Amina Needs Help, Not Police Custody

Thu, 11 Nov 2010 Source: Adu, Kwasi

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By Kwasi Adu

Society appears to be failing Miss Amina Mohammed, the young lady who told a vivid but imaginary story of how armed robbers forced passengers to have sex with their fellow travellers during a bus journey from Accra to Bolgatanga

The story was so outrageous and unbelievable that various people who came into contact with her should have considered asking for psychiatric help for her instead of sensationalising the issue. In the end, Adom FM and Joy FM who first interacted with her failed her. The NPP politicians who were looking for any excuse to accuse the government of failure failed her. The police who arrested her failed her and most of all, the paranoid NDC and the government who are always thinking that the NPP are always conspiring to tarnish them also failed her.

I am not a doctor, but having worked in refugee and homelessness environments where I came across several people with various forms of health conditions, I am tempted to believe that Amina may be suffering from a health condition that makes her imagine things. One of such conditions could be schizophrenia, a condition which makes the sufferer hallucinate, making him/her to hear, see, smell or feel things which are not there. Sometimes, they hear voices or think someone is after them.

Let us consider Amina’s story against the truth of what really happened. Amina initially claimed that the “armed robbery” took place on the Kumasi Kintampo road. The truth is that the bus on which she was travelling had an encounter with suspected armed intruders on the road between Accra and Kumasi, somewhere near Ejisu. Whereas Ejisu is south-east of Kumasi (about 20 kilometres away), Kintampo is further north, about 150 kilometres away from Kumasi.

According to Amina’s account, in spite of the darkness, she could clearly see three armed robbers to the left of the bus, three to the right, four in front, while two were at the rear. What an incredible vision she had, if she were not hallucinating!

Then she went on: the robbers collected from the passengers all their monies and jewellery. The truth is that there was no collection of personal possessions from any passenger since the bus did not even stop. According to her, after they collected their jewellery, they told all of them to strip naked because they were “going to make us have enjoyment” (i.e., group sex). As the radio presenter goaded her on, she added “they said that probably, we had not done it for a long time”. Then, according to her, all the women started stripping. When they asked her why she was not removing her clothes, she informed them that she was in her menstrual period. After they inspected and satisfied themselves that indeed she was in her menstrual period, they declared her as “bad luck” and therefore spared her. As her mother was stripping, she went to hold her and when they realised that she was her mum, they declared her mother also as “bad luck”. Within the same minute, she stated that a bullet hit the arm of a lady but quickly changed the gender to say that the victim of the gun-shot was a man. Then she went on about this man who was forced to have sex with her virgin daughter as the “robbers” gave him “warning shoot” (sic) at his feet.

All the above were delusions, pure figments of her imagination. Although it is not biologically possible to have an erection under the threat of gun-shots, in the imagination of Amina, all these took place amidst screaming by both the 14 year-old girl and her dad. As the daughter was pleading with her dad to be gentle, the father replied that “Let me do some, it is not my will but this will save our lives”. She went on that the armed robbers even held the man’s waist to push him to do it harder. The gruesome details continued while the radio presenter spurred her on. Amina then went in over-drive. She stated that as punishment for the driver who initially was refusing to stop, they gave him five women to have sex with. After the fifth one, the driver became so weak that he fainted and had to be resuscitated with water. The “robbers” were speaking Twi and broken English. Amina said that she identified most of them to be Fulani people. There were two women among the robbers who had plaited their hair in “Rasta” style. One of the women shouted “Kiss ‘am! I say make you kiss 'am! If she don’t, bite him mouth!!” etc, etc.

The fact that by all indications, none of these things happened should have suggested to the producers of the radio show that there was something wrong with Amina. How come while all these were happening, there was no report of any other vehicles passing along that busy road?

According to the UK College of Psychiatrists, a person with schizophrenia may experience delusions. “A delusion happens when you believe something – and are completely sure of it – while other people think you have misunderstood what is happening. It's as though you see things in a completely different way from everyone else. You have no doubts, but other people see your belief as mistaken, unrealistic or strange. If you do try to talk about your ideas with someone, your reasons don’t make sense to them, or you can’t explain – you ‘just know’. It's an idea, or set of ideas, that can't be explained as part of your culture, background or religion”.

The failures of Adom FM and Joy FM in this matter could be found in the following ways: - The fact that, after finding out from the bus company and the Ejisu police that, the incident did not happen on the Kintampo road, should have raised a red flag for the radio stations. - The fact that both the bus company and the police denied any knowledge of the alleged sex orgy should have made the radio stations begin to question the authenticity of Amina’s story - The fact that their enquiries from the Kintampo police showed no occurrence of the incident should have triggered further enquiries from the producers

Once the false story was put out, the NPP commentators seized on it to attempt to denigrate the government. Males among the NPP, who know that it is virtually impossible to have an erection under duress were not bothered at all. It was as if they were lying in wait for anything, however ridiculous to beat the NDC with. It was highly irresponsible of them, in the same way as they tried to plant dead bodies in the Volta Region in 2008 with which they could discredit election results from the Volta Region.

The reaction of the NPP, in attempting to paint the country as lawless, then triggered the NDC to believe that the story had been planted by the NPP. They therefore positioned Amina in the NPP camp and started to demonise her.

The police did not help matters when they decided to treat Amina as if she was involved in a grand conspiracy to deliberately cause mischief, panic and fear.

This is how the society failed Amina, who probably is suffering from a health condition. While all these have been happening, the body of highly qualified health practitioners have made no attempt to intervene to examine poor Amina. She has nowhere else to turn especially since her family, who are supposed to know her better, are also afraid to come forward to her rescue.

Last week, the BBC was humble enough to unreservedly apologise for a news report which had wrongly claimed that millions of pounds of Band Aid and Live Aid money for the hungry in Ethiopia had been diverted into arms sales for a rebel movement in the Tigray province. Why can’t Adom FM and Joy FM admit their errors and do same? The more they stick to their claim that they committed no errors, the more convinced government supporters become that they were up to mischief, especially since the day after, they paraded a “counsellor” on their station, not to counsel Amina but to analyse the false story as if it were true.

All these, are the result of a developing political culture in Ghana, in which the opposition sees no good in the government, while the government sees no good in the opposition. It is a recipe for disaster.

Since by all indications, Amina’s story is untrue, I strongly suspect that Amina may be suffering from some sort of hallucination or personality disorder, and is unable to distinguish between reality and her imagination. This is the person who, on her way to her father’s funeral (on its own, an emotionally traumatic experience) encounters an incident which sets off this psychotic disorder and which made her to exaggerate the unpleasant incident on the road to Ejisu.

It is believed that one in 100 people will experience at least one episode of acute schizophrenia during their lifetime. Men and women are equally affected by the condition. In men who are affected by schizophrenia, the condition usually begins between 15-30 years of age. In women, schizophrenia usually occurs later, beginning between 25-30 years of age. Does Amina fall within this range? Yes.

Just last week, 3rd November 2010, The New York Times published that Australian researchers have found that sexually abused children are at increased risk of developing schizophrenia later in life. By the graphic way in which Amina described the story, the question has to be asked whether she herself have not been a victim of sexual abuse in her teenage years?

According to this New York Times publication, the new study showed sexual assaults more than doubled the odds that a child would develop schizophrenia as an adult the risk was higher still if the assault involved penetration or multiple perpetrators, or took place in the early teenage years. According to the research, nearly one in five adults who had been raped by more than one person between ages 13 and 15 developed schizophrenia or another psychotic illness.

We may need to examine the situation of Amina and try to save her rather than criminalising her just because of our own limitations in appreciating issues.

Columnist: Adu, Kwasi