As early as 8:30 am on the 24th day of October 2013, pupils of NKST Primary school Wadata, Makurdi trooped to school as usual only to find the gates locked on account of labour strike embarked upon by their Teachers on the orders of the Teachers Union, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT).
The NUT has been in a running battle with the Benue State Government over non-payment of salaries spanning over three months, non implementation of Teachers Salary Scale amongst others issues. This culminated into the Teachers embarking on an indefinite strike on Wednesday 23rd October, 2013.
Pupils on arriving school on 24th of October 2013 to attend classes found the gates to the school locked by their striking Teachers.
In reaction, School children numbering over 400 blocked the street leading to the school in protest over the inability of the State Government to resolve the lingering crisis. The children whose ages range between 4-13 years barricaded the road and burnt used tyres, displaying placards to express their feelings.
Thirty minutes into the peaceful protest, watched by about 100 amused persons, a team of armed Police men in two trucks from the State Police Headquarters Makurdi arrived the scene and without any efforts to discuss nor persuade the children to leave, resorted to immediate use of force on the protesting kids.
A Staff of Lawyers Alert who witnessed the incidence saw the kids chased and lashed with horse whips, tear gassed and assault by the police officers leading to a number of them sustaining severe injuries. According to Our Staff “it was like the children were armed, the force used was certainly beyond reasonable, excessive and the children’s safety was the least of the police worries leading to injuries of varying kinds. It was unnecessary”
Lawyers Alert condemns this action in totality as the force used was certainly not commensurate with the circumstances. Worse still no form of negotiation or efforts was made to get the children off the streets.
Children like adults have the right to expression as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The violation of this right in addition to the assault and psychological trauma of the Police brutalizing children is to say the least unfortunate.
Several international covenants that Nigeria is privy to respect and recognize the right of children, including the Child Rights Act 2003 Laws of Nigeria. We consider the acts of the Police as an act of violence on the persons of the children and an abuse of their rights to human dignity, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as it is also a violation of the Nigeria laws.
We call on the Commissioner of Police Benue State to issue an apology to the pupils and their parents and also visit them in hospitals, and when school resumes, call on the pupils and explain to them the unlikelihood of such happening in the future alongside regrets.
The children should not be left thinking the police is after all not their friend.
Issued the 25th day of October 2014
Asan Gabin Bennedict