Northern Nigeria’s Opinions on Mental Health

By Admin | Jul 15, 2022

Nigerians are typically religious by nature and this is why even in the 21st Century with great advances in modern medicine. Mental illness is still termed simply as madness and demon possession.  As is common in The southern part of Nigeria, so it applies in Northern Nigeria the Muslim Majority North, however, doesn’t attribute mental illness to demon possession as would be common to the Christian Majority South, but the possession of Jinns. Jinn (Arabic: جن‎,  jinn)  anglicized as a genie with the broader meaning of spirit or demon, depending on the perspective are supernatural creatures in early pre-Islamic Arabian mythology and Later Islamic theology, like humans they are created with the choice, not believers nor as unbelievers, but their attitude depends on whether they accept God’s guidance. These spirits tend to possess humans from time to time and it is believed that most people who are affected by this are women. It is believed that when women go out around sunset without headscarves or hijabs they would be possessed. 

In Sada Malumfashi’s “we are all naked dancing” Inna is a mentally ill woman believed to have run mad because of her husband’s new wife. The author depicts the typical songs of madness most Nigerians know; the lack of shame and decency. Inna dances naked in the rain in front of a mosque filled with praying men. Later on, the narrator’s sister falls slowly into insanity she begins to act strangely and the instinct of her parents was to call on different healers to check if she had been possessed by a Jinn no one thought that the madness that afflicted Inna had somehow taken root in Zulia. No one thought that since Inna had a mental illness her nieces could have one too. The narrator was the first to break the ignorance that plagued his relatives. He knew what he had wasn’t a possession from Jinns, he thought that it could not be possible for him to be possessed since he was a prayerful person. I’d like to think that he didn’t think of it because he was a man. 

Malumfashi’s piece highlights the misconceptions on mental health and illness in northern Nigeria. In 2018  BBC African eye documentary sweet sweet codeine revealed the state of rehabilitation centres in Kano state. Drug addicts were chained. These terrible conditions tell of the ineffective systems set up to handle mental illness in Nigeria. An article published in Aljazeera revealed Nigeria as one of the 60 nations that still keep mentally ill persons in chains just like Inna was. 

Organisations like Mentally aware Nigeria(MANI) and She writes woman(SWW) is at the forefront of spreading mental health awareness in Nigeria. Although their activities are based in southern Nigeria. With these organisations springing up  Hopefully, more would be established in Northern Nigeria and a shift in the mindsets of the people of Northern Nigeria concerning mental illness treatment and diagnoses can be possible.