• Sunday, July 21, 2024
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Do Nigerians believe that children are people?


“People react differently to information. We are parents in the school. Academic wise, the school is very sound, I must say; I have three children there. There are lapses but I would not say that people should withdraw their children at this point in time. I would rather say this is a time to heal, reconcile and build.”

In the aftermath of the shocking murder of a preteen student at the hands of boarding house bullies, the above is possibly the very last thing one might expect to hear from a parent with children at the school in question, but this was the response of Aituaz Kola-Oladejo, an executive member of the Dowen College Parents Forum in an interview with Sahara Reporters on Monday. In her view, the primary reason that the campaign for parents to withdraw their kids from the school is misguided is that “Academic-wise, the school is very sound.”

Many things can be picked out from her comments including the pathological selfishness and lack of solidarity that characterises Nigeria’s faux-elite, and a cultural inability to properly assign priority and scale within Nigerian culture. For the purpose of this column, I will pick out what I think is central to the scourge of child rights abuses in Nigeria, which has taken centre stage in the news cycle over the past few weeks – a near-total absence of agency and personhood ascribed to Nigerian children, which makes it easy to treat them as objects instead of humans.

Read Also: We returned 54,000 Out-of-School children to classrooms in 2yrs – Oyo Education Board

Child rights are human rights – Do Nigerians know this?

When I was in Primary 4, I had a class teacher who was feared across the student population. Mr Oshiga was competent at his job and he was a good, engaging teacher. The problem with him was that once you did anything – anything at all – to get on his wrong side, his reaction would be nothing short of horrific. Even as 8 year-olds, we understood that this was not OK, but who would listen to us?

Despite how easy it is to identify human rights abuses as such when they are inflicted on adults, somehow when they are inflicted on children, something inside the Nigerian mind shifts, and excuses begin to emerge

If he caught you talking in class, or chewing gum, or perhaps you did not do your homework, he would lay you flat face-down on a desk in front of the class and re-enact something from a British POW camp during the South African Boer war. Using his full masculine upper-body strength, he would inflict his cane on your butt at least 10 times while employing two of your classmates to hold you in place. On one particularly nasty day I still clearly remember 23 years later, he inflicted 50 such strokes on a classmate called Samuel.

Though I myself was a regular victim of Mr Oshiga’s psychotic episodes, I never bothered to report him to my parents because being in a religious cult, the violence at home was often worse than that in school. I looked to my classmates for deliverance, but they too were helpless. Apparently it was taken as conventional wisdom within the parent body that when your child came home from school with buttocks too sore for them to sit down, this was a sign that your child was being “well disciplined” by the school. The parents actively encouraged the sadistic violence of Mr Oshiga and his many likes because to them, this was “good, firm training.”

If an adult were to cross a road instead of using the pedestrian bridge, or jump a bus queue, or drive without wearing a seat belt, and they were to get caught, what would one expect the outcome to be? A spot fine maybe? A court appearance resulting in a minor misdemeanour sentence? Perhaps an order to attend a driving school refresher course? All reasonable. What if instead, the outcome was that they would be held face-down and brutally whipped 50 times?

What would you call that? Barbarism? Human rights violation? Authoritarianism or totalitarianism? State-sponsored violence or terrorism? How about all of the above? And yet, despite how easy it is to identify human rights abuses as such when they are inflicted on adults, somehow when they are inflicted on children, something inside the Nigerian mind shifts, and excuses begin to emerge: “Spare the rod” this, and “We turned out fine” that. Why do Nigerians identify what SARS does to innocent people as human rights violations, but make an infinite number of excuses for the exact same things – up to and including death – when they involve children and take place in a school environment?

No, we did not “turn out fine”

The regular counterpoint to any message advocating for an end to normalised child brutalisation and child rights violations in Nigeria is the canard “We turned out fine.” What this statement means is that since previous generations also went through horrific abuse and brutalisation at the hands of older people and authority figures, and they went on to become functioning members of society, younger generations must face the same experiences too. After all, if the older ones went through it and did not die, then it must be no big deal. It is only a rite of passage.

In reality, there are dozens of psychological research studies showing that “We turned out fine” is one of the worst lies ever told. We most certainly did not, in fact, turn out fine or anything close to it. These studies have linked childhood bullying and brutalisation to behavioural disorders, personality disorders, depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem and a plethora of other psychological and psychiatric problems in adulthood.

It has also been established that school bullies and abusive authority figures who are not punished for their actions often go on to replicate these actions in their adulthood, contributing toward making the world just that little bit worse than it already is. The school bully and sexual deviant who did not get isolated and punished for it in school is likely going to sharpen those personality traits and become an abusive colleague, boss, spouse or parent. The victims of bullying and brutalisation who never get justice go on to become silent, passive, docile citizens who allow injustice to happen around them because all they have ever been taught is that might is right – who is “right” or “wrong” depends on who has the capacity to inflict violence.

I am sure the picture I have just painted looks very familiar to anyone who lives or has spent an extended amount of time in Nigeria. Nigeria is the ultimate bully’s paradise – the country where Yakubu Gowon and Murtala Mohammed – known school bullies at Barewa College – went on to become genocidal, coup plotting, totalitarian military dictators who bullied entire populations after bullying junior students in school.

But hey, I guess “they turned out fine.”