News By/Courtesy: Ritwik Guha Mustafi | 10 Apr 2020 10:18am IST


  • The mentally sick people are often chained and abused in Nigeria
  • The mentally unstable people are often deprived of food for multiple days
  • The Human Rights Watch has urged to stop this due to gross violation of Human Rights

'The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.' Human rights are moral principles that describe certain standards of human behaviour and are regularly protected as natural and legal rights in municipal and international law [1]. They are commonly understood as inalienable, fundamental rights "to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being" and which are "inherent in all human beings", regardless of their age, ethnic origin, location, language, religion, ethnicity, or any other status [2]. 

Home to some 200 million people, Nigeria is the seventh most populous country in the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four Nigerians - some 50 million people - are suffering from some sort of mental illness. Thousands of mental health patients in Nigeria are kept in chains and subjected to “unimaginable hardship” as relatives turn to a murky world of faith healers and poorly-regulated rehabilitation centres [3]. Detention, chaining, and violent treatment are pervasive in many settings, including state hospitals, rehabilitation centers, traditional healing centers, and both Christian and Islamic faith-based facilities. President M. Buhari said in October 2019 of the Islamic rehabilitation centres that he would not “tolerate the existence of the torture chambers and physical abuses of inmates in the name of rehabilitation.” But the government has yet to acknowledge that this abuse is rife in government-run facilities too [4]. 

An international rights group (Human Rights Watch) has called the Nigerian government to ban chaining as it condemned the "terrible" abuse faced by thousands of people with mental health conditions across the country. HRW criticised the government for failing to acknowledge that this abuse was rife in government-run facilities too.The rights group said it visited 28 facilities providing mental healthcare in eight Nigerian states and the federal capital territory between August 2018 and September 2019.It found that people with actual or perceived mental health conditions, including children, were placed in facilities without their consent, usually by relatives.HRW said in some cases, police arrest people with actual or perceived mental health conditions and send them to state-run rehabilitation centres [5]. 

According to HRW, adults and children in some Islamic rehabilitation centres reported being whipped, causing deep wounds. People in Christian healing centres and churches described being denied food for up to three days at a time. In many of the traditional and religious rehabilitation centres visited by HRW, staff forced people with mental health conditions, including children, to eat or drink herbs, in some cases with staff pinning people down to make them swallow. The report said in psychiatric hospitals and state-run rehabilitation centers, staff forcibly administered medication, while some staff admitted to administering electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to patients without their consent. The rights group called on the Nigerian government to "urgently investigate" the facilities and "prioritise the development of quality, accessible, and affordable community-based mental health services" [6].

The Nigerian Government could perform the following steps [7]:-

  • Urgently investigate all state and private institutions where people with mental health conditions live in all 36 states and Federal Capital Territory with the goal of stopping chaining and ending abuses
  • Ensure that people rescued have access to psychosocial support and social services, including child psychologists and specialist support services for children
  • Train and sensitize government health workers, mental health professionals, and staff in faith-based and traditional healing centers to the rights and needs of people with mental health conditions
  • Conduct a public information campaign to raise awareness about mental health conditions and the rights of people with disabilities


'The ideal of free human beings enjoying civil and political freedom and freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his social, economic and cultural rights'.

— International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, 1966.
1.) James Nickel et al. , Human Rights, STANFORD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY (April 10, 2020, 11:28 A.M.),
2.) Ibid.
3.) Caterina Stewart, Chained, flogged and starved: Report reveals ‘unimaginable’ treatment of Nigeria’s mentally ill, THE TELEGRAPH (April 10, 2020, 11:31 A.M.),
4.) Human Rights Watch, Nigeria: People With Mental Health Conditions Chained, Abused, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH (April 10, 2020, 11:34 A.M.),
5.) Aljazeera, Nigeria urged to ban chaining people with mental health issues, NEWS 24 (April 10, 2020, 11:36 A.M.),
6.) Ibid.
7.) Human Rights Watch, supra note 4.

Section Editor: Pushpit Singh | 10 Apr 2020 12:24pm IST

Tags : Mentally, sick, chained, abused, Nigeria, deprived, Human, rights

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