There is no doubt that Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s) have done a lot in Nigeria to create the necessary awareness towards stamping out the vexed issue of discrimination and stigmatization on account of HIV status. What is difficult to understand is that even after years of this effort, the country has not been able to get to where it should be. So much ignorance still surrounds the issue of HIV/AIDS in the country. Even though the HIV and AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) Act was passed and signed into law by the National Assembly in 2014 and majority of the states have either domesticated or passed similar laws; the situation has not changed considerably. Indeed, various organizations and even individuals have been culprits of the serious infractions. Admittedly, the situation becomes more pathetic when the perpetrator happens to be a government or any of its agencies or authorities.
Just last week, a case of expulsion of a 12-year-old who is a student in one of the Command Secondary Schools was reported in Abuja, the country’s capital. The story goes that Master X was born HIV positive but has been on the necessary treatment and care from inception. Master X has been through primary school and did not at any time exhibit complications associated with the status. Master X (Not Real Name) lives with his mother and a sister in Abuja. In 2019, he was offered provisional admission into the Command Secondary School in Kaduna where he completed J.S.S. 1 and part of his J.S.S. 2. Owing to the insecurity and other risks associated with the Abuja-Kaduna Road, Master X’s mother decided to seek a transfer for him from Kaduna to the Command Secondary School in Suleja. The transfer worked through and Master X was asked to resume in the 2nd Term of his J.S.S. 2.
On Monday, the 10th day of January 2022, Master X’s mother accompanied him to the school in Suleja to fulfil all registration formalities and resume school. After making all necessary purchases and payments, Master X was assigned to a hostel and from there he continued his usual school activities. But at a point in the registration process, and while the mother was still in the school, the school doctor requested anyone that required special medical attention and care for his/her ward to come forward and let the school’s clinic be aware so the same could make special arrangement to attend to such special needs of the child. This was what Master X’s mother heard that encouraged her to approach the doctor to show him the Anti-Retroviral (ARV) drugs that Master X was on. On sighting the drugs, the doctor flared up and angrily questioned the decision of the mother to bring such a child into the school. The doctor immediately rushed into another office where he apparently narrated the whole of what had happened to the officer there. After a while, Master X’s mother was also summoned to the office where she was told that a child of his HIV status could not be allowed in the school. Both men later escalated the issue to the office of the Commandant for what she perceived as a necessary action. After completing all the processes, Master X’s mother retired to her home that day believing the matter had been put to rest as nothing came to her out of the last effort to the Commandant’s office.
However, in the evening of the Monday under reference, Master X’s mother received a call from an Administrative Officer in the school inviting her to report at the office the following day. On getting there, Master X’s mother was simply accompanied to the Bursary office where all the money she had already paid was enveloped and returned to her with the announcement that her child cannot be admitted in the school and that the Commandant had instructed them to return her money and expel Master X from the school. All pleas from Master X’s mother to be allowed to explain certain things to them were turned down completely. In fact, a military officer attached to the school was instead brought into the matter and made to escort Master X to his hostel where they removed everything that belonged to Master X. Thereafter, Master X and his mother were escorted out of the school premises. These actions created a lot of scenes in the school with many wondering what had happened to warrant such ill-treatment from a school that should know better. This has meant an embarrassing end to Master X’s academic career at a school he loves so much.
Indeed, it will amount to stating the obvious to announce that Master X has been so much traumatized by this experience, and he has been crying all day and had even got to the point of nurturing suicidal thoughts. To forestall the unexpected, Master X’s mother has been around him thereby giving the single mother additional tasks of watching over this child all day. Besides, Master X is out of school now with all the attendant risks and dangers.
Even though it is not out of the ordinary for Master X to be absolved by another school, the questions still remain: how many of Master X’s are suffering this kind of treatment silently around us today that have not spoken out? What is the use of all the laws we have passed that seek to protect the rights of the likes of Master X? Do we just read or hear this and ignore it as one of those things? The decision is ours.