The chilling statistics of mental health issues around the world have made it a public health concern and while it begs attention, there have been restrictions on talks bordering on this topic.
In Nigeria, just as the case of a developing country, the situation is even direr. Lack of primary awareness and care, coupled with religion and culture have made conversations around mental health, difficult.
This is why it was important for legendary broadcaster Funmi Iyanda to take Nasir El-Rufai through this topic. In her Friday, June 12 edition of Public Eye Live, an Instagram Live show, the Kaduna State Governor narrated his ordeal with depression which came after he left office as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
After vacating office as FCT Minister, El-Rufai who didn’t see eye-to-eye with then-President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua went into a self-imposed exile for two years. The 60-year-old politician described those two years as one of the most difficult periods of his life
“At a time I was very despondent, I was very angry over the persecution I was going through at a time after my years of service,” El-Rufai said.
“I felt that I gave my best time, talent, everything, as a DG of BPE (Bureau of Public Enterprises) and minister of FCT.
“I did what I thought was best for the country but what I got in return from someone who was like an elder brother to me, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of blessed memory was persecution. I was exiled.”
After that revelation, Iyanda drove him further into the conversation of mental health and asked the governor if he was depressed at the time.
“Would you say with that experience that you were slightly depressed?,” Iyanda asked.
“I mentioned this because going through this period where the world has had to go on this big pause, mental health has been an issue globally around the world and oftentimes people think that powerful people or people in positions of power and authority do not deal with mental health issues. Would you say at that time you were struggling mentally? Iyanda asked.
The governor was upfront with his response and admitted that he was indeed depressed at the time.
“I was, I was,” the governor responded. “To spend eight years of your life doing something that you believe in and then you find out that first, you are not appreciated, second, people that you thought you trusted, people that you worked with, betrayed you.
“The combination of that, plus exile, plus being away from your children, from your wives, that combination will always lead to mental health challenges.
“I was supported by my children, my spouses and a few friends. Most friends just walked away. Some stopped taking my calls because I was a target of multiple investigations.
“The government clearly didn't like me and I was abandoned by many of my government friends and this is another lesson; there are friends and there are friends of office.”
On how he coped with it, the governor revealed that being busy kept him sane during those tough two years. El-Rufai spent the first part of those two years at the University of London completing his Law degree and the second part at John F. Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University for his Master of Business Administration.
“I was lucky, I had a plan to get busy for two years after I left office,” he said.
“My first year after I left office I spent in London to finish my LLB which I had started years back. The second year, I was at the Havard Kennedy school and I was extremely busy.
“These two years kept me very busy which helped along with the support of friends and family to deal with the mental health issue.
“But frankly, but for those two very intensive academic engagements maybe I would have gone mad, completely mad because it is heartbreaking to see people that you thought you trusted, did things together, deny you ever did it together,” he also said.
El-Rufai further revealed that people like him are more likely to suffer from mental health issues because of the pressure they work with.
“In fact I think senior government officials, powerful people are more at risk of mental health issues when they leave office and sometimes during office than other people because they are under greater pressure and are more likely to face all the evil sides of human nature, betrayal, double-crossing and so on,” the governor said.
“It is something that applies to everyone but many people are not conscious of it and that’s why you see that many people that leave office, after some time, they just collapse.”
El Rufai is currently on his second tenure as Governor of Kaduna State.