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Nigeria must create an anti-bullying policy

The recent viral video of the bullying of a female student in Lead British International School, Abuja, brought to the limelight the persistent issue of…

The recent viral video of the bullying of a female student in Lead British International School, Abuja, brought to the limelight the persistent issue of bullying and abuse of children in schools in Nigeria.

Following the video in which the victim was repeatedly slapped by another female student in front of witnesses, other videos emerged depicting bullying in the same school, with most featuring senior students bullying junior students.

While some will argue that this system of “discipline” has always been ingrained in the Nigerian school system, we must point out that these types of incidents have resulted in the needless deaths of students and the infliction of psychological damage on several others.

The death in controversial circumstances of Sylvester Oromoni Jnr, whose father insisted he was bullied to death at Dowen College, Lagos, and numerous other cases, reported and unreported, are calling for anti-bullying policies to protect all students. These include those being bullied and those doing the bullying, because in the long run the bullies too are impacted by what they do, especially if it causes serious harm.

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A similar incident occurred at Deeper Life High School, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, where an 11-year-old junior secondary school student was bullied by senior students on the orders of the school because he was bed-wetting. His mother alleged that her child was starved and sexually abused at the behest of the school authority; leaving him with serious injuries.

While acknowledging that the “seniority system” has opened the door to customised bullying, it is worth noting that these are different times that centre on fundamental human rights. The abuse meted out under the seniority system goes against the grains of human rights, child safety and other normative practices in modern education systems.

Following the video of the bullying at Leads British International School, the Minister of Education hastily intervened and closed down the school for three days. This, we believe, was a rash decision that impacted other students of the school.

The bullying incident in the school was serious and needed to be thoroughly investigated and culpable parties sanctioned, but the abrupt closure of the school was a knee-jerk reaction. School closure should be a last resort if investigation reveals an entrenched pattern of abuse and negligence on the part of the school authorities.

The responsible education board should have been allowed to apply laid down procedures in dealing with the incident. This should be done transparently and under close observation considering the public interest in the issue. Blanket bans and closures should not be our default mechanism of dealing with issues that bring us shame or public ridicule.

Given the increasing incidents of bullying and the outrage they continue to generate, Nigeria needs a comprehensive anti-bullying policy backed by a massive anti-bullying campaign. The global best practice has been to use sportsmen and celebrity figures to raise awareness about bullying and its life-long impact on pupils.

On the other hand, legislative interventions have been used to help curb the menace. Countries like the Philippines, in 2013, enacted the Anti-bullying Act that compelled schools to adopt anti-bullying measures to curb physical, psychological and cyber-bullying. In these circumstances, it won’t be misplaced for the National Assembly to create a similar act for the country.

Schools themselves must create an anti-bullying policy that enumerates what bullying is, the places it happens, what is required of witnesses and bystanders, the resources available to victims and clear measures for teachers and school administrators to take to sanction the offending parties and protect the victims. Fundamentally, these policies must incorporate the four elements: a belief statement; definition of bullying: verbal, physical, cyber and emotional; a list of roles and responsibilities and finally, a statement of procedure.

Above all, schools must train their students and staff on bullying and create anti-bullying campaigns to curb the menace. This training must be regular. Some schools elsewhere have built an anti-bullying week into their syllabus to demonstrate how serious the issue is. It would not be a bad idea for Nigerian schools to adopt similar strategies to prevent the needless loss of lives and the physical and psychological damage it causes to both the victims and the bullies.

With the eagerness demonstrated by the Minister of Education in addressing the recent incident, we hope the same enthusiasm will be extended to creating lasting policies and nationwide anti-bullying campaigns to address this very serious issue and minimise its occurrence to the barest minimum.

Schools are places to train the leaders of tomorrow, not the tyrants of the future, hence establishing and enforcing policies that outline how students are expected to treat one another and the consequences for violation will help keep them that way.

 

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