Motor Park Experience
Musa is an undergraduate student who is on his way back to school, after spending the inter-semester
break with his parents here in Ibadan. While waiting at the motor park for the bus to fill up, he suddenly
fell down and started convulsing on the floor. His hands and entire body were jerking violently.
A commotion ensued, and a crowd quickly gathered around him. Several people were barking different
instructions: ‘bring a spoon, let’s put it in his mouth’. ‘No, someone get us olive oil to put in his mouth’.
‘A spoon is not good, bring a piece of wood’. ‘Sprinkle water on his head’. ‘Hold his head, try and open
his mouth’. ‘Let’s pray for him – against every spirit of demonic possession, the devil is a liar’. ‘Be careful
oooo, his saliva must not touch you, otherwise, you will contact the disease’. ‘Pour some palm oil on his
head’. Pandemonium and confusion reigned supreme, as no one appeared to have a clear idea of what
The crowd could therefore be grouped into 3 different categories: a). Curious onlookers who were afraid
to move close or touch the person (perhaps for fear that it may be contagious via the saliva; b). Active
participants who had an idea of what they assumed would be helpful and were busy running around to
get such items; c). The prayer warriors, who were convinced that it was a demonic possession or
spiritual attack and therefore resorted to fervent prayers to break the spell.
After a few minutes, the convulsion ended, and Musa fell asleep peacefully. The prayers changed to
thanksgiving on the ‘victory’ over the spirit of demonic possession. Others started discussing in
whispers, about what they have just witnessed. The consensus was that it was a result of a spiritual
attack by ‘enemies’ or possession by evil spirits.
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a brain disorder that occurs as a result of abnormal electrical activity of the nerves of the
brain. Because the brain controls our movement (and our thoughts, behavior and so on); when the
nerves of the brain are firing abnormally, it manifests as abnormal muscle contractions and jerky
movements. This is what we see as the convulsion and the person falls to the ground. This is the
commonest type of epilepsy, but there are several other types.
Some of the other types, especially the complex partial seizures which manifest as an abnormal
behavior that lasts for just a few minutes, before they come back to their senses, are often considered
to be a form of spiritual possession that is mysterious. Or it is seen as a mental disorder.
What should we do when we witness someone having a fit?
The first thing is to appreciate that epilepsy is not contagious and cannot be contacted from the saliva of
If there are harmful objects such as chairs or metal around the person, move them away.
If the person is wearing tight clothes around the neck, such as a necktie, loosen it.
Allow the person, free room until the seizure is over.
After the person recovers, someone should help the person to sit up for some time and then help to
contact family or friends to help them home. This is important, as they may still be slightly confused.
Please do not put anything in the person’s mouth – no spoon, wood, oil or any such thing.
Do not attempt to hold the person’s head or force the mouth open.
Afford the person some privacy, a few individuals can be on hand to offer assistance but forming a
crowd of onlookers is not helpful.
Can it be cured?
Epilepsy is usually a chronic condition, and we don’t talk about cures for chronic conditions such as
hypertension or diabetes. Rather, we talk about managing or controlling the condition with medications.
So, hypertension, diabetes, and epilepsy can be well controlled and managed with medications, and the
affected individuals will live their normal lives without problems.
What are the mental health consequences?
In the scenario described above with Musa, when he recovers and looks up to see a crowd gathered all
around him, with his head and body covered in palm oil, olive oil, and so on, he is unlikely to be happy.
They may be sent away from school, refused permission to marry, and denied job opportunities. Thus,
depression, anxiety and sometimes suicidal thoughts may occur among persons with epilepsy. These are
often worsened by stigmatization and discrimination, leading to a feeling of isolation from society. We
should therefore show empathy and support for affected persons while encouraging them to seek
Post-Script: This article is in commemoration of International Epilepsy Day (February 13), to improve
awareness about Epilepsy.
Dr Jibril Abdulmalik
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 16th February 2023