THE IMPERATIVE OF PSYCHO-TRAUMA AWARENESS AND PSYCHO-TRAUMA HEALING, FOR PERSONAL, ORGANISATIONAL AND SOCIETAL WELLBEING
A presentation made at the 2022 National Scientific Conference of the Nigerian Association of Industrial and Organisational Psychologists
Rev. Fr. George EHUSANI, Executive Director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation
NIGERIAN HISTORY: A CALIGRAPHY OF TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCES
A major part of the 62 years of Nigeria’s independence, has been characterised by suffering, pain, distress, and outrightly traumatising experiences for individuals, families, and communities. It is estimated that over 80 percent of Nigerians have been exposed to one form of trauma stress or the other in the cause of their lives. No wonder we hear the expression these days, that “Nigeria has happened to him!” or “Nigeria has happened to her!” To pick up our history of trauma from post-independence times, is not to ignore the brutal and ignominious legacy of the trans-Atlantic and trans-Sahara slave trade, which lasted for over four hundred years, and was sustained by the greed, the wickedness, and the callousness of our local leaders, (the Chiefs, Obas, Obis, and the Sarkis), who conspired with the unscrupulous foreign merchants to prosecute the reprehensible trade in human cargo, until the Whiteman changed his method of exploitation from slave trade and slave labour in the Americas, to colonialism, and then compelled our autochthonous conquerors to toe the line.
Thus, the present generation of Nigerians are descendants of the perpetrators as well as the survivors of that most callous and notorious shade of man’s inhumanity against man, by which fellow human beings were raided, sold into slavery, and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to a land of no return, or they and generations of their descendants were condemned to a dehumanising life of servitude within the country. Following closely after the four hundred years of slave trade was another one hundred years of colonial exploitation, which has left behind devastating consequences on the individual and corporate psyche of Nigerians, as indeed is the experience with people of other colonised African countries. With the short time available for this presentation, I resolved to limit myself to post-independence Nigeria, and the series of traumatising events that have turned us into such a wounded and hurting group of people, that are constantly acting out our individual and intergenerational traumas in wounding and hurting our fellow sufferers.
From the Operation Wetie of Western Nigeria that started in 1962, to the 1966 Coup and the infamous pogrom against Igbos that followed in the North, which all culminated in the unfortunate civil war of 1967 to 1970, an event that unleashed unprecedented horror on individuals, families and communities, the same civil war that was the excuse for the Asaba Massacre of October 7, 1967, when callous or vengeful officers of the 2nd Division of the Nigerian Army ordered the execution in cold blood, of over 700 unarmed men and boys, who assembled in one location to welcome the Federal troops upon the liberation of the Midwest from the Biafran Army. Hundreds of others were rounded up from their homes, their farms or their hiding places and executed. It is reported that the massacre was so comprehensive, so total, that there were no men left to bury the dead. While many of the victims were buried in mass graves, some courageous women and girls dragged the corpses of their fathers and husbands, and uncles and brothers, from where they were executed to their homes, where they used hoes to dig shallow graves for the dead. There is the story of a particular boy who witnessed the soldiers asking a young man to dig his own grave, and thereafter callously pushing him into the grave with a torrent of bullets! There is hardly any family in Asaba that did not lose three or four male members – fathers, sons, brothers, and uncles. And indeed, there are families that were wiped out entirely, as three generations – grandfather, father and sons were killed during the massacre. I am not aware that the individual and communal trauma of the Asaba people were ever seriously addressed in any programmatic manner. The victims and survivors were expected to simply move on with life. Yet the trauma of the massacre must have left its devastating impact on not only the survivors, but also the generations that have come after them, who today may be occupying positions of power and authority as public officers and corporate executives, senior functionaries in the judiciary and law enforcement agencts, university administrators and lecturers, human resource managers, and organisational or industrial psychologists, as well as pastors, imams and local chiefs and heads of families. Without addressing the individual, communal and intergenerational trauma that these people may be carrying around, they are likely to visit their trauma on those around them, and especially those over whom they superintend by a myriad of maladaptive behaviours.
And with regard to the perpetrators, it is widely believed that it was the 9th Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division of the Nigerian Army under the control of Ibrahim Taiwo and Murtala Muhammed respectively that carried out the atrocities. With the 1975 coup that ousted General Gowan, Taiwo and Murtala become Governor of the old Kwara State, and Head of the Nigerian State respectively. And what can we say about the possible state of mental health or ill-health of many of those that made up the 2nd Division of the Nigerian Army at the time? There is a seemingly insignificant but important detail regarding the perpetrators of Asaba Massacre that should be of interest to Psychologists, and especially those undertaking research and documentation on the impact of traumatic experiences on the human brain and the subsequent (post-trauma) behaviour of sufferers, if such devastating experiences are not properly integrated through a series of intervention mechanisms.
The important detail is as follows: The 2nd Infantry Division of the Nigerian army was quickly formed in the lead-up to the civil war. It is alleged that many of the men that ended up as conscripts in this Division under the control of Murtala Muhammed and Ibrahim Taiwo, were so ill-trained and so undisciplined that they could hardly be called “soldiers.” It is alleged that a good number of them were recruited from among death row prison inmates, and from among motor park touts. They did not have the benefit of any thorough training in the conduct and ethics of warfare. Instead, they were largely wounded, disoriented, or traumatised men who were simply conscripted and empowered with deadly weapons – and propelled by the hysteria and madness of war, they committed unspeakable atrocities not only in Asaba, but also elsewhere in the then Midwest and across the Niger. It is also alleged that the same 2nd Division that carried out the Asaba massacre, soon met their waterloo as they lost almost five thousand men while crossing the river Niger, and several hundreds more at the deadly contest in Abagana. (Source: Interview with the Late Col. Paul Ogbebor, referenced in the Nigerian History Platform on October 7, 2022)
Those who fought the gruesome civil war as middle and senior level officers took over the reins of power, and superintended the political, economic, social, and cultural lives of Nigerians for much of the next thirty years! After the 30 months war, the trauma of these officers – these psychologically and emotionally wounded perpetrators and victims of the war, was never diagnosed, let alone treated. Instead, these war veterans (who would have been suffering various degrees and combinations of psychopathologies on account of war trauma), appropriated the legislative and executive powers of state at all levels, and also superintended the conduct of the judiciary – drafting decrees, establishing military tribunals, appointing and dismissing judges, etc. They ran the country from the barrel of the gun and militarised practically every institution and agency of state.
The modus operandi of the military, the command-and-control culture, became the dominant national culture across the national spectrum. They humiliated respected public figures, including world renowned university professors and those repositories of the accumulated knowledge of the civil service that used to be referred to as “super permanent secretaries.” They brutalised and imprisoned Human Rights and pro-democracy lawyers, journalists, and other social critics, despatching a number of them to their early graves, leaving behind a trail of blood and tears, and rendering many young women and children widows and orphans. Like a locust invasion, the military destroyed practically all the institutions and infrastructures of state that were built up over the decades by the colonialists and the political leaders of the first republic. They went further to forcefully take over missionary schools across the country and saw to the near-total destruction of almost all of them before they stepped aside in 1999.
WE ARE ALL VICTIMS OF THE NIGERIAN ONGOING TRAUMA STRESS
The series of negative or adverse experiences unleashed upon successive generations of Nigerians – which often overwhelm our capacity to cope (that is technically referred to as psycho-trauma), have left their toll on the individual and corporate psyche of multiple generations of Nigerians. We are all bearing and having to struggle with one or more forms of trauma stress that the Nigerian state is constantly unleashing on its citizens: The 3-year-old toddler, who is vicariously bearing the trauma of the parents that have just been ejected from their slum settlement in Abuja and rendered homeless; the 5 year old girl, kidnapped along with other children from an Islamiyya school in Niger State; the 10 year old street kid in Gusau, who has never been enrolled in school, and is already learning the art of banditry; the 15 year old girl forcefully abducted and married out (against her will) to a terrorist kingpin in Maiduguri; the 20 year old student in Kaduna who is yet to complete his 200 level studies, after four calendar years in the university; the 35 years old State House of Assembly member in Lokoja, Kogi State, whose life is in danger, for daring to identify with the opposition party; the 40 year old market woman in Yenagoa whose house and shop were completely swept away recently by the flood, but who has not received any help from any government agency; the 50 year old Senator in Abuja, who recently received intelligence reports that he is being trailed around town by “unknown gunmen;” the 55 year old State Governor whose mother-in-law was kidnapped by bandits, and is yet to be released; the 63 year old professor of mathematics, who receives less than USD600 a month salary, and who today has been denied eight months salary, for daring to join the ASUU strike to compel the federal government to implement the agreement it signed with the Union since the year 2009; the 66 year old former Deputy Senate President who has been languishing in a U.K. detention facility for most of the year, with Nigerian leaders simply moving on, as if he were a common criminal; and the 78 year old president of the federal republic, whose wife has come out to publicly confess that he is an untreated patient of PTSD.
Indeed, all of us are often unaware and undiagnosed victims of varying degrees of what has been described “Ongoing Traumatic Stress Disorder” (OPSD)! We are distressed, wounded, and hurting victims of our national ruination that has been superintended over the years by a succession of punitive overlord who themselves are victims of the endless cycle of physical, psychological, and emotional violence that the Nigerian population has been through. No wonder we witness such a high degree of the phenomenon known as re-victimisation or re-traumatisation. It is widely acknowledged in Trauma Literature, that “HEALED PEOPLE HEAL PEOPLE,” and that conversely, “HURTING PEOPLE OFTEN HURT PEOPLE.” The fact that wounded people often go on to wound others, has been sufficiently demonstrated by researchers. Yes, there is abundant evidence today of the long-term devastating effects of traumas that have not been treated or sufficiently integrated.
A NATION SUPERINTENDED AND VIOLATED BY TRAUMATISED LEADERS
My dear friends, as I was reflecting on what to share with this elite group of Organisational and Industrial Psychologists at this Conference, the news broke out of the public confession of Madam Aisha Buhari, the President’s wife, that her husband suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and that his chronic trauma condition was neither acknowledged, nor formally diagnosed and treated. But she said she had to bear the brunt of it all. She says, and I quote:
My husband served the Nigerian Army for 27 years before he was overthrown in a coup d’etat. He fought the civil war for 30 months without rehabilitation; he ruled Nigeria for 20 months and was detained for 40 months without disclosing the nature of his offence… You can imagine myself at the age of 19 years, handling somebody that went to war, suffered a coup d’etat, then lost several elections, and finally getting to the Villa in 2015… So, at the age of 19, I had to figure out how to tell somebody of his calibre that he was wrong or right, and that was the beginning of my offence in his house, and contesting elections in 2003 and failed, 2007, failed, and 2011, the same thing – all without rehabilitation. I became a psychotherapist!
Mrs. Buhari’s public confession on the reality of undiagnosed and untreated trauma among many in positions of authority in Nigeria, including the presidency, is a graphic illustration of a major part of my presentation today. Nigeria as a corporate entity, and Nigerians as a people have been groaning under the heavy burden of widespread undiagnosed and untreated intergenerational and personal psycho-trauma, whose devastating impact includes the many maladaptive behaviours and psychopathologies that we witness daily in our national landscape. What is more instructive is that perhaps some of the more traumatised persons among us (with a whole range of undiagnosed psycho-emotional pathologies) are the very ones who catapulted themselves into positions of political power and economic influence and have consistently unleashed their trauma on the hapless population, and seem determined to sink the ship of state entirely.
With the military takeover of power, suddenly, a 32-year-old Lt. Colonel whose only preparation and experience is the art of war, became Head of State or Governor. He appointed and sacked Chief Justices, Ministers, Commissioners, Vice Chancellors of Universities and Ambassadors. He had the power to sign the death warrant on condemned persons, and also had the discretion of the prerogative of mercy. Yet, many of these veterans of the civil war, are not only perpetrators, but also victims and survivors of the trauma of a bitter civil war, along with the multiple coup d’etat that became a pastime for ambitions and power-hungry soldiers. They often exhibited a range of maladaptive behaviours that in the context of their war trauma experience (and their experience of multiple coups), are perhaps quite understandable.
These include the widespread and well-known alcohol addiction among senior military officers, and their propensity for humiliating, bullying and brutalising junior officers, as well as those of us whom they often arrogantly and disdainfully referred to as “bloody civilians.” Elements of the Nigerian Police Force have sometimes openly boasted before innocent citizens that, “I will shoot you, and say that you are an armed robber, and nothing will happen.” Executive Lawlessness and widespread impunity came to characterise governance at all levels in Nigeria, leaving numerous individuals, families, and communities traumatised, and their trauma experiences have hardly been acknowledged, let alone treated. Yet the negative impact of these layers of trauma in the Nigerian population are manifested everywhere in maladaptive behaviours.
Though we have since 1999 been operating a democratic system, Nigerians have not witnessed a significant shift in the general conduct of political leaders, from the military approach to a more civil approach. Instead, we have continued to see office holders execute the business of governance as if it were state capture, and they relate with the people who elected them to office in the same way as ancient emperors or primitive feudal lords related with the conquered people whom they called subjects. The inexplicable level of corruption is another maladaptive behaviour among our leaders that is worth investigating as one possible knock-on effect of the successive intergenerational and personal trauma that Nigerians have been through. How else does one explain the monumental Abacha loot, the Cecilia Ibru loot, the Deziani Allison Madueke loot, the Abdulrasheed Maina Police Pension loot, and the Accountant General Ahmed Idris loot, and that of numerous other public officials, who allegedly have stolen funds that they and their family members cannot spend in a thousand years? How does one explain the widespread stealing in the most irrational and humongous manner, if these are not glaring manifestations of some undiagnosed and untreated psychopathology? A critical observer recently crafted a post regarding what he sees as the madness that has plagued the Nigerian public official on a WhatsApp group to which I belong. Part of the post reads:
…the Nigerian public official, although filled and belching with excess, would still hide stolen meat within the corners of his mouth at a dinner, stuff fried rice into his socks, and try to shuffle moinmoin into his shoes. Madness you say. But who else would steal 80 billion Naira except a mad fellow? …God, open the eyes of our elites to see and know that they don’t need what they steal. For only a mad fellow gathers stones and pans that are needless.
How does one explain the fact that those who belong to the Nigerian political and economic elite, the majority of who came out of very poor families and villages, having themselves enjoyed high quality public education (often with Federal or State Government scholarships and bursaries), have decided to destroy all our public educational institutions, and send their own children to expensive private schools at home and abroad? The same crop of Nigerian elites has superintended the ruination of our public health infrastructures, while they themselves frequent the UK, the US and Dubai for their healthcare needs; how else does one explain such behaviour pattern, except that we may be dealing here with disoriented minds that require psychiatric attention? How does one explain that there may be over a thousand private jets in a country that cannot own or maintain a national carrier; or that the 6th largest producer of crude oil in the world cannot have its own refinery, and as a result we witness incessant chronic fuel shortage, with the attendant punitive consequences on motorists who must spend extremely long hours queuing for fuel?
How does one explain the fact that university teachers could be so shabbily treated in a developing country with critical manpower needs, and that leaders can go to bed and sleep well through the night, when public universities across the country are closed for eight months, and nearly two million of our most endowed young people are roaming the streets, and enlisting in criminal ventures? And how does one explain the abysmally poor quality of persons that our country continues to throw up for leadership positions at all levels, when we are a nation endowed with some of the best intellectuals, technocrats, and administrators, that can successfully govern such technologically advanced countries as the UK, the US and Canada?
Perhaps it is on account of these baffling contradictions and absurdities in the conduct of leadership and the widespread mismanagement of critical national affairs by a succession of those who have occupied high political office in Nigeria that Dr. Uche Ojinmah, President of the Nigerian Medical Association recently called for a mandatory psychiatric evaluation of all who present themselves for the office of President and State Governor in the 2023 elections. Earlier in the year, Brig General Buba Marwa, Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, called on political parties to include drug integrity tests, as part of the screening processes for candidates.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN UNADDRESSED TRAUMA AND OUR NATIONAL MISFORTUNE
I have in recent times heard many Nigerians ask the question, “Who has done this to us?” meaning to say, “who has bewitched us, becharmed us, or held us spellbound?” Perhaps instead of asking, “who has done this to us,” the more appropriate question should be, “What has happened to us?” And my answer is that “We have undergone a series of multiple personal, communal, and intergenerational traumas, which have taken a heavy toll on our individual and corporate psyche. Part of the impact or devastating consequences of the series and layers of psycho-traumas we have suffered over a period of many generations, are the maladaptive behaviours we have seen with our successive leaders at all levels, and among the generality of Nigerians in nearly all sectors of the society. Ours is a society in which the experience of brokenness is all pervasive. As is reflected in the well celebrated poem of W. B. Yeats (and used by Chinua Achebe as the title for his first novel), “Things Fall Apart, the centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
In many societies, trauma happens because of just one painful event, such as a fire disaster in which one experiences severe burns, or the sudden loss of a loved one in a car crash. In Nigeria however, we are often victims, survivors, and witnesses of multiple series of devastating events, occurring in quick succession, each one of which can overwhelm our capacity to cope. So, we are often dealing with multiple layers of personal and vicarious trauma, on top of the multi-generational trauma of which we were already victims from birth. The experts refer to this painful situation as “complex trauma” which in Nigeria is manifesting in a whole range of maladaptive behaviours, including the following:
- ANGER: Many Nigerians today have very low threshold for the discharge of anger. We witness this everywhere, including in state and national legislative houses.
- AGGRESSIVITY, of which Police Brutality and Extra-Judicial Killings, Domestic Violence, including the Physical Abuse of Nannies and Children, Sexual Violence, Verbal Abuse, as well as the widespread politics of acrimony, are classic illustrations… We also witness ample manifestations of PASSIVE AGGRESSION, shown in silent withdrawal from others or disconnection with the issues of society – a disposition known locally as “sidon look.”
- NUMBNESS and INSENSITIVITYto the pain of others, witnessed in what appears to be the flight of compassion, wickedness, and callousness in dealing with, or responding to the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable (including teachers that have been thoroughly disempowered, retirees, as well as the phenomenon of bullying in our schools and colleges. Persons with personal or family history of trauma (that is undiagnosed and untreated), who become Presidents, Governors, Local Government Chairpersons, Police Officers, Judges, Senior Civil Servants, Doctors, Teachers, School Administrators, Corporate Executives, Line Managers, and Human Resource Managers, etc., could exhibit a pattern of behaviour that amounts to visiting their unresolved trauma on those over whom they exercise some power or authority.
- WIDESPREAD ALCOHOL ADDICTION AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE:Personal and intergeneration trauma stress are implicated in the alcohol addiction and the abuse of psychotropic substances that are assuming epidemic proportion in today’s Nigeria. Dr. Gabor Mate, renowned Canadian addiction expert, has sufficiently demonstrated with cutting edge scientific research, that “all addictions originate in trauma and emotional loss.” He observes that the core objective of the addictive process is the self-soothing of deep-seated fears and discomforts, and he concludes that “all addiction is in fact human development gone askew!”
- LOW SELF WORTH and a measure of INFERIORITY COMPLEX, by which many Nigerians believe that anything foreign is better than their own – including skin pigmentation, texture of hair, and the latest fads and fashions from Europe and America. Low self-worth may also be implicated in the intense pressure which many Nigerians feel they are under, to be like the Joneses, to buy the reigning cars, and send their own children to the expensive schools that their neighbours patronise, to celebrate expensive wedding and funeral ceremonies, even when they lack the resources, etc. This pattern of behaviour on its own can be a major driver of the systemic corruption we witness in Nigeria.
- SCARCITY COMPLEX:Intergenerational trauma stress resulting from extreme material deprivation and social insecurity in a particular family or community, can eventuate in “scarcity complex” or “scarcity mentality” in the descendants of the originally traumatised persons. Such complex is often responsible for the propensity of sufferers to hoard large quantities of money, fuel, food, cars, houses, etc. The number of landed properties that rich persons have acquired legitimately or by corrupt means, for their children and grandchildren (who are schooling or working abroad, and who may never return to Nigeria), is simply mindboggling!
- LOW LEVEL OF PRODUCTIVITY: Personal and intergenerational trauma often compromise the energy and vitality, as well as the zeal and enthusiasm of sufferers. Since mild and chronic depression are among the comorbidities that traumatised persons can present, it is not surprising that many able-bodied persons are often operating below optimum level in various departments of life. We often witness abysmally low level of productivity especially in government offices, where there is little supervision, and where persons are often not held accountable for their actions. There are stories of government staff who often arrive at the office by 11.00 a.m. and close by 2.00 p.m., and hardly do any work, even when a large stock of documents is piling up on their tables, calling for attention. Such lack of zeal and commitment to work may be implicated in the gross inefficiency generally observed with the Nigerian government bureaucracy.
- WIDESPREAD CRIMINALITY, BANDITRY AND GANGSTERISM:It is to be recalled that Nigeria armed robbery was hardly ever known in pre-civil war Nigeria. Such violent crimes emerged and quickly spread across the country in the aftermath of the war. It is alleged that among the daring daredevil pioneers of this dastardly crime that emerged in the early 1970s were recently discharged soldiers who had been exposed to the horrors and traumas of war. Criminality has only intensified in the intervening fifty years. Some of the research carried out so far on the root causes of the phenomenon of killer bandits that are today killing, maiming, raping, and abducting thousands of innocent people, including school children, point to years of criminal abuse and neglect of a bourgeoning population of young people in the states of Northern Nigeria. Across the country, young people are mobilised as thugs to prosecute electoral violence, and after the elections, they are often abandoned by the political leaders to a squalid and miserable existence.
A child who suffered physical, emotional or sexual abuse, may not have learnt appropriate ways to respond to stress, and as an adult, he may not know other ways of responding, and therefore often enacts physical abuse on others, including their spouses and children at home, as well as their subordinates, colleagues and clients at work. And when in some cases there is no significant change in the conditions that led to their initial trauma (such as extreme material deprivation, then they would be further traumatised. The consequence of intense, repeated and/or ongoing trauma, is a heightened stress response to future stressors or traumas.
Many of our young people were born into poverty and are growing up in circumstances of acute material deprivation. Many are uneducated and unskilled, and therefore they are unemployed, and unemployable. Many of them have learnt to live by extortion or by making themselves available to desperate politicians as killer thugs or members of their private militia. Those among them who keep struggling to make an honest living through hard labour, are often daily re-traumatised by a callous and punitive socio-economic system that will not let them break out of the cesspit of poverty. Turning to petty crime, to armed robbery, to banditry, and even to the yahoo-yahoo and yahoo+ enterprise now witnessed among university students, may not be altogether maladaptive behaviours, considering their awkward circumstance of complex intergenerational and ongoing traumatic stress.
- WIDESPREAD MARITAL DYSFUNCTION AND THE HIGH RATE OF DIVORCE: Untreated and unintegrated intergenerational and personal psycho-trauma may be implicated in the high rate of marital dysfunction divorce in our society today, as it is well known that traumatised persons often have their capacity for wholesome intimate relationships grossly dysregulated.
- THE PHENOMENON OF SUICIDE IDEATION AND UPSURGE IN SUICIDES RATES:
Suicide ideation is one of the possible co-morbidities associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. When persons experience trauma, it can change the way they interact, and those around them. Trauma very commonly causes an individual to distance themselves from others and to disconnect emotionally, socially, and spiritually, and eventually also to disconnect existentially, that is, even from themselves. Suicide ideation and actual suicides are not farfetched under those circumstances.
- THE PREPONDERANCE OF NON-COMMUNICABLE DISEASES:A very high percentage of Nigerians above 50 years of age are permanently on medication, treating one life-threatening illness or the other. This is not surprising, considering the degree of trauma prevalence in society. It has been well established by researchers on the dialectical relationship between the psychological and physiological dimensions of the human reality, that excessive and prolonged stress triggers the release of such stress hormones as cortisol in dangerously high doses, exerting undue pressure on our entire endocrine system. Critical organs of the body soon begin to malfunction. And among the disease conditions that are direct complications of this multiple organ malfunction are High Blood Pressure, Heart Disease, Auto Immune Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, and Cancerous cells propping up in different organs of the body.
- THE NORMALISATION AND GLAMORISATION OF ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOURS:
Those whose thinking processes have been badly distorted and dysregulated by a series of traumatic experiences; those who have been raised in dysfunctional families; those who have been abused for the umpteenth time by a criminally punitive and unjust social system; many of these people have today found temporary escape in the often-vile entertainment offered by the popular musicians and comedians whom we call “celebrities.” They have capitalised on the psychological and emotional distress of the traumatised (youth) population to normalise and glamorise all manner of socially deviant behaviours and thus laying the grounds for a future generation of Nigerians whose mental faculties may be even more dangerously compromised. Imagine what some of the children being born to the socially deviant Baby Mamas and Baby Daddies today could grow to become!
The foregoing analysis is my attempt at demonstrating that in Nigeria trauma is not just on our plate. No. In Nigeria, trauma is the plate itself. The layers and layers of undiagnosed and untreated intergenerational, multigenerational, communal as well as individual traumatic experiences, have effectuated untold neuro-psychological injuries and impairments on not only the individual psyche of Nigerians, but also the corporate psyche of Nigeria as such. The numerous adverse experiences that we have borne through the cause of our national history, several of which are still ongoing as we speak, have taken their toll on shaping our brains, and influencing how we respond to subsequent stressors and traumas, how we function in our workplaces, and how we conduct our professional, social, and domestic relationships.
It is thus my humble submission that unaddressed intergenerational and personal trauma may be implicated in the often excessively indulgent, corrupt, reckless, punitive, impervious, and insensitive conduct of many among the successive generation of leaders and office holders at all levels in this country, including presidents and governors, educational administrators and corporate managers, judicial officers, and functionaries of security agents. We may continue to fumble, bungle, and wobble along with our political, economic, social and even religious affairs, and keep on descending on the path of national ruination, until we wake up to the recognition that there may be fundamental neurological impairments that are plaguing our countrymen and women, (on account of inherited and personal trauma), which must be addressed as a major public health concern, in a programmatic manner, and on an ongoing basis.
THE CHALLENGE BEFORE PROFESSIONALS IN THE PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCES
I consider it an existential imperative for Organisational and Industrial Psychologists, and for professionals in the Psychological Sciences as a whole, to pay greater attention to the prevalence of chronic intergenerational and personal trauma stress, and the complications and co-morbidities that are a consequence of this reality on the one hand, and to mount a major advocacy campaign for adequate investment in human and material resources towards putting up the necessary structures, and training the much needed personnel, that will make Nigerian individuals, families, and communities, as well as corporate organisations and agencies of government, more trauma aware, more trauma sensitive, more trauma informed. A national campaign that is aimed at making our public and private institutions more trauma informed, must start from sensitising professionals in the psychological sciences themselves, since they are the ones that can more easily sell the idea to the rest of society.
Organisational and Industrial Psychologists must begin to approach their work with a keen awareness of and sensitivity to the trauma that practically everyone in the public and private workplace may be silently and often unknowingly struggling with. My charge is for professionals in the psychological sciences and the Nigerian Psychological Association itself to consider it a critical element of their calling, to help raise the awareness of a cross section of the Nigerian elite regarding the reality of not only the layers and layers of trauma that individual Nigerians have suffered over the years, but also the widespread inter and multigenerational traumas that have characterised the lives of families and communities across the country – yes, families and communities that have been violated or subjected to a range of social injustices, which have never been publicly acknowledged, let alone addressed.
The post-apartheid South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the post-genocide Rwandan Gacaca (public or community) justice system, were efforts of the leaders of those countries to heal the wounds of their past. But the Nigerian leadership elite (in their presently skewed and warped perception) believe that we can close our eyes to the horrors, atrocities, and traumas of our past, pretend that nothing happened, and simply move on. Unfortunately, trauma does not just away. If it is not addressed, is not only stored in the individual and corporate psyche of sufferers, but also genetically passed on to succeeding generations, who may have no active memory of the traumatic experience of the original sufferers. On the psychological level it is acted out in a range of maladaptive behaviours, including those listed above. No wonder that with regard to our much-desired national development, it has been all motion, but no movement, and some would even argue that we have been regressing at an alarming rate.
After creating public awareness and inspiring some measure of sensitivity to the reality of intergenerational, communal, and personal trauma in the Nigerian society, the next challenge before the professionals in the psychological sciences will be that of spearheading the transformation of our families, communities, organisations and institutions, including religious organisations, corporate organisations, schools and college, government offices, legislative houses, police stations and courtrooms as well as hospitals and correctional centres, etc, into trauma informed organisations and institutions. The process will involve a workplace culture that takes into critical account available knowledge about trauma, about trauma prevalence, about the possible impact of trauma, and how people recover from trauma. Public Officers and Legislators, Corporate and Human Resource Managers, Judicial and Police officers and School Administrators, Teachers and Counsellors, Pastors and Imams, and young people preparing for marriage, etc., should be made to undergo some basic training in psycho-trauma awareness. For a saner society to emerge, perhaps every adult in the workplace and at home, should be introduced to the now well-known SAMHSA’s Six Principles of Trauma Informed Care which are also an imperative for Trauma Informed Leadership, and Trauma Informed Human Resource management. (Cf. the American Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration @ samhsa.gov).
Let me end this presentation by saying that my organisation, the Psycho-Spiritual Institute of Lux Terra Leadership Foundation, has over the last six years been actively engaged in this critical area. In collaboration with the Department of Psychology, Nasarawa State University, Keffi, we regularly run short but intensive training courses in psycho-trauma awareness and in basic skills, tools and resources for psycho-trauma healing. The course (which involves one week in-class sessions, followed by a six-week period of supervised counselling practice), is designed for professionals and volunteers, including psychologists and social workers, doctors and nurses, emergency relief workers and functionaries of security agencies, imams and pastors, schoolteachers and counsellors, as well as sundry volunteers, who in the course of their daily work do encounter trauma survivors and victims. After six years of our modest efforts in this area, we recognise that we are only scratching the surface, and that more elaborate training interventions are required to equip tens of thousands of professionals and volunteers to help facilitate the healing of the many wounded persons in our society. I thank you for your attention.
The six principles of a Trauma Informed Care, (which I say are also an imperative for trauma informed leadership and trauma informed human resource management are:
- Safety – create and foster an environment in which everyone feels safe physically, psychologically.
- Trustworthiness– Foster positive, trusting, and transparent relationships among colleagues at work, as well as clients and customers.
- Peer Support – Engage persons to work together on issues of common concern. Experiencing support from and having the opportunity to provide support for others is a major source of empowerment and healing.
- Collaboration and Mutuality – Promote the involvement of all in the workplace or community, as well as partnership among agencies pursuing similar objectives.
- Empowerment – Ensure there are ample opportunities for the growth of everyone. Provide for voice and choice!
- Diversity (History, Culture and Gender) – Value and support diversity, including history, culture, and gender.
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Judith Herman, MD, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, Basic Books, 1997.
International Alert & UNISEF, BAD BLOOD: Perception of Children Born of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence and Women and Girls Associated with Boko Haram in Northeast Nigeria, Research Publication, February, 1016.
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C N Nwoga, M D Audu, A Obembe, “Prevalence and correlates of posttraumatic stress
disorder among medical students in the University of Jos, Nigeria,” in http://www.njcponline.com on Tuesday, August 23, 2016.
Jitender Sareen, “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Adults: Epidemiology, Pathophysiology, Clinical Manifestations, Course Assessment, and Diagnosis,” in www.UPDATE.com, Sept 15, 2022.
Scott Giacomucci, Trauma Informed Principles and Practice: Defining and Explaining Trauma Informed Principles, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANRlWfuWOGQ
Scott Giacomucci, Addiction & Trauma: A Cyclical Relationship, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0YQ1uWDiJs
Gill Hasson and Donna Butler, Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace: A Practical Guide for Employers and Employees, Captsone, United Kingdom, 2020.
Gabor Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, Central Recovery Press, Vancouver, Canada, 2010)
Elizabeth Ngozi Okpalaenwe, Trauma Healing: Handbook for Africa, CUEA Press, Nairobi, Kenya, 2017.
Carolyn Yoder, The Little Book of Trauma Healing: When Violence Strikes and Community Security is Threatened, Good Books, Intercourse, PA, USA, 2005.
THISDAY Newspaper Editorial, “The President and Mental Health,” Monday November 21, 2022.