By Andrew Agbese
The idea that senior students in secondary schools can exercise absolute powers over their juniors came about as a spillover from the tradition in military training camps.
With the setting up of facilities for the recruitment and training of military personnel from the local populace by the colonialists coming up almost at the same time with the establishment of boarding schools, certain practices between the two overlapped.
The oldest secondary school in Nigeria, the CMS Grammar School for instance, was established in 1858, while the Hausa Constabulary, the precursor to what will later become known as the Nigerian Army on its part started recruitment and training around 1863. A difference of five years.
Subsequently, efforts to increase military and para-military facilities for the recruitment and training of security personnel went hand in hand with efforts towards increasing formal education even after independence.
Unfortunately, the military institutions had different sets of rules and methods for training cadets and recruits which emphasizes physical fitness and the ability to endure hardship above other virtues.
Hence cadets and recruits were made to pass through the most tasking and physically demanding rigours to prove their mettle.
It was said in those days for instance that by the gate of a popular military training facility in Nigeria, the image of a large coffin was displayed to remind cadets that what they were about going through was no child’s play.
You hear of all sorts of stories about junior cadets being ordered by their seniors to ‘frog jump’ from one end of the school premises to another or made to fan their seniors endlessly till the senior falls asleep.
Other forms of punishment included making cadets to stand on their heads for hours.
Pitifully, it was from these institutions that equate force with discipline that the first sets of secondary school students in Nigeria relied on as models for relating with one another and imported the idea of seniority with all its attendant trappings.
In the military, seniority is key as it establishes an order of superiority which can be derived in many ways but mainly from how early a cadet or recruit is admitted; such that even those of the same rank defer to one another in terms of days or months difference in the time of admission.
Such things ordinarily should not have mattered in secondary schools which have different focus and priority is placed on scholarship and attention to details.
But somehow, the traditions in the military and para military training facilities found their ways to the colleges and the senior students, like their counterparts in military institutions, began to see themselves as superior in ranks to freshers and began to demand total submission and total loyalty from the latter.
In no time, the type of drills, order and punishment allowed only in military settings found their ways to these colleges and the moment classes are over and the teachers and other staff retire to their homes leaving the students on their own, the seniors begin to think of how best to make themselves ‘feared’ by their juniors.
And because the freshers are usually too young (sometimes nine or ten years old) and unaware of their rights, they don’t protest or report such cases of brutality.
Even when the idea of reporting such plays in their heads, they’re usually too intimidated to let it out for fear of being marked by the seniors.
In some instances, the junior students are made to bear the torture with the assurance that it will be their turn to brutalise others when they get to senior classes.
A lady told me how she reported a case of maltreatment to her father after her first term in school, but said the father encouraged her to bear it explaining that when she gets to senior class she will also do same to others!
Some students however absorb such treatments because they ignorantly assume it’s part of the school curriculum or that the school permits such things.
In my form one in secondary school, a certain senior used a hockey stick to beat a junior and the hands of the junior got swollen. When one of our teachers saw the hand and asked what happened, we had no option but to tell him the truth.
But as the teacher asked the affected student to follow him to the Principal’s office so he could report the matter, the student started begging him to let go saying he does not want more trouble. This is the kind of fear that prevents juniors from exposing such atrocities.
Another student from a rural area suprised us one day when he told us that he will not be coming back to school after the holidays as he couldn’t bear the hardship that goes with being a student and like he said, that was the last time we saw him in school.
Save for the Dowen College incident, I did not think such horrors still exist as today’s kids appear too tender and refined in my view to contemplate such things. But alas!
The school authorities must spell it out to senior students that it does not condone such behaviours and encourage the juniors to come out with such things when they happen.
Any student reported to be doing so should not only be punished but the parents be summoned cautioned and counselled on how to guide such wards.
Because it is child to child violence, many tend to underplay the consequences, but as the case of Dowen College has shown, it ain’t no child’s play no more.
Agbese, a former Daily Trust politics editor writes from Abuja.