Like all responsible parents, the circumstances that led to the death of Sylvester Oromoni and the revelations that have since come out from several students in various schools, have deeply troubled me for several reasons.
- I went to a federal government girls college and was a boarder.
- My children went to a boarding school for their secondary education. My daughter for her SS1-SS2 and my son for the whole tenure JSS1-SS3.
Our foray into choosing a boarding school for our children was intentional. Mr Aisi who also went to International School Ibadan a highbrow school with boarding facilities and l, had been unanimous in our decision that our children would at some point in their education go to boarding house. We wanted them to experience the independence, camaraderie, fun, exposure and responsibilities boarding house brings to bear on a child’s life. We had fond memories of our times in school and wanted to bequeath those experiences on our children.
I must admit, that by the time our children were old enough to go to secondary school the educational landscape had changed , our respective schools were no longer what they used to be, yet still, we yearned for that experience. We had things we looked out for – it was imperative that the school be located in a remote area outside the hustle and bustle of the city where there was little or no distractions , a rustic setting, large grounds where children could walk, play and live comfortably but not overly comfortable- no washing machines, buffet or the like and a strong Head of school who will tolerate no nonsense.
We found all that in the school we took them to and knowing from firsthand experience that the time spent with one’s children once they started boarding was limited we ensured that our daughter went in her senior year, when she was able to take good care of herself and also her brother. Our decision to have them both in school at the same time (otherwise we would have allowed her brother to be a day student for his JSS years) was because we not only wanted them to have shared experiences but we sought to deepen their familial bond by ensuring that they were there for each other when all they had was each other.
The school was quite strict about many things – mid terms were spent in school to avoid the children travelling to and fro home especially as a student had died returning home from a midterm break. There were no scheduled times to call the children so we called only on a need to call basis, initially there was no PTA as the head of school was very wary of negative parental interference but we were able to persuade him that a PTA was necessary if we were to put our children in his care. As far as I know, the school had a zero tolerance for bullying and students were not given any preferential treatment based on their parent’s social standing, wealth and influence. In fact, the current (as at then) governor of the state in which the school was located together with most of the members of his executive cabinet were parents in the school and during visiting day the principal insisted that their security detail stayed outside the school premises as “they could not harass parents who paid the same amount as them as school fees”.
After the Dowen College story broke, I couldn’t help but call my children individually to ask if they or others they knew were at anytime bullied in the school whilst they were there. My son said he was slapped once by a senior because the seniors smarting from a punishment from the school authorities took out their anger on his classmates. My daughter said she was never bullied but it took me writing about this topic to wonder if they themselves were the bully.
You see, as parents it never crosses our minds that our children could be bullies. We never want to believe that our children are capable of hurting or mistreating others and for most parents any suggestion that our child is a bully will be met with a firm and violent denial. But the truth is that the bully is someone’s child and he or she is the cause of another child’s pain, trauma and in Sylvester and Keren Akpagher (who was raped and died of sepsis from the condom left in her) case – death.
It behooves us as parents to admit that our children will lie to save face, can be manipulative, have the ability to hide their character flaws from us and can pretend to be who they are not. The truth is that we will never know all what our children get up to and we must be ready for surprises like I was when I was called by the school that my son and some other students had formed a chat group and invited a teacher who had been mean to them and abused him thoroughly. My sons saving grace was that he had cautioned his friends to speak respectfully to the teacher but his undoing was that unlike some other students on the group chat, he did not exit the chat group thereby giving tacit approval to his friends by remaining there whilst they abused the teacher.
Bullying is a behavioral trait and bullies are made, not born. Though no one is a bully from birth, sometimes the traits show from an early age. They show up either because there is a conducive environment which promotes it examples are cases of physical and emotional abuse in the home between the adults which they emulate, an unfair balance of power in the home where a child is given a position of power without boundaries over their siblings or even adults , or where there is preferential treatment of siblings over another.
Most bullies start from the home and bullies can be as young as 2-3 , because bullying is a behavioral trait unless the triggers are addressed Bullies continue to bully even if they are punished or removed to a different environment. Finally the truth is that most bullies were one time victims of bullying who have become socially maladjusted and need help themselves.
As parents who may discover to our embarrassment that our children are bullies or may have acted contrary to their upbringing , we shouldn’t be too quick to jump to their defense, shield them from the consequences of their actions and blame people of accusing them falsely. We should however, listen to the case against them objectively, carry out our own investigation to discover the truth of the matter, identify the reasons behind their actions, ensure that they suffer the consequences of their actions including but not limited to restitution( My son wrote a personal letter of apology to the teacher) and help them to heal especially if they were victims of bullying in the past. We can do all this even as we stand by our child and not his actions and I think that’s what every responsible parent who has discovered their child is a bully should do.
Lastly, a word for those up in arms against the parents of the accused bullies in the Dowen saga the parent of the bully may not necessarily be at fault for how the child has turned out. Sometimes children know what and what not to do but peer pressure and mob action especially when they are trying to impress others may push them to do things they ordinarily will not do or that they know better than to do.
As my people say “may the fire of a child never burn us”