Military personnel and police officers have taken over security at the Bolgatanga Senior High School (Big Boss), one of the premier institutions in the Upper East region, following a violent demonstration staged by students over the death of their colleague Friday morning.
At least three cars belonging to teachers were vandalised and a teacher’s residence came under attack from students armed with rocks before the Regional Security Council (REGSEC) arrived on the troubled campus.
The midday disturbances were sparked by an alleged refusal on the part of a senior housemaster (name withheld for security reasons) to sign an exeat request form for a first-year student, Eliasu Zakaria, who reportedly had been taken ill for some time and had repeatedly asked for a temporary absence from school to seek treatment at a hospital.
The boy, according to some rampaging boarders, was kept at the school’s dispensary where he eventually died around 11:00am. Others told newshounds he was pronounced dead at the Upper East Regional Hospital where there could have been hope for him if the senior housemaster had released him in time.
Blaming the fresher’s death on the senior housemaster, thousands of students poured out from various locations like a bee colony upset by a firecracker to unleash a terror they seemed to have bottled up for a long period against some teachers.
“They tell us each time we are at the assembly that we should always get our exeat cards signed before we go home. But when you go to them to sign the exeat cards, they will only tell you that your reasons are not reasonable enough. Even if you are sick and it is critical, they won’t sign it for you,” complained one of the rioting students.
REGSEC meets with Angry Students
The school’s assembly hall was packed with the final-year students around nightfall Friday. Regional security chiefs, led by the Upper East Regional Minister who is also the REGSEC’s Chairman, Rockson Ayine Bukari, faced a ‘sea’ of students to douse the firestorm.
“We need peace and security in the school,” the minister stressed as the students reacted with mixed sighs. “Your masters are worried because their cars have been destroyed. Let peace prevail. Make your teachers happy and the sky will be your limit. If there is no peace and you are asked to go home, you are going to lose. If there is any breach of peace, all of you here would have to go home,” he strongly warned.
Although Friday’s evening encounter was for the final-year students only, it did not suggest that REGSEC held them solely responsible for the campus unrest. The rioters are said to belong to various classes as school authorities are yet searching for those who took part in the disturbances. In the wisdom of REGSEC, the best way to capture the juniors perhaps is to captivate the seniors first— a job the minister executed ‘so well’ he got an approval nod from a robust entourage seated behind where he stood.
“You are about to take your mock exams. And February, you will start your [WASSCE]. You need the teachers to help you. And you want this school to get good results. You are the leadership now. Let your [juniors] emulate you. Make sure nothing untoward happens. If something happens, you will be held responsible. Those of you in this room, the peace of the school is in your hands,” he emphasised.
“Blame the Senior Housemaster, not us”— Student to Headmaster
The school’s headmaster, Afelibiek Ababu, gave a harsh address immediately after the minister had addressed the students.
As the tight hall listened amid occasional interruptions, he called the students “a great disappointment” and ‘ingrates’ who had “gotten to the worst stage”.
“You must thank your stars that our father the Regional Minister came here. If not, for me alone, by now all of you would have been at home. You are a great disappointment to me. With all that we have struggled to do for you, this is the way you will pay us back.
Every night we carry students to hospital. We use our own monies to pay for your health. And because of an unfortunate incident of this, you have gone round to vandalise everything in the school. And you think that we will have the same spirit to handle you as our children.
“For me, you have gotten to the worst stage, seriously. You have gotten to the worst stage. We will give you the benefit of the doubt to stay for the night. Then, we’ll see what will happen. And we know by tomorrow we shall surely meet and a decision will be taken.
Anytime I plan something good for candidates, they destroy it. 2014, we planned to write two mocks; then, they would stay in school throughout; they destroyed it. This year, I have planned something; the teachers have agreed; now, you have destroyed it,” the distraught-looking headmaster said.
At that point his speech was interjected by long murmurs from the crowd, with one saddened-looking girl heard saying in a deep whisper, “Blame the Senior Housemaster, not us”.
After the murmurs had faded away, the headmaster dropped a bombshell that left more vinegar in many mouths.
“You have agreed that you will live in peace. But the damage that has been caused you must be ready to pay. That one, there is nothing you can do about it. You will pay for every damage that you have caused. And we are giving you from now up to Sunday, you must be able to get us those who have caused that damage. You must secretly do that for us; if not, all of you will be held [liable]. We will hope that the night be peaceful for us,” he stated.
A Replay of 2014 Death and Destruction
Friday’s upheaval is a near-replay of a turbulence that rocked the school early in December, 2014, after a business student, Emmanuel Bawa, died whilst a senior housemaster reportedly was chasing some students to join a morning assembly.
In the ensuing riot, a vehicle belonging to the senior housemaster was smashed, a shop owned by his wife vandalised and some teachers came under violent attacks. Five students were arrested for their involvement in the disturbances. The school was closed down temporarily. Authorities awarded costs against students for the damage done to property. An autopsy report that surfaced two weeks later proved that the boy died of natural causes.
As of the time Starr News was leaving the campus after the minister’s Friday evening meeting with the school’s topmost class, one of the smashed cars had been towed to “the police headquarters” and the remains of the student deposited at the “Regional Hospital’s morgue”. But despite the presence of soldiers and policemen on foot patrols on the campus, some teachers looked to have made a decision they did not intend to change— to spend the ‘unpredictable night’ far away from the campus.