Ihuoma Chiedozie, Enugu
There was outrage in Enugu after a Facebook post showed pupils of a private nursery and primary school, Early Dew Montessori Academy, Enugu, aged between four and seven years, in a police van, purportedly arrested for failing to do their assignments, and also for wearing dirty uniforms.
The incident took place in the school on February 16.
The picture, said to have been posted on Facebook by a parent of one of the pupils in the school, was reportedly captioned ‘Enugu State Government police in conjunction with Early Dew Montessori Primary School, GRA Enugu, arresting 4 to 7 year-olds and putting them behind a Hilux – the same place they put dead bodies, and where they could have jumped out from fearfully, for not doing their assignments’.
The caption suggested that Enugu State Government was involved in the affair, a development which drew the ire of the Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi-led administration.
The government immediately moved to correct the impression, and on Monday, February 20, suspended the operations of the school.
The school is currently being threatened with permanent closure.
Commissioner for Education, Professor Uche Eze, who announced sanctions against the school, described the development as ‘an embarrassment to the state government and a serious psychological abuse of the concerned children’.
Besides the suspension, the school management was also ordered to apologise, in writing, to the state government, parents of the ‘abused’ children, and the entire people of Enugu State. These measures have to be carried out before the suspension could be lifted. Failure to do so, the school will be closed, permanently.
The commissioner said the measures would serve as a warning to other private schools in the state who adopt ‘unethical practices’ in the name of corporal punishment.
But the woman in the eye of the storm, the proprietress of the school, also known as ‘school mummy’, Mrs Ify Okonkwo, has blamed the entire episode on misunderstanding.
According to her, the ‘invitation’ of the police, the ‘arrest’ of the erring pupils, and their placement in the police van, were all part of an arranged ‘stunt’ that was meant to discourage indiscipline, and also instill hardwork and good conduct among pupils in the school.
Okonkwo said she collaborated with some parents to execute the stunt, adding that she was the one that shared pictures of the incident on a Whatsap forum she created for parents of pupils in the school.
Addressing journalists, Okonkwo, who was in company with parents of some of the pupils in the school, said the incident was stage, managed, as the pupils were merely told to get on the back of the van, where they were made to pledge to be of better behaviour.
The proprietress said, “Being an educationist, what happened in the school on February 16 was to encourage the children to be focused. I brought the police to come and talk to the children and to motivate them to read on their own without being pushed.
“In my mind, I thought I was doing it to bring the children up in a way that they will be attached to their studies. No child was manhandled neither did they point a gun at any of the children.
“I was the person that took the pictures and we have a group chat I opened for parents as one family to brief them on the school’s activities.
“When I took this action, I posted it (pictures) on the platform, with the caption ‘Some children were arrested today for not doing their homework, for not reading their books, for not behaving well, but they promised to change’.
“I didn’t mean any harm; I meant well for the kids. If not, I wouldn’t have made it public – it would have been between me and the teachers.”
Okonkwo said the parents commended her when she posted pictures of the incident on the Whatsap forum.
“When I uploaded it on the platform, parents were commending me,” she said, although she added that the particular parent who in turn posted the pictures on Facebook with the ‘mischievous’ caption, has issues with the school management.
Insisting that the pupils were not actually arrested, the proprietress said, “I am aware that those children are still minors and no offence they committed would warrant an arrest. So how do you think that those children were arrested? Who will have that kind of heart to arrest these little children?”
One of the parents, Mrs Jessica Nnamani, corroborated the proprietress’ claims.
Nnamani said she was at the school on the day of the incident, and played a role in the ‘drama’.
She said, “I am one of the parents in the school. On that day, I came to the school to give my son who is not well his hourly drug. When I got to the school I saw some kids that morning who were looking very dirty. When I saw that, I wasn’t happy, as a mother who would want her kids to look clean and I turned to the school mummy and asked, ‘Where are those children coming from? Did their parents bring them here this morning looking this way?’
“I was disappointed.
“She told me that she had a plan on how to deal with people that come to the school looking dirty, the stubborn ones and those that are not doing their homework.
“She then told me the drama she wanted to do, that I should help to stage manage it very well.
“She invited police and when they came, all the children that were dirty, those that were stubborn and those that weren’t doing their home assignments were brought out at around 9:00 am and they were told that the police were going to take them to Abuja, unless they promised to be coming to school clean, to be obedient, and also ready to do their home assignment.
“I played the intercessory role by begging the ‘school mummy’ to tamper justice with mercy, promising that they would change. I said, “School mummy’ please don’t take them away, they will change”. I then asked them, ‘Okay, are you people promising school mummy that you will do well from now on?’ They all said yes.”
Continuing, she said, “They (pupils) were rather laughing. They (police) now took them behind the van – it was then they started begging.
“If I should say, she (proprietress) didn’t mean any harm. As a parent, I supported what she did. She did it in the interest of the pupils.”
The woman said she uses a similar approach to discipline her kids.
Nnamani added, “When my child proves stubborn and I drive them to a police checkpoint, I will bring that one out and ask police to take him and punish him because he is stubborn, and you will see him dragging my clothes begging that he will not do such a thing again, that he will change, and police will tell him “Make sure that your mum doesn’t bring you here again”.
Be that as it may, the school remains closed, until further notice.
Meanwhile, the school management has apologised to Enugu State government. The apology was conveyed in a letter addressed to the commissioner fovr education. ‘’We promise and undertake that such will never happen again, and appeal mostv humbly that the closure of the school be lifted so that our children are not affected negatively by the continued closure of the school,’’ parts of the letter said.
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