Written by Evi Idoghor
Nigerian social media found itself in an uproar a few days ago, because a 12-year-old boy died as a result of injuries sustained from merciless beatings from some of his schoolmates. This poor boy was said to have been a victim of bullying, which ultimately led to his death. It baffles me that children could wreak such havoc in a place that was supposed to be a safe place for them.
If you attended a boarding school in Nigeria in the 1990s (or earlier), you can attest to the fact that physical and verbal abuse were out of control during those years. Senior students frequently oppressed junior students by instilling fear, punishment, and hard labor, all of which culminated in abuse.
Junior students were harassed at will by senior students. If you fell into their trap, there was no one to save you unless you had connections in the senior class. Their preferred weapons were whips, canes, hangers, and the palms of their hands. I was one of those who suffered at the hands of those in senior secondary school—SS2 or SS3, which are equivalent to junior and senior years of high school in the United States.
The senior students expected the junior students to make their beds, clean their rooms, fetch their water, run errands for them, and serve as punching bags when they fell short of their expectations. Children who were sent to school by their parents to study were abused simply for being children. If you complained, you were labeled as weak or feeble, as this was often seen as a part of secondary school life. So, many people chested it.
When I was 11 years old, a senior student beat me with a rubber hanger for playing outside with the boys in my class. To be honest, I'm not certain I've forgiven her or the system that allowed abuse disguised as discipline to go unpunished.
“The oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors.” —Paulo Freire
In fact, cruel activities continued in most secondary schools across Nigeria, with students exchanging horror stories at the time, as if it were something quite normal, but any sense of normalcy was far-flung. The junior students persevered until they reached the senior class, at which point it was time for retaliation. What had been done to them, they had to do to others—the oppressed had become the oppressors.
Some people grow out of these characteristics, while others carry them into adulthood if not curtailed. As a result, we see such behaviors prevalent in our society. Many people in countries like Nigeria complain about the government's incompetence. When given the opportunity to rise to positions of influence, however, they exhibit the same characteristics as the government, rather than making a difference.
They are quick to break traffic laws as soon as they gain power, driving against traffic, driving people off the roads with their obnoxious sirens, and wreaking all kinds of havoc. Then, in the spirit of reciprocity, you hear people say things like, "I can't wait to get into power so I can do the same thing."
As a result, the cycle continues, with the beggar who becomes wealthy by chance mocking other beggars. The bullied who once cried to their mother about being singled out becomes a bully. The abused becomes the abuser after years of suffering in silence. As such, the oppressed becomes the oppressor, and society wreathes out of control.
How Does Change Happen?
If we want to see change, we must start with ourselves. What methods are used to raise children? Do they see you mistreating your domestic workers? Do they notice you speaking condescendingly to people in your class? Do they notice you yelling at people in traffic? Children are sponges, imitating what they see their parents and peers do. As a result, parents must set a good example for their children.
Raise them up in God's ways. Teach them to love and respect others rather than to despise and scorn them. Teach them the right values and morals to adopt so that when they are not under your supervision and see evil, they will be able to resist it.
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