Can physical abuse trigger mental health disorder?

The case of Tolani Ajayi who murdered his father at their Redemption Camp home in Lagos last week got me thinking. The young man’s life prior to the unfortunate incidence was a dream for many Nigerian youths. He attendend a Nigerian private university, father being a lawyer and active member of their church, little was known about her mother, but Tolani portrays his mother in positive lights, in the media at least. Tolani also talked about speaking to his sister and apologising to her for what he did to their father – a sign that they were somehow close-knit family.

What was not reported widely was the mysteries behind his apparent outburst of anger towards his father.

News had it that Tolani took drugs, he agreed to this but said his drugs had nothing to do with him murdering his father as he was not under the influence at the time he committed the murder. The young man insisted that the reason he killed his father was because the late Ajayi senior physically abused him to the point that he had to retaliate to stop his old man, and of course his anger got the best of him and overreacted which led to him butchering his father. He said “My father went to the kitchen and got a stick (wooden spoon) which he used on me repeatedly and I tried to defend myself. Then, he bit me on the shoulder and I got angry.”

To average Nigerian, corporal punishment is not enough to trigger such outrage as Tolani, but I beg to differ. The fact that most children are physically abused by adults in position of power does not mean that children were happy with being flogged, and in most cases in Nigeria, the severity of the punishment do not match the ‘crime’ committed. For example, I have seen a mother who commanded her 1o year old daughter to carry a flat corrugated sheet in the palm of her hands while on her knees, on top of the sheet were big, fist sized flamed coals, the poor girl’s crime was that she had wasted too much time before responding to her mother’s request to fetch drinking water for the family. The mother had lost her husband few months prior to auto accident, she was depressed to say the least but is it right to transfer all this burden to the poor girl?

A friend recently narrated an incidence about his neighbour whom I knew. Timothy, the father has 2 sons. The oldest of the sons was 17 years old and struggled with Mathematics at school, he was doing really well with other subjects. One day he asks his little brother who is two year his junior to explain certain math problems, the younger brother was pleased and helped his older brother, they were both having fun doing this until the father came in and wanted to know what they were doing. The older brother explained to their dad but to his horror, Timothy flipped and started hitting the older boy with all his might and later got out to get a stick, the poor boy was crying so much that neighbours had to intervene as the mother called on them so someone could reason with the father. Timothy later calmed down while his 17 years old son laid on the floor with stick marks all over his body.

The poor boy’s crime was that he asked his little brother for help with some maths problem. Timothy reasoning was that the older brother ‘should know.’ Timothy as it turned out had been suffering from emotional wreck for sometime now, business had not been what it used to be and his health had been a big challenge for him, he was stressed out in all fronts. These are adults problem that adults should find ways of dealing with, but in Nigeria, it is easier to transfer all angers to children in our care.

Tolani will have to face the consequences of his actions, I do hope that his mentioning of his father’s physical abuse is not discarded as immaterial points as there are so many Nigerians today in the same shoes as Tolani. Some are able to deal with it as they grow older but for many it is a real problem and society really do need to understand that corporal punishment goes beyond physical abuse alone, the mental torment afterwards is greater. Here is a piece I wrote on corporal punishment in Nigeria not long ago and this one too.