Fresh insights have emerged as to why Allwell Orji, a 35-year-old medical doctor with the Papa Ajao branch of Mount Sinai Hospital, decided to take his own life by jumping into the lagoon in Lagos last Sunday.
A close associate of the deceased doctor told The Nation that he (Orji) once confided in him that he was fed up with life and “wanted to end it all.”
He said: “We were close and we often discussed about his life. He was a brilliant young man and he liked helping people. He was in the habit of taking part in free medical outreaches and he loved to study.
“Despite his condition, he was still studying further. He ought to be rounding off his post-graduate studies which would have enabled him become a consultant”, the young associate said.
Although it was gathered that the deceased medical practitioner was a sickle cell anaemia carrier, the associate, who pleaded not to be named, said the deceased doctor sometimes had moments of mental instability.
The young man added: “Sometimes it happened like a convulsion, and it even embarrassed him at his place of work while he was busy with a patient. Although the family did their best to manage the situation, there were times when he and some members of the family exchanged words because they taunted him for acting abnormally.
“His frustration heightened when his father died about four years ago and some family members believed the burden of his health condition contributed to the father’s death. These were some of the reasons he told me at that time that he wanted to end it all, but I tried to encourage him with the word of God”.
The close ally also said that the late doctor’s mother had tried to get him a wife but it did not work out. He said the mum, a wealthy woman who owns a number of vehicles, also hired a driver for the doctor as a way of monitoring his movement to prevent him from taking his own life since he had exhibited such tendencies.
“The jeep (SUV) he was riding belongs to the mother and she also got him a driver to take him around. The mother tried to arrange marriage for him at a time but it did not work.
“The deceased’s younger brother is already married and his sister is also a medical doctor”, the source said.
When one of our correspondents visited the Odunukan residence of the deceased on Thursday evening, a sober atmosphere pervaded the entire street. One of the residents, who identified himself simply as Mr. Oluwole, recalled that Orji had attempted suicide about four years earlier, adding that he saw Dr. Orji walking past the Saturday before his death.
Oluwole said: “We were here four years ago when he wanted to jump from the top of the storey building owned by his family. His family members do not relate with other people in the neigbourhood, and it was the same thing with the late doctor. I often saw him walking on the streets bespectacled on days he was not on call at the hospital. He walked like someone who was thinking too much.”
Oluwole also believed that things could have turned out differently if the deceased doctor’s family had not changed his driver.
He said: “It won’t be out of place to describe him as a recluse. He was not on the social media, neither did he engage in any social activity.
“I believe things would have turned out differently if the family did not change his former driver. The former driver would have suspected and could have tried to stop him once he ordered him to stop on the bridge. I am not sure his new driver was well briefed on his medical condition.”
Colleagues recall last day at work
It was just like any other Friday when the late Orji resumed work at the branch of Mount Sinai Hospital on Ojekunle Road, Papa Ajao, Mushin, on March 17. The storey building housing the hospital overlooks the dual carriage road that is popular for the spill-over of heavy commercial activities from the nearby Ladipo Market. Although it is sandwiched by two very close buildings, Mount Sinai Hospital wears a bright colour that makes it easily noticeable.
It was here that Orji reported last for duty as a medical doctor before he gave it all up two days later on a bright Sunday afternoon. He was said to have stopped his driver on the Third Mainland Bridge, got out of the vehicle and jumped into the Lagos lagoon.
A colleague of the deceased, who did not want to be named, said that Orji’s last day at work was like every other.
He said: “He was cheerful on that day and attended to patients in his usual cheerful manner. There was no slightest indication that something was amiss or anything to indicate that he was depressed or bothered by something. If there was any sign, it was not obvious at all. If there was anything amiss, that would be his personal life which, of course, we couldn’t have been part of”, the colleague said.
A nurse at the hospital, who fought back tears as she spoke, also described the deceased Orji as a cheerful individual.
“Everybody here will miss him. He was a jovial person. He loved his work. He was someone we enjoyed working with. That Friday was his last day at work here”, she added.
One of the doctors, who appeared shocked by the incident, referred our correspondent to the Communications Manager at the Surulere branch of the hospital. “It is the Communications Manager who has the mandate to say anything about the late Orji. I am sure that the hospital will communicate an official position about the incident in due course”, the doctor said.
At the Surulere branch of the hospital in Lagos, however, the Communications Manager was not available to speak with reporters. But an official of the hospital who would not disclose his name said that while he shared the sense of loss, he would not answer questions concerning Orji’s personal life.
He said: “As for his official life here, I can tell you that he didn’t show any sign that he had any issue whatsoever. He was at work on the Friday before the incident. He was a likeable fellow, cheerful, had a good working relationship with his colleagues and he was well remunerated. If he had personal problems, I wouldn’t know. It didn’t show.”
Doctors explain his condition
In a bid to get to the heart of the matter concerning what could have caused the young, promising doctor to ‘end it all’ with suicide, The Nation sought the views of some established medical practitioners.
Secretary of the Nigerian Medical Association, Lagos State Chapter, Dr Babajide Saheed, believes it could have been a case of depression, saying a psychological factor could force him to end his life.
Saheed said: “An act of suicide of such could be caused by stress. The medical profession is well known for its stress factor; the hours of work which he had to combine with other societal duties. Abroad, the case of doctors committing suicide is not as alarming as it is here because the people out there understand the stress level inherent in the profession.
“Also, that kind of suicide could also have been caused by financial, family or social factor. In the case of finance, he might have been under pressure to spend what he did not have, while in the case of family, faulty relationships could lead to it.”
Saheed noted that many doctors in developed countries are known to have marital or relationship problems due to the demands of their work often have to battle depression.
“They struggle to build relationships that could lead to marriage. Then on the social factor comes the depression that could arise from a girlfriend who jilts him for a man who may not even measure up to his societal status. Any of these factors could put undue pressure on a young man,” said Saheed.
Dr Idowu Ogunkoya, a Naturopathy specialist, said he did not believe the late doctor was battling with financial challenges, given that he had a car and a personal driver.
“How many doctors have a driver?” he queried. “I don’t think he was poor or affected in anyway by the recession. Whatever bothered him to the extent of telling his driver to stop on the Third Mainland Bridge and then jumped into the lagoon is more than money matters.
“I also do not think it had to do with his work. My guess is that it possibly had more to do with domestic affairs. And if we look at it from a bigger picture, domestic affairs come in different forms.”
An Abuja based doctor, Dr Eno Assam, in a chat with The Nation decried the fact that people generally assume that doctors are comfortable. Stating that doctors are not super humans, he said the problem with the late Orji might have been that he tried to please people.
He said: “I read somewhere that he was the type that loved to please people. You can’t please the world. Like pastors, people expect that we can’t be faulty. But we are no super humans. We are also affected by everything that affects the general public.
“As a matter of fact, people expect too much from doctors. Most doctors carry a string of dependants, and due to their calling, they seek to please everybody and get professionally stressed.”
As a means of preventing a reoccurrence of such incident in the future, Dr Assam called on government to establish centres where counsel can be offered to people who are depressed.
A psychologist, Dr. Okonkwo Leo, who spoke against the popular belief that doctors are comfortable in Nigeria, offered that the late Orji’s case would have been caused by more than one factor.
He said: “There could have been more than one factor or one factor that spiraled into others. It’s true that we are in a time of recession, but things that lead to suicide could be more than recession, because it is a higher state of depression that leads to suicide, which is an aggression turned inward.
“Suicide also could be caused by hearing voices, hallucination. What I can advise at this point is that in whatever ways we can, we should help people who seem depressed. Give them more ears, listen to them, talk to them and encourage them. Deep depression needs to be treated too.”