There is some news going round in Nigeria to the effect that corporal punishment has been finally abolished. Speaking to a Nigeria-based newspaper outfit (Premium Times), one Vice-Principal of an Abuja based private school (name withheld) said exactly: “Following the Act of the Federal Ministry of Education, there is no more corporal punishment in schools. It is only the head teacher who is permitted to punish any child indicted of a grievous offence. Teachers or any other person are not allowed to give corporal punishment to students.”
A critical analysis of the statement will reveal some inherent contradictions. First, assuming but not conceding that an Act was passed; how effective is an Act that purports to abolish corporal punishment but does not do so completely. Clearly, from the statement above, the power to punish using corporal punishment is still vested in the head teacher. Herein lies the loophole; the power to inflict corporal punishment when vested in anyone – is easily susceptible to abuse and can easily be misused by an ill-intentioned head teacher. Not to be forgotten is the fact that corporal punishment generally can negatively affect learning outcomes by reducing enthusiasm for learning and increasing dejection in studies.
Again, one wonders whether it is within the purview of the Federal Ministry of Education to enact an Act. The making of Laws and Acts are a function of the legislature, particularly the House of Assemblies at the state level and the National Assembly at the Federal level respectively. At best, the Federal Ministry of Education can issue a policy banning corporal punishment but this cannot be as effective as a law banning corporal punishment. If corporal punishment is to be abolished in Nigeria, the proper procedure is for all the states’ Houses of Assembly as well as the National Assembly to clearly enact a law abolishing the same. This no doubt, is the way to go in protecting the psychology of young Nigerians and reforming the approach to correction in our homes and educational institutions.
The reality is that corporal punishment is still part and parcel of the Nigerian legal system. Both legislations and decisions of the courts still support this assertion. A case in point is, Section 55 (1) of the Nigerian Penal Code which clearly states thus:
“Nothing is an offence which does not amount to the infliction of …grievous hurt upon a person and which is done –
- By a parent or guardian for the purpose of correcting his child or ward; that child or ward being under eighteen years of age; or
- By a schoolmaster for the purpose of correcting a child under eighteen years of age entrusted to his charge
- By a master for the purpose of correcting his servant or apprentice, the servant or apprentice being under eighteen years of age; or
- By a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife such husband and wife being subject to any customary law in which the correction is recognized as lawful.”
The above cited law has not been repealed and the major disadvantage is the tendency that the discipline it allows might be stretched too far. There is clearly no yardstick for determining which level of grievous hurt will amount to an issue as sensitive as corporal punishment. By failing to delimit clear boundaries, the said law fails to outline which level of corporal punishment is permissible and justifiable.
The posture of the Nigerian Supreme Court also seems to disfavor the protection of children from corporal punishment. Particularly, the Nigerian case of Ekeogu v Aliri appears to have given an imprimatur to the above legislation that allows corporal punishment. The occurrence in the case was thatthe teacher had earlier ordered his pupils on the 2nd of December, 1985 to go outside to witness how a mob was dealing with a thief so that they could gain some lessons on how to behave appropriately. To punish their failure to return the classroom on time, the teacher beat each of the pupils including the pupil who lost her eye. While the trial court held that the act was a crime, on appeal to the Supreme Court however, the judgment of the trial court was reversed on the questionable basis that the teacher was simply acting in the position of her parents (i.e. in loco parentis) by trying to ensure that he maintained an orderly and disciplined classroom.
The Court said exactly, “What happened in this case was nothing more than the appellant discharging his duty and it was only a sheer accident that the child was hit in the eye resulting in its damage. I cannot discern any criminal intention on the part of the teacher.” The teacher escaped liability, but an irreparable damage had been caused to the life of a young girl for a reason as trivial as returning a few minutes to class. Sadly, the court Supreme chose to be deliberately oblivious of the attendant violation of rights that accompany corporal punishment.
One really wonders how appropriate the description of the event as “a sheer accident” is. The infliction of corporal punishment begins substantially in the mind and the thoughts and intentions therein are virtually impossible to know. By its actions or inactions therefore, the apex court of Nigeria was by implication, ratifying the draconian act of corporal punishment.
Going forward, both the legislature and executive (law making through policy and law making respectively) ought to give full force to the protection of children from torture so ably espoused in section 34 of the Nigerian constitution. The said section states that “Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly – (a) no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment; (b) no person shall be held in slavery or servitude; and (c) no person shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.”
Again, courts and Nigerian judges, in the spirit of judicial activism should be pro-active when interpreting the laws and they should do so in a manner that is favourable to the abolition of corporal punishment. Going forward, it will be helpful for Nigeria’s highest court to revisit its decision in Ekeogu v Aliri, with a view to altering the posture it took. Essentially, in the march towards the abolition of corporal punishment, all hands must be on deck. Every institution must move from promises to practices, commitments to concrete projects and from mere intentions to implementation.
Azeezat Adedigba, ‘Teachers, Parents react as Nigerian Schools Gradually Abandon Corporal Punishment’ Premium Times Newspapers (February 23, 2020)
Russow J., Learner Discipline in South African Public Schools; A Qualitative Study, (Koers Publishers, 2003)
Thomas J. Baechle, ‘Corporal punishment in schools: An Infringement on Constitutional Freedoms’ (1971) Cleveland State Law Review
United Nations, ‘UN Chief Calls for Domestic Violence ‘Ceasefire’ Amid Horrifying Global Surge’; https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1061052> accessed 16 September, 2021
The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria
The Penal Code Act
 Azeezat Adedigba, ‘Teachers, Parents react as Nigerian Schools Gradually Abandon Corporal Punishment’ Premium Times Newspapers (February 23, 2020)
 Russow J., Learner Discipline in South African Public Schools; A Qualitative Study, (Koers Publishers, 2003)