October 28, 2023

Sad tales from our schools, By Francis Ewherido

Francis ewherido

Agbor, in Delta State, was in the news this week for the wrong reasons. First, a parent, Nnajiofor Nweke, went to the school of his son and allegedly beat a teacher, Mr. Sunday Ufuah, to death. What was the teacher’s offence? The late teacher disciplined the son for stealing.

The parent, who is now in police custody but giving a different account of events on that day, was said to have stormed the school and started flogging teachers indiscriminately for having the audacity to punish his son who allegedly stole palm wine outside the school. “The deviant son, a JSSI student, and others, allegedly scaled the school fence and went to the palm wine shop to steal the local liquor,” according to reports.The student, who is likely below 13 years, told the father that the teacher flogged him.

As I read the story, I wanted to weep for the calamity that has befallen our society. I did my secondary school in the same Delta State, then Bendel State, in the late 70s to early 80s. Stealing was dangerous territory for those of us from strict homes. If you committed any infraction and you were disciplined in school, you took your punishment and kept sealed lips. If the teacher knew your parents, you begged the teacher not to escalate the matter because if your parents found out, worse punishment awaited you at home for disgracing the family and bringing family name to disrepute.

I cannot recall any parent going to the school to make trouble because the son was punished for stealing. There was only one exception I can recall. Parents of junior students of Anglican Girls Grammar School, Ozoro, stormed the school once because the senior students shaved the pubic hairs of the junior students. The senior students took the action because they felt that the junior students were saucy because everyone had grown pubic hair.

Some parents in my time went to school to report their children for infractions during holidays or out of school hours for day students. Some students were called out during assembly and publicly flogged. So it is tough to relate to Nweke’s action. Bad boys were among students even in my time, but the parents were too ashamed of the children’s bad conducts to show their faces in the school. The few who did only did so because the school specifically requested that the student brought their parents. 

The students either respected or dreaded the teachers. These days, students beat up teachers. Some teachers even say that teaching in secondary school these days is a dangerous job. You cannot discipline erring students. If they fail their exams, you have to find a way to give them pass mark for your own safety. Cultism has infiltrated primary and secondary schools. So this story, though disheartening, is not surprising. It started from the home. The level of poor parenting today is shocking.

When people blame government for everything wrong in the society I wonder, where did it start from? I am one of the firm believers that reengineering Nigeria must start from the family unit. That is the cradle. This thing is not rocket science.  We have/had children in school. One parent proudly said that she told her son that “if they steal your pen, steal someone else’s own. Do not come home to disturb me for a replacement.” In my time, my father bought everything. If you came home with a pen that he did not buy for you, trouble; big trouble. Many parents have failed have failed big time.

The Delta State Government has a duty not only to protect Deltans, but its employees. If it had only ended in flogging the teacher, we will be talking about humiliation and maltreatment of teachers. But here, we are dealing with case of alleged manslaughter or murder. These are criminal offences and that is the purview of government, not the deceased family. 

The news report said Commissioner for Secondary Education, Rose Ezewu, in company of her ministry officials, paid a condolence visit to the family of the late Ufuah and offered scholarship to the bereaved children. This is a good step, but I assume that she is offering the scholarship on behalf of the Delta State, not herself, because she will not be in the ministry forever. Meanwhile the children of the 33-year-old Ofuah should still be very young. The scholarship should continue till University level, no matter who becomes the commissioner or governor during their time in school.

But teachers and school administers have their own issues. In the same Agbor last week, there was a report of a school proprietor and only male teacher in the school, Innocent Ezeukwu, who was arrested and taken into custodyfor sexually abusing a four-year-old girl. Government really needs to look beyond paper qualifications and financial capacity to the character of people they grant licenses to operate schools, especially primary schools and Kindergartens. Prospective applicants need to be well scrutinized to minimize granting licenses to pedophiles.Agbor, next time, be in the news for good reasons.

Anyway, Nigeria has laws that deal with sexual abuse of minors. They should be applied. As I was writing, I read the story an Ikeja Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Court sitting in Lagos last Monday sentencing a man, Joseph Ekanem, to double life imprisonment for defiling his neighbour’s 13-year-old daughter. That is a huge price to pay for lack of dick control, but the law is the law, vulnerable members of the society must be protected. That is one area where Nigeria is lagging behind. 

One major problem I have with teachers and school administrators is that they do not know the dividing line between discipline and cruelty. I am a firm believer in Proverbs 13:24 – “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”It is up to you to define rod and discipline, but I hold fast to the verse. I have seen the manifestation of this verse for at least 50 years of my life and I am ardent believer of this verse. But this is my problem with many parents and teachers. They ignore the obvious dividing line between discipline and cruelty. Discipline is applied with love. It is applied because you love the person and you want the best for the person. Once there is no love, your action is likely to lapse into cruelty. 

Also, last week, the news broke of two school officials who allegedly flogged a student to death for absenteeism in Kaduna. According to the report, the principal and vice principal took turns to flog the deceased. Then “he was still beaten to the extent that he lost some of his teeth and then went into coma and subsequently lost his life.” This can never be an act of discipline. It is cruelty. We are no longer talking about whether the absenteeism was a delinquent act. We have a case of murder or manslaughter. Let the law takes its course. Abroad, cruelty to animals attract jail terms, not to talk of human beings. Teachers and school administrators must discipline pupils and students with love, not cruelty. No responsible parent tolerates that.