They use hanger, they’ll break it and use to lash us and iron metal. To me, it is a normal thing because one day too I will be a senior_ Junior female student

They used cutlass hoe or very thick belt, it was bloody. That was 50 lashes but it’s normal_ Male student

This is an issue that breaks my heart. The prevalence and normalisation of bullying in public secondary schools in Nigeria is an issue that has been reiterated in numerous studies and in experiences shared by ex-students of such institutions but unfortunately, this issue has received little or no attention. Although, I focus on physical forms of bullying and violence, this is by no means all that occurs as other non-physical forms of bullying takes place within and outside schools.

I will try to briefly describe how the process of bullying occurs in most public secondary schools, how it intersects with issues of power and vengeance and thus becomes very difficult to address. There are two classes of students in most secondary schools; the senior students (final year and school prefects) and at the bottom ladder of the power relations, are the junior students. Junior students are usually the target of bullying and are bullied irrespective of their financial wealth, age or even physical strength. All these factors  become irrelevant within the school premises.

Because of their misery, junior students eagerly wait to become senior students to finally be able to exercise self-agency, authority and power to bully other junior students just as seen in the quote by a junior student above. This vicious cycle maintains the system of bullying in schools. Several junior students plot and threaten to bully the younger siblings of senior students who bullied them as a form of retaliation.

Very often, teachers rarely intervene but allow senior students and prefects to carry out bullying often disguised as corporal punishment. I present a reason bullying is not  taken seriously in most Nigerian secondary schools in what I have termed the ‘Natural Cycle of Bullying’.  The underlining idea of the Natural Cycle of Bullying is that junior students never remain junior students forever but with the promotion to senior school class, junior students in lower positions of authority who have been subjected to various forms of violence and punishments in the school, can finally hold the scepter of power and enjoy the privileges associated with being a ‘senior’. Thus, the phase of extreme bullying is seen as a momentary phase of maturity every junior student has to experience. This vicious cycle to a large extent maintains the system of bullying in the schools. Because of this, bullying and other forms of gender-based violence in most secondary schools in Nigeria are taken as normal ‘rites’ students must pass through and one that would naturally sort out itself.  Students also rarely report violence perpetrated against them to teachers and  the school authorities first because they fear greater punishment from senior students and because like I mentioned, they have the hope that one day they will become senior students and their suffering will come to an end. Therefore although junior students  complain bitterly about bullying and want it to end in theory, in practice however, they greatly reject any attempt to intervene and tackle bullying.

Despite the situation described above, it will be very incorrect to imply that in ALL public secondary schools in Nigeria, nothing is done to address school bullying. In the school where I conducted my research for instance, the school authorities took several measures to tackle bullying in the school.  At some point, dormitories  were divided by school class so that senior students are separated from junior students in a bid to reduce extreme violence inflicted on junior students by senior students in the hostel.  Needless to say that this approach did not in any way yield any positive results.

This article shows that we are far from formulating a practical solution to tackling this huge problem of bullying in public secondary schools in Nigeria. For this reason, I have started an online conversation on school bullying. To join in, please share your secondary school experiences of bullying, how and if  it was addressed by the school authorities, if you think bullying is a normal part of secondary school life and if not, what you think can be done to address this issue using the hashtag on twitter #SchoolBullyingNG . I am also very interested in finding and working with organisations or NGOs who are actively involved in tackling the problem of bullying in schools, particularly in public secondary schools in Nigeria.