By Olisemeka Obeche
Federal government may have decided to intervene in the country’s suicide epidemic by ordering for a change in the packaging of the deadly insecticide-sniper, which has increasingly become a choice cocktail for young Nigerians contemplating suicide.
Following growing public outcry over the unrestrained access and use of sniper in suicide cases, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) said it is partnering with other relevant bodies on this as part of plans to discourage the use of sniper as a tool for suicide.
The Director General of NAFDAC, Christiana Adeyeye, disclosed that part of the new measures was that sniper containers “could now be made very difficult to open, or may be turned into a spray rather than the liquid contents it is known for.”
Mrs Adeyeye also said NAFDAC wants to discourage the use of sniper and other agro-chemicals for the preservation of food as they contain substances harmful to the human body.
“We also decry poor handling of foods in Nigeria by producers and sellers, because, the populace and consumers are being exposed unduly to health risks from contaminants. The use of unapproved insecticides such as sniper for the preservation of grains by unauthorised persons, the use of containers contaminated with hazardous chemicals such as fertilizer bags for grains or chemical drums and jerry cans for food storage are classic examples of a common practice among the market men and women due to ignorance,” the NAFDAC chief said.
Orient Daily recalled that the country recently witnessed a surge of suicides with victims ending their lives by consuming sniper, the agro-chemical sold openly in the market. Amongst the victims of sniper consumption was Chukwuemeka Akachi, a 400-level student of the Department of English and Literary Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Barely 24 hours after Akachi took his life, Michael Arowosaiye, a pastor and gospel artist with a popular Pentecostal church also committed suicide in Abuja after consuming the deadly substance.
Before that, Ayomide and Ajani Damilola of the University of Lagos, were reported to have killed themselves using the insecticide following the accusations that they stole clothes in their hostel. Another 32-year-old banker and mother of two, identified as Peace, also took sniper to end her life following her husband’s alleged infidelity in Ughelli, Delta state.
Sniper is a popular DDVP 2.2-Dichlorovinyl dimethyl phosphate compound, marketed in Nigeria by Swiss-Nigerian Chemical Company, as a synthetic organophosphorus.
The ease of access to Sniper, despite its wrong use, has become a worry for many Nigerians. Bottles of sniper can be picked up easily on the streets as they are sold openly in the market. The demand is also fuelled by its affordability. A 100ml of sniper goes for between N200 and N300, while its competitors cost as much as N750 for 100ml.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that the method used for 20 per cent of global suicides was through pesticide self-poisoning and they mostly occur in developing countries. Suicide victims appear to find gulping the liquid content of the agro-chemical inside a white container an easier route out. But experts argue that it is easier to die by a bullet on the forehead than to face the agony that follows after drinking sniper.
Although, sniper is predominantly used as an insecticide because of its effectiveness in killing insects better than well-established brands of insecticide, many Nigerians have, however, converted it to an indoor insecticide, a development experts warn, portends danger for users.
“Nigerians may be paying a heavier price with their health in the long run, if the trend is left unchecked”, warned Fatima Ahmed, a microbiologist.
“The instruction on sniper says apply diluted portions to crops and there’s a ‘withdrawal’ time in which the crop should not be consumed, so, the active ingredient degrades to minimal level before consumption. Now, compare this minute concentration to drinking from the original sniper bottle,” she noted in the report.
According to her, health experts have raised concerns over the indiscriminate use of sniper pesticide in the control of mosquitoes, cockroaches and other household insects.
“They warned on its dangerous effects, especially to respiratory organs and even carcinogenic risks. A person may be exposed to the associated risk of sniper through inhalation, absorption via the skin, ingestion, and eye contact.”