Ike Aigbogun-Osho is the Founder and Program Director of Safe Schools, an initiative powered by HSEWise, a safety information centre she started four years ago. The journey began back in the United Kingdom after her first degree in Biomedical Science from the University of Bedfordshire and masters in Health and Safety from Brunel University, which has today birthed great passion to spread the safety awareness message in schools. Professor Ike, as she is called, had worked with the London Hazards Centre Trusts Ltd, gone into freelancing and safety trainings while in UK before coming back to Nigeria to practice. Her aim is to teach children to develop a Safety mindset so they can care for themselves and others’ health, safety and wellbeing. Her organisation also works with schools to help them achieve and maintain a safe and healthy learning and work environment through training, mentorship and consultancy. In this interview with Safety Record Newspaper’s Associate Editor, Paul Mbagwu at Evergreen Royal Private School, Akoka, where she is the school administrator, Professor Ike talks about the safety challenges Nigeria schools grapple with and other school safety issues. Excerpt.
From what we learnt, you did not set out to go into child safety, how did it happen for you?
I didn’t really set out to go into school safety, I just found myself in it. I got inundated with incidents in schools, so much that I decided to do something about them. There was an incident I heard of in a school where a parent came to pick up her child and discovered that the child was bleeding and no one did a thing about it and when she sought for an answer, she was told it happened after closing hours and that the child was no longer their responsibility. Last week, in a training with a school owners at Sango Ota, Ogun state, I asked the school owners whose responsibility it was to protect the school children on the school premises after closing hours before their parents come for them, and many of them chorused that it was the parents responsibility and that they should come and get their children. I was shocked by their responses. I could remember somebody asked me the question some time ago on Facebook, which prompted my asking the school owners to see what their responses would be. I told them the children were their responsibility for as long as the children were on the school property. I asked them what they thought would have happened to their school if any of the children got into harm’s way. What do they think people would say in this social media era? I made them understand that the incident would dent their schools’ reputation by the time the news spread all over the social media and no one would want to be associated with the school if they see their schools as where accidents and injury are the norm. So, you can see that a lot of schools don’t know these things and these calls for a lot of safety awareness to schools.
Another of the incidents that made me see the need to focus on school safety was when news of the death of a school administrator on the Lagos Island got to me, and on enquiry, I learnt she collapsed while in school, and unfortunately, all the people present at the time could do was to carry her aside and fan her. No one thought of checking her blood pressure or administering CPR, but instead they kept fanning her till she died. This school in question is among the prestigious on the island, and so one would have expected them to know what was expected to do to save the principal’s life, but they didn’t.
One of the mistakes I have made in my life that I want to correct is that I always assumed that people should know, while in fact many don’t and which has made me decide to share any information no matter how basic. Now, I say it, even if it’s the type people would so frown at or consider irrelevant. But I tell you that very basic information might be helpful to another person.
Let’s talk about the common safety challenges prevalent in schools?
For some schools it’s at their playground. There is this school I went to train in Ajah, Lekki. On getting to the premises, my sister, who was with me, drew my attention to the school playground. They had the Bouncing Castle, with no barrier and the fence around it had spikes on them. I asked the administrator if children played on the Bouncing Castle, and she said, “Yes”. I told her how fortunate she had been to have recorded no accident yet. I told her the implications of any child bouncing off the castle and landing on any of the spikes on the wall. Playing ground safety is one huge challenge in schools.
Then, the transportation system is another safety challenge they face. In this same school, while they were transporting the children home after school and I was watching from the school hall, which was not too far from the point they were picking them up, I saw a heap of bags on the passenger’s seat beside the driver. When the driver returned from a trip, I approached him and asked how he found driving with the bags heaped beside him. He narrated the ordeals he encountered while driving with the bags beside him. According to him, he would have to practically keep the bags intact on the seat with one hand, picking them up when they fall, setting them properly to allow him use the side mirror, while he drove with the other hand. I told the school owner, right in front of the driver, that it was an unsafe practice, just as she could hear the driver narrate his ordeal driving the children home.
Again, there is sexual health, especially when you have older children in the school. Some time, the younger girls crush on the older boys, sending love notes. So they have that challenge too. This extends to teachers. One of the things that I tell teachers is that if they notice any of their students crushing on them, and sending them love notes, they need to understand their relationship with the children is like that of a parent to a child. The teacher should tell the student, “The relationship I have with you in the school is like that of a parent and mentor. Fathers and daughters don’t have this kind of relationship; you and I cannot have this kind of relationship. What you are asking for is not normal and can send me to jail, or would you want me to go to jail?” The teacher has to be persistent and insistent about this, because the students will keep at it and sometimes, the teacher might want to feed on the knowledge that the girl or boy is crushing on him or her. Some teachers do it. I remember my cousin telling me how some boys in the secondary school she was serving sent her love notes. However, she did not know how to handle it. She brought them out in the classroom and embarrassed them. But I told her that was not how to handle the issue. The best way to handle it is to call them aside and tell them not to do it again or report them to the head teacher rather than bringing them out in the class or assembly, trying to embarrass them. It’s not proper to embarrass students when they are caught doing something wrong.
This issue of sexual harassment seems to be a trending issue in schools. What’s your take on it and what’s the way out?
I was asked the same question last month in a program, and I told the person it’s not trending and that it has always been there. There is nothing happening now that has not been happening before. People now know about it because of social media. Just like accidents on the road, they have been happening – we just didn’t know about them. But now any accident that happens, you hear about them and see the picture on social media. Somebody rapes a baby or harasses a lady, it gets on the social media, but we have not been hearing about them before, because there was no social media. However, in all we hear, parents have to take the greater blame sometimes. They neglect to take care of their children; they instead leave then in the hands of others while they go out to make money. I heard of the incident of a 15-month-old baby girl that was sexually molested. The parents weren’t even aware of it till the teachers discovered it in school and notified the parents. The question is: who was bathing the baby? It’s obviously not the parent; someone else was doing that, because if they have, they would have noticed that her private part was larger than normal. Listen, we cannot expect the school to do everything. In this school now, we do all that we can to protect the children, and when outside there, when they go to visit a man or lady, how do we know? But while in this school, there are lots of things we can prevent. We can prevent sexual activity from going on in the school but once they are outside, we can’t. Parents have a huge responsibility when it comes to this. I did a survey over the weekend of some teens because of the problem I am having and I discovered some of them already sexually active. I did the survey of ten-year-olds and I discovered one that was already sexually active. And we could see in their responses that some did not have good relationship with their parents. One actually called for help. She said “help.” She wrote it in capital letter, and she said, “PLEASE HELP”. Many of them are troubled; parents are not spending time with their children. They are not taking time to talk with their children or to spend time with their children. I think what some parents do is to lecture, and they do it in a stern way. In one meeting I attended, a lady talked about her friend’s six-year-old daughter who was being sexually abused and had refused to talk to anyone about who did it. I told her that the girl could see their desperation and probably could read it that you wanted to find out and probably go and kill the person, because that is the natural talk that can come from any parent. And maybe this person has also threatened her that if you talk, I will kill your mummy and daddy or if you talk, your navel will dry up. These molesters issue all kinds of threats to keep their victims from revealing their identity. So, the girl is scared; she doesn’t want to lose her parents and doesn’t want to be sick either. I advised that the parents should look for a child psychologist who would be able to talk to the child, even if it took a few sessions but at the end of the day the girl would be able to open up to the psychologist. I said all these to emphasize that parents need to put in their best to train their children.
In all these, where is the place of punishment for erring students?
In this time and age, we try not to do punishment and beating. We try not to beat and punish the children. We talk to the child; we have a counselor who talks to the child, and sometimes we involve the parents. However, we have never had any sexual abuse issue; the school is very open and there is no place to hide to commit such. In the case such happens, it is not beating that would solve the issue. We had an instance of a student being rude to a teacher. She insulted the teacher and called him a bastard. It was not funny on that day. She almost insulted me too. In that kind of situation, we alert the parents and tell them that the child would have to go home or we send the child to a counselor who would keep talking to the child. We do not beat, because after a while they get used to the beating and become head strong, and keep at what they are doing. I don’t support punishment, not for any student practising sexual harassment. The truth is that there are questions to ask. Many of them could have been abused, and when a child is abused, the tendency to become sexually active and promiscuous is high. That calls for a different approach of handling it and not limiting it to punishment. You can’t punish a child for trying out sexual activities.
Let’s talk about your program, ‘Safetagious’. When is it happening and what are we expecting?
Safetagious is happening on June 10. This is because June 6-11 is Child Safety Week all over the world. So we decided to have an event for children, parents and teachers (the stakeholders in the child’s life). Our goal is to get parents to give more attention to their children by understanding the challenges their children face. We have experts who will tell them the reason their children behave the way they do and what they can do to help the child. We will also have a drama presentation at the event. For me, I want something that would hit home and bring to life what the program is about. The drama presentation is going to be about a true-life event. I have given the drama group the story to work on and spice up. It is not just a drama for entertainment, but with a lesson. After the drama, we have a talk show; it will be fun and interactive, so that the audience can contribute to the discussion. We are going to have bonding activities. This is going to be parent to child, and teacher to student bonding. So, a teacher that comes with students from his or her school will have bonding activities with them. In some surveys we did about how students felt about their teachers, the responses were not good. Some of them said they did not know how they felt. While some said their teachers were very helpful, others would say, “I am not close to my teacher, and not close to anybody.” So we are hoping that those activities will help. We want parents to come with their children to come and see how they feel. And we hope the bonding activity will help them get closer and happy. Our plan will not be to leave them like that, we follow-up on them with emails on how to maintain that bond with their family and keep them safe. Sometimes, children don’t feel safe: you bring all kind of strangers to your house, all these uncles and aunts; they are the ones abusing these children. If you look at the statistics of the abusers, you find out they are the people closer to home – next-door neighbors, uncles and aunts. It’s so rampart that you hardly find a stranger doing that. So, we need to teach parents; we need them to learn how to live successfully with their children. Sometimes, you think you are doing your best with your child while you are actually putting off your child. Your child is feeling angry, thinking, “this one is always talking too much, always telling me what to do and what not to do.” We are hoping that with these events, parents will learn the right way to live with their children.
So in the event, we are going to look at stranger safety, sexual health, and we have a professional that will tell us about how young people see risk so parents can understand why children take certain risks. The way young people see risk is not how we see risk.
You were one of 9jaSAFE Awards 2016 recipients. What can you say about the Award?
The award is actually in my office. I told someone the other day that I am not a showy person; the only time I’ve even talked about it was when I won it. I wrote a blog post about it and then recently to help with the publicity for nomination of this year’s school safety award category. I wanted people to know that it’s not a fake thing. I won this award last year and I did not pay anything for it. It is a very good award. When I won it last year, I felt on top of the world. Because everyone wants to be recognized for the work that they are doing, I think it’s a good way to appreciate the good work safety professionals are doing in Nigeria. It’s a good way to recognize schools and companies that are actually doing the work. I know somebody who actually got a job from the 9jaSAFE award he received last year and also another who got a contract with it. That was when I realized I could have actually used the award to my advantage which I wasn’t aware of.
Why the great passion you have for school safety? Could it be for reasons of financial rewards that come with it?
(Laughs) When I chose school safety, a lady questioned the reason for my choice and I told her that was what I liked to do. She said there’s no money in schools and schools do not pay. And it’s the truth. They pay peanuts or want you to do it for free. I do not know if others make money from safety, maybe those in oil and gas, construction. And of course, when you go to schools to talk about safety, they would say, “Is it not for the oil and gas?” Yes! School and even hospitals would tell you that. So I think that is where the money is. There is no money in school safety. I think anyone who wants to do school safety must be because they have the heart for it. But if they think they want to make money, they will be frustrated. It’s not that there is no money at all, but it’s not the type that would make you a millionaire. So, it’s not because of the money. Hopefully money will come someday. Why I decided to do what I am doing is that I want children to be protected.
Your final word
In the safety industry in Nigeria, I have met with many professionals, but I cannot ascertain what their goals are. But for me when I decided to work for schools, I decided I wasn’t going to delve into any other area of safety. I know many who will jump into any area of safety when the doors open for them, but I won’t. Last week I got contacted by a company to do an audit for a management firm but I told them I don’t do anything aside school safety. When she insisted, I asked her to send a mail to me so I could see what she was talking about. When I saw it, and the scope, I didn’t even bother to reply.
School safety requires dedication. I was at a conference where someone was talking about school safety and really all she was talking about was not related to school safety. It was just about the normal generic safety talks about fire safety and first aid. If you are talking about first aid in schools, you should be talking about pediatric first aid – the CPR you would administer on an adult is not the type you give to a child. So, if one is actually going to work in school safety one actually needs to know what happens in schools.