When The Oppressed Becomes The Oppressor

Updated: Jan 6

“The oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors.”

—Paulo Freire

If you are a person who attended boarding school in Nigeria, in the 90s (or earlier), you can confirm that physical and verbal abuse were at their peak during those times. Students in the senior classes often oppressed the students in junior classes by perpetuating fear, punishment, and hard labor which all culminated in abuse.


Senior students harassed junior students at will. There was no one to rescue you if you fell into their trap, except you had connections in the senior class. Whips, canes, hangers, and the palms of their hands, were their weapons of choice. I was one of those who suffered such plight in the hands of those who were in senior secondary school—SS2 or SS3, which will be equivalent to the junior and senior year of high schools 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 also be their punching bags whenever they fell short of the expectations they placed on them. Children who were sent to school by their parents to study ended up being abused for just being children. God forbid if you complained, then you were termed weak or feeble, as such was often seen as part of secondary-school-life. So many chested it.

I was only 11-years-old, when a senior student beat me to a pulp with a rubber hanger, for playing outside with the boys in my class. To be honest, I am not-so-sure that I have forgiven her or the system which allowed abuse masqueraded as discipline to go unpunished.


Matter-of-fact, cruel activities continued in most secondary schools all across Nigeria, with students exchanging horror stories at the time, as if it were something that was quite normal, but it was far-flung any sense of normalcy. The junior students endured until they got into the senior class, and it was payback time. What was done to them, they did to others—the oppressed became the oppressors.

Thus, vicious cycles like these continued until the early to mid-2000s when some private schools began emerging and exhibited zero tolerance towards those sorts of behaviors. But that still hasn’t stopped the oppressed from becoming the oppressors in society, we see it happen every day.

Many complain about the Government’s incompetence in countries like Nigeria. However, when they are given the opportunity to get into positions of influence, they exhibit the same characteristics displayed by the government; rather than making a difference.

As soon as they get into power, they are quick to break traffic laws; 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 such remarks amongst the general public saying—I can’t wait to get into power to have the carte blanche to do same.

Hence, the cycle continues; the beggar who becomes rich by chance mocks other beggars. The bullied who once cried to their mom for being constantly singled-out becomes a bully. The abused, who suffered in silence for years on end becomes the abuser. And as such, the oppressed becomes the oppressor, leaving society to wreathe out of control.

If we want change, if we desire to see different, if we are sick and tired of being sick and tired, then we must do unto others as we want them to do unto us, breaking the vicious cycle of oppression in our society.

Written by Evi Idoghor, Creator of Letstalknationblog.com

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