On Sunday, November 19, 2023, Nigeria celebrated the International Men’s Day. It is a day specially scheduled to reflect and animate thoughts about the existential condition of the male gender. In a world where the girl child, and the mothers and women are constantly supported to mitigate the imbalances against the female gender in the society, a recognition of the male gender through the international Men’s Day becomes a desirable necessity. In this interview with Martin Ogumah and Nathaniel Udoh, Mrs. Oyinade Samuel-Eluwole, Founder/CEO of Elizabethan Humanitarian Life (H&H) Foundation talks about her work for the male gender and her advocacy for the establishment of a ministry for Men Affairs.
Madam, earlier this year, you launched the Elizabethan Humanitarian Life (H&H) Foundation. Could you tell us how far you have gone?
Like every other venture, you don’t expect a new initiative to flow or flourish without initial teething problems and challenges. But, despite all these, we are still trudging on. We embarked on a self sponsored opinion survey of males in our society and came to the understanding of what the male gender in our society go through – from cradle to adulthood.We realised that the challenges are enormous. We also realised that to accomplish our goal we will need to partner and to collaborate with other bodies and organisations who are in similar advocacy terrain such as we do.
They may not necessarily focus on the male gender as we do, but they are obviously fighting for the wellbeing of people in our society. Following this, we have joined the Nigerian Network of NGOs, NNNGO, to enable us enjoy the synergy that comes with a network of advocates for a better society. We have visited some strategic locations to identify causes of frustrations in males, and we were able to have an idea of the number of males on the streets compared to females. The experience gained from our visit is invaluable. It gave a pointer to different causes of male frustration and why we have lots of males on the streets.
You talked about your experiences at the Surulere Community Outreach. How did that experience make you feel?
Part of our experiences we gained at the outreach is the data we generated from our survey of the differentials between the male gender and female gender in terms of the level of social needs of the male gender compared to the female gender. We were also able to underscore the fundamental challenges the males face from the point of grassroots knowledge beyond some esoteric assertions of the issues that are not based on facts.
Can you share those facts with our readers?
Surely yes! But not at this moment. We are still collating the figures and as soon as we finish with the data collation and analysis we will share with the public. But, in the interim, we are aware based on our on the ground assessment that we are losing lots of our youths, especially the males, to drugs. We also noticed that the lack of financial capabilities of parents has made them to let go of their children to the streets. By our estimation, based on our interaction with the youths on the streets where we visited, eight out of ten of the youths are willing to leave the streets, go back to school, and ready to learn trades, handwork’s, or technical jobs. A high percentage of them opened up to us that they were ready to move out of the streets, if the opportunity comes. A lot of them clamour for free education because many are out of school, mostly because of school fees – even as low as five thousand naira only.
One area that concerns your organisation is the International Men’s Day (IMD) scheduled for Sunday, November 19. What is the IMD all about?
International Men’s Day is a global awareness day specially designed to underscore the need to bring to the front burner many issues faced by men, which include but not limited to suicide, violence, and parental alienation, among others, and this is celebrated annually on November 19th. The theme emphasises the six significant pillars of International Men’s Day, which include: To promote male role models. To celebrate the contribution that men make. To focus on men’s health and well-being. To highlight discrimination against men. At Elizabethan, IMD is very important to us because our focus is to intervene for male gender at all levels. We are focusing on the psychological and emotional frustration of males at all levels because we see males as endangered species. That is the reason Elizabethan Foundation has taken it up as a mantle to create awareness about the international men’s day in Nigeria.
You plan to celebrate the International Men’s Day scheduled for November 19th. What are your plans?
At the Elizabethan Humanitarian Life Foundation, we always clamour that we want to bring the worlds attention to some quiet and salient areas that could cost us the essence of humanity, if neglected. We’ve started our plan, and for us, dealing with male gender is a daily and continuous activity that should be entrenched in our sub-consciousness. We visited some grass-roots locations on the streets of Lagos to hear from our males on the streets,this will definitely help to know how to work out our plans. On Wednesday, 15th of November, we had a symposium where we got some academics and professionals in various fields to enlighten the public on issues affecting the males, and they also spoke from their experiences as professionals from various disciplinary persuasion and disposition. The discourse was explosive. For instance, the keynote speaker Professor Sola Aletan, Professor of Psychology, Faculty of Education, University of Lagos, steered the conversation toward the haunting trend of teenage suicide. He shared a poignant incident in Los Angeles, illustrating how invisible struggles within an individual’s mind can lead to tragic outcomes, emphasizing the need for a deeper understanding of mental health. So, you can see that the issues go deeper than the sociological or the society, It also has other angles to it. That is why we had to involve academics, professionals, social workers, and others, from all spectrum of the society to share ideas about male suicide.
Before now, the IMD is not quite popular in Nigeria. How do you think you can get Nigerians to be involved in promoting that cause?
Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day; but it is a wake-up call to all Nigerians on issues relating to men’s health and frustrations. The over hyping of supernatural strength in men, tagging a man that expresses himself as a weakling, and telling emotionally bruised men to be ‘a man’ without considering that they are human should be a source of concern to us all. We at the Elizabethan Humanitarian Foundation want to start and keep talking about male challenges and their right as human. A symposium such as the one we had on November 15, collaborating with organisations, states, and federal government as well as international organisations for enlightenment programs and campaigns is a good beginning.
The theme of this year’s IMD is Zero Male Suicide. What is the level of men suicide in Nigeria?
Suicide is a global problem, but it is worrisome to have Nigeria as one epicentre of suicide in the world; and it is noted that the majority of reported cases are males. Getting appropriate data is a challenge in Nigeria, but reports indicate that suicide incidents in Nigeria are 80.6% males, and out of this, 51.8% are married, while 33.6% are students. We have to tackle this menace collectively to avoid losing our men to suicide.
Do you have an idea of the major causes of male Suicide in Nigeria?
The major causes are not far-fetched: they are mainly financial lack and challenges, societal expectations, and marital conflicts as a precipitating factor. You can see the need to allow males to express themselves and speak. This intervention and medium is what Elizabethan Humanitarian Foundation stands for to fill.
So, how do you want to approach the issue of mitigating men suicide in Nigeria?
Let me begin by saying that it is a collective effort, starting from family to society and the world at large. We have drawn our approach to three major areas, which are:
1. Grass-roots- To talk and listen to their hearts, encourage them, and give them hope. Be a bridge between them and individuals, organisations, and governmental agencies.
2. Work with Ministry of Education, Information and strategy, Health, Interior, Youth and Sports, Justice, and Humanitarian Affairs
Our second strategy is to catch them young. We have written to the Ministry of Education in Lagos State, and we tend to have a round-table discussion with them, so together we can start enlightenment campaign by talking about their challenges be it psychological or emotional part of a curriculum, the right to express themselves without fear or misconception. We have also written to the Ministry of Justice, this will help us discuss the running of a campaign in enlightening the public on government perspectives in offenses relating to suicide.
3. We also engage in continuous enlightenment like the we had on the 15th of November. This we need to replicate at all levels.
What is the level of acceptance from the society on your rescue the men mission?
The acceptance has been very encouraging from all quarters. It is a known fact that the male gender needs help, and they are prepared to talk about it at this rate. The acceptance level is expected because parents are losing their children not only to the streets but a lot that are still with their parent’s but are already disconnected. While wives are losing their homes. So the overall picture is like at last, help has come. People move so fast to ask questions on what to expect and are really ready to express themselves.