BY OLATUNDE OLAYINKA AYINDE

I finished postgraduate training in psychiatry and I was confident I would get a job soon. Why would I not? One in seven Nigerians would have some form of mental illness in their lifetimes. All the risk factors for mental illness in Nigeria are on the rise: communal clashes and natural disasters, terrorism, social disruptions, unemployment and so on. Eighty percent of those who have mental illness do not get any effective treatment and many of those who have any treatment at all do so at traditional healers’ where, dangerous practices and human rights violation are rife. And psychiatrists are very few relative to the population. There is less than 1 psychiatrist per million Nigerians, as is in many low and middle income countries. The comparable figure in many countries in the Western Europe and North America is 1 psychiatrist per 10,000 population, a pathetic comparison.

So why won’t a psychiatrist get a job the very next day he qualifies to practice in Nigeria? That assumption turned out to be the joke of the century and that joke was on me. Months rolled into months, yet no job in sight. I counted 12 months and stopped counting. That job hunt and what I did in that period for a living is a story for another day. Quite a number of lessons to draw from there. But I digress.

When my savings was getting depleted, it was clear that some belt tightening had to be done. I called all my dependants and told them that their monthly allowances had to be slashed in half until further notice. They all understood. In time, all allowances stopped.

Then one Saturday morning, very early, before anyone could think of somewhere to go, one of my mothers showed up at my doorstep unannounced. If you come from a functional, close knit extended family system, you’d understand that you all your aunts and other mother figures in your family, as well as your own biological mother, are your mothers.
“Ha, mummy welcome!” I said catching my breath. “Hope nothing is wrong at home?”
She said everything was perfect.
But how come she didn’t let us know she was coming so that we could come pick her up at the park? She said briskly that she was okay.

“Should I bring some cold water for you to cool your parched throat after such a long trip?”
She said she was fine. Her mission was specific. She wasn’t going to be bogged down by such mundane things as water or rest.
She had brought some stuff from her Islamic cleric. Something I would put inside my bath water. According to her cleric, if I took my bath with that water, where ever I had submitted a job application, even if there were one million other applicants, I would be the only one who would be called for an interview, and the only one who would be offered a job.

The ridiculousness of the whole thing was just too annoying. If it was someone I didn’t care about, I would simply have collected the item, prostrate in thanks and pray a lengthy prayer about her “eating her children’s food for a long while”, as the Yoruba would say, and promptly discard the item as soon as her back was turned.
In retrospect now, that is what I should have done in this case too. Unfortunately, this person was someone I loved with a passion and the unemployment situation had already got me too prone to irritability. So I didn’t take that amicable route, to my eternal regret.

So I asked, “Let us assume for one moment that this thing works as specified, you don’t think you’re being unfair to all those other one million applicants, some of them being more qualified than I am?”
She said their matter was not her business. It was the only one of the one million who used to give her a monthly allowance to support her in her old age that was her concern. In her world, that was perfectly reasonable and justified.
I smiled.

I should have stopped there. But then the dog that is destined to be lost would usually not heed the hunter’s whistle. I mentioned a couple of my cousins who rode “Marwa” tricycles for a living in the dirty overcrowded parts of Lagos. Surely, she could give them this magical object and they could present their CV with job experience in riding “Marwa” tricycles and barely completed secondary school education as the content. If this magical thing really worked, they would easily get specialist consultant jobs in teaching hospitals, no? So it was me, with all the alphabets behind my name that required spiritual assistance to get a job. I see.

That was the technical knockout and in my naiveté I was secretly overjoyed that she finally got it. I pressed home my imagined advantage. We know why a psychiatrist would be jobless in a country where there’s practically an epidemic of mental illness and a severe dearth of psychiatrist. Clearly, there’s a policy maker somewhere whose head is completely incorrect! A moron would see the available data laid out above and make the right decision 100 times out of 100 times! But it’s Nigeria. Look at the quality of those we elect every four years to govern us! Look at the quality of those they appoint to man important parastatals that are directly related to human development and economic progress. Just look at them!
Of course I landed in trouble for all that analysis. Family meeting upon family meeting were called “on my head”. In the end I had to find someone in the family who had her authentic password to pacify her.

But would you blame the poor old woman?
The only thing she could understand in the whole complex situation was her monthly allowance that was no longer forthcoming. She didn’t have the education or exposure to understand her world. She had no tools to understand the situation. So she resorted to the supernatural and in that realm, magical thinking was the solution to her problem.
So imagine the millions of unemployed Nigerians. Multiply that by several helpless mothers like mine, who just can’t make sense of it and are in utter despair, seeking magical solutions where none exists.

In what universe would there be forgiveness for those who are elected and appointed to think and act on behalf of the vulnerable members of society such as the elderly mothers of unemployed men and women, and protect them from having to confront the unemployment of the children who support them in their old age?

It is not the jobs of these vulnerable elderly persons to run the economy or make policies. The only thing they should be doing is to vote. It is the job of those who are elected to act on their behalf and help insulate them from hardship and situations they were never equipped to confront and respond to.

But we always fail them. Over and over again, we fail them. Elected and appointed officials alike fail them through incompetence, corruption, complete lack of vision and sometimes, plain idiocy.