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Bullying in Nigerian schools: little evidence for national TV claim of ‘78% prevalence’

A disturbing incident caught on camera at a school in the capital Abuja has put bullying in the spotlight. But the statistics used to highlight the scourge in the country’s schools do not stand up to scrutiny.

  • In a report on bullying in Nigerian schools, Channels TV cited “a study by ResearchGate”. However, the networking site denied ever having conducted such a study in the country.

  • In its news report, the media house said that ResearchGate had found a “78% prevalence of bullying in Nigerian schools”. But this statistic only applied to one city in Edo state, not the whole of Nigeria.

  • Nigeria's National Bureau of Statistics says it has not conducted a study on bullying in the country's schools, adding that such a task would require a lot of resources.

In April 2024, a video of a schoolgirl bullying another while others watched went viral on social media.  

The incident at the Lead British International School in the capital Abuja stirred public debate about bullying in Nigerian schools. There was public outrage, with the girl’s parents reportedly seeking compensation.

StudyInsertThe ministry of education set up a committee to investigate bullying at the school, while the minister of women's affairs and social development briefly closed the school. 

As the controversy raged, national broadcaster Channels TV tried to quantify the extent of bullying in the country’s schools. An infographic on its flagship 10 pm bulletin claimed: “A study by ResearchGate shows a 78% prevalence of bullying in Nigerian schools.” 

The infographic continues to make the rounds, including on WhatsApp. But is the startling statistic backed up by data? We checked.

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Claim

ResearchGate conducted a study on bullying in Nigerian schools.

Verdict

Incorrect

ResearchGate is a professional networking site for scientists and researchers. Headquartered in Berlin, Germany, it claims to have a community of 20 million researchers from more than 190 countries. 

We asked if they had researched bullying in Nigeria.

“We do not carry out our own research and have not been involved in this research,” the site told Africa Check

“We provide a platform that enables researchers to share and find research outputs, but do not have involvement in the development or results of these outputs."

What is bullying?

A 2017 report by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) defines bullying as the “intentional and aggressive behaviour occurring repeatedly against a victim where there is a real or perceived power imbalance and where the victims feel vulnerable and powerless to defend themselves”.

The report says that bullying behaviours can be physical, including hitting, kicking and the destruction of property; verbal, such as teasing, insulting and threatening; or relational, through the spreading of rumours and exclusion from a group.

Claim

There is a “78% prevalence of bullying in Nigerian schools”.

Verdict

Unproven

The TV reporter prefaced this claim by admitting that there weren’t broad statistics on bullying in Nigerian schools, but still went on to attribute the claim to “a study” by ResearchGate. 

We searched the networking site and found a study dated January 2007 – a year before the site was founded. Titled Bullying in Nigerian Schools: Prevalence Study and Implications for Counselling, it has the same statistic – a 78% prevalence of bullying. 

It was conducted by Elizabeth Egbochuku of the Department of Educational Psychology and Curriculum Studies at the University of Benin, and first published in the Journal of Social Sciences.

The study compared the prevalence of bullying in both public and private schools. The respondents were students aged 12 to 15 in junior secondary three in six schools in Benin City, the capital of Edo state in southern Nigeria. 

Three of the schools were government-run, while the rest were private or church-run. 

Study did not apply to the whole of Nigeria

The research found that 78% of children had been bullied at least once and 71% had hit others at least once.   

Half of the respondents said that they had been hit, 25% had been threatened with a beating, 13% had been blackmailed, 3% had been locked in a room and 4% had received nasty notes. The students also reported isolation and teasing as forms of bullying.  

The study added that “significantly more private schools reported kicking and hitting taking place in the playground than in the government schools, whereas bullying is more likely to take place in the classroom in government schools”. 

Egbochuku is a professor of counselling psychology and served as the national president of the Counselling Association of Nigeria from 2017 to 2022

She confirmed to Africa Check that ResearchGate was not involved in her study, which she conducted with her own funds. 

Her study did not apply to the whole of Nigeria, she said, but only the city of Benin. 

“I have conducted more recent studies on school bullying that cover Edo state. We are seeing that school bullying is more rampant now than it was in 2007. We are now focusing on training the victims on how to stand up to bullies and bystanders to intervene and stop incidents of bullying,” said Egbochuku.

“I cannot say whether the prevalence of school bullying in Edo state is similar to the prevalence in other states or how it varies from state to state. I can’t unless I get funding to conduct wider studies.” 

No national study on bullying in schools

We found a few other studies on bullying in Nigerian schools, including one that found a prevalence of 51.9%. None were nationally representative.

The 2017 Unesco report, and a subsequent one in 2019, provide figures on the prevalence of bullying among students in many countries, but do not include Nigeria.

Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics said it had not conducted a study on bullying in schools, nor had it coded for bullying in its broad studies of schools in the country.

The data agency’s head of national accounts Dr Baba Madu told Africa Check: “You can’t find any nationally representative study on bullying in Nigerian schools. It takes a lot to do such a study. It will require a large sample size, involving many schools in each of Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.”

In the absence of a nationally representative study on school bullying in Nigeria, we rate the claim as unproven.

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