JOSEPH USHIGIALE BY THEFRONTLINES
Predictably, after just a few weeks, the hysteria that greeted the alleged torture leading to the eventual death of a student of Dowen College has suddenly, Sylvester Oromoni has fizzled out as if nothing had happened. In its wake, the event that shocked the nation has only left the parents and family of the deceased in limbo without answers and closure.
This is not an isolated case. There are several cases of this nature littered across the country begging for justice and equity only to be frustrated by vested interest by those involved. In most cases, those at the receiving end are usually not so high and mighty in society being oppressed by the nouveau riche.
Imagine a scenario where you eke a living and struggle to send your child to one of these high fee-paying schools to actualize the dreams of your child who may want to be a doctor, pilot, engineer, etc. In doing that, you are literally transferring the welfare of your child to the school within the term period to the school. Sometimes, these children, aged 11 years may just be stepping out of the comforts of their homes for the first time uncertain of what will confront them in the outside world far away from the reach of their parents.
Unfortunately for some, their experiences in their first outings are not so palatable as they end up on the wrong side of bullies lurking in the dark recesses of these high-brow overpriced schools. The Oromoni family in Warri, Delta state will forever live to regret the day they took the decision to allow their 12-year-old son, Sylvester Oromoni Jnr., to attend the Dowen College
According to the deceased father, his son reported being sick and had to be brought back from school for treatment. “His mouth was swollen, he complained about severe pains in his stomach, back, head, all parts of his body.
“He said some senior pupils of the college beat him up in his hostel room for refusing to join a cult and a substance was forced down his throat. But nobody knows exactly what it was. Before his eventual death, his lips were swollen and peeled.
“The scan result showed that his liver was swollen. I arranged to bring him to the teaching hospital at Asaba; I had alerted two doctors and they had prepared the emergency ward for him but he could not make it. He died. Oromoni Snr told the media.
In a swift reaction, the management of the school denied the claim, stating that the boy complained of pain in his legs and hip following an injury he sustained while playing football.
To which the father of the deceased retorted that “What happened to my son has nothing to do with football. He mentioned the names of three senior students that tortured him.”
He insisted that all he wants from the school over the circumstantial death of his son is the truth, arguing that although the school may be credible in education, it has proven to be careless in the handling of the welfare of the children accusing the school of profiteering with its huge tuition fees at the expense of the welfare of the students.
Oromoni accused the school of jockeying with the security of the children even after collecting huge school fees from parents. He insisted that the school management was culpable because “We couldn’t get CCTV footage of what happened to my late son; nobody could say exactly what happened among the school authorities.”
While commiserating with the family of the deceased, the Lagos State Government ordered an investigation into the circumstances leading to the 12-year-old death. It also had to shut down the school indefinitely to ensure a thorough investigation.
But the Oromonis said the closure of the school by the Lagos State government was the first step, adding that the death of their son should bring an end to ugly situations in schools that could cause more lives of innocent children. Officials of the Lagos State Ministry of Education stormed the school in the early hours of Sunday and sealed the premises.
Following the closure of the school, its management was forced to make a public statement and its statement read: “We are all deeply saddened by his passing. He was an energetic, fun-loving and promising child and he will be sorely missed. We pray that the Almighty God will grant his soul eternal rest and his family the fortitude to bear with this irreplaceable loss.
“This unprecedented situation we find ourselves in calls for restraint and understanding. A family has lost their dear son. The school has lost a precious student.
“We are distressed that a child sustained a leg injury and passed on a week later. We are as shocked as the rest of the world to see our lovely boy look so ill and in so much pain from the videos posted.
“It is true that though he went home on the 23rd of November, his family did call on the 29th to inform us that he said he was actually bullied by 5 senior students whose names he mentioned.
“We confirm that we immediately started internal investigations on the 30th but he passed on that same day. Sadly we had barely made any headway before the social media frenzy commenced.
“We choose not to be sidetracked but remain focused on our task to get to the bottom of the allegations made. We are cooperating with all relevant authorities and all the accused students have presented themselves to the authorities. “Justice will be done”, the statement read.
Rather than calming nerves, the public statement by the school further infuriated the public. Some viewed it as lacking in empathy, trivializing and attempting to gloss over the loss of the life of a 12 year old boy left in its care. The statement for instance was silent about how the school was unable to figure out that its student was seriously ill until his parents had to intervene to bring him home for treatment.
There was also the question of how could such horrific details like cultism, bullying, forcing the deceased to swear to an oath by drinking concoction happen right before the noses of the school authorities without noticing or detecting?
Given the deluge of media backlash, it was revealed that three housemasters and five students were arrested in connection with the ongoing investigation into the circumstances that led to the death of 12-year old, Sylvester Oromoni Jnr. In a follow up statement, the management of Dowen College, Lekki, said it has corroborated with the Lagos Police Command which had arrested all the five alleged bullies and three house masters.
In a statement issued by the Principal, believed to be shielding the suspects from the long arm of the law, it stated that the arrests were not an admission of guilt but a part of the investigation process.
According to the statement, “We understand and appreciate your anxiety and support. We plan to do all that we can to ensure that the education and future of our dear children is not mortgaged. Investigations are moving along and we continue to work with all the relevant authorities. So far, all five of the children suspected have been remanded into custody as well as three house parents.
While clarifying that “Please note that this is not an admission of guilt or wrongdoing but it’s part of the process.”, the school was eager to have the school reopened as soon as possible:
“The school and members of the Oromoni family have met cordially with the Commissioner of Police to discuss the matter and the way forward. There will be an autopsy in Lagos and the school will have its pathologist present as well. We pray that following the preliminary investigations the Ministry of Education will let us have a timeline for next term.”
But the grieving Oromonis want the truth and closure. For them, it is their turn today, tomorrow may be another family’s tragedy if punitive action is no taken against the eventual culprits. “I have seen over the social media, the reactions and the call for justice. I am sure other parents will speak out soon. I didn’t pay millions to have my son killed. All I need is the truth from the school management. Let them produce the students in question for interrogation and let justice be served,” he said
Will justice be served the Oromonis? It seems very unlikely. A parent of a victim of the same sort of treatment meted to the deceased who penned his experience recently said it was a recurring decimal in the college. He said after discovering that his son was almost killed, he reported the case to the police and cosmetic actions were taken and few weeks later, the matter was swept under the carpet by both the school authorities and parents of the same suspects.
Already there are widespread speculations that parents of the suspected students had flown them out of Nigeria to evade arrest and possible prosecution.
However, Mr. Akanbi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) told PREMIUM TIMES, it might be difficult to prosecute parents for the “sins” of their children. “But there is something called aiding and abetting a crime.
“That is, a person has committed an offence, and you helped that person to escape from justice, then our criminal books have something for such parents.
“Though these are juveniles, but we still have provisions of the law that will bring them to justice.
“So, if a parent has deliberately moved his or her child from the country to escape justice, that parent should be liable for the particular offence of allowing an offender to escape justice,” he said.
As the Oromonis await justice to bring closure to their grieving hearts, many families are also waiting with bated breath hoping that the government would somehow formulate a policy mechanism to checkmate bullying and all abhorrent juvenile behaviours in schools.
Will the Lagos state government carry out its threat by going after these delinquents and bringing the culprits to book or the country waits yet another death that lurks in our schools today?