Cultism, with its attendant violence and brutal deaths, has been a sad feature of Nigeria’s school system since 1952 when a group of university students in Ibadan, notable of among whom is Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, decided to form a campus confraternity, National Association of Sea Dogs, a group that would later be known widely as Pirates Confraternity.
The initial objectives were perhaps noble: just a group boys who wanted to feel different; to distinguish themselves from the crowd. But as the days passed, school confraternity evolved into violent drug gangs intimidating, harassing and murdering fellow students on campus.
Still, while cult violence ripped through Nigeria’s tertiary institutions, primary and secondary schools, and indeed neighbourhoods were somewhat immune from it. Not anymore. Gradually, it permeated, and today it’s become an epidemic, one, once again highlighted by killing last week, of 12-year-old Sylvester Oromoni, allegedly by fellow students at Dowen College, Lekki, Lagos State.
Oromoni, named after his father, so was called Junior, was the last of 10 children and his only offence, it’s said, was his refusal to join a cult group at the college. His fellow students, five in number, were alleged to have bullied him severally until they eventually beat him so bad that he died of his injuries, before the very eyes of his parents who had spent a fortune to send him to an elite school with a view to grooming him to be the best he could be.
Today, he lies stone dead, in a hospital mortuary while his alleged killers, teens like himself, are on the run, with some said to have been flown abroad already.
In trending hospital footage, the unclad Oromoni Junior was seen writhing in pain, legs and belly swollen, and mouth swollen, red from severe injury, and bleeding, while he struggled until he breathed his last. But before then, he had confessed that contrary to initial account that he sustained injuries while playing football, he was actually beaten by the fellow students for refusing to join their cult, and that the same boys had threatened to even visit him with more harm if he told anyone.
At his side, while he cried in pain was his mother who wept and cursed those who mutilated her son’s body. “It shall not be well with them who did this to my son,” she said. “For them to hit my son like this, it shall not be well with them. The God I serve will not forgive them.”
The school, weary of the negative publicity the tragic incident could attract, allegedly tried to hide the truth. Indeed, the Nigerian populace only became aware because Perry Oromoni, the diseased boy’s nephew, took to social media to share his account of what transpired, explaining that the young Oromoni was attacked for vehemently declining to join what he termed the secondary school’s “cult group” dominated by older boys at the institution.
But dismissing the dying boy’s account of what happened to him, Dowen College in a statement said one of it’s hostel officials had informed the management on November 21 that Junior was injured while playing football with his colleagues. The school also claimed that he was given first aid by a resident nurse and returned to his hostel after he expressed relief. It said Junior started complaining of pain in his hip the next day.
“Preliminary investigation showed that there was no fighting, bullying, or any form of attack on the boy. He made no such reports, neither to his sister who is also a student, nor any other students, prefects, house parents, medical staff, or any of the management staff. The school has 2 regular nurses and a qualified medical doctor that promptly attends to students. [We] will not tolerate any acts of cultism which is why there is nothing like that,” the school had said.
The family, however, insisted that their son’s account on his dying bed was indeed, what happened to him. And indeed, many agree that the nature of the boy’s injury is not what can be sustained on the football field.
“My son suffered. The boys they mentioned were also reported to the school last term when they bullied Junior and collected all his foodstuffs; clothes. I have two daughters, one of whom earlier graduated. I had to remove the second after this incident. They asked this boy to describe the sister’s privates and this got to us,” his father Sylvester Oromoni (Snr), told online medium, The Cable.
He noted that Dowen College temporarily suspended the boys involved and Junior was also taken to a new hostel, but the bullying and intimidation still continued into the new term.
“They put fear in him so much so that, when you ask him, he might keep to himself and say, ‘they will kll me’. I considered removing him but reconsidered since his sisters were still in the school.
Mr. Sylvester told the medium that he got to know about the new incident on November 21st, after the school called his wife to inform her that their son was injured and was in the school clinic.
He added that his son couldn’t stand because his waist was bent and one side of his belly was swollen. His mouth was black and he couldn’t sleep at night.
He also revealed that Junior told his mum that he didn’t play football, neither did he fall. Thus, countering the school’s claim that he got injured while playing football, according to the Cable.
“They kicked him, matched his waist. Other students ran off. They threatened to kill them all if they spoke a word to the school staff. They warned Junior to say he sustained injuries while playing ball. They threatened him. If you ask the roommate, they’d all lie. They matched his ribs and waist. All that pain for a 12-year-old.”
Oromoni said Junior suffered liver enlargement due to congealed blood. It was also claimed that Junior was fed with a chemical-like liquid substance for refusing to join the cult, but regretted that because the parents of his killers were wealthy, they were withdrawn from school.
“The parents of the boys are wealthy. They withdrew them. Some of the parents are planning to fly the children out of the country. The boys are five in number: four are in SS2 while one is in SS1,” he added.
One of the boys is said to have been flown abroad by parents who obviously want to him escape the consequences of his actions. Among those identified as the errant bullies on social media, which is yet to be confirmed by police, are Michael Kashamu, Angel Temile, Favour Benjamin, Edward Brown and Agboro Emmanuel.
Kashamu’s family, has however, issued a statement denying their son’s involvement. According to the family, their son happened to be the school father of the late Junior and couldn’t have attacked him.
Oromoni further said the principal of the college took exception to his decision to release the deceased boy’s picture to the press, while noting that he looks forward to an autopsy, arguing that Dowen should be more concerned about going after the boys Junior had named as his assailants before death.
“They even released a press statement. Was the principal there when the boy played the said football game? Can they identify who he played with? Where was the housemaster when he was playing it? The woman too is confused. Clearly, she’s trying to protect the school’s image. But a mother of children wants to hide the truth?” he wondered.
Outrage Over Killing
Several Nigerians, including celebrities and Amnesty International, have continued to express outrage over the boy’s death, while demanding justice for him using #JusticeForSylvester.
“Today, 4 Dec. 2021, Sylvester Oromoni would have been celebrating his birthday. The Lagos State authorities must investigate the incidents leading to Sylvester’s death and ensure no child goes through what he endured. Schools must be places of safety,” Amnesty International Nigeria tweeted via its handle, @AmnestyNigeria at the weekend.
Music star and actor, Bankole Wellington, @BankyW, noted on his part, that “Sylvester’s death is the most heartbreaking story I’ve heard this year. This is every family’s worst nightmare. No parent should ever have to bury their child. I can’t imagine the intense pain his family feels right now. Justice must be served.”
To commemorate the boy’s birthday, which would have been on Saturday, and which his parents celebrated even in his absence, actress Tonto Dikeh, delivered flowers to the college.
Many have also called out Dowen for not doing enough to protect students.
“A colleague of mine reported that her daughter was being bullied by a senior, the school said she should endure that the senior will soon graduate, said a Twitter user, @Signora_Larissa. “Her daughter fainted and the school didn’t notify her until her daughter called 3 days later. YES, same DOWEN.”
“I served in Dowen College and the problem mostly is parents don’t want their children scolded by a teacher, teachers don’t want to lose jobs, school don’t want to lose money! Business for schl, jobs for teachers and spoilt brat for parents,” said a another user, @shelleofficial.
Police Order Investigation as Lagos Orders Closure of College
Amid the outrage and controversy over the boy’s death, Lagos State Government on Friday, ordered the indefinite closure of the college.
The announcement was contained in a statement issued by the state’s ministry of education on Friday and signed by an assistant director, public affairs unit of the ministry, Ganiu Lawal.
According to the statement, the state’s commissioner for education, Folasade Adefisayo, made the announcement “after a meeting with the School Management and Staff.”
“The Lagos State Government has ordered the indefinite closure of Dowen College, Lekki , pending the outcome of an investigation into the death of Sylvester Oromoni Jnr, a student of the school,” the statement said in part. “The commissioner called for calm, saying no effort will be spared in getting to the root of the incident.”
Similarly, the Lagos police command said it has launched an investigation into the death of Oromoni.
Spokesperson for the police in the state, Adekunle Ajisebutu, in a statement disclosed that the case will be handled by Homicide Section of the Lagos State Criminal Investigation Department.
“The command wishes to inform the public that, although no formal report of the incident was made to the police, the Commissioner of Police upon hearing about it instantly directed the Divisional Police Officer, Maroko Division, under whose jurisdiction the place of incident is to immediately visit the school to carry out an initial investigation into the incident,” the statement said.
“This directive has been carried out as an investigation into the case has since commenced. However, in view of the seriousness of the case, the Homicide Section of the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, has also been directed to take over the investigation of the case immediately.”
Oromoni’s death, tragic as it is, is not isolated incident, and speaks to rising rate cultism and cult related deaths in Nigerian schools, a phenomenon increasingly occurring in elementary schools.
But it also speaks to negligence of students’ welfare in schools in Nigeria. Earlier in the year, it was the story of Don Davis, an 11-year-old boy who was molested in a Deeper Life School in Akwa Ibom State.
“Most people who run schools are interested in protecting the name of the school than the welfare of the students,” said Taiwo Akinlami, Parenting/ Educator and Child Right Activist.
“Death of students in schools are becoming a recurrent event. I have taken time to study these deaths and I have come to the conclusion that schools are not doing enough to protect students.
“The deaths are so many. Just this Sunday, in a school here in Lagos, a child who is asthmatic had an attack. The doctor was called in he said he was busy somewhere and told someone else who is not a doctor to administer an injection on the boy, that he would tell him how to do it. The man administered the injection and the boys died.”
In August, Nuhu Yahaya, 13-year-old Junior Secondary School II student of the Federal Government College Kwali, Abuja was allegedly beaten to death by his teacher over ‘failure’ of the student to do his assignment.
In June, 14-year-old Karen-Happuch Aondodoo Akpagher, a student of Premier Academy, Lugbe, Abuja, was allegedly raped in her school by students suspected to be cultists. She died from complications resulting from the rape few on June 22 June.
An NGO, Exams Ethic Marshall International (EEMI), said recently that no fewer than 10,000 people have been killed in cult-related violence within and outside school campuses between 1996 and 2019.
“Dowen is a tip of the iceberg,” said human rights lawyer, Abdul Mahmoud, who blamed the Lagos State government for not setting up structures to check cult activities in schools.
“Dowen College death and the response of LASG highlight everything that is wrong with Nigeria. Where’s the Children’s Care Department of the LGA that Dowen is located? Where’s the Schools Inspectorate? An apparent crime has been committed, so where’s the police in all of this?
“A modern country (including the subnational states) should’ve framework for addressing issues arising from schools’ deaths. Lagos, they say, is the Centre of Excellence; but it can’t make dedicated lines available to the public.”
In May 2019, 12 elementary and secondary school pupils of a public school in Lagos were caught being initiated into the AWAWA confraternity group.
Before then, in May 2017, seven pupils from four public secondary schools in the were arrested and arraigned before an Ebute Meta magistrate court.
Still in September same year, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Ikeja, arraigned 12 pupils of another public Junior Secondary School in Lagos before an Ikeja chief magistrate court, for the scourge. This was followed up still, by the arrest of 17 pupils for cult activities by Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Corps (LNSC).
But it’s not a Lagos only problem. It’s nationwide menace. In October this year, a High Court in Maiduguri, Borno State sentenced 19 students to six years imprisonment each for cultism.
Earlier in March, four suspected cultists of Government Secondary School, Akim, in Calabar Municipal Local Government Area of Cross River State were arrested by police.
Few years ago, the Ministry of Education in Bayelsa State expelled seven pupils found to be cult members, from a community school.
In 2016, Delta State police apprehended 28 primary and secondary pupils aged between 13 and 16, for cultism.
In 2014, Police in Ondo arrested four students for cultism. In 2013, 18 children in Abeokuta, Ogun State were arrested for being cult members. In the same year, 11 other students were arrested.
Worried by the evolving trend of cultism in schools, particularly in Lagos, the state police command in 2018, appealed to the state government to declare a state of emergency on cultism in its primary and secondary schools.
It’s a menace that has eaten deep into the system, even as local communities are afflicted by it.
“Just to give a glimpse: One day, while I seized one of the boys phone in order to get him focused… I decided to go through his chats… I came across a a series of chats where he and some other students where talking about how they enjoyed an orgy that one of them organised, narated Tamuno of Lagos, @PragmaticTammy
“Reading further down, they also talked about how the school suspended some of their classmates for suspected cultist activity in their boarding school. I will stop here.”
The rise in immorality and cultism in schools, experts say, is mostly due to de-emphasis on discipline in homes and schools.
“Some of these children are so badly brought up, and you dare not touch them when they misbehave,” said a guidance counselor in one of the schools in Lagos who doesn’t want to be identified. “It’s a problem because when they grow up and they don’t receive good home training, and they don’t fear their teachers in school, it’s hard to control them.”