In December 2015 I had a major emergency. I was livid, frantic and scared when my 15-year-old son KJ, a social media guru since 6-years-old went missing after school here in Nigeria. This is the second time this has happened in his lifetime. The first time it was in Canada when I sent him to buy some fast food at 12-years-old and he never returned for 7 hours. The Toronto Police service began tracking him by tweeting his nickname with the hashtag #KayJeezy and putting his photo in the news. He was holding our joint ATM debit card for the purchase and looking at online banking records we tracked the purchase of food at 6.30pm. He left at 6.15pm and by 1am he was found asleep in the stairwell of my apartment building and had eaten the food. He was upset before he left home as we had an argument and said he wanted to run away. He was later counselled by the school psychologist on those feelings and he was OK.
What happened in his Nigerian school will stun you. KJ is more mature now and a teenager and has been briefed well about security problems in Nigeria including kidnappings. At 4pm when my son normally ends school and arrives by 4.30pm, he never showed up. By 5.45pm, I started to worry. At 6.15pm my son did not return home and I asked our driver that he should go over to the school to trace his steps. What happened next shocked me. He said KJ was LOCKED inside the private school building and the gates were also locked shut with everyone gone. It was now dusk at 7pm. I called the Principal and her phone was turned off.
In Nigeria people may be charging their phones due to sporadic power outages or just switched it off for the day. However my child was in the school helpless and crying through the windows pleading for help from the driver who couldn’t hear his voice as he was banging through glass from an upstairs building. KJ is asthmatic, didn’t have his inhaler in case of an emergency and no phone on him to call us or tweet us from his Twitter and Instagram handle since 2009 @Iamswagkid
When the driver came back, I decided to go to the police, something the principal asked me why I did? What else could I do? People in Nigeria are so scared of police, hey never want them involved because of quick arrests which our cops are known for. However this was MY CHILD! What if a fire broke out in that building? I spoke to the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) aka Suprintendent of the station who had 4 armed officers escort me with their Hilux police truck as it was now dusk and darkness set in at 7.30pm. We met the Principal and Head Teacher who locks up at the end of the day both profusely apologizing to me. One of the officers demanded we all come to the station to see the DPO. It turned out that my son fell asleep while reading in class as it was after exams and students weren’t required to come. Other classes had students but not his class. So when school closed, nobody knew he was actually in there. His teacher admitted a big mistake not checking KJ before locking up, something they call “clearing the building” in modern countries.
The previous week a 13-year-old mentally handicapped girl was left overnight in a school in America. The teacher and Principal were fired by the school board. Most schools are public schools and parents could sue for millions. What could KJ have done? Phones are banned in his school because of social media use and was once seized from him. In America, phones are allowed but turned on only in emergencies or during recess. After the Columbine high school massacre in Colorado in the 90’s, I was one of the gun violence advocates that fought for the right to let the student have their cell phones to call parents or first responders. Many of the students that got killed were in the cafeteria and library and could not get to the office for help when two of their classmates opened fire all over the school killing several.
What would KJ have done with a phone? He said he would have tweeted me or called if he had credit on his line. Social media postings are also critical when you see your child tweeting or inboxing you on Facebook in an emergency. I could not imagine if he had an asthma attack or a fire breaking out in the building. My child could have died in both circumstances but the school learned a valuable lesson here. I will petition for the use of a phone to be carried at all times by him and others. KJ normally walks home with classmates. They were absent that day due to exam breaks and optional attendance. The school has reviewed safety procedures now but I still have an issue of carrying a mobile phone for emergencies and not just for phone calls but for social media emergency use.