●Educationists, activists seek punishment for operatives
By Cosmas Omegoh
Millions of Nigerians are in shock over the alleged invasion of the Federal Government Girls’ College (FGGC), Calabar, Cross River State by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS).
Concerned citizens are angry over reports that some officials of the agency stormed the school in a commando-like manner, harassing and intimating the teaching and non-teaching staff.
The incident allegedly happened after a teacher, Mr. Owai Owai, had administered two strokes of the cane each on a group of Senior Secondary (SS3) students, who had forced their junior counterparts to sweep their classroom while classes were on. It was against the school’s standing rule for the seniors to compel their junior ones to sweep their classrooms.
One of the affected SS3 students was alleged to have challenged the teacher’s action by pulling his shirt collar. Next, the pupil reportedly stormed out of the arena and called her mother, believed to be a DSS official, on the phone. The woman then invaded the school in company with her colleagues. According to the report, the DSS team was later joined by another batch of the DSS. It was learnt that the security operatives, on arrival, beat up every teacher in sight, flogging and hitting them with the butt of their guns while the students watched. The invaders also seized the cell phones of teachers, who courageously attempted to video the high drama. They also fired sporadic shots to scare the teachers. When they were done, the DSS officials were initially prevented from leaving the premises by the security staff, as they rallied to lock the school’s entrance gate. But the DSS personnel shot their way through by firing to smash the locks, making good their escape.
The reporter learnt at the weekend that five operatives of the security agency had been detained over the incident. A senior official of the department said the agency was embarrassed at the alleged action of the operatives. He said investigations were on to ascertain what actually transpired, pledging that any operative indicted would be severely punished.
This aberration has elicited shock in the minds of many citizens, with some voicing their disgust at the action of the law enforcement agents.
Speaking straight from a heart heavily burdened by pain, the national Chairman of Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Chief Michael Odukoya, described the action as barbaric.
In a brief conversation, Chief Odukoya said: “That action was simply barbaric and unethical. Can you imagine law enforcement agents bringing guns to the school environment, and shooting sporadically? This confirms that we are not safe in this country.”
He urged the government not to allow the unfortunate incident die a natural death. “The affected officers should be brought to book. Government should make such disciplinary measure public. We are monitoring the events,” he noted.
Looking back, the Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC), Academics, University of Calabar (Unical), Professor Florence Obi, said the action totally mirrored the contempt the society held for Nigerian teachers whom she described as brain surgeons.
Her words: “It is sad that people still look at teachers as the dregs of the society, all because they do not count money in millions. But the society easily forgets that teachers are moulders of the people.
“What makes the incident at FGGC Calabar very sad is that the act was performed by those who are supposed to enforce the law. They were the ones, who took the law right into their own hands, as if we are running a dictatorial government.
“However, I’m not surprised. If the DSS operatives could go for the judges at midnight and seize them like common criminals and Nigerians were celebrating, simply because we are fighting corruption, who else cannot be taken down by the DSS?
“As you can see, we are reaping the fruits of impunity whose seed was planted a while ago. So, the DSS operatives now firmly believe that Nigerians are standing by them. If they molested the judges in the manner they did, is it the teachers that they will spare?”
Professor Obi, who was the former Dean, Faculty of Education at Unical, said what played out at FGGC Calabar had further discouraged the average teacher in the country, insisting that the society needed to help them regain their confidence.
“Now can you imagine the psychological trauma the teachers were put through by that singular action? It has to be said that no nation can develop above the teachers who teach the citizenry.
“But here in Nigeria, what do we see happening to teachers? We don’t regard them. We don’t pay them their wages. We trample on their rights, even in this 21st century.
“Just because a teacher gave a group of students two strokes of the cane each, should the whole teachers in the school be brutalised and dehumanised before their own pupils? I’m waiting to see what the government will do. I’m waiting to see what the NUT will do. For me, the NUT nationwide and the entire unity schools ought to down tools to draw attention to their sad situation.
“If nothing is done, the teachers at FGGC Calabar will be demoralised. Their ego will be at zero level before their pupils. They might not be giving their best anymore. For, gone were the days when teachers were tin gods; not anymore.”
Prof Obi admitted that corporal punishment was unacceptable in schools, but pointed out that flogging couldn’t be completely outlawed. “We don’t encourage the use of the cane. It can be only used as a last resort.
“But if there is a serious case needing that a student should be punished, the matter has to be registered in the school. By doing this, brutality is discouraged.
“But what we gathered is that the case at FGGC was general punishment. The offence warranted that the teacher should administer instant minor punishment – two strokes of the cane on the palm. And that was proper. So, the teacher simply didn’t err, going by the ethics of the profession. But if ever the teacher erred, two wrongs couldn’t have made a right. The aggrieved parent should have gone to the office of the principal to complain rather than taking the law into her hands.
“Is the parent who is a DSS official saying that she does not discipline her daughter at home when she goes wrong? Now, which school would that child be transferred to? Or is the mother saying that she would keep her at home for life and she won’t be taught by teachers? Even here in Unical, we have ways of disciplining students who err. That is quite normal.”
She urged the Nigerian public to rise up and condemn the FGGC invasion. “People should speak out against this impunity. They should be willing to do so and not sit on the fence. Teachers are brain surgeons, who should not be trampled upon the way we are doing in the country.”
Meanwhile, some teachers, under the aegis of Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), the body to which teachers of Unity Schools belong, have protested on the streets of Calabar over the action of the DSS. The teachers had gone to the House of Assembly carrying various placards.
Chairman of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in Cross River State, Mr. Clarkson Otu, said that the protest was aimed at seeking justice for victims of the DSS brutality. They were received by the Clerk of the House, Elder Ekpeyong Bassey, on behalf of the Speaker of Cross River State House of Assembly, Mr. John Lebo.
Meanwhile, five officials of the DSS, who were believed to have participated in the invasion were said to have been detained by the agency for their roles. Observers believe that the agency might have been rudely embarrassed by the conduct of the officials.
A lawyer, Mr. First Baba Isa, who is handling the victims’ case, insists he wants his clients’ missing money, cell phones and other valuables returned to them. He also wants the sum of N10 million paid to the school authorities as compensation.
Daily Sun learnt that mid last week, the Federal Ministry of Education invited the lawyer to a meeting to resolve the matter and clear the tension the chain of actions had generated.
But education rights campaigner, Mr. Taiwo, said the steps so far taken were not penetrating enough in addressing issues of brutalisation of citizens by personnel of the security agencies, including the police and the army. “What the DSS did was barbaric. It was an extension of what soldiers and the police do to the citizens. They brutalise and attack the people while other government institutions look the other way.
“What happened at FGGC Calabar, therefore, provides the citizens a platform to challenge the audacity of the law enforcement agencies.
“The police and the army have no right whatsoever to lay hands on the same citizens they are paid to protect. They ought to be arresting law offenders and not to dehumanise them. But the activities of the rank and file of the army and police clearly show their mindset. Unfortunately, this has existed over the years.
“As citizens, we are much concerned about what has happened. We insist that this should not be allowed to die down until justice for the victims is achieved.
“That is why I think that we should petition all the relevant authorities of government to sustain the tempo of this matter.
“In the past, we had seen culprits arrested, detained and released after everyone has forgotten their deeds. This one should not be like that. And so, we need to march to the offices of the DSS to register out protest. As Nigerians we need to do this because injustice done to one is injustice done to all.”