The battery of teachers of the Federal Government Girls’ College, Calabar, Cross River State, by operatives of the Department of State Services for daring to punish an unruly student who is related to a DSS official, has raised concerns about the lawlessness in the security agency already accused of human rights abuses, writes Ugo Aliogo
The students watched in utter dismay as he was being flogged. Many who could not hold back their emotions cried. His frail appearance which was very visible cried for help, but his tormentors would not stop the battery. When the cane broke, they switched to kicks, and punches. Mr. Owai Owai, a Civic Education teacher, at Federal Government College, Calabar, Cross River State with 17 years’ experience, was being physically abused by agents of state who were supposed to protect him, not for committing any crime, but for carrying his duty as a teacher and ensuring that a student who misbehaved was disciplined in tandem with the rules of the school.
It was a bright Thursday morning in Calabar, the Cross River State capital. Owai came to class as he has always done almost daily for the past 17 years and found a junior student sweeping the Senior Secondary School (SS3) classroom when classes were on in the junior school, which was against the school rule that junior students should not be found doing chores in the classes of seniors during school period. Owai fished out 10 senior students responsible for the violation and duly punished them by flogging each of them, two strokes of the cane.
One of the seniors, Grace Asuquo, in defiance, grabbed the teacher by the collar of his shirt, protesting her flogging. The teacher was shocked and gave her more strokes for attempting to challenge him. She threatened the teacher in the midst of the students that her parents will burn down the school building and stormed out of the class.
Within fleeting seconds, officials suspected to be members of the Department of State Security (DSS) stormed the school compound in three Hilux vans. When teachers and students saw them, they were terrified and sensed danger. Owai said they jumped out from the vans, shouting ‘where is the teacher’.
Due to a case of mistaken identity, a woman who was part of the DSS team pointed at another teacher, known as Mr. Ndarake, whom she believed was Owai and they went after him, “One of them brought out a rifle, pointed it at Ndarake, while another shouted ‘shoot him’. But the man with the rifle fired into the air, grabbed Ndarake and tried to force him into one of the vans, but he resisted. The man with the rifle wrestled him to the ground and began using the butt of his rifle on his head and neck,” noted Owai.
Another victim, a Fine Arts teacher, Mr. Mbeson Emmanuel, said some of the men that invaded the school were shooting sporadically into the air, while the pandemonium lasted and any teacher who tried to take pictures was attacked and their phones seized.
Emmanuel added: “Over six of us were attacked for trying to take pictures of the incident. I had my phone and binoculars confiscated and another teacher, Mrs. Anne Agba, had her phone and N80, 000, which was in her handbag, confiscated. She was severely manhandled.”
He said the security man, James Asuquo, who locked the gate to stop the invaders’ vans from leaving the school was hit several times on the head and neck with the butt of a rifle, causing him to bleed profusely.
Apparently, Grace had matched her threat with action, by calling her mother whose sister is an operative in the Department of State Security (DSS) to rescue her from this self-perceived battery in the hands of Owai.
The issue which has raised dust has become a story of a two sided coins. Reacting to the incident, the State Director of the DSS, Mr. Fubara Duke, said the incident was a case of mistaken identity, stressing that on Wednesday some hoodlums went to the school to beat up a teacher who flogged one of the students, “but did not see the teacher, so they returned yesterday morning.”
Duke added that when the teachers saw the DSS operatives, they thought she was one of the hoodlums and pounced on her, beat her up and tore her clothes, stating that there were no gunshots and the DSS men only went on the invitation of the school authorities, but the teachers mistook DSS operatives for hoodlums.
He added: “They went there to sort out an issue, where the DSS operative’s daughter was beaten by a teacher, leaving her body with lacerations. But she was mistaken for one of the hoodlums, who went there to beat up a teacher on Wednesday. I have asked the school administration to fish out the teachers who attacked the DSS lady to face the appropriate punishment.”
The legal counsel handling the issue, First Baba Isa, Esquire, expressed sadness over the alleged ill-treatment of school teachers by officers of the DSS, stating that the body is vested with the power to protect the citizenry and not harassment.
As part of measures to seek redress, the management of the school through legal counsel has demanded from the DSS, a written public apology which will be published on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Radio Nigeria and four national dailies, an oral apology given at the assembly ground before staff and students, outright dismissal and prosecution of the operatives involved in this barbaric act, to foot the hospital bills of all staff who sustained injuries during the assault, to return/pay for all lost or damaged items like phones, monies, and glasses, replace the damaged school gate, and pay a 10 million naira compensation to the school.
The staff of the school have requested the legal adviser to file a law suit in a court of competent jurisdiction in order to seek redress for the physical assault.
He said: “We must all wail against the excesses of our law enforcement agents. Their duty is to protect us and not to intimidate us. A formal petition has been lodged with the appropriate authorities. But there is something we can do here: let’s stand up and shout against this barbaric intimidation by the DSS, if we don’t stand up now, there might be no one left to stand tomorrow.”
Like festering sore, the trauma of the brutalisation is yet to heal. Last week, THISDAY gathered that staff of the school took to the street to protest the alleged battery by the operatives of the DSS. The staff carried placards with various inscriptions such as ‘we need justice no Nigeria factor, Teachers are agents of development, DSS be warned, we need justice, perpetrators must be brought to book, and others.’
The state Chairman of the Cross River state Union of Teachers, Ogunyemi Akinwunmi, who is also a teacher in the school, said they are protesting to ensure that the perpetrators of the alleged act are brought to book.
He added: “As a union we have written a petition and as a body we have sent a message to our national headquarters in Lagos. The union is not taking it lightly. Our union’s slogan is injury to one is injury to all. If we don’t tackle this now, we don’t know where it would happen next. We want the world to know what happened here. It would not be swept under the carpet. Even though the ministry is doing something, the union cannot just sit down.”
The State Chairman of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) Clarkson Otu, who participated in the protest, said they needed justice and offenders should be brought to book.
Otu added that those who took the laws into their hands must be punished, adding that they embarked on the protest because they are peace-loving Nigerians.
At the state House of Assembly, the Speaker, Mr. John Lebo, who was represented by the Clerk of the House, said: “We were all trained by teachers. Teachers should also get their reward on earth. We would ensure that justice is done.”
However, a Director in the office of the State Security Adviser, Mr. Etam Eno, who received the protesters promised to convey the message to the governor.
This incident is not the first in the series of impunity.