On 1st December 2021, Nigerians were shocked by the gruesome death of 12-year-old Sylvester Oromoni, a student of Dowen College, caused by bullying. Reigniting a conversation about a problem that has become normalised over time, Nigerians have demanded justice, not just for Sylvester, but for other students suffering in schools across the country.
With bullying becoming a recurring conversation in the Nigerian space, we spoke to seven Nigerian men on their different experiences as either victims or bullies themselves.
Over the past few years, I’ve tried my best to block out what I went through, but seeing the news lately has been triggering. I was bullied for most of my junior years in secondary school. I remember begging my parents to take me out, but that was a legacy school for my family and if my elder brothers could bear it, why couldn’t I just “rise above”? I still haven’t forgiven them for this and I think they know it.
Unfortunately, by the time I became a senior, I turned into what I hated. I don’t think it was on purpose, but it’s not an excuse. I remember it only hit me in my final year when I slapped a junior and realised I had changed for worse. I can’t blame it all on the school because I had a choice, but I know I still have residual anger issues that I’ll have to sort out over time. A part of me is still very mean.
I had this senior in secondary school who would always demand my provisions until one day, I decided to stop giving them to him. I remember he made me squat continuously from 10 p.m to 3 a.m the next day, even though I had classes that morning. I was just 14-years-old at the time. Punishments like this continued and my grades suffered for the entire year. There was also another guy who made me pay ₦6,000 for the chain he misplaced while he was flogging me. It’s crazy. I told my mother who reported to the housemaster but the school did nothing, and reporting just increased my suffering. I never spoke about it again.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to the realisation that as men, we’re always trying to “outman” each other. I don’t know where this feeling came from, but I know it’s there. I hate to admit it, but in boarding school, I was a terrible person. I was the senior whose name caused fear among junior students. I was bullied too, and every time I was hit, I promised myself that I would get revenge.
We went through these things with the hope that when we got to a position of power, we’d do the same (or worse). It’s also a very Nigerian thing where you want to be rich just so you can show other people pepper. Do I regret it? Yes. But It’s too late to start fixing things from the past, so I’ve moved on.
For me, it was a rite of passage. The bullying in my time wasn’t really violent — it was more about chores. I remember having to fetch water, wash and iron my senior’s clothes, which was considered normal. And when I became a senior myself, I made my juniors do the same thing. I wasn’t a violent bully hitting people or depriving them of their food sha. However, I did hear a story of a senior who pressed a steam iron on a younger student’s chest.
For me it was the time a senior asked me to lie down in a room that was being dusted, knowing fully well that I had asthma. I think I was about 12-years-old and he had summoned me, but no one told me. As if that wasn’t enough, after a while, he dragged me up, applied olive oil on his palm and just slapped me repeatedly until I passed out. I remember waking up in the hospital, but the worst part, the school’s nurse didn’t believe my story. The school later found out and compelled him to dig a hole his height. Please, what sort of punishment is that? Why couldn’t they just expel him?
I’m a femme presenting man, so bullying and abuse is something I’ve gotten used to overtime. I remember it started in primary school when other kids used to taunt me, calling me names like “woman wrapper”. It was so bad that even when I finally caved in to perform masculine activities like playing football, these kids still didn’t give me a chance. They dragged me and threw the ball at me. It was a terrible experience.
Throughout primary and secondary school, I was made to feel less than I am, so I chose to bury myself in books. It’s so bad that I still get uncomfortable and scared anytime I see a group of boys gathered in one place. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to let go of my change in the bus because I’m scared I’d be attacked for having a tiny voice.
The bullying starts right at the beginning of your first year in school. I was 12 years-old and at the bottom of the food chain which automatically made me a prey. Some senior was in charge of assigning junior students to seniors slavery-style and he selected me to be one of his subjects. I would fetch his water, wash his clothes and hand him my provisions every term. He was smart enough not to beat me as that could raise suspicion. We didn’t report these things because we knew we’d be seniors too one day and there were teachers who flat out told us to deal with it.
I’m glad I got a lot of love from home which made me realise that it wasn’t a “me” thing. Looking back, it’s just a tiny part of my life and it didn’t leave that much of an impact on me.