Jun 8, 2020

Disciplining Children In Nigerian Schools: To Flog or Not To Flog | Eberechi May Okoh

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”   Nelson Mandela

The role of children in any society cannot be over-emphasized. Every culture in its own peculiar way, with or without laws, by default, protects the young. The fact that the present young population are going to be responsible for running society in the next twenty to forty years, means that much attention should be paid to children’s development. As expected, each society’s culture determines how its children are treated. What might be acceptable to one society, might be completely abhorrent to another. Two decades ago, flogging children in primary and secondary schools in Nigeria was widely acceptable. 

This was irrespective of whether the school was public, private or a missionary school. Today, the narrative is different. Even without the prompting of the government, most private schools in Nigeria have already banned all forms of flogging or hitting by teachers or other staff.  In response, some teachers have lamented that the absence of corporal punishment encourages pupils to be rude to them. Last year, the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, was reported to have said that  the federal government would no longer tolerate bullying in schools, but he was not referring to corporal punishment.[1] Furthermore, the Spokesperson of the Education Ministry, Ben Goong, emphasized that the government did not ban corporal punishment.[2]


In Nigeria, corporal punishments are widely acceptable to the extent that it is unthinkable that a child will be allowed to grow without physical discipline. While the benefits are often listed, little is known about the psychological effects on some children and the healing process involved. Consequently, the culture of disciplining children physically in the home transcends from the home to the school and other public spaces. In some communities, an adult may discipline a child for inappropriate behaviour in public and upon returning the child to the parents with a report of what transpired, receive a warm welcome. It takes a community to raise a child. Notably, Article 295 of the Criminal Code (South), article 55 of the Penal Code (North) and the Shari’a penal codes in the Northern states confirm the right of parents to use force to “correct” their children. Yet as we consider what is culturally acceptable in our geographical space, it is important to take note that fortunately, or unfortunately, the world is quickly shrinking into one global village with national leaders including Nigerian leaders, signing treaties which will affect the lives of the citizens unbeknownst to them. For this reason, the topic of disciplining young children in Nigerian schools cannot be discussed without a consideration of the larger picture- global practice. It is important to set out however that the consideration of what is obtainable in other societies is not with a view to compare. The role of children in the Nigerian society is so important that their affairs cannot be decided on without recourse to the essence of who we are as a nation.  


Currently, Europe and many parts of South America practice prohibition of corporal punishment in all settings. Russia, North America and Canada among others have achieved prohibition in some settings while Nigeria, Botswana, Saudi Arabia and some others have not fully prohibited corporal punishment in any setting.[3] Notably, every continent at some point in their ancient history allowed corporal punishment. In the UK for instance, in the last century, the issue of corporal punishment in schools was often met with a perceived incompatibility with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. While the Article prohibits torture and degrading treatment, in cases like Tyrer v UK[4] and Costello-Roberts v UK[5] the issue of corporal punishment was considered in light of the Article. In Costello-Roberts’ case, the court found that there was no infringement of Article 3 in slippering a seven-year old child, but in Tyrer’s case, the court held that the birching of a 15-year old boy was a violation of Article 3. In a dissenting judgment in Tyrer’s case, Sir Gerald Fitzmaurice noted that Article 3 was not intended as a vehicle for penal reform. The European Convention was post World War II and was concerned with the torture and ill-treatment perpetuated by the Nazis and not necessarily corporal punishment.[6] However, the creation of some fundamental rights had implications not intended by the drafters. As chairperson of the drafting committee of the Universal Declaration, Eleanor Roosevelt expressed concern that provisions outlawing torture and ill-treatment might prohibit the practice of other things such as compulsory vaccination.[7] These concerns though voiced in a different context must lead us to ask questions such as what the unintended effects will be if teachers are prohibited from administering corporal punishment across all schools and all ages? This is in view of the fact that Nigeria is a culturally different clime from the Western World and cannot be seen to adopt Western procedures if not in the best interest of the child and the society. However, while these questions persist, the government continues to ratify international treaties and make commitments which sooner or later, might completely wipe out corporal punishment. 


In 1991, Nigeria ratified the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC). With the exception of some northern states, many states have domesticated the CRC as state laws. The CRC in Article 28(2) provides as follows:

“States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child's human dignity and in conformity with the present Convention.”

It is also notable that the Nigerian government is committed under the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 and Africa's Agenda for Children 2040. This year, the Global Initiative together with Amnesty International Nigeria, is working on a project to bring law reform on corporal punishment to the forefront of the Nigerian Government’s agenda. According to the UN, corporal punishment is ‘any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light. It involves hitting (‘smacking’, ‘slapping’, ‘spanking’) children, with the hand or with an implement – whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc. It can also involve, for example, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, burning, scalding or forced ingestion’.[8] In a 2019 report of the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment for Children in Nigeria, they noted that prohibition is still to be achieved in the home, alternative care settings, day care, schools, penal institutions and as a sentence for crime. According to them, these provisions should be repealed, and prohibition enacted of all corporal punishment by parents and others with parental authority.[9] If this is achieved, corporal punishments will not only be prohibited in schools but also in the home.


But as the international community puts pressure on Nigeria to walk away from all forms of corporal punishment and many private schools are abandoning it for lighter modes of discipline, it is important to assess what corporal punishment in Nigerian schools have done for us as a nation both positive and negative. Amidst reports of many children (now adults) who appeared to attain to a well-rounded development as a result of being flogged in schools, are reports of adults who have scars of being victims of violent abuse at the hands of teachers. Evidence on the topic shows support for both sides. Does corporal punishment have a place in our society?  Has it helped our society? Should it be retained or banned in schools? Have children been made to endure violence and abuse at the hands of teachers? Do the benefits if any, outweigh the harm?








[1]   Azeezat Adedigba,  “Teachers, parents react as Nigerian schools gradually abandon corporal punishment”       https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/378623-teachers-parents-react-as-nigerian-schools-gradually-abandon-corporal-punishment.html assessed 6 June 2020.

[2] Ibid.

[4] [1978] ECHR 2

[5] [1993] ECHR 16

[6] Barry Phillips The Case for Corporal Punishment in the UK. Beaten into Submission (1994) 43 The International and Comparative Law Quarterly No. 1 153.

[7] Barry Phillips (n3) 162.

[8] (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2006: 4)

[9] Summary of necessary legal reform to achieve full prohibition (n3).

Photo Credit - www.allafrica.com