by Tomi Folaranmi
According to gov.uk, bullying is usually defined as a repeated behaviour intended to hurt someone either physically or emotionally. It could be aimed at particular groups, for reasons that may include their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. The effect of bullying on individuals will vary. It may depend on prior exposure, mental health status and the extent the bully is willing to go if not stopped. The effect may include reduced motivation for school, health complaints, truancy, decreased academic achievement, suicide in serious cases etc.
For months now, writing this article was the only thing on my mind. The reason was that, upon reflection and further education, I realised how much bullying I endured as a student in the Nigerian education system. Before any judgment, yes, I know that bullying is an issue worldwide and it is not just confined to my dear country. The truth is, I was bullied mostly by my teachers and lecturers. This isn’t an uncommon thing. In fact, relatively, I probably wasn’t bullied as much as my friends. Unfortunately, we grew up thinking this was normal. We had to deal with the big bullies (people in positions of authority) and small bullies (our peers and seniors). Some teachers just seemed to think that the only way to control their students and gain their respect was to knock their confidence over and intimidate them.
Most people that have gone through the same system as myself can, without thinking much, name two teachers who were big bullies. They shouted, intimidated and beat students whenever they wanted. In most Nigerian primary and secondary schools, corporal punishment is still in use but that is a discussion for another day. In my own opinion, the most common form of bullying is emotional abuse. This gets worse the higher you go up in the system.
Bullying remains unchecked in Nigerian universities. It can range from being called stupid to demanding recharge cards before being supervised for academic projects. I remember one time when one of my university professors intimidated two classmates of mine because they had not recharged his phone with call credit. The last time that I was bullied is still clear as day in my mind. I wanted some information on how to get my postgraduate transcript so I asked the man in charge. He disregarded my query rudely, told to leave him alone and simply walked off. Need I say it was an intimidating experience. The idea that respect is like a two-way street was strange to him.
I could go on about my personal experiences and my friends’ but it won’t change a thing. Instead, I think it’s best to reflect on the past and current practice, learn from others and forge ahead. Most cases of bullying in the developed world are cases that involve just students. Schools are clear about their expectations regarding bullying. Students are taught and equipped to identify and report bullying. An anti-bullying policy is a requirement by law for all state schools in the UK and most have it available on their website.
School environments should be conducive to learning and that includes not having to worry about being bullied. In the right atmosphere, students should feel confident around their peers and teachers/lecturers, this will enable them to ask questions that will move them forward in their learning. I also believe that we need to speak more about issues like this otherwise, nothing will change. I recommend that the Federal Ministry of Education drafts an anti-bullying policy that schools across the country can adopt and adapt if necessary.