Sylvester Oromoni

By Ikechukwu Amaechi

Yet again, another hashtag is trending. This time, it is #JusticeForSylvester, used in demanding justice for the 12-year-old Sylvester Oromoni Jnr., a student of Dowen College, Lekki, Lagos, who was callously beaten by fellow students and left for dead. And he died!

What was Sylvester’s crime that he had to pay the supreme price? Nothing! The poor lad, we are told, was already in bed when five senior students swooped on him for refusing to join their cult group.

Explaining what happened to his son, Mr. Sylvester Oromoni Snr., said:  “He was dragged from his bunk to the floor and they began to step on him. That was why he was in so much pains, then they forced him to drink something.”

His attackers came with the intention to kill and they accomplished their dastardly mission.

I have refused to watch the video of the dying moments of Sylvester a second time. Truth is, I have not recovered from what I saw the first time – the poor boy’s excruciating pains and anguish. Almost everyone that I know who watched that video cried. Many could not watch the clip till the end.

So, the national outcry and demand for justice is understandable. Children are precious gifts that should be valued. That is why, though they have the same general human rights as adults, they also enjoy specific rights that recognise their special needs – the reason why the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child offers a vision of the child as an individual and as a member of a family and community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development.

Nigeria is a signatory to that Convention. Yet, those rights are observed mostly in the breach here.

Children are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity. They are human beings who are the subject of their own rights. That is why the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has been working tirelessly for child rights and for the well-being of every child since 1946 because the Convention firmly sets the focus on the whole child.

Sylvester was barely 12 years old. He was a child and Nigeria, typically, failed him. He is not the only one. The Nigerian system has the unenviable reputation of serially failing its vulnerable, albeit most precious ones.

Dowen College failed Sylvester. The school ought to protect him. It is their responsibility because he was in their care. They didn’t. And what is worse, they lied against him as he lay on his death bed.

The school added insult to an injury that was still bleeding when the principal, Mrs. Adebisi Olayiwola, issued a statement denying that Sylvester was battered by fellow students, claiming that he suffered injuries while playing football.

“Preliminary investigation showed there was no fighting, bullying or any form of attack on the boy,” the principal claimed.

Is it possible that the school management didn’t know the truth when they made that patently false claim? No! They knew what happened. Sylvester’s roommates were eyewitnesses and all of them, as traumatized as they were, could not have conspired to hide the truth despite the threat of serious repercussions from the murderers.

ALSO READ: Dowen College: Justice must be served in Sylvester’s case — Reps

But it is obvious that the image of the school was much more important to the authorities than the rights and well-being of Sylvester. So, the school had to lie. I wonder how the principal and all those who concocted that lie from the pit of hell must be feeling now.

Not only that, the cavalier attitude of the school is depressing. Even when Sylvester had been taken to the hospital by his family, the school didn’t care a hoot. They didn’t bother to call the parents to check on the boy until he died. It was still the distraught father who called the principal to say: my “pikin don die o!”

Apparently following the backlash from the first statement, the College now issued another statement at the weekend, assuring of their determination to get to the roots of the matter. But the genie is already out of the bottle and way beyond them. In fact, they are vicariously liable for the murder.

The school is now claiming that what happened was a traumatic experience. “Every child is valued at Dowen College and their health and well-being is of the utmost priority to the school,” they claim.

But this seems more like an attempt to forestall a run on the school enrolment figures than a genuine contrition.  It was a plea to parents not to lose faith in the school or withdraw their children.

Any parent who still wants to take his or her ward to the school will be free to do so if and when government decides to let them off the leash. But the truth is that any school that exhibits the level of managerial irresponsibility as Dowen College did in Sylvester’s case, cannot be trusted by a conscientious parent because what happened to the poor boy can happen to any other student.

And that was the point parents,  under the  auspices of Dowen College Parents’ Forum, made on Tuesday when they added their voices to the growing global demand for #JusticeForSylvester.

The Oromoni family has hired Femi Falana (SAN) as their counsel. The activist lawyer has in turn requested a Coroner’s inquest into the circumstances surrounding Sylvester’s death in a letter he  sent to the Chief Coroner of Lagos State, Justice Mojisola Dada. The requested has been granted.

Meanwhile, multiple petitions are circulating online, calling on the authorities to prosecute those responsible for Sylvester’s death. #JusticeForSylvester has continued to trend across social media since his death and a WhatsApp group has been created for the same purpose. More than 300,000 people have signed petitions demanding justice.

The Lagos State government has swung into action, ordering the indefinite closure of the College pending the outcome of investigations.

Lagos Police Command has also commenced investigations So far, five of the SS2 students that Sylvester accused of brutalising him before he passed on and three housemasters who  were on duty on the day he was fatally beaten and who apparently were part of the conspiracy to cover up the murder have been taken into custody. Police say they have obtained a court order to detain the students for 21 days at a juvenile centre.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives directed the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Akali, to take over the investigation even as it mandated the Committees on Education, Youth Development, Women Affairs and Social Development and Safety to conduct an investigation into the matter.

Government needs to get this right. Those who committed this heinous crime must be brought to book not only for Sylvester’s sake but for the sake of the country. Justice for Sylvester is justice for all.

Nigerians should not take their eyes off the ball until justice is done. Let Sylvester’s name not be used for another hashtag that will be forgotten as soon as the uproar quietens as it is usually the case. Serving whoever is culpable in this murder a just dessert will serve as strong deterrent to other juvenile delinquents in Nigerian schools.

Beyond that, this incident should be seen as an inflection point for all schools in the country – private and public. A lot has gone wrong even in primary schools. Time was when cult groups were the exclusive preserve of the universities. Not anyone! Today, even primary school pupils have been initiated into cults, a vice they apparently cultivated from their parents and other adult members of the society.

Initiation into these cult groups bends the mind. There have been reports of secondary school girls being encouraged to have sex with as many male members as possible, in a ritual called “bamming”. The belief is that the voyeuristic experience will harden them.

No society progresses that way. But if #JusticeForSylvester will halt that dangerous drift, then, it can be said that he did not die in vain.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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