Jaiyesimi, said building a barrier across the Third Mainland Bridge would deter suicide to some extent, adding that such cannot be a lasting solution.
He said, “Bridges are designed to carry people over water and at the same time to make the scenery beautiful. The moment you put structures there to prevent people from jumping over, it will look odd.
“But if the barrier is incorporated in the original design, it can be created in such a way that it will prevent people from finding it easy (to jump from the bridge). The barrier should be done in such a way that it does not disrupt the scenery.”
Jaiyesinmi noted that regular police patrol of the bridge and construction of watchtowers would go a long way in monitoring suicide attempts.
“There is hardly anything that can prevent anybody who is determined to commit suicide. But if the security men see the person at that moment, they can quickly come to the rescue,” he added.
A former Director of Department of State Services, Mr Mike Ejiofor, said security-wise, little effort could be made to stop people from committing suicide especially on bridges.
The Chairman, Apex Safety and Security Consultants maintained that most suicide cases were impacts of hard times Nigerians were experiencing, urging the government to address unemployment and ‘provide basic welfare for the people.’
Recent suicide cases
A number of suicide cases involving depressed breadwinners, students, lecturers and lovers have been recorded across Nigeria, some of which were captured in Sunday PUNCH’s special report of May 19, 2019, titled ‘Rising suicide crisis: How 250 psychiatrists battle 60 million mental cases.’ But the trend continues to worsen.
In May 31, 2019, a student at the Department of Hospitality Management Technology, Lagos State Polytechnic, Ezekiel Mayowa, killed himself after he was reportedly dumped by his girlfriend.
The 34-year-old part-time student was said to have taken a poisonous substance suspected to be sniper.
Moments before he committed suicide, he posted a video on Facebook, explaining why he took the decision. In the three-minute-18-second video, Mayowa lamented how his lover, one Bolaji Temmy, whom he had dated for nine years, ended the relationship after she commenced NYSC programme.
Amid sobs, Mayowa, the president of his department students’ association, said he made several efforts to reconcile with his estranged lover to no avail.
Within three months’ interval, two live-in lovers in the Shibiri area of Lagos, Adenike Fatai and Bayo Atanda, also ended their lives. The boyfriend, a tailor, reportedly gulped sniper sometime in June 2019.
In the wake of his girlfriend’s death, Fatai went into depression and followed suit in September. Although her mother, Tawa, told our correspondent she never thought her “happy-looking” daughter was contemplating suicide, her Facebook posts prior to the incident hovered around death and depression.
On January 11, 2020, the Enugu State Police Command confirmed that a serving NYSC member in the state, Motunrayo Bolufemi, committed suicide.
Bolufemi, a Batch C corps member serving in Girls Secondary School, Ibagwa-Aka, Igbo-Eze South Local Government Area of the state, took her life two days earlier when she allegedly drank a substance suspected to be sniper.
Pretty and cheerful-looking, there was no clear pointer that the Kogi State indigene was depressed, let alone nursing such thought, until a suicide note was found in her room. “I did this because I see nothing worth living for in this world,” the note read in part.
Experts seek improved living condition, social support system
Factors ranging from economic hardship in the country to the lack of family and social support system have been attributed to the spate of suicide in Nigeria.
Amid growing unemployment rate in the country with over 87 million people living on less than $1.90 a day according to the World Poverty Clock, individuals were preoccupied with the struggle to eke out a living.
Speaking further, Elegbeleye said Nigeria’s social structure had been stripped of social bonding it used to enjoy, with more people now becoming individualistic.
He stated, “Our social structure is taking a different shape from what we used to know. The previous structure is becoming unmanageable and individuals are becoming more individualistic, meaning that nobody really cares about the feelings of the next person.
“People now live alone without the family support. If it were in those old days, when one was down, the family would be there to support them; the extended family would be a safety net.
“The way out is to improve on the economy and create jobs for people. Professional counsellors should also be given a place in society.”
On his part, a lecturer at the Department of Sociology, University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Dr Ayankunle Omobowale, stated that many victims reached a state of anomie–a situation whereby they were disappointed they could not meet societal expectations perceived as the norm.
He said, “Usually when an individual is unable to achieve societal expectations that are seen as ideal, the person could experience a state of anomie. And once an individual gets to that state of hopelessness, if there are no social networks around to cushion the psychological effect of that state, the person can decide to commit suicide.”
At that stage, the sociologist said the victim would have lost the appreciation of self-existence, social environment and death ultimately became “an achievement” they would desire.
Omobowale said researches showed that a depressed person with strong social network around them had limited chance of committing suicide as they could find succour and hope in their immediate environment, whereas a person lacking social network was at high risk of suicide.
He added, “When there is more individualisation of a person and the social network is restricted, they may not be able to overcome the state of anomie. Our society of today is more individualised than ever. It is achievement-oriented and survival of the fittest. Even many religious organisations concentrate faith around achievement and not necessarily around salvation.
“The way out is providing social support. There is no environment without poverty. US is one of the wealthiest countries today but in the same US, there are a large number of homeless people living on the streets.
“It is important to have social support system within the family and work environment. There should be a state policy to provide social support for the citizenry. As long as society is more individualised, we are going to have more rate of suicides.”
A psychiatrist at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Oyo State, Adeoye Oyewole, said although suicides could have some genetic underpinning, he attributed the bulk of the cases to socio-economic problems and lack of family support system.
He said, “More people are depressed. There is more serious socio-economy downturn and the commonest mental illness is depression – a commonest psychiatric disorder that leads to suicide. People are owed 10 months salaries; parents cannot perform their responsibilities and the government is not immediately concerned. Young people are escaping into relationships that are not realistic.
“The family unit needs to be reconstructed and reinvigorated. Husband and wife must learn to cooperate and provide platform for their children to grow. The extended family must also be strengthened. Families in the neighbourhood must support one another. Religious leaders should also preach love and encourage living together, helping the poor.
“Our society is getting highly westernised, but we don’t have the facilities that can sustain the western life. We don’t have social welfare facilities that they have.”
The scholar urged the government to come up with policies that would protect the vulnerable people in society, noting that depression was unavoidable in a situation where people worked hard, yet found it difficult to survive.
He added, “Intelligent government that can collect more money from the rich and distribute to the poor is what we need now. People are living below the poverty line.
“The number of psychiatric hospitals is about 200 and a lot of our younger colleagues are moving out of Nigeria. We must all be on alert. Religious and social clusters should provide facilities where people can talk to counsellors and seek help. Then, referral to the psychiatrists will be easier where necessary.”
Oyewole also urged the Nollywood industry to preoccupy movies more on theme of resilience of human spirit rather than portraying man as vulnerable and fragile “beings who can die any moment.” He said such storyline would assist people to be more determined amid challenges.