The Nigerian National Association for the Deaf has petitioned the Nasarawa state government to change the principal of the Government Comprehensive Special School, Lafia, citing mismanagement and misconduct.
More than 5,960 people have already signed an online petition calling for the removal of Baerbel Jaja, principal of the Lafia-based special school.
The petition is pushing for up to 7,500 signatures and calls on Nasarawa governor to investigate allegations of misconduct, bullying and oppression against Jaja.
It also wants the government to act swiftly to “restore the confidence of people with disabilities in Nasarawa State.”
In her response, Jaja told Daily Trust she was not concerned about the online petition or whatever was said on social media, stating, “I only answer to the governor”.
Litany of allegations
Government Comprehensive Special School in Lafia opened in February 2018, and has been run by Jaja, a German who’s lived a long time in Nigeria.
The petition questions her administrative and special education experience as lacking.
The school has three streams—for the deaf, the blind and students with learning disabilities.
Two-third of its population is deaf. The petition claims Jaja has “no knowledge of sign language” has made no attempt to learn it in the two years she has run the school.
Her running of the school has been questioned. She is described as not supporting vocational skill training for students to help them lead independent lives.
Parents complaining about their children’s lack of progress have withdrawn from the school, citing “strange and discriminatory policies” implemented by Jaja.
One policy prohibits deaf students aged over 18 from attending school, another prevents children from playing on the school ground during break time, according to the petition.
“Regular bullying and harassment of teachers in students’ presence have now become the norm throughout the school,” the petition said.
NNAD in the petition says it has reported to Nasarawa education ministry, which has “made no effort to stop a further decline of the school and thus supported the renewal of Jaja’s contract to continue running the school”.
“We expect to see the change of principal. To see a qualified special educator as principal. Someone who knows sign language,” NNAD president Chidi Olujie told Daily Trust.
“It’s important for one to have good understanding of deaf education.”
Before taking up the running of Government Comprehensive Special School, Jaja administered Hope House Initiative, a nongovernment organization for special-needs children.
“She didn’t study Special Education but managed to run Hope School in Abuja. I don’t know how she got to run it,” a source says.
“Teachers have issues with her. She doesn’t even listen to them despite the fact that they went to university to study Special Education and she did not. She tells them what she thinks is right and even abuses them and their lecturers.
“Casual staff also have issues with her. She pays them between N5,000 and N10,000 per month. She blithely tells them that they did not sign any agreement with her.”
The affected staff are among those paid directly by the school, and some have had to go without pay because of holidays, Daily Trust has learnt.
“In Christmas/New Year 2019, she told them that she will only pay part salary because they were not coming to work for Christmas or New Year,” a source said.
“She made it sound to them that it was their fault that Christmas and New Year were public holidays.
“During the COVID period, she made some staff to come to work despite the fact the state government directed that all schools within the state to be closed.”
“In 2019, on World Autism Day, the physically challenged adults who came to witness the programme were treated with contempt as she told them to go away. After the programme ended, they gathered, waiting to beat her up but ended beating the maintenance guy up because she caught hold of their plans and escaped.”
While the online calling for an investigation was in its early days after hitting 3,600 signatures, she sent administrative staff posted from the office of the head of service “packing after calling them derogatory names”.
In another incident, she sent some blind students away from the school on the premise that they were too old.
“I am beyond baffled that someone can actively create barriers for vulnerable females to access education. That is the most worrying aspect,” said a respondent who spoke to Daily Trust but refuses to be named.
Usman Nahuche has signed the petition, saying, “Nothing about us without us, We have capable hands.”
Mary Ombugadu signed the petition on January 19, saying, “The right thing should be done always. We must all protect the vulnerable in society.”
Two days earlier, Agbo Agbo signed the petition because “it is important to protect children, if more importantly, those living with physical disabilities.”
Two days before that, Ebuka Okeke said he signed because “the lady has no knowledge of the special school.
“She deserves to be removed and replaced by the right and able to manage the school.”