Taming menace of bullying in Nigerian schools

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John Davis

By Iyabo Lawal

John Davies, 11, cries every night before he sleeps. The thought of going to school every morning to face some of his classmates, who continually torment him, is demoralizing. He attends one of the popular private schools in Lagos. As a matter of fact, it is a faith-based school. Since he got into the school, in primary one and now in primary four, Davis has had a hard time challenging those who bully him. His mother, Mrs. Chioma Davies, is worried over her son’s mental and emotional stability. Already, she said what her son is facing in school has caused a behavioral change.

Opemipo Asade’s story is akin to Davies’. Asade, 12, is constantly being bullied by her classmates – the older ones and seniors, so much so that she fears going back to school after holidays and the kind, sweet child has become so withdrawn and quiet.

Some months ago, Mrs. Deborah Okezie Archibong, the mother of an 11-year-old student in a private school in Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State, posted a video on social media, where she cried out that her son’s seniors were sexually molesting him. Similarly, a video went viral in Benin City, Edo State, where some students were seen brutalizing and humiliating their classmates where one of them was stripped naked. In the same vein, Nollywood actress, Mercy Johnson Okojie, recently cried out that a teacher in her daughter’s school was bullying her because of her celebrity status. Okojie lamented that for two weeks, her first daughter, Purity, was bullied by a teacher in her school because of the hatred for her mother. The school management had initiated an investigation into the case in the wake of the backlash that followed and parties at the end of the investigation resolved to move forward together as crucial partners.

Sylvester Oromoni before his death

However, the death of 12-year old Sylvester Oromoni, a student of Dowen College, Lekki, Lagos, in controversial circumstances, has sparked fresh reactions from angry Nigerians, who have called for the prosecution of students named by the deceased as those who bullied him.

Bullying in schools seems to be an acceptable culture, which unfortunately, might have sent some students to their early graves, while some sustained a lifetime injury, both physically and mentally. Schools are recognized as institutions responsible for transferring knowledge and culture to future generation.  The school is also expected to be a place where students should feel safe and secure, and where they can count on being treated with respect and care.

There are day and boarding schools, and the major purpose of boarding is for coexistence among students from different backgrounds and culture. Some scholars believe that boarding school is essential for overall development and growth of a child and the most critical aspect of boarding schools are the networking opportunities it renders. Students learn the importance of tolerance and respect for different views and perspective through the bonds they develop in such a close-knit educational setting. 

The reality, however, seems to be that only few students or pupils can harmoniously blend with their school mates without experiencing violence in their various learning environments. The extreme cases of bullying, especially in Nigerian boarding schools, have gone on for decades and it is seen as a lifestyle that students are expected to adapt to. Hearing of some of these stories of bullying, like sexual molestation, gang rape, exploitation and torture of students in Nigerian boarding schools brings to memory the pictures of traumatic scenes in horror movies.

An Associate Professor of Development and Clinical Psychology, Mrs. Grace Idowu, defined bullying as a persistent, threatening and aggressive behaviour directed at a weaker, younger and less powerful individual. Such action could be verbal or physical. The psychologist said a male or female pupil with the realization of being bigger and stronger than others could develop the tendency to exercise authority over younger and smaller pupils.

What makes a child become a bully? 

Bullying is an act a child learns at home. Children are not born to be bullies. They obviously learnt it from home. If a child grows up in a home where the father constantly bullies the mother, the child might grow up to become a bully, an act to which the child was exposed. If she is a female child, she may not become a bully, but she may end up acting like a male child. This is because she had been exposed to a rough, aggressive and volatile environment.

A mother explained that some parents are not aware that the type of environment they create at home goes a long way in shaping their child’s future. Children copy what they see their parents do. “My daughter is in Junior Secondary 2. She attends a public school. Nowadays, she does not want to play with her siblings. She always looks withdrawn and lost in thoughts. When I inquired from her teacher about her behavioral change, her teacher said she was being bullied by some of her classmates. The teacher said she had tried many times to caution the pupils, but they have refused to stop the act,” she said.

Many parents, whose children are victims of bullying often find it hard to handle the matter. Advising mothers, an expert in psychology, Fola Oke, said bullying is a serious case, which should not be left to the child to deal with or handled alone. “The child needs the help of his or her parents and teachers. This is because it is a situation that subdues a child. The child won’t be himself any more. He would lose concentration and always think of how to escape from his bullies. This is why parents must constantly speak with their children on a daily basis. Whenever a child gets back home from school, parents should ask him or her about all that happened in school. A child who is bullied would not be happy at school and at home. If the parents notice this behaviour, they should make the child talk. The parents should also inquire from the class teacher about those bullying their children,” he said.

Oke also advised teachers and parents to caution and educate those who bully their schoolmates. He said: “Parents should sit their children down to discuss effects of bullying on them. They need to let the child know that crying or succumbing to the demands of bullies will only make the bullies happy. The child needs to be educated on how to deal with bullying. The child must resist when bullied instead of sulking. He or she must come out of his or her shell. Sensitization from parents, teachers and developing a bold personality are ways a child can deal with bullying. Oke explained that apart from fear, a victim of bullying could get depressed and become suicidal. He said, “There is a link between bullying, depression and suicide. When a child becomes depressed, he has no peace of mind, especially in school. He becomes more depressed as time goes on and the only way of escape is suicide. Before a child who is being bullied gets to this stage, the parents must have noticed one or two behavioral changes and it is important they act fast. A parent must be observant. Most times, these children do not like talking about what they are facing in school, owing to the fear of aggravated attacks from the bullies. It is left to parents to be observant. It is also important that parents make their children see them as friends. This would create an environment where the child can freely talk about his or her fears.”

Like Oke, Mrs. Grace Idowu said children who are bullied should speak out and let their parents and teachers know about their challenges. She said though bullies could initially threaten their victims not to tell anyone about their travails, victims must summon courage and confide in their teachers. “The child being bullied must not stop until he is heard. He or she must persist in his complaints until something is done about the situation. Exhibiting courage is a major factor in this situation. Teachers and school heads have a role to play. They should know that there is possibility of a child being bullied by his peers. Hence, they should constantly announce that any child being bullied should report to them. The school could establish a student advisory unit,” she said.

Idowu emphasized that a child being bullied must open up to his or her parents so that they can confront the school head or teacher about the matter. She warned that if bullying is not dealt with, it could create emotional problems for the child, who will become afraid of every little thing and everyone who challenges him or her.

On his part, a university teacher, Emmanuel Effiong, said a child must challenge his bullies. “I hear parents tell their children that if any child slaps their face, they should retaliate. I call it the law of pragmatism. This says if a finger is coming towards your nose and you keep moving backwards, that finger would continue to follow your nose until it hits your nose. But if the finger comes close to your nose, and you act as if you want to chop it off, the owner would withdraw his finger. This is why volatile resistance works in a situation such as bullying.”

Another extreme case is ignoring your bullies. If your bullies taunt you and you ignore them, they would stop bullying you. Their joy is derived from your reaction. Ignoring them will make the situation die down. A behaviour that is not reinforced goes into extinction.

Also, an educationist, Mrs. Toluwani Adams, said children being bullied would not like to inform their teachers in order not to be betrayed. “I have discovered that children do not like reporting their bullies, the only way to know that a child is being bullied is through behavioral change. This means teachers must be watchful. The signs are always there to show that a child is being bullied. For example, if a child who used to do well in his studies suddenly begins to lag behind, teachers should intervene.” 

An entrepreneur, Michael Udoh, while recounting his experience at Federal Government College, Idoani, said: “As a senior student, I was not exactly a saint. But I definitely didn’t go around beating my juniors and collecting their provisions. We used to hear tales back then. We were told that some seniors locked up a junior student in a dark wardrobe or locker and left him there for days, and he died. We were told how some senior students beat a boy till he passed out, was rushed to the hospital and confirmed dead on arrival. There have been several cases of students’ deaths due to bullying and torture, and government does not prosecute or fire any teacher or staff members who are being paid to watch these young ones.  I remember the case of one of my classmates who was impregnated by a teacher in my school. She was less than 16, at the time, which automatically makes the sex statutory rape. She tried to commit an abortion, there were medical complications and she almost died. She survived though. This girl was expelled. Our principal at the time blamed it on those of us wearing shorts and tight uniforms, while the teacher continued teaching in that school.” 

Another former student, who identified himself as Thomas, lamented that extreme cases of bullying in Nigerian boarding schools had gone on for decades. “It is seen as a lifestyle that students are expected to adapt to. A junior student gets bullied. The junior student becomes a senior and takes it out on his own juniors.” Thomas said there should be zero tolerance for bullying in secondary schools, especially boarding schools. He said: “The extreme cases of bullying in Nigerian boarding schools have gone on for decades and it is seen as a lifestyle that students are expected to adapt to. Bullying in Nigerian boarding schools seems to be an acceptable culture, which unfortunately might have sent some students to their early graves while some sustained a lifetime injury both physically and mentally.” 

Experts lament that bullying could result in low self-esteem for victims, increased violence and juvenile crime within the school environments.  To reduce cases of bullying, experts said individuals, groups and systematic interventions should be implemented in schools and must include students, teachers, administrators and parents. Besides, they stated that surveillance cameras should be mounted in strategic places in schools for proper monitoring of daily activities of students, while ministries of education should come up with a firm disciplinary measure for violators to serve as deterrent to others and reduce the spate of bullying in schools.

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