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Mental Health Laws in Nigeria

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In 1916, the first Nigeria mental health law was enacted, and it was known as Lunacy Ordinance. These laws were revised and adjusted to give medical practitioners and the magistrate power/authority to be able to detain or arrest anyone that is suffering from mental illness in the year 1958. In that same year 1958, it was renamed the Lunacy Act of 1958 and since then, these laws have never been adjusted for over five decades.

Finally, in 2003 the National Assembly made an effort by introducing a Mental Health Bill, but unfortunately in the year 2009, the bill was dropped after it made a bit of progress for over six years.

Another attempt was made in the year 2013, and a new bill was introduced as a part of the National Policy for mental Health Services Delivery.  The main aim of this bill was to establish the foundation for giving proper care to people that have neurological, mental, and drug addiction difficulties. Because these bills did not get enough support, the bill is still yet to be established.

The care for mental people in Nigeria is a catastrophe. As a result of numerous factors, about 80% of Nigerians with mental health issues cannot access proper care facilities. The biggest obstacles/ challenge in mental health care facilities are lack of funds, proper/clean facilities, poor cultural and religious stigma targeted at mental health themes, mental health personnel like therapists and so much more.

Mental health-challenged people in Nigeria are not looked at or cared for and are frequently left to family members and barbaric spiritual therapists. Because of a lack of care for mental health, lots of mentally challenged people are roaming on the streets. Unfortunately, the lack of a reformed mental health bill has brought about several obstacles to the progress of mental health in the country. It has influenced the life and quality of care for people with mental health issues in the country greatly.

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The mental health system in Nigeria is highly underfunded, providing needs for one out of every ten Nigerians with mental health issues. The budget for mental health care is roughly 4% with over 90% going to a few neuropsychiatric hospitals, primarily funded through the national government’s health budget. Mental health is very important in healthcare and should be treated as a very important part of primary care.

Mental Health Laws in Nigeria

A great change will come if the mental health law reforms with international standards, which will ensure proper care for the mentally sick. Unfortunately, getting proper mental health care is not possible in the absence of reformed policies and laws. Ghana, South Africa, and Uganda are African countries that have realized that mental health is an important and necessary element of primary care.

Mental health diseases are to be treated just the same way as any other sickness. Offering mental health care and treatment through primary care units will increase access, affordability, and cost-effectiveness and at the same time promote human rights. 

In Nigeria, there are less than 300 psychiatrists who provide for Nigerian mental health and the majority of them work and live in urban areas, making it difficult for people in the rural regions to assess them.

There are some things that can be done to help mentally challenged people. Establishing a community-based rehabilitation facility in the rural regions and establishing a large primary care network that will provide extra care in close collaboration with secondary and tertiary care institutions.

It will be a game changer with great and positive effects if mental health is integrated into primary care and highly supported and also included in the health policy and legislative framework with enough resources and good governance.

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WHO has set a global goal for about 50% of countries to adopt or reform their old mental health laws to conformity with regional and international human rights standards by 2020 as part of the world’s body, mental health action plan in 2013 – 2020. Sadly, Nigeria has fallen short of this plan and goal.


Mental Health Laws In Nigeria

The National Assembly received a bill that was obtained by Premium Times and signed by the clerk in December 2022. But the National Assembly forwarded the bill to the President on 28 November 2022 for assent “in accordance with the provisions of the Acts Authentication Act Cap. A2, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004,”.

However, a civil society organization called Nigerian Mental Health and other activists applauded the president for signing the bill, stressing that it will create human rights protections for persons with mental health issues.

In order for residents to be aware of their new legal rights, the body requests that the National Assembly “ensure gazetted copies of the bills are available to people.” According to the group, organizations and industry experts are eagerly awaiting the bill’s ability to bring about the required reforms in Nigeria’s approach to managing mental health.


Mental Health Law

More On Mental Health Law

The president of Nigeria, His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari, finally signed a new mental health law on the 5th of January 2023, even after two failed attempts in 2003 and 2013. The National Assembly’s upper and lower chambers accepted the bill in 2021 and will replace the 1958 Lunacy Act which is the first legislative change in this area since the nation’s independence. One of the accomplishments for which the troubled Nigerian leader will be known throughout history is probably the signing of the Law.

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The National Mental Health Law 2021 was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari, making history and marking a significant step forward in Nigeria’s efforts to strengthen support for psychosocial wellbeing.

Additionally, the bill ensures that persons undergoing treatment have the freedom to contribute to the creation of their own treatment plans and cannot be subjected to forced therapy, seclusion, or other forms of confinement without the necessary protections.

It was mentioned that the measure also established a new Mental Health Fund, a Mental Health Department under the Federal Ministry of Health, and a Mental Health Assessment Committee to safeguard stakeholders. In addition, it enhances the management of people with mental health issues and broadens community-based coverage.

Relating To Mental Health In Nigeria

Over 30 of the nation’s top mental health organizations and professional associations participated in an open letter to government officials that was coordinated by Nigerian Mental Health, a network of leaders and organizations in the field that assisted in leading advocacy efforts for the legislation’s passage.

The network has also urged the government to implement further vital changes for people with mental health concerns, such as decriminalizing attempted suicide, which is currently a felony carrying a prison sentence.

They cite research showing that criminalization prevents people from getting care for psychological problems and will hinder the Mental Health Bill’s ability to be implemented effectively.


In 2023, the president of Nigeria finally signed a bill on mental health in Nigeria. To read the full bill on mental health laws in Nigeria on pdf, click here.

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