On 23rd March, barely two weeks ago, Jalingo, the capital of Taraba state was locked down by protesting primary school teachers, who mobilized thousands of primary school pupils, to join them in demanding for payment of their salary arrears for months. Taravoices will hereby examine the social and legal implications of such an action, which from a moral standpoint is despicable.
Dangers the Kids were Exposed to
Taravoices was at the Roadblock area of the city on that fateful Wednesday morning. Roadblock is a busy area and a major terminus that connects the city center and a meeting point for travelers to northern and southern Nigeria. It is very busy all day with heavy duty vehicles, buses and other commercial vehicles plying the road.
But right there on the roundabout, were primary school pupils accompanied by a few teachers singing, carrying placards and obstructing traffic, all in the name of unpaid salaries of their teachers. The teachers were seen compelling the pupils to block the road and when it seemed the innocent pupils were overreacting, the teachers used brooms to flog and control the pupils.
It looked like the pupils were enjoying the adventure anyway because it was like play to them without knowing that their rights were been trampled upon by some teachers driven by sheer impunity and disrespect for the dignity of the child.
Teachers Did not Take Permission From Parents
When TaraVoices asked one of the teachers why they used children for the protest considering the danger involved, she casually responded, saying they wanted solidarity from their parents. On whether her own child was among the protesting children, she had nothing to say!
Taravoices also learnt that the parents of these pupils, who are poor, were not consulted and their consent not sought before carrying out such an act by the school authorities. It is no wonder then that the state government found it justifiable to suspend about nine primary school head teachers in connection with that protest.
Meanwhile, around the Michelin round-about in the city center, about the same time, were another set of pupils demonstrating and causing traffic gridlock. It took the intervention of law enforcement agents to restore order.
Some of the Masterminds
The center of rendezvous, however, was the Government House entrance where thousands of teachers, pupils and other persons in solidarity, pitched tent and occupied.
Among the protesters was officials of the primary school teachers and a fiery lawyer, M.B Mustapha, the self-styled human rights activist.
Meeting with Government Personnel
They were received by officials of the state government led by Secretary to the State Government, (SSG), Hon. Anthony Jellason, who tried frantically to appease the aggrieved teachers.
Later on, the deputy governor, Engr. Haruna Manu, came and had a meeting with the officials and an amicable resolution on the matter was reached between both parties.
However, there was a near exchange of fisticuffs between some government officials and their visitors which was triggered by the propriety of the use of innocent pupils for the protest.
The SSG, insisted that innocent pupils shouldn’t have been used for the protest while the fiery lawyer would have none of that. The concern of Mustapha and the teachers was just their salaries and nothing else, no matter whose ox was gored.
More Child Abuse Instances
Granted that the teachers have every right to ask for what is rightly is theirs, but the method used is not only illegal but immoral. Nowhere in the world had innocent pupils used to advance or achieve a common goal.
Such an act as experienced in Jalingo on that day has serious social implications. For one, some children could have been killed or injured by moving vehicles, they could have been kidnapped or sexually molested or missing.
Unconfirmed reports have it that some even missed their way home. The sad thing is none of the teachers had his or her child involved in that dangerous enterprise.
A Truly Misplaced Legacy
By the way, what legacy are we bequeathing to our children who we claim are leaders of tomorrow? A legacy of civil disobedience, rascality and reactionists tendency? I am afraid, that is what that protest has succeeded in doing and children being what they are may have consciously imbibed that in them.
Also, such an action has a legal implication as far as the rights of the child is concerned and anyone involved in violating the rights of the child irrespective of the reason is guilty of an offense punishable by law.