Nigeria: Could the tragedy of Sylvester’s death at Dowen College have been avoided?

By 'Tofe Ayeni
Posted on Friday, 4 February 2022 16:11

Sylvester Oromoni (rights reserved)

The death of Sylvester Oromoni (Jr) may not have been as a result of cultism, but there remain questions over the regulation of private education in Nigeria.

On 28 November 2021, Sylvester (Jr) succumbed to injuries sustained at a boarding school, Dowen College Lagos. There are various theories surrounding the cause of his death: from football injuries, to bullying and even cultism. However, a video showing Sylvester prior to his death suggests that he was murdered.

“All I want is justice,” Sylvester Oromoni Sr (the father of the deceased) told BBC News Pidgin, in reaction to the school’s version of events. Dowen College’s initial statement claimed that Sylvester sustained injuries while playing football and was given immediate medical attention by the school nurse.

Sylvester’s cousin however took to Twitter (under the handle @perrisoromoni) to say that, contrary to Dowen College’s claims, the alleged victim was attacked by five students and given a poisonous chemical to drink. He has since posted another message on Twitter saying that he is being threatened by the school to desist from speaking about the matter on social media.

Lagos State shut down Dowen College as Nigerians waited for the results of the police investigation. Using the hashtag #JusticeforSylvester, citizens took to Twitter to demand the truth and punishment for those found guilty. However, the police report concluded that there were no signs of foul play, causing some to suspect a coverup.

What we know

At the time of his death, Sylvester Oromoni (Jr) was 12 years old, and in his second year of secondary school (Junior Secondary School 2 – JSS2). Eight suspects were arrested: five were students (aged 14 to 16) and three were housemasters (Valentine Igbokwe, Ahmed Bariyu, and Adesanya Olusegun).

How many personnel work in the inspectorate division of the state’s ministry of education and how well equipped are they? How many times do they visit schools?

However, all the suspects were later released and the cause of death declared as pneumonia due to severe sepsis. Lagos Police Commissioner Hakeem Odumosu told The Nation Newspaper that Sylvester died of natural causes.

Sylvester’s case has since been taken up by renowned human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Femi Falana, who is determined to prove the conclusion wrong. “We are going to establish evidence of a massive cover-up,” he told Channels Television.

This even as Dowen College urges the public to let Sylvester Oromoni’s soul rest in peace. The school has also asked citizens to desist from discussing the case on social media as police investigations have been concluded.

Wider problems

Questions have now arisen as to the issue of bullying, and perhaps cultism in schools in Lagos, following rumours that Sylvester was being bullied for refusing to be initiated into a cult by fellow students.

A student who attended Dowen College in 2007 and who requested anonymity says although she remembers fun times in secondary school, she “hated the boarding house. The facilities were extremely poor, the feeding was inadequate, as was the care”.

There are also claims that while Dowen College charged high fees, this did not always translate to adequate living facilities – with children living in cramped conditions.

“There was a lot of surface-level care, but for example, the structure of the rooms was for quantity (the number of students that could fit in), not quality. In the first year, students had to fetch water from the other side of the school, then proceed to carry full buckets up three flights of stairs. Senior students could also send us,” the former student says.

Even so, the former student emphasises that the experience at Dowen was “nothing worse or unique than elsewhere. It is tragic that someone died, but I am sure this is not the first secondary school that someone has died, it is simply the first with this spotlight”.

“Although I don’t have all the details, I don’t think the intent was to kill this boy. The intent was to scare him. Kids have always done vile things like that,” the former student tells The Africa Report.

The level of bullying our children are experiencing in this generation is something of concern and can only be dealt with in the way we raise our children.

However, former presidential spokesperson Reuben Abati says the case raises questions about the regulation of Nigeria’s private sector.

“Lagos State has over 20, 000 private schools, from primary to the tertiary level”, says Abati.

“Can the State boast of a strong inspectorate division to enforce standards in both the public and private schools? How many personnel work in the inspectorate division of the state’s ministry of education and how well equipped are they? How many times do they visit schools?”, he says.

Cultism?

There is little evidence that bullying may be linked to cultism, as it is not a problem that has been reported in private schools in Lagos.

When asked about cultism in Dowen College specifically, the former student said: “[It is] literally a case of the wrong choice of words, which amplifies the situation. There were no cults.”

Shirley Okharedia, the owner of another private school in Lagos, Temple, says: “I’ve never heard this rumour [about cults] about Dowen College or any other private school in Nigeria.”

“The level of bullying our children are experiencing in this generation is something of concern and can only be dealt with in the way we raise our children.”

Her solution, she says, is: “As educators, it is our job to ensure [that] we educate the whole child. An academic curriculum is great in raising children who will have successful futures in higher education and then their careers, but we must also educate children on empathy, love, integrity and mutual respect for one another.”

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