THE internet was abuzz last week over the viral video showing five students, including a female, of Musbaudeen Islamiy Arabic School in Ganmo, Ifelodun Local Government Area of Kwara State being severely battered by fellow students on the orders of the school management. The victims had reportedly attended a birthday party of a friend of theirs and posted pictures of the celebration online. The school’s management was incensed by this, particularly because it reasoned that the errant students must have taken alcohol to be so care-free in the pictures. And it ordered some senior students of the institution to administer limitless strokes of the cane on the bodies of the hapless students. Not even the strident screaming by the students that they did not take any alcohol but only yoghurt could save them from the vicious attack sanctioned by the authorities. It was a despicable spectacle exemplifying cruelty and brutality. The horrible incident detracted markedly from basic decency.
To be sure, the issue is not whether or not the fun-loving students broke the school’s rules. And there is no questioning the power of the school’s authority to impose sanctions on erring students within the ambit of the law. The real concern is the effrontery of the school authority in administering a form of dehumanizing punishment that is outside the precinct of the law. In other words, the question is not about the propriety or otherwise of the authority punishing the students, but the type of punishment and the savagery involved, which raise questions about the intent of the penalty. Was it meant to correct and whip the students in line or was it just to inflict pain and injury on them? It is rather sad that at a time when the civilised world is preoccupied with the talk of animal rights, citizens do not just lack any rights in this clime but are also being treated as subhumans. How and why should a cleric order his students to be flogged to the point that they were left with broken skins and welts all over their bodies? That is not training but sheer wickedness.
It bears stressing that regardless of what the school’s rules and regulations stipulate, they cannot override the assaulted students’ right to dignity of human person under the country’s principal statute. Yes, the school authority might have the best of intentions, but it should have striven to achieve the good purpose within the compass of the law, and without violating the students’ rights in the most deplorable and vicious manner witnessed in the video. It is hoped that the relevant government officials will not allow these acts of lawlessness and cruelty to go unpunished.
It is bad enough that corporal punishment was recklessly administered on the students in such a barbarous fashion, but farming out the flogging assignment to fellow students to carry out is even worse. But for the fact that the video of the torture went viral and elicited official intervention, the disgraced and dehumanised students would have grown up silently to become damaged adults within the system. It is also unconscionable for the school management to cause avoidable but potentially enduring hostility between the students who were flogged and those who whipped them mercilessly. And given the dexterity and the level of cruelty displayed by the senior students in executing the ill-informed instructions of their teacher, the two parties can hardly be friends any time soon. Again, not a few believe that the cleric has succeeded in making savages of the senior students who inflicted that level of pain on their fellow students without qualms.
Many are even of the view, and perhaps rightly so, that this set of senior students can do worse things without blinking an eye on the orders of their cleric. Those are not the kind of youths that any well-meaning trainer or institution should create wittingly or unwittingly and unleash on the society at this trying times when the population of young, violent non-state actors seems to be burgeoning by the day. It would appear rather curious that some of the parents of the students were reportedly supportive of the school authority’s action regarding the inhuman treatment meted out to their children. That should not be surprising as it is not uncommon in most faith-based schools where owing to cultural and religious biases, most critical stakeholders tend to be less than rational, holding the view that the schools’ authorities would always act in their best interest and could do no wrong.
Nonetheless, even though the fact that parents of the students supported the flogging is disturbing, that does not by any means vitiate the rights of the assaulted students under the law. And where the parents are unwilling to protect their children from this kind of egregious abuse because of sentimental considerations, the State has a duty to fill the void. Neither the parents nor the school’s management has the right to impose its own version of what is right or wrong on the students, especially in the instant case where the position of the law is unequivocal. Ideally, the Kwara State government should have been proactive in monitoring schools in the state to prevent them from breaching the law, rather than reacting only when they do. It is nonetheless laudable that it responded promptly by suspending the head of the Madrassa school and set up a panel to inquire into the incident.
Whichever way any dispassionate observer looks at the Madrassa flogging, it is bad for the country’s image and the government is urged to do what is required in the circumstances to stop lawless persons from trampling on citizens’ rights in whatever form anywhere in the country.