#EndSARS: Safeguarding Your Mental Health

Bekeme Masade-Olowola (Host): Hi, everyone, this is Bekeme and you’re listening to the Good Citizen Radio Show. It’s been a week since the Lekki massacre occurred. Most of us are aware of the incident that occurred on that day. And you can see updates on the ongoing investigation. But I won’t go into more details about that tonight. Since the hashtag and SARS protests began, stories from Nigerians, and the media has circulated on social media. And most of them have been sad news. Some of them have been true. Most of them have been on untrue. Earlier this week though, I watched a video being circulated of a woman who wasn’t aware of the curfew, but who went out to buy foodstuffs, I know that ignorance is not an excuse in the law. But she didn’t know she said, and we do know that we have a semi literate population now while others were running. Because army officials were patrolling she refused to run because she felt she’d done nothing wrong. Long story short, she was arrested with seven other women and has been kept in custody since that day, with no contact with her family, no food, just water. She did say she had 1000 Naira that she used to buy food for she and the few women that she knew just for one day. It’s truly sad what Nigerians are going through this period, because we literally were fighting to end SARS, but we’re seeing another level of impunity. It is not all bad news. Still, some things have gone well, at least this time, according to much older people. They did listen, okay, the government did listen, and the government has ended SARS and has settled the panel, I don’t think that’s what is coming up or even though they come up, it will certainly not be the SARS professionals in there again. So I do think that there’s some wins in this. But literally waking up every day and consuming this sort of content daily does take its toll on the person’s mental health. And if you’re listening to me right now, this show is for you. We want to help Nigerians take care of our mental health during this period. It’s unfortunate that you literally pick up your phone first thing in the morning or turn on the TV, and all that pops up are these very heartbreaking stories that just traumatise you all over again. So tonight we’ll be discussing #EndSars: Safe Guarding your Mental Health. And with me on the show is Isaiah Owolabi, who is the project director and co founder at Hasey. Hasey is an organisation focused on improving the health and productivity of vulnerable Africans. Isaiah has over 12 years experience leading high impact interventions funded by Gates Foundation, UN Trustfund,you in FPA and other donor agencies. He’s also an Obama foundation scholar, a one Young World ambassador, an alumnus of the prestigious Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.

He has previously received the Queen Elizabeth two young leaders award and his work is focused on mobilising the resources and competence of multi sectoral and intergenerational partners to create a conducive platform for vulnerable people to live to their full potential. Welcome to the show Isaiah, it’s really good to have you, especially at a time like this.

ISAIAH: Thank you very much.

BEKEME: How are you today? How’s everything going?

ISAIAH: Good day, everything is much lower and it’s fine.

BEKEME: much lower than last week, you mean?

ISAIAH: Yeah really compared to anyother time during the year

BEKEME: Right. So how has this affected your work? Everything that’s been happening first was COVID-19. And then you started a peaceful protest that became violent, and how has all of this affected your work?

ISAIAH: Well you talked about covid-19, even before covid killed anyone it stopped buisness opportunities, cripples income and not Just for people with asset but affected everyone it has definitely done that to all businesses including us too. You will see that a lot of more of people are careful about Kind of investments that they’re making. Even though you’re working with brands for example you still have to be very careful about your implementation at that certain period of time, and the adjustment too can be costly especially when you have to make sure that your staff gets to the field, having them to a very safe and conducive environment, that can also be very very costly.

BEKEME: I can understand that.

ISAIAH: If we also look at it from the perspective of the demand from your beneficiaries, normally they could demand for the normal things that kept some programs active, but now there could also be psychological demands.So some of them need care, some of them need counsellors, all that for sure and that kind of evolve during the protest too. So if u look at the protest.you will see how it started organically and then some people talk about the protest, I mean some people who are not part of the protest like the hoodlums that also became seriously violent. If I can get a typical example, my office is situated in Surulere and we all know what happened in Surulere, the looting and so many things related to violence. One of the days some of our staffs could not get to go home because they were scared of what was happening in their areas. Also, for one of the days I was stucked with the driver of a public bus at Ibadan and we couldn’t get back to Lagos for three days because of the curfew. That’s one of the ways we can say that it’s so tensed up and have affected organizations across different levels of influence.

BEKEME: Right, so I mean I totally understand what you’re saying, I remember when this event happened last week.I had been one of the protesters, but when I heard about the curfew, I was not going to go out although we have been taking it in turns to, to support with logistics. But, what I’m talking about is, you know what happened afterwards, I remember that. I did not  sleep for about three days straight. I was concerned because every day I literally woke up to some dastardly news, oh, this person’s brains cooked out and on the floor. And you know, this person is missing and lots of people injured. All of these things caused me great anxiety. Okay. Now, I did not have anybody close to me out there. But there were families who did, and their families who were affected by the outcome of the shootings that happen at Lekki toll gate. Now we hear that, you know, the government, the legacy government invited the next minute you hear that? It was federal government who sent the military men and next time you hear that he was mobil police officers. And then in my intro, I talked about the fact that we still have all sorts of different kinds of impunity happening across the nation. Like I was watching a lady who said that she was coming from the market, so she was going to the markets and  then she was stopped, and she’s not had access to her family for six days. And they gave her Yes, and they didn’t give her food. They only gave her water. So a lot of people are affected by this. And so I mean, how do you think people are able to cope this period and what can they do to manage their mental health?

ISAIAH: if we look at the way this has affected people, what happened and the aftermath of it, how it affects the economy i will give you typical examples. So, on Monday which was the first work day after the curfew, so we sent some of our staffs to go around and ask questions especially the coordinators and shops that were destroyed. When they started asking the shop owners questions were basically asking the coordinators and people who worked in the stores, many of them were like from today their bosses will start giving them sack letters because they know that there’s no job for them anymore.

BEKEME: Yes, I’ve seen that’s actually.

ISAIAH: Yeah, there were no sack letters actually, but when you get to your bosses shop and you see that it’s gone. And that is even more depressing.


ISAIAH: To see just last week you had a job, and this week it looks like there’s some sort of dribbling in your organization, now you just notice that you don’t have a job. And there is nowhere, nobody to run to, that would have even led to more mental stress than when you just sack someone suddenly.

BEKEME: That uncertainty, and you don’t know what to expect.

ISAIAH: That uncertainty is very costly, we saw alot of food drivers that the only people they depended on to eat were the staffs of these jobs, who would normally come and they will buy food from them and those people will probably be a single mother feeding two children. So the ripple effect of this is very very bad, and it can affect the mental health of people in different ways. The unfortunate things is that the way people address the issue of mental health especially in this country is such that first, alot of people deny it. Secondly, people think that it’s a weakness, alot of people see it as a weakness to seek help or support. Some organization perspective, I remember sending a message to all my colleague saying that if you think you don’t know what to do this moment with all that’s happening try not to do so. Because I understand how second care works, it doesn’t mean they can’t take care of themselves. There are two things that are happening but alot of people concentrate on absenteeism but there’s also a factor called presenteeism which is a fact that people will be present at work but not be productive, because of either a certain illness or because of a situation. They won’t just concentrate, either of this will affect people’s productivity, so they need to speak up or learn to discuss some of these kind of things and also they might decide to seek help.

Some of the things we started doing was that, we were working with the youth platform of UIA to provide counselling and mental health support to young who could not concentrate or do things productive during that period. So the mental health association of Nigeria released some phone numbers for people to call and receive some support, but you know because the way our society is configured, the traditional sometimes religious people feel like if you just pray over this it will all be over. But things doesn’t just happen like that, the solution doesn’t just come that way. So, people need to speak to someone, people need to do things that will make them happy. Some people don’t know what really makes them happy, they find themselves in this world of doing routine things for five years, ten years and they don’t even know how to play for example and how to stay happy. Moreso when this present thing happened, it looks a bit systemic in it’s response or in the reality of things. It’s like where do we go from here or  what can I even do? Some people are very lost to that extent, some people don’t feel obliged to do anything anymore because of the things that happened. And you see it on social media, even though it felt like a meme,but then alot of people started talking about it in the country. Someone said that at that particular moment, if we somehow regresss slave trade and there is a ship that comes

BEKEME: He would buy his own chain and chain himself. I saw those things and it was not funny.

ISAIAH: Yeah, so those were some dangerous jokes

BEKEME: I agree, I agree.

ISAIAH: They were playing at that certain time, you don’t expect that

BEKEME: Absolutely, like the next person, right? So you can’t speak of yourself. You can tell yourself it doesn’t affect me in any way. But then somebody else is seriously and adversely affected by such jokes, right.


BEKEME: So basically weak people need to do something about it. I’m going to read to you a message that was shared by one of our prolific users of our platform, Dr. Jubril Abdul Malik, who is a mental health doctor is a specialist at the university teaching hospital in Ibadan, and he wrote this you know, very deep piece about mental health challenges that people are going through. And he used the analogy of a person who leaves their workplace after working there for a long time. She’s a widow. And then her savings from her job she puts into starting up a fashion design firm. After a while, she goes a bit, and then she puts all of her savings into purchasing special equipment from abroad and she hires, you know, tailors to come work for her. And then this whole thing happens. And literally, they come and they remove everything from her shop, you know, like the example that you gave it happen to tonnes of people across the nation. And basically, he gave psychological theories as to why people do this thing. These kinds of things. He says the first of all, the first theory he talks about is the theory of vital events, which suggests that individuals with criminal inclinations and I’m reading, debating now find expression under the guise of any legitimate protest, to steal, and destroy. And the second theory, relies on denunciation of such bad behaviour to unleash a mad mob mentality, which is what at some point, he calls the theory of group or collective identity, which is why nobody is stopping each other from sharing all of this information that can trigger on resting in some other person, right. So it is that mob mentality that he’s talking about now. In my mind’s eye, I see that as heard mentality. Now this heard mentality, why do you think, people fall into that easily? And again, for me, the show is about solutions. How can we stop ourselves? Because I did find myself doing a lot of things I would typically not have done by myself, under the circumstances because everybody else was doing it. How do people stop and rein themselves in when they see that they’re behaving and the testicle to the way that you tend to behave?

ISAIAH: I think the first thing to think about is though we are a  society that will address the effect of the problem first upon those affected by the problem,and it’s even reflecting in our malls for example. The students who breaks in, who cheats and talk about the lecturer who allows the students to cheat both of them should be punished. We should first of all understand that it’s systemic failure that lead people into this. I also think that our society, government of the people opinion that oh your government can’t do everything, I also believe that but I think government needs to do more to make the society work for the people. That is the bottom line, and of we also look at some of the bottom line principle that government have signed to that most of the development goals that everybody knows about. The government principle is to leave no one behind, and when you are working in such a way that you are leaving Nobody behind, when there’s a institution you respond to certain issues. When I say institution I mean wether the institution createdd by government or the institution that the government is supporting. There’s a way all of this come together, to make sure that things are working. So, you look at a bottom line principle in how this is working, I can tell you confidently that the protest that happened in the past few week, and the violence that erupted, the hoodlums looting as a result of the protest be it SARS it started five years ago, ten years ago with different administration and it got to the point where they couldn’t take it anymore, people then decided to step out. But, the first thing i see which is said to quell solution is we need to remove our idea of people have been asking questions. I think social transformations decides leadership and social transformations brings us headache. To engage this transformation, it’s left to the government, so government should conducively try to engage any form of social transformation. Well also, like the mental health organization every society no matter how good, even in the developed countries of the world, the United States  and some of the most developed countries of the world, they still have alm facility in them but there is a way that government will check and make sure that everybody is accountable. And every society struggles with institutional breakout for example police protecting the thug. But we ought to ensure that when people started engaging, there must be some sort of respect in the way people will engage because everybody has got some level of resistance in them, and when they are disrespected they get upset. So the government needs to find a way to do this. And also somebody talked about an approach which I have always supported, where private sector and government sectors are working together to actually find solutions to systemic challenges of the country. We need to understand ASAP that the content of our schools curriculum for example cannot solve the problem of this generation.

BEKEME: I think I agree very strongly education is a critical area that we must we must deal with square head on.

ISAIAH: This are some of the critical things that we need to tackle and it would need a response of some of the government law and policy makers. How we can effect a change on some sort of disconnection with the people with either social media or the young people versus government this is not the idea of solving this kind of issue and also preventing this kind of challenge. And also ensuring that people at the legislature to speak up even in the most advanced society. And it really a kind of thing that always happens, we must have institution that have the capacity to respond appropriately to them. What we all need to do, is to make sure the society, government and private sectors have a conducive platform to strengthen this institutions to be able to respond effectively, before this kind of thing happens so that we can prevent it, and also provide good support system for people.

BEKEME: As you said that it struck me because I strongly believe that businesses civil society and government need to work together more often to deal with the challenges that we have as a nation which actually reminds me of our annual CT conference, which comes up on the 17th and 18th of November, you can register for it by going to CT.org sitei.org we’ll go on a short break. Stay tuned, I’ll be right back onto the citizen radio show.

BEKEME: Okay, so we are back on the good citizen radio  show and I’ve been talking to Isaiah Owolabi. He’s the project director and co founder at hasee Health Foundation, because we don’t have a lot of time anymore. I’ll just ask you a final question and answer that in one minute. And then we will wrap up the show. Isaiah. We’ve said a lot of things tonight. We’ve talked about education system. We’ve talked about the many challenges that people have faced from having their shops looted to another form of brutality when they are caught and locked up for crimes or they may not have committed. How do you think people can get through this time? Can you point us to any platforms that people can pick advantage of  to help them mental well being in these various specious times.

ISAIAH: Sure, like I mentioned earlier, the mental health association of Nigeria they have come up with certain number also on our platform on Instagram @hacey health, if you are a young person and you would like to speak to someone, we will definitely be happy to connect you.

BEKEME: Isaiah am  concerned young person?who is a young person? I’m a young girl? How do you measure young?

ISAIAH: Anyone below the age of thirty five.

BEKEME: Okay, so I’m not young. Okay, good.

ISAIAH: So young person below the age of thirty five if you reach out to us, we will be happy to connect you to people you can speak to. And the good this is that this is free, we are not charging you so when you get our numbers send a message on WhatsApp and we we call you back.

BEKEME: Thank you so much Isaiah. been great having you. Thank you for your contributions. So all you’ve been listening to me on the good citizen radio show just to remind you our annual conference is around the corner is on inclusive communities inspired within the first hundred CSO organisations to register and attend the conference will get their data refunded. Yes, you heard me correctly. The first 100 CSO participants, particularly from the extractive communities to register and attend. The conference will get the data refunded. So hurry now, go to www.sitei.org.¬† Currently running is out CAHR Awards. See a page is the community and human rights award. We did something about these things that everybody has been talking about. We need to recognise people who are impacting their communities, and voting has commenced after a long period of nominations. So you may vote the best individuals or companies for this second run of the Committee and human rights awards through bit.ly/CAHRAwards, voting and on Tuesday, the third of November 2020. Thank you for listening to the good citizen¬† radio show. My name is Bekeme, bye bye and have a fabulous fabulous Friday.

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