The counterintuitive nature of the criminalization of suicide and its incidental paradox has been a subject of interest to scholars, legislators, and governments alike. Often, the reasons advanced for the criminalization of suicide attempts by governments of the day, including but not limited to governments in middle-income and low-income areas, are punitive rather than reconciliatory and reformative. According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary,[1] suicide is described as the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally. The World Health Organisation[2] records that more than 700 000 people die due to suicide every year. In fact, as of 2019, it was one of the leading causes of death among 15-19 year-olds. . Another report by the United for Global Mental Health[3] revealed that suicide attempts are currently criminalized in 20 countries—with about 8 being African and others with a possible history of colonization—and made punishable under the Sharia law in some. In Nigeria, the two governing Codes—the Criminal Code[4] and the Penal Code—[5]that regulate conduct for citizens contain provisions that outrightly decry suicidal attempts as anathema. Section 327 of the Criminal Code which governs the Southern area of Nigeria provides that, “Any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanor, and is liable to imprisonment for one year.” By section 326 of the same law, abetment of suicide is considered illegal. Similarly, section 231 of the Penal Code applicable to parts of Northern Nigeria fixes a punishment of incarceration and fine for attempted suicide. This position by the law has often been debated to be a relic of colonial history and a rigid ritual that is nonconformist to the agenda of the law evolving with the society. This is particularly accentuated by the Suicide Act[6] that changed the laws of England about suicidal attempts by abrogating the erstwhile laws that criminalized suicide; although notably, section 2 of the Act still criminalizes third-party assistance. Yet, Nigeria has been unable to entertain revisions in the law that may decriminalize attempts of persons to commit suicide. Attempts to commit suicide should be radically decriminalized, in light of certain considerable factors that influence the reasons why attempts to commit suicide to happen in the first place. First and foremost, there are a host of underlying factors that may be responsible for the attempt by a person to commit suicide. This may be for biological, psychological, medical, socio-economic factors, situational factors etc. Since the world is one of cause and effect, rather than clamp down on the effect, the roots of the matter must be addressed. Advancements in medical psychotherapy and psychology paved way for “Insanity” rules—M’Naughten rules, substantial capacity test among others—that revealed that some men could commit crimes because there was an irresistible impulse that may have caused the offender to engage in such action. The WHO has recognized suicide as a mental health issue as it is not only an act of knowingly terminating one’s life but there may be also an ensuing correlation between suicide and mental disorder. This makes suicidal behavior a complex problem that cannot completely be tackled through criminalization and penalization. If we do not decriminalize suicide, how can the medical or health practitioners solve the crisis without interfering with the powers of the court to sentence the “offenders”?

In addition, punishment as a juristic concept has many aims to it. Punishment is not always about incapacitating an offender or about punishing the offender to serve as a deterrent to others. In sentencing, some factors are considered which include rehabilitation and reformation of an individual. . The effort by the Lagos State Government that mandates hospitalization treatment orders in place of imprisonment or fine, as demonstrated in the Lagos Criminal Law[7] is a laudable one. Furthermore, there has been no qualitative or quantitative data to show that criminalizing suicide has reduced suicide rates. Rather, the stigma and discrimination passively touted by the Nigerian laws on assisted suicide have retarded our chances of offering evidence-based, well-tailored, and vanguard mental health support systems to vulnerable groups and persons. Due to societal prejudices, people are prevented from speaking up as they wallow in abject depression, embrace suicidal ideations and ultimately carry them out.

It is noteworthy that in a CNN report[8] in December 2018 about Ifeanyi Igokwe who was incarcerated after being rescued by fishermen from his suicide attempt to drown in a lagoon, the offender gravely noted that his suicidal thoughts increased, particularly in the face of the distasteful nature of the correctional centers and the brash attitudes of those in charge. This consolidates the fact that this criminalization and the consequential punishments have not solved the basic problem of the suicide ideations but may soon escalate it… Delegating suicide attempts as a discourse to medical and health personnel is the best way to curb the scourge and encourage efficient reporting.

If the society must be brought up to speed with evolved and evolving laws, the instrument of the law has to be employed to accommodate changes. The provision of the Lagos Criminal Law regarding hospitalizations orders can be replicated on a national level by passing a reviewed and revised law that amends the archaic Criminal Code which has managed to function despite its outdated nature. Also, the cue may be taken from India’s Mental Health Act 2017 which decriminalized suicide attempts and allowed for cutting-edge mental support structures and solutions to address the basic mental variable that may be present in the attempt to commit suicide. With this, de-escalation is possible and there are better chances of victory in preventing suicide. Attention must be paid to preventing suicide rather than punishing in deterrence. By early prevention techniques, remedial efforts will be our second and not primary source of correction. Indeed, the decriminalization and depenalization of suicide attempts are needed to address the global health pandemic of suicide attempts and solve the attendant issues in Nigeria.

Author’s Name: Prophet Paul Adebajo (Olabisi Onabanjo University)

[1] accessed 1 June 2022

[2] World Health Organization, ‘Suicide’ (, 17 June 2021) < > accessed  1 June 2022.

[3] United for Global Mental Health, ‘Decriminalising Suicide: Saving Lives, Reducing Stigma’ (2021 Edition)

[4] Criminal Code Act, Cap C38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

[5] Penal Code, Cap P3, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

[6] Suicide Act, 1961

[7] Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015.

[8] Stephanie Busari, ‘Locked Up for trying to Take His Own Life, in a Country Where it’s a Crime to Attempt Suicide’ (, December 30 2018) < > accessed  1 June 2022.

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