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Nigerian Jouranlist Highlights State Of Bed-Space Crisis At Foremost Psychiatric Hospital

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Investigative journalist, Fisayo Soyombo went undercover for three weeks in November, including 10 straight days on ward admission, as a patient of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, one of the most historic mental rehabilitation centres.

His report unveils the descript state of hospital facilities, gross shortage of critical staff despite a bloated workforce widely believed to be populated by ghost workers, low quality of service delivery, arbitrary charges on patients all stemming from personal and institutional corruption and the hospitals implicit stigmatizing of it’s very own patient.

Even though Dr. Akingbola, as I later found her name to be, was evidently in the third trimester of her pregnancy, she proved herself a class act, professionally. Dressed in a loose pair of black trousers and a flowing, silky robe, she stood up when she needed to, talked when she should, listened when she should, despite battling personal discomforts that manifested in the form of repeated sneezes and coughs. Dr. Akingbola did not speed up the questioning one notch; it lasted nearly the full three hours I’d anticipated. Her overall professional conduct was impeccable.

A consultant whose name I later established to be Dr. Ogunlowo courteously interrupted us from time to time, interacting with the first doctor in a manner suggesting he was trying to help her settle. I easily concluded Dr. Akingbola was either newly employed or relieving another doctor at the hospital. A consummate professional, Dr. Ogunlowo’s face lit up with glee once Dr. Akingbola announced to him that I voluntarily walked in; medically, I was “motivated”. Motivation, I’d been pre-informed, is big deal to psychiatric doctors. Motivated drug patients stand a better stead of overcoming their psychiatric disorders than those coerced or bundled into the facility. Dr. Ogunlowo couldn’t hide his excitement. But there was a little problem.

“There’s no bed space,” he announced to me.

I couldn’t believe my ears. This, coupled with its annex at Oshodi, is the only Federal Government-owned full-fledged psychiatric hospital serving the whole of Lagos — Nigeria’s ex-seat of federal power, most populated state, current economic capital — and only one of two available in the six states of the South West. It is also one of only eight public psychiatric hospitals serving an estimated 200 million Nigerians, one of every eight of whom were long proven by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be suffering from one form of mental illness or the other. It’s a 535-bed facility; however, only two male wards comprising 60 bed spaces and a female ward of 30 bed spaces were wholly dedicated to drug patients.

“Don’t worry; come back next week. I’ll keep a space for you,” Dr. Ogunlowo’s words interjected my thoughts. “I don’t usually do this, but I see you’re motivated, and I don’t want you to go back to drugs.”

Going back to drugs was not the problem; it was that I’d already altered my looks; I couldn’t move about this way, yet I wasn’t prepared to be idle indoors. Having told them minutes earlier that I came in from Ibadan, I begged them not to allow me go. “Please help me,” I pleaded soberly. “If I go back to Ibadan, I may not come back.”

Actually, this is the reality of real drug addicts; they hardly reach a point where they opt for admission, and if they ever do, only to get turned back, it’s bye to the hospital and back to the lure of drugs. Days later, I would overhear a doctor lamenting to a colleague about a young female crack cocaine addict who found time out of her banking job to seek help at the hospital; unfortunately, it was one of those numerous no-bed-space days. The doctor exchanged contacts with the lady, promising to alert her once a space opened up. Space opened up two weeks later but the banker never returned. It’s 18 months after but the doctor hasn’t quite managed to convince the lady to come back! If I was indeed a drug addict, the system had failed me.

Unlike the regular cocaine, crack is far more potent and addictive. Because it is smoked (rather than snorted through the nose), the drug reaches the brain more quickly, producing an intense and immediate ‘high’, which, it must also be said, is short-lived. Since the ‘high’ experienced by abusers is so pleasurable even if ephemeral, they constantly need more of the drug to maintain it. Eventually, an addiction is born, and the user needs the drug to simply feel normal. I begged doctors Ogunlowo and Akingbola profusely, but there was no reprieve. I could tell that the two doctors genuinely felt helpless.

One member of my team approached an official of the Crisis Intervention Personnel for help. I had been told that the ‘Crisis’, as they were simply called, sometimes pressured doctors into taking patients in. OlaniyiOlawale pressed for hours but didn’t succeed. Before we left the hospital a little past 9pm, we greased his hands with N5,000 — to say thanks for his effort. At that point, it was an honest gift from us; not a bribe. Soon, Olawale would prove himself a member of a syndicate at the hospital that specialized in arranging bed space for under-pressure patients in exchange for a token, often at the expense of more deserving patients.

Realising, shortly before leaving, that he hadn’t collected Olawale’s number, a member of my team approached a hospital orderly, Mrs. Adeniyi, for Olawale’s number. Mrs. Adeniyi declined to release it, instead insisting that we talk to her.

“Do you want to give him something?” she queried knowingly, furtively flickering her eyes over each one of us. “What exactly do you want? Talk to me.”

Mrs. Adeniyi assured us she could secure bed space for us, but she made it clear we would need to “settle”. To prove our seriousness, we handed her N2,000 and collected her number. To protect her own interest, Mrs. Adeniyi refused to release Olawale’s number even though she had it. Well, we found it through alternative means the following day, Wednesday, November 13, and contacted him.

Editor

Abass Latifat

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