‘Mai Bulala’: The Custodian of Corporal Punishments in Nigerian Schools

‘Mai Bulala’: The Custodian of Corporal Punishments in Nigerian Schools

Those of us that had one or two things to do with schools in the Northern part of Nigeria will be familiar with this term. ‘Mai Bulala’ is an Hausa term that literarily means the ‘Master of Whip’. He is a professional flogger. I encountered one that earns his living by flogging students during my NYSC in Zamfara State. I was short of words when I saw him in action. I wanted to plead on behalf of the students receiving his ‘service’ that early morning but other corpers and some teachers told me to stay away so that I don’t receive my own. Chai! I wept for those boys.

But let’s be honest with ourselves, Mai Bulala exists in almost every school in Nigeria. We see them in all public schools. The only difference here is that the one I met in Zamfara State was employed to mete out corporal punishments on students, and nothing more. But if you look around, you will see that every school, or almost all schools, have that one teacher that students are taken to because he knows ‘how to flog’ students very well. So don’t think that only the northerners have this problem I’m about to point out here.

Before you wonder if I am among those people that ‘spoil the child and spare the rod’ hear me out first. I believe in people being held responsible for their actions, but I believe there are better ways of doing that other than hitting the person with a whip, or even with bare hands. One of the people that advocated this view used to say that the best way to raise children is by ‘making them feel your presence and not your punishment’. That statement never made sense to me until I put it into practice. It may not be easy initially but with time you fall into it.

There are many disadvantages to meting out corporal punishment to children and teenagers. I am happy that some schools are beginning to banish it because they have seen how ineffective and destructive it could be, in the long run. I will try to mention some of its commonest destructive effects on the receivers.

1. School Dropout: When a student knows what is waiting for him at school, he will decide to sit back home. Most of these students that have been labelled ‘stubborn’ and the school authority believe that they could ‘tame’ them with whip. Because of this incessant flogging, these students may decide to change schools or withdraw completely from education pursuit.

2. Development of Aggressive Personality: We have heard so much about students that attack their teachers who punished them as well as their fellow students that directly or indirectly contributed to it. This attitude is just a reaction of the students to the aggressive characters they were exposed to. Naturally, exposure to much aggression breeds aggression.

3. Phobia and Disillusionment with the Education System: Learning entails that the learner makes mistakes and should be allowed to learn from them without being unnecessarily punished. Our teachers don’t always remember this when dealing with their students’ mistakes. People always find it hilarious whenever I tell them that the only teaching aid we had in those days were whips, but that was true. I mean, just look at this – if you were given a class work on Mathematics and you failed any of them … anyway, just wait for Mai Bulala. So we were always tensed up each time it was Mathematics class. No wonder we didn’t do well in Maths then (at least most of us didn’t do well in Maths because we didn’t like it, or rather were afraid of it). Please, don’t say it happened in those days because it still happens now.

Attitudes like this could make the student see themselves as incapable of learning. It could make students develop phobia or hatred for a teacher or a subject. It can even make the students hate going to school entirely.

4. Loss of Talent and Personalities: One of the worst things this type of punishment does to students is stripping them of their personalities and natural talents. This is one of the reasons Nigerian education system could not identify and harness their students’ talents until they are old enough to identify them by themselves, that is if they have not taken up somebody else’s personality.

5. Inconsistent Personality: Some resilient students who could not withstand the shock and pain of corporal punishments adopt different personalities to pull them through different situations that may warrant corporal punishments. This is why someone may be ‘nice’ to a particular teacher, ‘naughty’ to another teacher, ‘docile’ to his parents and then to his fellow students, he is ‘terror’. You can then ask yourself how to define this person.

6. Physical Injury: Apart from the bruises and cuts left behind by the whips, a little miscalculation by the flogger can send the whip on the delicate parts of the body where it will leave a permanent damage. A lot of teachers have been arrested for causing injuries to their students during this act. We have also heard of those that killed their students. So, what then is the gain of giving out punishment and getting jailed for it?

These are just some of the side effects of the use of whip to correct students in our schools. These effects can show in different ways and forms. I understand that schools use corporal punishments because they see it as the easier and faster way to correct students and deter others from committing the same offence. But, looking at the destructive effects it causes in the long run, they may have to consider other ways of correcting students that are equally effective but with little or no destructive effects. The ones I can vouch for include:

  •  Establishing a Guidance and Counselling Unit: These are the only people in our education system that kick against corporal punishment. It will be worthy to note that the counselling should also be extended to teachers.
  • Close Contact between School Management and Parents: Some schools only think of involving parents in school matters when there is need for funding. The only way I have seen Nigerian schools connecting with parents is through the PTA meetings. But then, PTA meeting isn’t enough. The school management should get parents involved in most of the school activities. The school should be like a family involving staff, students and their parents. Students rarely misbehave in schools when they know their parents are just a stone-throw away – except in the case of parents that encourage unruly behaviours in their children (story for another day).
  • Constant Communication between the Teachers and their Students’ Parents: I personally encourage teachers to feel free to contact me on any matter concerning my children, just as I contact them when I want to learn some things. The effect of this is that a synergy is built between teachers and parents, and they both have one common goal – the students.
  •  Better Relationship between Teachers and Students: Students should see their teachers as someone they could trust. One of the advantages of this is that the students easily open up to their teachers, who they tell their challenges and these teachers in turn advise them properly. I can tell you that most of those obstinate students have teachers they confide in and are therefore docile to.
  •  Appropriate Teaching Methods for Different Classes: This is one thing some teachers don’t really know. Teachers need to stop being rigid with their teaching method. They have to apply the best one for each class. For example, it may not work if a teacher asks SS 3 male students to stand up and read something that is written on the board, or to repeat something he said (especially if some girls are around). This is because they are likely not going to respond (it has something to do with their age). So the teacher had to device a good method to do his teaching (and be ready to tell jokes and receive some). If not, the students may respond negatively and be called unruly.
  • Emotional Intelligence Training for Teachers: When I was the head teacher of a school, I used to tell my fellow teachers to look upon everything that happened within the school as a job. I usually tell them that no child came to the school because they wanted to insult their teachers. So they shouldn’t treat any student’s misbehaviour personally. Teachers need to learn how to control their emotions because they are handling human beings, not lower animals. Any slightest mistake could lead to something grave.
  • Suspension: This is usually employed when the school wants to disband a group that is disrupting school activities. The usual thing here is to invite parents of these concerned students, relay their children’s activities to them, and then ask them to take them home for further counselling. In a situation like this, it is always more effective to allow the person that is the ring leader, or the group nucleus, to stay home longer. This will ensure that the students do not regroup when they return.
  • Disciplinary Panel: This panel is usually made of different teachers, who come together to objectively listen to the student’s side of the story before deciding on the right punishment to be meted out. The good thing about the presence of this panel in every school is that teachers do not bother giving out punishments to students. All they have to do is refer any unruly behaviour to this panel and let the student argue his or her way out of his/her due punishment.
  • Detention: The best time to detain a student is during games or short break. No child wants to miss them, so they behave. While I was still teaching in primary and secondary schools, any student that I detain will be made to write a comprehensive report during that detention period on why he was receiving the punishment. Trust me, the students prefer to sit down and watch others play to writing that long essay.

Ok, nobody said that being a teacher is easy. But corporal punishment shouldn’t be seen as the way to make it easier. Apart from unprofessional, corporal punishment is harmful to our students, our teachers and the society.

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