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Psychiatric test for politicians


Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba

Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba

As Nigerians begin the New Year grappling with recession, the suggestion made by a former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mrs. Farida Waziri, that the Federal Government should ensure that all politicians undertake psychiatric test before occupying any office, is very long overdue for adoption. It is an audacious proposal which, if considered and acted upon, would help prevent crimes in high places and improve the moral quality of politicians.

Mrs. Waziri gave her recommendation in Abuja, the other day while delivering a speech at the inauguration of the Nigerian Women Against Corruption project, organised by the EFCC and the wife of the president, Aisha Buhari. Citing examples of megalomania, unjustified treasure-looting and obsessive accumulation of needless property at home and abroad from current experience of Nigerian politicians, she reiterated the proposal she made over seven years ago when she was head of the EFCC, to drive home the urgency of psychiatric test for politicians.

In truth, recent studies have shown that many political office holders wallow in behaviours and practices that are considered psycho-pathological. The excessive reveling in emotional and material self-importance, the selfish inclination towards fraudulent accumulation of wealth, and the obsessive pillaging of national resources due to misconstrued and over-exaggerated self-worth of being a political office holder are expressions of obsessive-compulsive psychiatric disorder. For instance, a recent study in Zimbabwe identifies the cause of what it terms Excessive Executive Entitlements (EEE) of chief executives in government establishments and political officer holders as Hyper-core self-evaluation (HCSE) and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).


Though it may be a bold and somewhat irreverent idea, there is nothing outlandish in this call for psychiatric test. As a matter of fact, that proposal gets the backing of the Nigerian Constitution, where relevant sections of the Constitution such as Sections 66 (2a-b), 107 (2a-b) and 137 (2a-b) which concern qualification and disqualification for political office holders in the three arms of government provide this disqualification in these words: “(2) Where in respect of any person who has been (a) adjudged to be a lunatic; (b) declared to be of unsound mind.”

To address the problem, Nigerians should, therefore, ask for the activation of the relevant provisions of the Constitution. Whereas overt behaviours may outright tell whether or not one is a lunatic, what constitutes an unsound mind may be a contentious issue. Is the polygraph test what the former EFCC chair had in mind? If that is what is being recommended, the next question would be how feasible would such a test be either technically or ethically? In a country with appalling healthcare system, and where psychiatric cases are stigmatised and managed with abysmally low resources, how feasible would psychiatric test be?

Available World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics about psychiatric healthcare shows that for a total population of 178.5 million, Nigeria has a total of 1, 478 mental health workforce. That puts the ratio of mental health workers to patients as 0.9 mental health worker for every 100, 000 patients, or nine workers for every one million patients. This is a far cry from the United States of America, where the ratio is 125.2 mental health workers for every 100, 000 patients; or Ghana where the ratio is 10.2 mental health workers for every 100, 000 patients.


Besides, there is the question of ethical commitment to carrying this through.  In a corruption-laden system, where the rich and powerful can get away with anything, even if facilities and manpower exist, there is the likelihood that many politicians would bribe their way through to get favourable test results, in the same manner they get away with corruption cases in the courts.

Even though, from the analysis given above, psychiatric test for politicians may not seem feasible, enlightened common sense should enable one to speculate that, so far as political office has as its primary objective service to the common good, an unsound mind is that which works contrary to the common good (public good). An unsound mind is revealed, for instance, when a political office holder sees his or her initial duty in office as ‘recouping’ from state coffers his or her ‘investment’ at elections. It is also revealed when political aspirants have to ‘pay’ the community to serve the public good.

Whilst we recognise that at the economic level, primitive acquisition is the dominant industry of a production-deficient society and that our perceived money-based value system is the bane of corruption, these disorders afflicting politicians cannot be justified. Since fundamentally, acts toward the furtherance of the public good are sacrificial in nature, and government exists to serve the public good, it follows that service in government is one of sacrifice. It is a sacrifice that may even demand the giving of one’s life. Not cherishing the opportunity to serve, and deliberately working contrary to the ideals of public service is the ultimate psychiatric problem of the public office holder.

Notwithstanding the apparent impediments to the implementation of psychiatric test for political office holders, this newspaper lends its utmost support to this proposal. This is because the Nigerian Constitution disqualifies persons of unsound mind from aspiring to political office. In this regard, the onus lies on the relevant authorities to execute and implement that aspect of the constitutional provisions.

Besides, as this newspaper has always counselled, there is need for proper education of citizens in virtues, ethics and public morality, so that people would have the moral courage and political will to prevent unscrupulous, morally bankrupt, and persons of unsound minds from vying for political offices. Traditional communities should also re-empower themselves to utilise their cherished indigenous value systems to denounce all forms of acts inimical to the common good.


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