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.