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MATTERS ARISING: Can the minors arrested over Sylvester Oromoni’s death be prosecuted?

MATTERS ARISING: Can the minors arrested over Sylvester Oromoni’s death be prosecuted?
December 09
12:55 2021

Femi Falana, human rights lawyer, will meet with the Lagos chief coroner following his call for an inquest into the death of Sylvester Oromoni, the deceased student of Dowen College, Lagos.

Dowen College, situated in Lekki, has been in the eye of the storm since the demise of the 12-year-old schoolboy.

Oromoni’s father had alleged that his child was beaten and force-fed a liquid substance that killed him.

But the school denied the claim, alleging that he sustained injuries while playing football with his mates.

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Oromoni’s death sparked outrage online, resulting in the sealing off of the school by the state government.

Hakeem Odumosu, Lagos police commissioner, had ordered an investigation into the incident.

The meeting between Falana, counsel to the Oromonis, and the chief coroner will take place at the combined high court and magistrate court of Lagos, Epe on December 15.

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CLASH OF JURISDICTIONS FOR CORONER’S INQUEST?

Given that the late boy, who attended school in Lagos until his death, passed away in Delta state where he was receiving treatment, a clash of jurisdictions as to where the coroner’s inquest will take place may arise.

Temitayo Adeniyi, a lawyer who spoke to TheCable, said the priority in such situations where two states are involved in a death case will be to identify where the events leading to the deceased’s death took place — in this case, Lagos.

“It’s a bit a dicey situation since the event leading to his death took place in Lagos within the school. And he was a student of Dowen College Lagos until his death. Ordinarily, each state has its own coroner system,” he said.

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“To avoid conflict of jurisdiction, if an incident happens in Lagos; Lagos has its own chief judge that will appoint the coroner to investigate the cause of death. The same thing applies across the board in all the states.

“In this case, despite the fact that the place of death is in Delta, the ideal place to do the inquest is Lagos state, where the alleged incident leading to his death actually took place.

“In the course of finding out what transpired, there is no way reference will not be made to Lagos, even if the inquiry is conducted in Delta where the boy actually died.”

‘ARRESTED STUDENTS WILL BE CHARGED TO COURT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE’

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Another lawyer in the know of the Oromoni case spoke anonymously to TheCable. He said Lagos was chosen to conduct the coroner’s inquest because the cause of Oromoni’s death has been traced to Dowen College.

He said the procedure towards the inquiry has already been initiated ahead of December 15 when the preliminary meeting will be held.

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“Some developments are already ongoing. The whole idea is to know the cause of death. The police have moved in speedily. Some of the boys have been arrested which means the cause is already known,” he said.

“The essence of the coroner inquest is to find out, for anyone who died unnaturally in Lagos, how it happened. The suspects are going to be charged as soon as possible. I understand progress is being made.

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“This is just to ensure that it’s not treated like nothing happened. What is important is to find out the cause of death for anyone who died unnaturally. This small boy died with a beating inflicted on him in Lagos.

“Even if the body is not found, you can still conduct an inquest. The fact that he went to die in Delta doesn’t prevent an inquest from being conducted [in Lagos].”

Before his death, Oromoni had named five students who he claimed attacked him in the dormitory, inflicting internal injuries that later claimed his life.

The names of the mentioned students and their pictures have since gone viral on social media, with many Nigerians calling for their immediate prosecution.

THE QUESTION OF PROSECUTING MINORS

Three of the accused, all of whom are believed to be under the age of 18, were detained by the Lagos state police.

However, many have expressed concerns about the prospect for prosecution, since the students are minors.

If the account of the family detailing a physical attack and subsequent chemical poisoning are ascertained during the investigation, Oromoni’s death will be considered a murder case.

There are special courts and detention facilities catering to offenders as young as the boys if they are found guilty.

Section 319 of the criminal code stipulates that, if the offender has not attained 17 years of age, they shall be ordered to be detained “during the pleasure of the president” in murder cases.

Afam Osigwe, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said this means the court can neither impose a death or life sentence if the minor is found guilty of murder.

The lawyer said, in this case, the offender is detained and kept away until the governor orders their release.

“The law will take its course whether they’re minors or not. Reports put them at a little over 12 years or so. They will be tried but not like adults. The court may keep away the public from it or take steps to protect them,” he added.

“If found guilty, they’ll be sentenced but they’re not to be kept in the same place as adults. They will be kept in a facility meant for minors. The important thing is that proper investigation is carried out.

“This way, wrong persons are not charged. It’s important that the police build up a good case to ensure a conviction.”

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