On Bullying and the toxic Seniority Culture in Nigeria.

When I was about 11 years old, in Secondary school, my big sister and I had a bully.

We were both in boarding school so our parents weren’t readily available. This bully hated my sister and I and she let us know it. If you know about the Nigerian ‘seniority culture’ then you’d be aware of this toxic culture of Senior students making the lives of Junior students a living hell; just because they could. Looking back now, I realise that places like schools are just a microcosm of the wider society and so the things that happened there were a reflection of what was happening in the outside world. More on that another day..

This ‘senior’ would send us on difficult errands, make us scrub her white Nike trainers with a toothbrush, fill up her shower buckets and carry them up the stairs to her bedroom like her maid-servants. Sometimes, she would confiscate our property. We would also get the occasional name-calling and head knocks.

Whenever my mum came to visit us on the weekends or if we went home on a half-term break, this girl’s name and bullying behaviour would come up in casual conversation and my mum would probe very lightly. One day, my mum and her friend came to visit and she stayed till it was time for our dinner at the dining hall. I remember that she was parked outside our dormitory building and so when the bell rang for dinner, we could see all the girls filing out and making their way to the dining hall

My mum just said casually to us, “you know that girl you keep telling me about, the one who takes your shoes and makes you scrub her shoes and fetch her water”? “Can you point her out to me when she comes out of the dorm”? My sister and I said “Yes”. So when Bola* came strolling past with her clique of friends, my mum called out to her. “Bola”!! She turned round and my mum beckoned at her to come to the car. “Good afternoon ma”, she said.

“Good afternoon my dear”, my mum replied. “Do you know my children, so and so” ? “Yes ma”, she said. “What have they done to deserve the way you’ve been treating them? My daughter reports that you knocked her on the head? Let this be the last time I hear of such reports from them. They are students here just like you and pay tuition just like you. Leave my daughters alone please”.

Stunned does not even begin to describe the look on Bola’s face and that of her friends who had stopped to eavesdrop. She stuttered an ‘Ok ma’ and walked back to meet her friends with her tail between her legs…

My mum is a mama-bear and when it comes to her children, she does not play.

That incident assured my sister and I that we had someone in our corner. No matter what was happening in our lives, our mum had our backs! And she was not afraid to fight our corner. The toxic bullying and seniority culture I mentioned earlier was (probably still is) the status quo in almost all Nigerian secondary schools and so a lot of children didn’t report it to their parents. And even when they did, it was waved off as ‘part of boarding school life’. All the kid had to do was wait till he/she became a senior and then continue the cycle of toxic seniority and bullying

I am saying all this to remind myself and other mums out there to not let fear, shame, the label of being ‘the angry black woman’ or the ‘mum of the rotten ajebutter children’ stop us from fighting and standing up for our children when we sense bullying, shaming or racism in their schools

I’ll admit that I have held my tongue many a time that I wanted to check a child that made an ignorant statement to my children becasue I didn’t want to be labelled. But there was also a time when I spoke to my son’s teacher about a reported incident of name-calling in the classroom, and when he didn’t respond to the issue in the way that I wanted, I went to he headteacher and demanded that my son be apologised to and the name-caller be taught not to say certain things to people. I followed up on the matter until my son was satisfied and if the school hadn’t taken action I would have pulled up to the boy’s mother on the playground and let her know what happened. My people say that ‘a child that has not been taught properly at home will surely receive that training from strangers’.

There have been cases of young girls and boys being bullied and called names in schools and madrasahs and in some cases, these kids didn’t feel empowered or secure enough to tell their parents about it. In some situations, the parents have brushed it off, because they didn’t want to stir up trouble or be seen as loud or whiny or angry. Sod that! Bullying is a horrible horrible menace in schools and a lot of these schools are not doing anything about it!

The culture of silence is killing our children’s self-esteem, having some of them raped and abused and even in some cases, having them killed. And the bully will end up being that over-entitled boss or in-law who thinks they can make life miserable for others just because they are older or of a higher rank!

Speak up for your child, teach your children to be kind and teach them to stand up for themselves and other people. And if you are an educator, do your job and advocate for ALL children under your care.


*Not the bully’s real name

6 Comments

  1. This is enlightening. Thank God for the likes of your Mum and all those who have stood up against bullying. Bullying has to stop and the first step is recognising it in its various forms. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Thank you for this piece! This is such a relevant topic! I agree with you that it’s defintely a toxic culture that needs to end pretty fast. It kills the self esteem of the kids like you’ve said and also builds up in them and produces pretty terrible leaders. It’s really sad when you operate in a corporate environment and everyone is just waiting for their chance to be a horrible boss. This is a problem that must be fixed from the foundation : Schools and homes it’s critical to the future of leadership. Thanks for so bravely taking this on.

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  3. Thank you for sharing. I also went to a boarding house in Nigeria. The bullying was rampant. The intensity of which is determined by if you were deemed pretty, had older siblings or a teacher (house master/mistress) in your corner. Even the nature of school mum also involves your parents giving the person money and gifts to look after you. As you say the culture is very toxic and when I was at school it was the “rite of passage”. They say it helps “mould you and makes you stronger”. But that is not always the case.

    I hope things are better now and we continue to strive to make it even better.

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