Delta-based businessman, Sylvester Oromimi, lost his son, Sylvester Jnr, after some senior students at the Dowen College, Lagos, allegedly tortured him. He tells GODFREY GEORGE how the family is coping after the death of the 12-year-old and their search for justice.
Please briefly tell us about yourself?
My name is Mr Slyvester Oromimi. I am a businessman. I am from Ogbe-Ijoh, Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State. I am Ijaw by tribe.
Your 12-year-old son reportedly died after being allegedly tortured by his seniors in a boarding school. Can you give us an account of what really happened?
My late son’s name is Sylvester Oromimi Jnr. I gave him my name. Sometime in October this year, my son complained that they (school authorities) put the senior and the junior students in one room. So, these senior boys, whom he shared a room with, would harass him and physically assault him. Each time I gave him money for upkeep – most times, N60,000 – it would not last up to a week. He would call home and start crying that he was hungry and needed more money. I was no longer comfortable. ‘What is really happening to this boy in that school?’ I kept wondering. When I asked him, he refused to say anything. He always acted like he was being threatened not to talk. We kept on buying more provisions. They would steal his clothes and his money. He started keeping his money with his hostel master, one Mr Ahmed.
Another time, these senior students cornered him and asked if he had seen the private parts of his elder sister who had just passed out of the school. They told him to describe what her private parts looked like. He said he had not seen that before and could not give any description. They started to torture him. When the beating became too much, he then said that he had seen the sister’s private parts, so they would stop beating him. Those were the first instances.
When this incident happened, did he report to the school authorities?
He first told his younger sister (also a student in the school) about it. The younger sister then called her elder sister, who had just passed out of the school, and reported that Sylvester was behaving funny and it seemed like some people were beginning to influence him. So, the elder sister called him and scolded him, wanting to hear his own side of the story. He told the sister that they beat him. She asked, “Who are ‘they’?” He mentioned their names. He said that was the reason he said he saw her nakedness so that they would stop beating him.
News had filtered around the school that Sylvester said he had seen his sister’s private parts and all that. It was really embarrassing, which was why the elder sister called a relative who went to the school on the day of a midterm break. When the relative picked Sylvester up, she found out from their conversation that some seniors had beaten him up. But when the elder sister was there, we didn’t get any such reports of beatings.
Before now, there was an incident that happened involving one of the boys in this latest incident. The incident happened before the elder sister finished from the school. She was the one who told me about it. It was a minor senior-junior case. You know some of these people can be very power-drunk; the fact that they are seniors gets into their heads and messes them up. The Michael boy was in SS1 then. This Michael and his group had wanted to harass Sylvester but some of the classmates of the elder sister saved him. Maybe, after the elder finally passed out of the school, these boys felt it was their time for revenge on Sylvester.
Did you report this to the school?
Yes, we did. We called the guardian, Mr Ahmed, first to ask him how come he was unaware of all of the things that happened to my son. The school’s response was that they had suspended these seniors who bullied Sylvester. So, we let the matter rest. We didn’t ask again because we thought that was the appropriate treatment.
What happened next?
Sylvester went back to school, and the school authorities moved him from that hostel because of that complaint. So, he was not staying with those senior boys again. The incident that finally led to his demise began on Monday (November 22). The school’s sickbay (manager) called my wife that Sylvester was not feeling well, that he couldn’t sleep throughout the night. They asked that she should come and pick him up. When she asked them what happened, they said, “He said he fell. He said he was playing football and fell.” We don’t know how this happened till today.
They said it was Sylvester that told them that he was playing football at the basketball court and fell. We later learnt that the school did not have a proper field, so students play soccer on the basketball court.
The first thing he (Sylvester) told us was that someone ‘kicked his leg’ when he was playing. All these things he was telling us, he did so, as we later learnt, because he was scared of those senior students, who had threatened to kill him if he told his parents or the school authorities what really transpired.
When did your wife go to pick him up?
By the time they called that Monday it was already late for my wife to travel to Lagos, so we told the school that a friend of the family would come to pick him up. The following day, the family friend, a young man, went to pick him up and when he saw Sylvester, he was surprised. He quickly called us and told us that our son could not walk, that if they touched him, he would shout in pain. His lips had also begun to peel. The pictures are everywhere.
Initially, we thought it was fever or malaria since we hadn’t seen him physically as we were still in Delta State. He was taken for an X-ray because he could not walk. On Wednesday, one of my older sons went from Warri to join them in Lagos to really ascertain what the situation was. It was when he got there that he realised that it was serious and requested that I join them in Lagos.
I was in Asaba at the time and it was already late that day, so I joined them the following day, which was Thursday. When I saw Sylvester, as a father, I couldn’t bear it; I asked if I could move him to Warri for proper treatment. I asked him to tell me what had happened, Sylvester kept saying, “I fell!”
But before he could even manage to say that he would tremble. I knew that was not his real self; something was not right about him. He was being threatened. He couldn’t move; he couldn’t eat. We had to assist him to the toilet. Any part of his body you touched, he would shout.
Since there was no flight that day, we had to go by the road. That was Friday. I called a masseur to check him up, but that one said there were no dislocations. But my son’s waist and ribs were physically swollen. His chest and shoulders were also swollen. When we got to the hospital and the doctor took a sample, he said Sylvester was having fever and malaria. But my son kept shouting, “My throat! My throat!”
We treated him for malaria till Sunday but he still couldn’t walk, sleep or eat. It was the drip they gave him that sustained him for those days. On Monday, it became so severe between of 11pm and 12pm. That was when he opened up to us. He said he was scared, that the senior boys had threatened to kill him if he exposed them.
Sylvester said he was in his room one night and some five senior boys entered the room and put off the light. He said they beat him with a belt and kicked him till he fell to the ground. When he did, they continued to torture him. After the beating, they forced him to drink something and he did. He couldn’t explain what it was. This explains the peeling of his mouth.
What did you do next?
We had to take him for a scan and another X-ray which showed that he had a swollen liver and some of his internal organs were also swollen. The next day, I took him to the teaching hospital. Before we got to Warri, he had given up the ghost. So, we couldn’t take him to the hospital again.
Did he mention the names of these boys before his death?
Yes, he did.
Did you take this up with the school?
My eldest son who is abroad contacted the school immediately to register his complaint. He called Mr Ahmed, and he said Ahmed was crying. They took the phone to the principal of the school and mentioned that he wanted to speak to those boys. He was then questioning them, and since it was a video call, he was able to capture their faces in a screenshot.
What was the response of the school?
They called the boys to question them and they gave the same lie my son had been telling before his passing – he fell. The school chose to believe these lies without due investigation. You must have seen their press statement. That is what they maintained until we started sending out these videos and pictures we made of Sylvester when we saw him. The principal called me, asking why I was sending out these pictures all over social media. The Lagos State Government also asked about the videos and we sent them. The boys still refuse to say the truth even in the face of striking evidence.
I heard one of them jumped over the fence yesterday (Thursday). The other boy’s parents, as I heard, came in with a very long convoy around 5am and took him away. The boy carried all his things and joined his parents, who were waiting in the car. I don’t know how true that is, but that was the information my sources fed me with. They feel they are big men. The school authorities would provide them when the time comes. They should keep running. After killing my son, they want to run away. I am just thankful that my son, before he gave up the ghost, mentioned their names. If they allow them to escape, this means they are encouraging that kind of nonsense in their school.
What are your demands?
I want justice. They should invite those boys. They should invite the school authorities. The government should question them and take action.
The Lagos State Government ordered the closure of the school on Friday. How does this make you feel?
I feel happy because that is the first thing to be done as there are other innocent people’s children in that place. If anything happens to those children, I won’t be happy. That I lost my own son does not mean that other people should die. It is also good that they have ordered a probe into the incident to ascertain what really went wrong.
How best would you describe your son?
My son was a very decent boy from a deeply-rooted Christian background. He was not the first child that I sent to Dowen College, Lagos. I had four of them attend that school of which two had finished. The very first one who left is presently abroad. The other one just sat this last WASSCE and she’s here with me. The other one should be in SS1. I asked that he be withdrawn from the school two days ago. Sylvester was the last boy.
How is your wife taking all of this?
She can hear you but she is almost crying. All of us couldn’t sleep. We had to take sleeping pills before we could sleep last night. It has been a really tough time for the family. That boy was our star and light, such a lovely young boy. When I look at the picture I took with him just two months ago when my daughter graduated, it breaks me.