British colonialists introduced western style education and boarding schools to Nigeria same as Christianity. During the early period of colonialism there were only a handful of schools in the country, many students had to travel far from home to attend the best schools. Indigenes living in close proximity to these schools but could not afford to attend were subsidized.
Privileged Nigerians who themselves had previously studied in England and could afford the tuition and boarding sent their children overseas for school. In the last two decades the number of private boarding schools in the country has increased considerably, partly due to a failed public school system and an emerging middle class.
Two decades ago there where no boarding schools in my community but today we have two within two miles of my childhood home and the situation is the same for many towns and cities across the country.
I did not attend a private or boarding school but always find it fascinating talking to people who did. The life long bond with friends, a variety of social activities and sports made it appealing.
In the past two decades boarding schools are been viewed differently, information about child abuse and inappropriate behavior involving young boarders has led to a significant decease in the number of boarders
In the UK, the term Boarding School Syndrome (BSS) is used to describe the negative emotional impacts that boarding schools have on some kids in later life, a trend that psychologists seem to find common among those who have been through the system.
In the UK for example a lot is being done to empower school children to report abusive behavior. This is not the same for Nigeria as most abuses such as physical, emotional and sexual abuse go unreported and even when they are duly reported the case will mostly be swept under the carpet.
A friend recently enrolled her 11year old son in a private boarding school in Ife, Osun State Nigeria on the assumption that the school will teach her boy “sense”, the family lived only about a mile away from the school. I was a bit anxious for the poor boy because I do not believe any school can be a substitute for parental guidance.
Talking with a few adults who have passed through boarding schools in Nigeria in research for this article I discovered that inappropriate sexual conduct is a well known problem and this include relationship with teachers both with the same and opposite sex. In most cases violators got away with a slap on the wrist at best.
The most revealing one I heard lately was from a friend who attended an all boys boarding school in the 1980s, he claimed that although his school was very religious but sexual intimacy was well known activity among older students (Seniors). Nigerians do not speak openly about issues like this so chances are that everyone just accepts their fate.
Parents make decisions they believe is in the best interest of their children, however I am concerned that Nigeria today overlooks so many undesirable events that go on in boarding schools and this in later years will have an impact on the larger society.
In January this year Nigerian lawmakers passed a law making homosexuality illegal, violators caught risked being sent to jail, faced a fine or both, yet there are no laws safeguarding young boarders from perpetrators especially now that we have learnt the scale of child abuse in boarding schools in the West, thanks to the western media exposing this so as to clean up their school system.
Given that quite a number of our leaders today are from privileged families and most likely have gone through different boarding schools and perhaps are aware of the prevailing sexual abuse problem in boarding schools across the country, still they refuse to address the underlining problems so something can be done to ensure the safety of young boarders from abusive teachers/seniors. Nigeria, it is time to notice the elephant in the room. | Folakemi Odoaje for #JujuFilms