Death, especially that of innocent people or martyrs; whether it’s Saint Stephen in the Judeo-Christian scripture, or Procris in ancient Greek mythology, or Ikemefuna, the ill-fated lad who was sacrificed to Umuofia in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”, is often laden with grief. Painful is a mild word to describe the pang of the tragic death of Sylvester Oromoni Jr, the 12-year-old Secondary School student, who was allegedly assaulted at Dowen College, Lagos State. But as painful as it’s, he was just one of the many martyrs of Nigerian school bullying.
Before the martyrization of Sylvester Oromoni Jr, the issue of the storied boarding school bullying was treated almost like the Madam Koi Koi myth: the government, school managements and even parents never saw the need to apply drastic measures in order to tackle it. It’s hard to admit but I had once heard my neighbor said to her daughter who was complaining bitterly of some seniors bullying her in boarding school hostel: “Don’t worry, when you become a senior, you will be commanding others too”. As if that was the solution. I don’t know what happened next in her school especially for the fact that I later relocated from her mother’s neighborhood months after. But ostensibly, she continued to be throed by her seniors, and eventually became senior and started doing same or even worse to her juniors – even with the backing and support of her mother who told her one day she would be “commanding others”. And that’s how the cycle keeps moving.
The issue of boarding school bullying is even much broader than we think. The bullying does not stop at the student level, it extend to teachers and other school officials just as it goes beyond physical assault to sexual assault. We have heard of: boarding school girls complaining of their female seniors forcing into them lesbianism, male teachers and school officials sexually harassing female hostellers; female teachers and school officials sexually assaulting male students, senior students hijacking money and provisions from their juniors, senior students slaving junior students to do their chores, senior students dishing unjust draconian punishments to their juniors, and so on. But the society treated all of that as myths, nay, ‘accepted’ ugly sides of boarding school life.
Recently, the media reported that a store officer at the Federal Science and Technical College (FSTC), Otukpo, Benue State, Ernest Esly, who is in his 50s, allegedly raped a 16-year-old female student of the school. According to the report some female students had in March reported that the girl (name withheld) sneaked out of the hostel at night and was seen being dropped the following morning by Mr Esly. They suspected she was into a sexual relationship with the store officer and that she had passed the night with him at his official quarters. Afterwards, they reported the matter to the school management who in turn asked its disciplinary committee headed by the vice principal in charge of administration, identified simply as Mrs Agbor, to look into the matter.
The alleged randy store officer, however, denied the allegations but the female student he was alleged to had been involved in the escapade with, was said to had confessed to having sex with him, in his presence, at the disciplinary committee sitting.
“They summoned the store officer but he denied having an affair with the student. But after the girl confessed to having sex with the store officer, in his presence, the disciplinary committee recommended Mr Esly’s eviction from the staff quarters as well as his reposting from the college,” PREMIUM TIMES quoted a teacher of the school who spoke on anonymous condition as saying.
The newspaper also reported that many students told their reporter of alleged sexual advances made to them by the store officer whom it was said had a habit of using his access to food in the school’s store to lure female students into immoral relationships
“As we walked past Mr Ernest, he struck a conversation with us and began commenting about our breasts,” she recalled.
“He suddenly moved his hand across my shoulders to my breasts, forcing us to flee as I scrambled out of his arms,” an anonymous 14-year-old Senior Secondary School (SSS) 1 student of the school was quoted by PREMIUM TIMES as saying.
The paper added that the matter was still being investigated; the alleged randy store officer was suspended and evicted from the school staff quarters pending investigation.
But one major incident of boarding school bullying that has remained under the carpet where it was swept to is the event surrounding the tragic death of Keren-Happuch Aondodoo Akpagher, a 14 year-old female boarding student of Premiere Academy, Lugbe, Abuja, who was raped on its premises, leading to her excruciatingly painful death by sepsis earlier this year.
According to renowned investigative journalist, David Hundeyin: “a used condom was found inside her. The school has successfully stonewalled and prevented all information from emerging.”
The school is said to be owned by Akinsola Akinfemiwa, a former CEO of Skye Bank, current Chairman of Heritage Bank Plc, and a board member of TCN.
Hundeyin added that “the FCT Police Command is now holding on to the autopsy report and playing games with it.”
As awful as the story of Keren-Happuch who was raped, sodomized anally, bullied into silence, and died of septic shock from a condom left in her genitals, is, she is just one of the many silenced martyrs of Nigerian school bullying.
While the efforts of concerned Nigerians, including celebrities and politicians, demanding justice for Sylvester Oromoni Jr, the junior secondary school student of Dowen College, Lagos, who was allegedly killed by some senior students for declining to join their cult, is commendable, we must also speak out and demand justice for Keren-Happuch Aondodoo Akpagher and the other little known and silenced martyrs of school bullying in Nigeria. Only then will the souls of Sylvester Oromoni Jr and other victims of bullying, truly rest in peace.
Sunny Green Itodo, a Public Affairs Commentator, writes from Abuja.
He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.