Opinion

Bullying and Violence in Secondary Schools- A Testimony (1)

By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Ever since the circumstances of Sylvester Oromoni’s tragic death in the hands of evil child-bullies went viral, there has been an outpour of powerful emotions on social media, expressed by millions of Nigerians, young and old, rich, and poor, all blaming the management of Dowen College, a few blaming the parents for not listening to their child when it was obvious that he was being bullied, and for keeping the seriously sick Sylvester in the house without proper assessment for medical attention and intervention.

I don’t apportion blame on a bereaved person/family. That would be double jeopardy. A sudden and premature death is enough pain for and trauma on any human being. There have been protests by mothers too staged right in front of the college in Lekki.  I read somewhere that the ebullient Femi Falana, ace human rights lawyer is handling the case for the bereaved family from the legal angle. We can go to sleep that Falana will enter the lion’s den, like the late Gani Fawehinmi, to retrieve the lost bone! It’s comforting too, that five students and three hostel masters are now in police custody. No, two alleged suspects have not been ferried out of Nigeria!

Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State and Senator James Manager have called Mr. Sylvester Oromoni (Snr) to express their condolences. I also called Mr. Oromoni to assure him of my support, little as it may be. I am certain that some other highly placed persons have reached out to the family too in their moment of grief. That is how it should be. Grief that is borne by one person alone eats into the bone! It kills. It famishes the body and the soul.

I imagine also, as it happens in times of bereavement, there is a cluster of women from family, church, and other organisations around the bereaved mother, Mrs. Oromoni, the woman who carried Baby Sylvester in her womb for nine months and nurtured him for 12 years before some little devils, hand joined in hand, domiciled in Dowen College cut down the boy in his prime.

With the passage of time, the stream of visitors will dwindle into a trickle. Then it will stop. Stop completely. People will move on. Then healing will start. Yes, the healing must start after the scalding hurt inflicted on a family. A family which had spent millions to have a son educated in preparation for life. Pain is too deep a sad emotion to last forever. So, nature provides relief in the shape and form of time! Time heals all wounds. So, let time come quickly and blot out the searing pain that untimely death has caused the Oromonis.

There have been revelations too. The culture of silence has been broken, sort of, especially by former teachers in some elite secondary schools. Some parents have narrated their experiences in the vice grip of elitist education mentality in Nigeria. If we do not keep the issue on the front burner, even government would move on. Some officials would attempt to bury the matter with the coffin of slush money. But I predict that the Oromoni matter will be resolved. The spirit of Sylvester is strong.

In my first essay on this issue, I called for a reopening of Dowen College as soon as possible because I sympathised with the innocent children in that school who are likely to be in limbo. They are victims in the saga; they have suffered double jeopardy- traumatized by the vicarious experience and denied education for weeks. Yet, investigations must be thorough. It is now established that bullying and extreme brutality are routine occurrences in most elitist schools in Nigeria. Some parents, senior students, and school masters are all guilty of the travesty and ritual of oppression that is going on in the schools.

Most children in the private schools come from comfortable, wealthy, or affluent homes. Even among the wealthy, some are more powerful than others. ‘All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’, wrote George Orwell. Their name, power, and influence often travel with their kids in the school. Most school owners set up educational facilities as an investment for profit. The most important value is what the business brings to the bank. Not any character moulding fantasy.

At the other end of the chain are the teachers. These are graduates, often well trained but from a poor or modest background. Passion they have for teaching, but soon after they start teaching, disillusionment sets in when they see the dangerous nonsense going on. How can one thrive, blossom as a teacher when students cannot be disciplined? Some kids from wealthy homes treat teachers like their domestic staff, the way their parents do at home. Having taught in the university system for over thirty years, I have former students of mine who are teachers in some of the elitist schools. Some of their stories are not savoury.

One teacher spoke about a girl in his class who would never take notes while he taught the class. She would stare at him throughout the class. Once he raised his voice and advised her to take her work seriously. Another teacher who heard his voice invited him to lunch and advised him to take it easy with the girl. ‘Her father has paid the school for her to pass all exams till she graduates’, she said. Another teacher spoke about one of his students, son of a Minister of Education at the time. At 1pm, he would tell whoever was teaching the class that his driver had come. He would just stroll out of the class. Yet another teacher narrated how a student called him ‘white monkey’, and he reported the matter to the principal. The student’s parents were invited for a talk. In the presence of the teachers, the student was accused of insulting a teacher. Mr Father simply looked at his daughter and said ‘You insulted a teacher? Alright, your punishment is that you will not go to Oxford. I will send you to Birmingham’. He apologised to the teacher and left.

A Zoom meeting recording of Concerned Parents in Education group is currently in circulation. A man who said he once taught students at Dowen reported that he left because management tolerated acts of bullying. A mother on the platform burst out and berated the teacher for leaving and keeping quiet. Her own son, she said, was also tortured by bullies but was lucky. The incident was recorded on video. When she reported to the principal, the latter said the bullies could not be punished because the video was not published on social media! There are more bizarre stories of how some parents would report a matter and the school management would bury it because they do not want a scandal in their school. There are parents who claim that they don’t want their children to ‘suffer’ as they did and spoil the brats to no end.

In view of the epidemic nature of bullying, cultic behaviour, and moral decadence, I call on the House of Representatives Committee on Education to set up a hearing and invite former and current teachers in the elitist schools to testify on the state of things in the schools, especially in the hostels. Acts of brutality, bullying, and immorality are rife in some private schools. It is an epidemic. Too many people lick their wounds privately and move on. There have been deaths. But the trauma of violence on children lasts forever. Some grow up to be broken adults. Others become bullies themselves. There ought to be legislation on this subject. There should also be an awareness campaign to sensitise parents and children to report bullying anywhere it occurs.

Professor Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha can be reached on 08023220393 

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