When DSS makes teachers’ discipline of pupils go wrong
It is often stated that teachers’ rewards are in heaven but a recent attack on some of them in a school in Calabar by security agents indicates that there are dire consequences for those who discipline errant pupils, report IYABO LAWAL and UJUNWA ATUEYI
By all accounts, it was surreal. A well-scripted movie would not even have offered more drama. The Department of State Services (DSS) officials stormed a school and beat up teachers for the offence of disciplining a pupil who flouted a teacher’s instruction.
Trouble began when a civic education teacher, Mr. Owai Owai punished the entire senior students of a class in the Federal Government Girls’ College, FGGC, Calabar on February 2, for flouting his instructions not to force junior pupils to sweep their class.
An aggrieved student, who had a DSS official as an aunt, allegedly put a call across to her mother and she mobilised a horde of DSS officials, guns blazing to mow everything in their paths.
At the end of the drama, six teachers and the school’s security official required medical attention. Mr. Owai, one of the six teachers brutalised, stated that he was “flogged in front of his pupils by the DSS woman and her husband.”
For the avoidance of doubt, the DSS, Nigeria’s primary domestic intelligence agency, is tasked with intelligence gathering and protection of senior government officials. But this was a day not much intelligence seemed to be at play.
However, this is by no means a remote or even a distant occurrence, as cases of parents overreacting to a child being disciplined by a teacher has been occurring from time to time. In November last year, the parents of 14-year-old Onyinye Nwakaeme, a pupil of Great Esteem Private Secondary School in Ijeshatedo area of Lagos state, had Mr. Sunday Adeshina arrested for flogging their daughter.
Adeshina was charged to court for assault and when he could not meet the bail condition of N70, 000, he was transferred to Kirikiri prisons.
While some parents have been known to overreact to teachers’ disciplining their children, there are some teachers as well whose understanding and application of corporal punishment qualifies them for mandatory psychological evaluation.
In October 2015, a secondary school teacher with the Ibadan Municipal Government (IMG) in Ibadan in Oyo State, was arrested for allegedly flogging a teenage pupil to death. The pupil had arrived late to school.
In the case of 14-year-old, Ogechi Anyalewechi, a senior secondary school two pupil of Bishop Philips Academy, Ibadan, a slap from the school principal’s secretary denied the promising young girl the use of one of her eyes. The action has left many people wondering the kind of spite the secretary must have invested in the slap that left the child partially blind.
Findings reveal that corporal punishment is common in public schools where there is often inadequate supervision and far too many pupils than a teacher can handle. Hence, misdemeanors by students would always be met with a cane every now and then.
What does this portend for teachers whose job is to inculcate knowledge into children who sometimes act as if their pituitary glands were coming on with weed? Already teachers seem like endangered species, they feel insecure claiming that schools are no longer places of safety and order.
For teachers battling to make ends meet, the recent DSS operation does little to boost their morale. Many now report feeling apprehensive; worrying more about appropriate mode of discipline rather than the objective of the action. To forestall incidences like these, some schools especially private schools have completely outlawed corporal punishment.
Some teachers while expressing their fears said there are at least two effects of lack of discipline on them. The first one is insecurity; schools are no longer places of safety and order. Besides, some students allegedly carry dangerous weapons, and teachers are not free to teach in such an environment.
Mrs. Oluwabunmi Oteju, Head of Inclusive Schools, Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (LSUBEB) in one of her numerous contributions stated: “Educationists believe that flogging is not the best punitive measure to use on children. It is better to counsel children. When you resort to flogging all the time, the student will misbehave over and over again, under the pretext that after all, it is just for them to cane me and it would not change anything in that child. But when you counsel, monitor adequately, involve parents and teachers, you would see changes. Effective counseling and monitoring is better than flogging.” This call is by no means new.
A research paper recently published by the Department of Ophthalmology, College of Health Sciences of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, cited a four-year study which concluded that 30.3 per cent of all eye injuries, presented at that hospital, by children aged between five and 15 years old, were directly attributed to caning or whipping attacks that went horribly wrong, either in schools or at home.
Some educators swore by the efficacy of discipline but called for restraint. One of them, Mrs. Kikelomo Olawumi, said parents and teachers must find the right balance in enforcing discipline in children. She said that this is significant especially in a religious, multi-ethnic and traditional society like Nigeria, where many believe that the best way to discipline a child is through physical punishment.
Olawunmi attributed this belief to a harsh culture that centered on the fact that a child has to be battered before moulding him or her into a fine character; social-economic pressure on teachers which compels them to transfer aggression on innocent children; and the culture of impunity, especially in public schools where teachers feel they can get away with such.
In 2011, the Lagos state government under the administration of Babatunde Fashola passed a legislation abolishing caning, beating or physical torture of school pupils and of workplace apprentices, declaring the action criminal. Fashola, then, said that the move was in recognition of basic human rights of children in the state. Lagos has also domesticated the Child Rights Act of 2003 also to protect children.
However, teachers who engage in corporal punishment do not feel they are violating the law and some of them say they genuinely care for their pupils.
A teacher in a public school in Lagos who pleaded anonymity said flogging is a corrective measure, which experienced teachers know how to apply with good results.
She said: “Even though we flog, many of us have experience in doing that. Caning students is not punishment but corrective measure. You do not help anybody when a parent invites law enforcement authorities in a gestapo-style raid on a school simply because their child or ward was punished, that is just plain silly.”
Similarly, the Proprietress of New Life Private School, Ikotun, Mrs. Gbemisola Emiebor frowned at the use of cane by teachers saying it is capable of causing serious problems.
But are there regulations guiding child discipline in schools? President, National Parents Teachers Association (NAPTAN), Alhaji Haruna Danjuma, said each school has its rules and regulations concerning learning, discipline and morals. Danjuma stated that article 3(3) (e) (f) of the constitution of NAPTAN is in support of discipline but said such must be done with a human face.
“What we are against is corporal punishment, it is not allowed, it is believed that every teacher knows how to handle a student when he does something wrong, once a student goes against the rules and regulations of the school, such a student must be punished accordingly.”
A legal practitioner, Uju Okeke while shedding more light on the issue of child discipline in schools stated that Section 11 of Childs Right Act allows punishment that is not inhuman and degrading while Section 28 further buttress the point that instilling discipline is part of a child all round development.
“Thus section 19 of Child Rights Act, Article 29 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right, Article 31 of the African Charter on the Rights and welfare of the Child and article 26 of the African Youth Charter all impose on the child, duty to respect parents, elders and superiors.
The legal luminary however cautioned that every child is entitled to respect and must not be subjected to mental abuse, neglect or maltreatment. Okeke added that the parent or civil rights groups could only intervene when the punishment being meted becomes inhuman or degrading.
An official of the federal ministry of education who pleaded anonymity disclosed that the rules of education concerning discipline states that students must be corrected in love and understanding which is basically what the holy books propagate. He revealed that punishment of any kind must be documented in a punishment register; regrettably, he said many educationists forget this rule as soon as they start teaching.
He further said that in the ethics of the profession, teachers were not permitted to discipline students as it was only the principal or head teacher who had the right to do so and whenever punishment was to be administered especially if a cane was involved, the hand of the principal or head teacher must not be above arms length.
By and large, he was of the opinion that counseling most of the time provided and yielded better results than corporal punishment which if not properly administered could lead to low self esteem in the student which may invariably affect the performance of such a student.