A man, Ifeanyi Ugokwe, who was arrested in February 2017 for attempting suicide, has narrated how hunger and joblessness forced him to jump into Lagos lagoon.
The 25-year old reached breaking point after a security guard pushed him to the ground while he was searching for work at a building site.
“I was tired of walking around that day. And I was determined to work there… so I tried to force my way in, then he pushed me, and I fell down flat on the floor,” Mr Ugokwe told CNN.
Humiliated, Ugokwe went to a nearby lagoon and jumped in.
After being rescued by passing fishermen, Ugokwe said he was handed over to police officers who arrested him and put him in jail.
Following his arrest, Ugokwe was held at a cell near the Lagos lagoon before being transferred one week later to another cell on the Lagos mainland.
Ugokwe said he was unaware that attempted suicide was a crime in Nigeria.
“When they put me in the cell, the first thing that came to my mind was what did I do? I didn’t kill anybody. I did not steal. What am I doing here? What did I do wrong? It’s my life, not (the) government’s life,” he said.
Shortly after his arrest in February, Ugokwe appeared before a magistrate to determine whether he had committed an offense. His case was postponed and he was transferred to another facility on Lagos Island.
Ugokwe said he contemplated suicide again while in jail because of the conditions he was held in.
In jail, Ugokwe said he and other inmates were forced to take pills.
“At first, when they brought the pills to me, I refused… there was nothing wrong with me, but then I was beaten and forced to take the pills,” he said.
It was there he met Imanuella Ojeah, a criminal lawyer and a member of the Elevation Church in Lagos, whose volunteer prison unit makes weekly trips to local prisons.
“I remember he seemed tired of life. He begged me to get him out of that place. He told me… I am not mad. I am just depressed and don’t have money to eat,” Ms Ojeah told CNN.
Ojeah and her team represented Ugokwe at his next court appearance at Sabo Magistrates Court, a few weeks later, in April 2017. They were asked if someone was willing to act as a guarantor for Ugokwe and look after his welfare if he were released.
Ojeah found someone from the Elevation Church who agreed to look after Ugokwe and the magistrate dismissed the case.
A spokesperson for the Lagos division of the Nigerian Prisons Service, Rotimi Oladokun, denied Ugokwe’s allegations.
“Allegations and incidents of force-feeding, beating and or forceful admission of medication on inmates are false and do not occur in any prison within the Lagos Command,” Mr Oladokun told CNN in an emailed statement.
Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Adeniji Kazeem told CNN that although attempted suicide is criminalised in the country, the state does not recommend that anyone should be locked up.
CNN made several requests for a comment from the Lagos State Police Commissioner but did not receive one.