Kano tragedy: Pros and Cons of Insanity Defense



Sahelian Times: The latest tragic story from Kano about a mother who allegedly killed her two children threw the whole nation off.  There ‘s a mix of outpouring of sympathy for the family of the deceased children and condemnation for the suspected murderer, as well as uncertainty over the status of her mental health. The police has already arrested the mother, but are yet to brief the public about the outcome of their investigations.

Initial feelers out have it that the woman acted out of a jealous rage as a result of her husband recently taking a second wife. It is not uncommon in northern Nigeria where both Islamic religion and prevailing culture have allowed polygyny to come across tragic stories of domestic violence in such settings. Typically, the pattern of the violence tends to occur between the co-wives or between one of the wives and the husband. In terribly bad scenarios, it results into manslaughter or even suicide from the victims. A circumstance where a mother deploys a full weight of her matrimonial jealous rage on her own children to the extent of killing them is uncommon or even sounds incredible. Thus, it is understandable that some observers have started questioning the mental health of this woman.

A source (who does not want to be named) close the woman’s family disclosed to the Sahelian Times that the woman has been suffering from visual and auditory hallucinations for a while. She had complained several times about seeing “Agent Rhagav” (a Bollywood crime thriller character) together with her children trying to kill her. According to the source, these symptoms were dismissed as “iskokai” (evil spirits), which were treated with exorcisms (ruqya) and all forms of traditional medicines, until this tragedy finally struck.



 Mental health challenges are misunderstood in our society

Sahelian Times has interviewed a psychiatrist in Kano about the possibility of insanity in this case. He argued that it is too premature to advance such reasons without conducting full mental state examinations on the suspect. “Mental health is highly misunderstood here because of the stigma and local beliefs that such types of illnesses could only be cured through metaphysical and spiritual approaches.” He further argues,  “A lot of families frown at the idea of seeking orthodox care for such illnesses. Depression is common, but even some clinicians still miss it due to lack of training. The suspect could possibility be suffering from major depression with suicidal ideation, maniac depressive illness, intermittent explosive disorder, revenge personality disorder, or schizophrenia, etc.”

Law and Insanity

 In a law, insanity defense can be invoked when the defendant was found to have episodic or persistent mental illness. Mental illness takes away the burden of responsibility from the defendant. In a situation of temporary insanity, which is associated mainly with passion crime (not premeditated), the defendant regains his full mental capacity after committing the crime. Such determinations ideally are supposed to be done by forensic psychiatrists or general psychiatrists in the absence of forensic experts. This angle could possible come up in defense of the suspect.

Possibility of Premeditated Murder In the era of disruptive technology, drug addictions and crime thrillers could have influenced such gruesome actions. In a recently aired documentary on Real Time television, a woman was shown to have killed her two children. Initially she fainted a picture of a kidnap, but later police interviewed her after failing to get a lead on the kidnap angle. When she failed a lie detector test, it was discovered that the reasons why she committed that heinous crime was because her boyfriend wrote to her that he could not continue with their relationship since she has kids. In order to continue with that relationship she chose to eliminate her kids and feigned kidnap as an alibi. In Arizona, a mother also killed her three children. She was discovered to be addicted to methamphetamine. In Kano state, a boy killed his ailing father and all his immediate family at Hausawa. His gruesome action was linked to drug abuse. Kano for a while has been battling with rising incidence of drug abuse. Commonly, girls/women abuse opioids such as codeine garnished in a cough syrup and benzodiazepines, whereas boys/men abuse cannabis and other psychedelics.

This case will continue to generate interest until investigations are concluded to ascertain what pushed the woman to commit such gruesome murder.


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