In 1985, as I and my classmates (seminarians) were about to conclude our first year in Philosophy, the entire seminarians of the then Bigard Memorial Seminary, Philosophy Campus (now St Joseph's Major Seminary), Ikot Ekpene in Akwa Ibom State, had a 9-day Retreat. Absolute silence was demanded from each of us in order that the Retreat might bear fruit. Within the nine days, no one talked to each other. We operated like dumb people. Any seminarian caught breaking the absolute silence faced immediate expulsion from the seminary. One of us then was a talkative. As an alternative he coughed and sneezed from time to time to ease the accumulated unexpressed speech in his mental faculty. On the third day of the Retreat, he couldn't bear remaining in absolute silence again. After lunch, taken in absolute silence that day, he ran like a wild mad man down the stream at the outskirts of the seminary. On reaching that lonely area, he burst out shouting on top of his voice. He soliloquized and boxed the air to ease tension. He asked, “My God, can I survive this 9-day absolute silence? Indeed I want to be a priest but not a dumb one.” He jumped up thrice and shouted again and again. After easing the accumulated speech in him, he walked hopelessly back to the seminary to continue the 9 days Retreat which was on its third day. He took this action to avoid dying in silence.
There was a well-to-do herbal doctor from Nibo in Awka South Local Government of Anambra State in those days. His Herbal Centre was popularly known as “Why Die in Silence?” He was called “Mba-ama-onyeukwu”. He has joined his ancestors. He treated various ailments with herbs at home and at Enugu where he resided. He warned the sick not to hide their ailments no matter what it is and the part of the body involved. According to him, if you hide sickness, then you will eventually die in silence. At the moment of death you will be wailing and shouting, “Had I known!” Even in orthodox medicine, it is what you tell the doctor that he bases his diagnosis and treatment upon. In fact there are three persons you dare not tell lies: your priest confessor or your spiritual director, your doctor and your lawyer. The success or failure of their vocation or profession depends on your openness. They cannot function well if you remain silent or tell lies.
Do you know what inspired me to dwell on this topic this week? Just recently I travelled to Enugu for a function. I lodged in a religious guest house. The following morning I was in the general refectory taking my breakfast like a king as nutritionists advised us to do. At lunch you eat like a queen while at dinner you eat like a slave. That very morning, I nearly consumed a roasted giant chicken alone with bread and tea. As I was washing the menu down the digestive system with a cold bottle of small stout, I overhead the Reverend Sister coordinator of a group of religious sisters concluding their three days' workshop giving some words of advice to the participants. She said emphatically, “Please, do not die in silence. Speak out!” I brought out my jotter and noted it down. As I was walking back to my room after the sumptuous breakfast, I was chorusing repeatedly, “Please, do not die in silence. Speak out!”
Someone died in silence of recent. It was unbelievable, but it happened in broad daylight. It was on the Day of the Lord (Sunday), 19th March 2017. The victim, late Dr. Allwell Orji, a medical practitioner working at Mountain Sinai Hospital in Surulere Lagos was relaxing at the owner's seat in his luxurious air-conditioned jeep as his driver drove him towards Victoria Island Lagos for a meeting of the Medical and Dental Association of Lagos Municipality. After answering a distress phone call half way into the Third Mainland Bridge, he beckoned on his driver to stop abruptly. He told his driver to wait in the jeep as he went out to urinate. Instead of urinating, the medical doctor jumped into the Lagoon and was drowned instantly. A passer-by ran to stop him as he was climbing the rail of the bridge but it was too late. Commuters and passers-by gathered around the late doctor's jeep speculating what was amiss. They also peeped into the lagoon to see if they could catch a glimpse of the drowned medical practitioner but all to no avail. The late doctor's driver was lost in thoughts at the unfortunate fate of his boss. If there was no eye-witness it would have been alleged that his driver pushed him into the lagoon. Tongues were wagging. Why did Dr Allwell Orji commit suicide? Was he induced by any external force or jumped into the lagoon voluntarily? What was the subject of that last phone call? Was he pushed by magical power to commit the suicide? Experts are analyzing that last phone conversation to determine what transpired between the caller and late Dr Allwell. What was the problem that caused him to take his own life? As a medical doctor he took an oath to protect human life at all times. Why did he not protect his own life? The current recession might not be the cause his death as he was well to do. A medical doctor of 35 years old having a driver is an evidence of good living.
Some superstitious persons believe that late Dr Allwell Orji was induced by an occult spell sent to him through the air by evil men to do what he did. They said he was attacked spiritually. There was the case of a Nigerian priest who died in his sleep in Rome few years ago. Some narrow minded individuals from his kindred believed that an evil spell was sent to him from home to Rome through the air. If such a thing is possible, then no one is safe. I know that the devil has power but God's power surpasses him.
Dr Orji's suicidal action contradicted his first name Allwell. Indeed all was not well with him. Otherwise what could have caused a successful medical practitioner to commit suicide? Why did he not confide in anybody, even in his medical friends, his driver, mother, wife or any family member? Why did he die in silence? A close friend of Dr Allwell stressed that the late doctor was an introvert. One person in a Whatsapp text that very day the incidence happened asked, “What will he tell God?” Another person exclaimed after reading about the suicide: “Lord, have mercy on him!” In fact only God can say what transpired with Dr Allwell to the extent that he terminated his earthly life by jumping into the Lagoon. As a medical doctor why did he not choose the lesser painful suicide by lethal injection? Perhaps no one would have known what killed him except if an autopsy was conducted.
Just three days after the suicidal incidence of Dr Allwell, a middle-aged woman in the Maza Maza area of Lagos also jumped into the lagoon. However, she was lucky. Local fishermen dived into the lagoon and rescued her alive. On her own case, I learnt that it was the present economic hardship in Nigeria that made her to attempt suicide in the lagoon. In moral parlance, she had already committed suicide, even though she was rescued. Her family must keep watch on her after being resuscitated because she can jump into the lagoon again to accomplish her desire. I advise her to continue living to see the end of the present Change Government. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. Since a black hen can lay white eggs, all hope is not lost. The house bug told her offspring to exercise patience because what is hot must eventually cool down. Suicide is not a good option at all. Please if you are considering committing suicide, kindly change your mind. Take it easy. The downfall of a man is not the end of his life.
The public relations fish in Lagos lagoon in an interview with the press after the suicide mission of the doctor and the rescued woman revealed that the community of fish in the lagoon is very happy of the current trend of jumping into the lagoon. Lack of sufficient food for the fish in the lagoon is biting hard. Therefore the Association of Fish in Lagos lagoon prays for more people to jump into the lagoon so that the numerous fish may have enough to eat. The fish would prefer huge and fat persons to commit suicide in the lagoon. The meat of thin persons cannot suffice for them. The fish in the lagoon are praying seriously in this Lenten season that God may provide food for them in abundance. On the other hand, they are not happy with fishermen and divers to rescue their potential food alive or dead. They appealed to the Lagos State Government to allow the bodies to decompose in the lagoon so that the fish would bury them.
The topic of discussion on page 36 of Dailysun, Thursday, March 23, 2017 was “More Nigerians go insane, as recession bites harder” The author Job Osazuwa reported in these words: “The current economic challenges afflicting the country are causing several major crises. Besides the poverty and hardship being spread by recession, medical experts are getting worried that more Nigerians are developing psychiatric conditions.” For this reason, health experts, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), health-related agencies and members of Health Writers Association of Nigeria gathered at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) to find ways to enhance health delivery in this country. In his report of the Symposium, Job Osazuwa reported that a consultant psychiatrist at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, Dr. Stephen Olumwaniyi described “health as physical, mental and social wellbeing, not just the absence of disease.” Going further the consultant stated that many Nigerians are suffering from mental disorders, which requires medical care. Unfortunately “they frequently mistake these conditions for 'spiritual attacks.'” Those in this category are described as “the most endangered of psychiatric patients.” The priests and pastors of souls should take note of this important point. Most times we blame the evil spirits even when they are innocent of our accusations. Early this year, the devil issued a warning, threatening to deal mercilessly with anyone who accuses him falsely again. He frowned at how everyone blames him (the devil) for every misfortune.
My fellow rational beings, try to speak out whenever you are weighed down by one problem or the other to avoid dying in silence. At least you must have someone to confide in. Two heads are better than one. If you do not trust anybody, please tell it to God. A popular hymn says, “Tell it to Jesus! Tell it to Jesus! Are you weary, are you heavy hearted? Tell it to Jesus alone!” God is greater than any problem. Avoid depression. Exercise patience and wait for God's answer because God never fails. Often we are faster than our legs. Hence seek for the quickest solution. When none is available we then do otherwise. That is why someone can commit suicide. Remember that human life is changed at death but not ended. We are immortal. If you kill yourself, do you know your fate in the world beyond? If it is humanly possible, we shall recall Dr Allwell back to life to tell us what transpired. As it is, we wait to meet him on the Resurrection day to tell us what happened. Please put it in writing so that we do not forget.
Dr Allwell is not alone in dying in silence. At least I knew two Nigerian priests who were weighed down by series of academic, financial and psychological problems during their studies overseas. They couldn't confide in anyone. They were even ashamed of coming home without any substantial academic achievements. Is it not better to be late than the late? A number of Nigerian priests went abroad to study or do missionary work. They were weighed down by myriads of problems. Some who couldn't withstand the rigorous condition they found themselves in over there chose a nobler solution by coming back home. For those who decided to stay along, when the burden became too heavy, they collapsed woefully. There was one who managed to obtain his doctorate Degree at his own detriment. He came home with loss of reasoning faculty. He is now a problem priest. All efforts to rehabilitate him proved abortive. Personally I studied German language and did further course in Theology for two years on scholarship. I came home with 'Licenciat' (Master's Degree). Instead of congratulating me, tongues were wagging that I absconded without obtaining doctorate degree. Is it better to return home in casket with doctorate degree? Everybody must not be a medical or academic doctor. The final degree that awaits everyone is R.I.P. It is either you rest in peace or you rest in pieces; no more, no less.