Amend 64-year Lunacy Act, experts tell FG


The President Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.)The Federal Government said on Tuesday that the Mental Health Bill is awaiting the assent of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).

The National Coordinator, National Mental Health Programme, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr Tunde Ojo, disclosed this while fielding questions from journalists at the bi-monthly ministerial briefing in Abuja.

Dr Ojo said, “On the number of people with mental disorders in the country, what is known globally is the World Health Organisation figure, which is that, at any point in time in a lifetime, one in four people will have a form of mental health challenge or the other.”

He said the government has started the suicide prevention framework, and there is a provision for data collection both in clinical and non-clinical settings.

Asked about the status of the Mental Health Bill, he said, “The bill has gone through the National Assembly and is awaiting the President’s assent, and we are very hopeful about that.”

Recall that the Mental Health Bill was first presented to the National Assembly in 2003, but it was withdrawn in April 2009.

Again, the bill was presented in 2013 when the National Policy for Mental Health Services Delivery set out the principles for the delivery of care to people with mental, neurological, and substance abuse problems, but it was not signed into law.

In 2019, a new mental health bill titled, “A Bill for an Act to Provide for the Establishment and Regulation of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Protect Persons with Mental Health Needs, and Establishment of the National Commission for Mental and Substance Abuse Services, for the Effective Management of Mental Health in Nigeria and Other Related Matters, 2019,” was introduced by the Senator representing Kwara Central Senatorial District, Dr Ibrahim Oloriegbe.

On February 19, 2020, the Nigerian Senate held a public hearing for the bill but to date, the Federal Government is yet to sign the bill into law.

Meanwhile, the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria said the law governing the practice of psychiatry in the country needs to be reviewed.

 World Mental Health Day is commemorated yearly on October 10 to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world.

 the President of APN, Prof. Taiwo Obindo, said, “The law governing the practice of psychiatry needs to be reviewed, and this has been passed, concurrence done, and the bill cleaned by the legal unit of the House of Assembly. It probably should be with the presidency, but assent has not been given.

“What we are operating now is the lunacy act, which was enacted in 1916 and amended in 1958. Even though the word “lunacy” is archaic and not up to date, they look at people as crazy and mad. That law needed review many years ago.

“The psychiatry association has made efforts in conjunction with the senate health committee headed by Senator Oloriegbe and the chairman of the House Committee on Healthcare Services, Tanko Sununu, at the House of Representatives, to make sure that a globally acceptable law that will govern and reduce stigmatisation and discrimination against people who are mentally ill be passed.

“If that law is passed, it will guide the practice of mental health in the country, and budgetary allocation needs to be increased and, by extension, funding for mental health.”

Also, a senior lecturer at the Department of psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Dr Charles Umeh, said signing the bill into law will help protect individuals suffering from mental illness.

“We need to pass the bill and sign it. The mental health bill we have been using is the lunacy law, the one that still criminalises suicide, and all of us are becoming aware that suicide is an illness and that we need to work against it.

“A lot of people walk up to you needing help, but because there is no law stating how to help that person, then there is nothing to be done. But when we have such a law, we will be able to do so much.

“The government needs to sign the mental health bill and the psychology bill. Everybody needs the bill. If we have a bill that empowers us to work, the services can be seamless and people can easily access them.”

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