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20th Jun 2017 | by: Femi Olugbile

The recent announcement from the Federal Road Safety Corps that erring motorists – such those who

are caught using their mobile phones while driving in traffic will be compulsorily referred to

designated psychiatric units for ‘tests’ has been the subject of a lot of discussing among the public.

It is probably a well intended action, borne out of frustration at the obdurate determination displayed by

a large number of Nigerians to do the wrong thing in the public space – whether it is beating the red

light or taking the wrong lane.

However this is a way that has been travelled before. During the last administration in Lagos, LASTMA

was given the authority to refer people for psychiatric evaluation for traffic offences, on the assumption that

some of the offences were so egregious a person had to be ‘mad’ to commit them.

While it may sound like ‘common sense’, the truth is that by and large, traffic offenders are only as ‘mad’ or

as ‘sane’ as any other Nigerians. They are basically people who have wilfully chosen to break the

law. The appropriate thing to do is to mete out appropriate punishment to them for the offence they

have committed. In reality, in this scheme of things, ‘going to see the shrink’ is the ‘punishment’ here.                It  is assumed to be a nuisance and a shame to have to keep such an appointment.

That shame is supposed then, to serve as deterrent in future, because, lets face it, what is the

outcome of such an engagement, from a professional or utility standpoint? Even if hypothetically the doctor were to find something wrong

with the individual, some minor psychological disturbance,would FRSC compel the person to take

‘treatment’ against his will? That would be a violation of his human rights.

No matter how well-intentioned this initiative may sound in bar-room talk, it is wrong. It stigmatises

the very notion of seeing a mental health specialist, something a large number of people in society need to do

anyway because they are suffering in silence from treatable minor psychiatric disorders. More than

70% of Nigerians who have mental health issues and who could benefit from professional help never

get to see a specialist – first because there are so few of them, and secondly because there is a cultural and

ignorance-based stigma serving as a barrier to seeking help. ‘The What Will People Say If They See Me

There’ is a very powerful de-motivator. The profession – not just in Nigeria, but all over the world,

is engaged in a campaign to help these ‘walking wounded’ to ‘come out’, nudging them gently and saying

that its alright to admit you are

anxious or depressed and get treatment for it and get your life back. This egregious use of the

citizen-psychiatrist contact for a futile ‘social control’ purpose is going to drive genuine patients who need

help back into the woodwork, too ashamed to show their faces above the parapet.

LET OFFENDERS BE PUNISHED – BY FINES, EVEN BY IMPRISONMENT, by all means.

GOING TO SEE THE PSYCHIATRIST IS NOT ‘PUNISHMENT’, AND SHOULD NOT BE TWISTED

BY ANYONE INTO BEING SEEN TO BE SO, PLEASE.

About the Author: Femi Olugbile

2 Comments

  • bunmi ilori says:

    Dear Femi,
    What you have proposed is logical within the ambit of a sane society, and I wouldn’t know if you will regard the Nigerian society as sane?
    Whereas deviant behaviours occur in every society, I want to imagine that the proportion or percentage of persons with such behaviours will influence whether to classify a society as sane or not. If this assumption holds, then you will have no difficulty in placing the Nigeria society as predominantly populated by persons with insane behaviours;be it in our social or political lives.
    In as much as patients who genuinely require psychiatrist attention loathe being referred for treatment, because of the stigma attached to such consultations,methink referring normal persons, patients with minor psychiatric illnesses especially depressive illness, persons with deviant behaviours for psychiatric consultation will lessen the stigmatization of neuro-psychiatric consultation. People will see seeing a psychiatrist as just consulting any doctor, and come to terms with the fact that every human being ,at one point in time,suffer minor psychiatric disorder, just like malaria. It perhaps may greatly influence patronage of psychiatrists, which presently patients are wont to loathe.
    Your advice is professional, but may be unrealistic in the light of the evolving Nigerian society which stands in parallel and in contradistinction to the Nigerian society of our fathers and forefathers.
    I remember it was late Professor Lambo, who once suggested psychiatric examination for politicians, when he realised the level of their antisocial behaviour. I imagine if he were alive today, he will recommend it to ALL NIGERIANS, including me!

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