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FULL TEXT: Oromoni family accuses coroner of suppressing evidence to exonerate Dowen College

FULL TEXT: Oromoni family accuses coroner of suppressing evidence to exonerate Dowen College
May 05
23:01 2024

The family of Sylvester Oromoni has accused Mikhail Kadiri, the coroner, of suppressing evidence to clear Dowen College of complicity in the death of their son.

Sylvester Oromoni died in controversial circumstances at age 12 on November 30, 2021, while still a student at Dowen College in Lekki, Lagos.

The boy’s parents alleged that he was bullied, beaten up, and fed a chemical substance by five of his male colleagues.

Dowen College dismissed the claim, insisting that the late student sustained injuries while playing football with friends.

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The Oromoni family had countered Dowen College’s claim, arguing that their son had no pre-existing health challenges before the incident.

In January 2022, an initial autopsy by Clement Vhriterhire, consultant pathologist at the Central Hospital Warri, Delta state, established that Sylvester Oromoni died of “acute lung injury due to chemical intoxication in a background of blunt force trauma”.

The Lagos department of public prosecution (DPP) conducted a second autopsy which revealed that Oromoni died “naturally” of sepsis.

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The case went to court for two years and Kadiri adjudged that Dowen College, its students, and officials were faultless in the death of Oromoni.

The coroner affirmed that Oromoni died of sepsis emanating from an infection of the lungs and kidney caused by an ankle injury.

Kadiri attributed Oromoni’s death to parental and medical negligence contrary to the claim of bullying or chemical poisoning.

Femi Falana, counsel to the Oromoni family, said the coroner overlooked some “uncontradicted evidence” while giving his verdict.

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The family, in a reaction addressing the Lagos state government, accused Kadiri of suppressing evidence in what they termed a “cover-up”.

Read the full text below:

THE CORONER’S COVER-UP OF THE CAUSE OF DEATH OF SYLVESTER OROMONI (JNR)

My son, Sylvester Oromoni (Jnr.), a 12-year-old student of Dowen College, Lekki, Lagos, passed away on the 30th day of November 2021 at Vicah Clinic / Hospital Warri, Delta State. He died under controversial circumstances which led the Lagos State Government to institute a coroner inquest to unravel the cause of the death. The coroner, Magistrate, Mikhail Kadiri commenced the hearing on the 21st day of January 2022 and concluded on the 9th day of October 2023 after calling 32 witnesses.

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The coroner delivered his verdict on the 15th day of April 2024, after two years.

During the reading of the verdict of 325 pages, the Coroner shed crocodile tears not less than seven times in open court.

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He had to rise twice and retired into his chambers to cry more than the bereaved. The coroner claimed that my son died of natural causes. The coroner deliberately delayed the case to cover up the cause of the tragic death of my son as I will explain below.

As a father, my quest for justice is not to bring back my deceased son but, most sincerely, to ensure that all other students in Dowen College and other schools do not suffer the same fate. Having solemnly promised my son that justice would be done, the dubious verdict of the Coroner will not discourage me from pursuing the cause of justice.

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However, I have taken the decision not to mention the names of the students who testified during the inquest including the accused students. My decision is due to the fact that they are minors. I do not wish to endanger their lives or destroy their future. I shall therefore refer to them by the witness number that was given to each of them by the coroner during the proceedings.

At the preliminary stage of the inquest, my team of lawyers led by Mr. Femi Falana SAN requested a visit to Dowen College to enable the Coroner to ascertain the state of the school before the death of my son. To my utter surprise, the Coroner rejected the application. It turned out later that the Coroner wanted enough time for the management of Dowen College to fix up the physical deficiencies in the school.

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The visit to Dowen College was eventually carried out by the Coroner and the parties on the 1st day of April 2023, 17 months after the death of my son. In his desperate bid to exonerate Dowen College of any liability, the Coroner turned around in his verdict to applaud the authorities of the school for upgrading the facilities during the proceedings!

To further exonerate the management of Dowen College of any liability the Coroner engaged in the suppression of material facts of bullying of my son by a clique of students.

Then the coroner proceeded to blame the cause of death of my son on “parental negligence”. It is on record that no witness indicted me as I took all steps recommended by the family doctor to save the life of my son as no good father will want his son dead.

In rejecting the wicked and heartless conclusion of the Coroner, I have decided to review the evidence that was conveniently suppressed by the Coroner.

SUPPRESSION OF VITAL EVIDENCE BY THE CORONER

1. PW4 (my daughter) testified that her deceased brother (my son) was bullied in October 2021 by PW22 and two other students when they called him and ordered him to describe her private part to them.
When the deceased refused to oblige PW22 and his clique, they threatened to deal ruthlessly with him.
Despite the fact that the incident was reported to the school management, no action was taken against PW22 and his colleagues.

2. Barely a month later i.e. in November 2021, my son was again bullied by 5 students. Before he passed away on 30th November 2021, my son had told his own mother and one of my staff, Mr. Peter Odeworitse on the 29th day of November 2021 that he was bullied and given a poisonous substance to drink by PW22, PW23, and PW25 among the 5 assailants. The two other names – PW24 and PW26 were obtained from the School Record Book and social media according to the school and the police.

3. The bullying encompassed physical assault as rightly described by PW29. He said in his evidence that he saw PW23 flogged my son with a belt in the room on the 3rd floor while my son was crying and cuddled himself with his hands while others laughed at him. PW29 further testified that he informed the Principal of Dowen College, Mrs. Adebisi Olayiwola and the Vice Principal about the torture of the deceased by some senior students and that he was asked to write a formal statement which he did and submitted to the Principal.

4. The statement of PW29 was admitted as an exhibit by the Coroner. The Principal never said anything about the disclosure in the statement of PW29 until she was confronted during her cross-examination when she was recalled as a witness. She admitted that the school did not investigate the incident.

5. PW21, a former student of Dowen College gave evidence at the inquest and said that my son had told him that he was bullied and given a substance to drink and that the substance was bad and terrible. PW21 has since been withdrawn from Dowen College by his parents because of the bullying of students.

6. Another student of Dowen College (PW17) testified that PW22 threatened to beat up my son. Hence he and his set mates warned my son about the threat.

7. Evidence was led to establish that a senior student once smashed the head of a junior student against a zinc in the school. No action was taken against the student involved in the murderous attack on the junior student.

8. In the month of October 2021, a JSS 1 student of Dowen College was beaten up by other senior students and the video was posted on social media and the school did nothing about it . The mother of the victim reported the bullying of her son to the Maroko Police Station on December 3, 2021. The police report was admitted in evidence by the coroner. The student was later withdrawn from the school by his mother.

9. PW23 was once suspended for 2 weeks for eating popcorn and spitting the same on the face of a teacher in class.

10. On another occasion, PW26 was suspended for assaulting another student.

11. DSP Bamidele Olusegun, a police officer who gave evidence on behalf of the police stated that one of the students informed the police that my son was tortured by senior students.

12. There was abundant evidence that junior students were usually taken to the 3rd floor by senior students for unmerited punishment and bullying. One such incident was when a student was asked to carry a suitcase on his head as a form of punishment and was dehumanized when the senior students made a video of it and posted it on social media. No action was taken against the senior students who bullied the junior student.

13. In her statement to the police dated 2/12/2021, the school principal stated that the 5 students who bullied another student had been expelled from Dowen College. Through the School Record Book tendered by Mr. Valentine Igbokwueze and the testimony of PW20, it was revealed that the 5 students were not expelled from the school.

14. During the proceedings, the students and even the Principal of Dowen College admitted that bullying takes place in Dowen College and gave two instances.

15. During the proceedings, the Coroner questioned the principal and other management staff of Dowen College for not punishing the students who were indicted for bullying my son and other students. But in his lengthy verdict, the Coroner refused to recommend any measure to end bullying in Dowen College.

B. NEGLIGENCE OF DOWEN COLLEGE WHICH LED TO MY SON’S DEATH

1. My son was reported to have been injured on November 21, 2021, while playing football on a concrete basketball pitch without any supervision by the school management. The Coroner on its own changed the concrete basketball pitch to a “sandy football field”. No evidence of “sandy” football field was given by any witness throughout the proceedings.

2. The school’s policy is that health cases that cannot be handled by the medical staff at the school sick bay are taken to the nearby school hospital unless there is a prior alternative arrangement between the school and parents to take their children home for medical treatment. Evidence showed that there was no prior arrangement for Dowen College not to take my son to the school hospital whenever he was sick.

3. For undisclosed reasons, the management of Dowen College refused to take my son to the school hospital called Lifeline which is a stone’s throw from the school despite the fact that he was reeling in pain for two days.

4. The school principal who is not a medical doctor had the audacity to tell the coroner that my son’s condition was not “an emergency” that should have warranted the school to take him to the hospital but it was serious enough to call us the parents to take him home for treatment.

5. At page 2 of the coroner’s verdict, PW2 stated that he was surprised to see my son in a bad medical condition as he was lying down in pain. In fact, the Coroner noted that none of the two nurses of the school was present in the hostel on November 2021 to attend to my son. Without any diagnosis, the school assigned two nurses to massage the ankle injury suffered by my son for two days.

6. My son was picked up from the school on November 23, 2021, based on the request of the school management. My son who could not walk was carried to the car used by the uncle to pick him up. The doctor of Dowen College did not furnish us with any referral note to enable the family doctor to know what he had been treated for and administered medication.

7. Evidence showed that right from the time PW22 and his cronies bullied my son in October 2021 when they asked him to describe his elder sister’s private part up to when he was bullied in November 2021 which I believe led to his untimely death, the school did not take any step to protect my son.
(8) There were pieces of evidence from some of the witnesses (minors) to the effect that when you report cases of inappropriate behaviour the school does not treat same hence victims of bullying do not bother to report the same to authorities and once those who did the bullying discovered same that a report was lodged against them they refer to such a junior (victim)as a “Snitch”

C. HOW MY SON WAS KILLED

1. The first post-mortem carried out on my son by Dr. Clement Vhriterhire, a Consultant Pathologist based in Warri, Delta State on 1/12/2021, revealed a “greyish liquid substance” was found in the stomach of my son which was sent to the toxicologist in Lagos for a test.

2. After subjecting the “greyish liquid substance” to a physical examination as a container in the report, the toxicologist recommended that a biochemical assay be carried out on the samples and that can only be done upon the evaluation of the medical history of my son when made available. This was never done to date.

3. Dr. S.S. Soyemi, a Consultant Pathologist in Lagos State who carried out the second post-mortem conducted on the 14th day of December 2021 in the presence of 13 other pathologists testified and said that he saw a “blackish substance” in the intestine of my son but that it was not subjected to toxicological examination. He however concluded that my son’s death was caused by septicemia following infections of the lungs and kidneys arising from the ankle wound.

4. Dr. Okereke Eze (PW25’s family pathologist) while testifying on the 4th day of April 2022 admitted that excessive massage of an ankle injury can lead to sepsis.

5.Dr. Mojisola Bisiriyi, Nurse Omobola Kayode, and some students of the school all massaged the ankle injury of my son.

6. Dr. Aghogho Henry Owhojedor while testifying also admitted that it is possible for sepsis or septicemia to enter the body of my son if the injury sustained while playing football is open and not properly managed.

7. Since the doctors who gave evidence before the coroner agreed that sepsis could result from excessive massage, the school ought to be held responsible for causing a doctor, two nurses and students to subject the ankle injury of my son to excessive massaging for two days.

E. THE CORONER’S COVER-UP OF THE CAUSE OF MY SON’S DEATH

1. First and foremost, the Dowen College called us while we were in Warri, Delta State to come and pick up my son due to the injury the school said he sustained while playing football. We did not hesitate before sending a representative who lives in Lagos to pick up my son.

2. Due to the fact that the school management had said that he sustained an injury while playing football, my son was taken to a diagnosis centre where an x-ray was carried out and nothing was found to reveal fracture or dislocation.

3. But the continued pains made my elder son rush to Lagos to see things for himself. As the condition of my son did not improve, I travelled to Lagos on the 25th day of November 2021 and on the 26th day of November 2021, we arrived in Warri.

4. Since I am not a doctor, what I did was engage our family doctor who started medical treatment immediately after running a malaria test for my son and he was treated from 26th to 28th November 2021 by a nurse who was always with him in my house since the information given by the Dowen College was that my son played football and, in the process, sustained a leg injury.

5. When the pain did not subside and my son eventually opened up that he was bullied in the school and given poisonous substance to drink, our family doctor recommended a scan and it was the scan done on 29/11/2021 that revealed that he had an enlarged liver.

6. As parents, my wife and I carried out the instructions of our family doctor. Even when he recommended that my son be further referred to Oghara Teaching Hospital, Delta State on the 30th day of November 2021, we made all arrangements to take him down when his body system changed and he was rushed to our family doctor’s hospital where he eventually passed on.

7. In his jaundiced verdict, the coroner tried but failed woefully to exonerate the killers of my son. Hence, he did not recommend sanctions for the clique of students who subjected my son and other students to torture with the connivance of the authorities of Dowen College. The coroner was silent on the effect of the massaging of my son’s ankle injury by the doctor, nurses and students of Dowen College since sepsis could arise from excessive massaging.

8. In order to cover up the allegation that my son was made to drink a poisonous substance by his assailants at Dowen College, the coroner was silent on the evidence of the Warri pathologist who had found “a greyish liquid substance” in his stomach as well as the evidence of the Lagos pathologist who had found “a blackish substance” in his intestine.

9. No doubt, the coroner had found that our family doctor, Aghogho Henry Owhojedor was negligent in the treatment of my son. Even though my wife and I are not medical personnel, the coroner decided to blame us for the death of our son. As far as the coroner is concerned, my wife and I are vicariously liable for the negligence of the doctor who has been treating my son since he was born.

TWO CONTRADICTORY LEGAL OPINIONS OF LAGOS STATE DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTION

1. By the Interim Police Investigation Report of the 23rd day of December 2021, the police said as follows: “It is evidently clear that some group of students constituted themselves into a clique, that bullies and intimidates fellow students in the school. A glaring example is PW23 ”m” and PW26 “m” who were earlier reprimanded for bullying other students”

2. The said Interim Report also states as follows “The three house masters, Valentine Igbokwueze “m” Ahmed Bariyu Ayomo “m” and Adesanya Olusesan “m” are negligent, passive and failed to take decisive action when cases of inappropriate behavior are reported to them”.

3. By the above report, the then Acting Director of Public Prosecutions, Ministry of Justice, Lagos State, Adetutu Oshinusi (Ms) in her Legal Advice of 30th day of December 2021, recommended that Dowen College and its staff named as Miss Celina Uduak, Valentine Igbokwueze, Hammed Ayomo Bariyu, Adesanya Olusesan Olusegun and Adeyemi Jeremiah be prosecuted under Section 252 of the Criminal Law. Ch C17, Vol. 3 Laws of Lagos State 2015 for the offence of Negligent Act Causing Harm.

4. But to my consternation, without any fresh fact from the police exonerated those who were recommended for prosecution. This is the same DPP did by writing another Legal Advice dated the 4th day of January 2022 which exonerated those earlier recommended for prosecution.

5. Furthermore, before the Police Interim Investigation Report of the 23rd day of December 2021 was issued, the police on its own also addressed a letter dated 22nd of December, 2021 to the Chief Judge of Lagos State where they protested against the bail granted to the 5 students accused of causing the death of my son as they were not allowed to be confronted with fresh intelligence report.

6. In order to justify the compromise of the Acting Director of Public Prosecution, the coroner held that the Attorney-General of Lagos state has the power under the Constitution to withdraw any legal advice with or without giving any reason. But from the evidence before the coroner, it was the DPP who on her own withdrew the said advice without any reference to the Attorney-General of Lagos State. The coroner, a former lawyer in the Ministry of Justice ought to know that the Director of Public Prosecution and the Attorney General are not the same persons.

7. Even though the Lagos State Government decided not to confirm the appointment of the Acting Director of Public Prosecution on the basis of the two contradictory legal opinions written by her within 5 days. The matter as it were should be further investigated in the interest of justice.

CONCLUSION

While I thank the good people of Nigeria who stood by us in our moment of grief and agony, we want to assure them that we shall continue our search for justice under the law.

Since the coroner decided to cover up the killers of my son we shall take appropriate actions to unravel the mystery surrounding his death.

Finally, I am compelled to call on the Lagos State Government to take urgent steps to investigate the several cases of bullying of students in Dowen College. The students and management staff involved in inflicting torture on helpless students in the school should be brought to book without any delay.



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