Backpack strapped to his torso and lunchbox subdued by the firm grip of his right palm, Boluwatife Omelaja had left his home at Isawo, Ikorodu for school in Igbolomu — stout and ready to take on the day’s activities. He never knew that bidding his parents goodbye would be the last shot he gets at seeing their smiley faces. It was the same day his school brought home the 14-year-old boy’s corpse to his parents, stating he slumped in front of the class while attempting a mathematical equation.

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It all started at around 9:57 am on November 26, 2020. One moment Ramon Omelaja, his father, was busy with an apprentice at his furniture workshop. Another, he was headed for Elihans College in Ikorodu on an Okada after he had received a panic call from the school’s proprietress, whom he said cried over the phone that Bolu, his son, had a medical emergency. According to him, it was along the way that he spotted the school ambulance inside of which he sighted his boy lying motionless in the company of some staff of the school.

“On entering it, I lifted my son’s arms and it fell off lifelessly. I touched and he wasn’t breathing. We started hitting his chest; he didn’t budge. At that moment, I had started weeping. I demanded to know what happened again and I was told they rushed him to a medical centre and were redirected to the General Hospital, Ikorodu. I interrupted, saying, ‘But this boy you say you’re taking to the hospital is actually dead’. Yet, as a father, I hoped that if my son received oxygen therapy, we would be able to resuscitate him,” Ramon said in an interview with TheCable Lifestyle.

“I suggested we head to the nearest hospital since the place where this incident transpired was far from the General Hospital. We got to Victory Hospital, Isawo. They ran tests and noted there was no pulse. Panicky, I pleaded, asking if we can rush him to another medical centre. They agreed. We were still along Isawo road when the husband of the proprietress called. They were coming from home because Victory Hospital, which we got to, is close to them. I had panicked such that I was unsure what to do next. We all headed for another medical centre called Bethel Hospital.

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El-Bethel Hospital

“The attendants protested that we shouldn’t have brought him out of the vehicle, noting that they’d rather examine him there. I begged them to get started irrespective. They tested to no avail, at which time I was already sprawling on the ground hysterically. They started asking the proprietress’s husband how he’s related to Boluwatife. As an adult, I knew that sort of question meant something had gone wrong. ‘I’m his father,’ I replied them. ‘Tell me what has happened’. That was when he was declared dead. As Muslims, we’re required to bury our dead under 24 hours.”

It was when Bolu’s elder brother, who was in the SS2 class of the same school, returned that fresh claims surfaced.

‘They left him without medication’ — brother alleges Bolu was flogged, punished

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Bolu’s elder brother speaking with TheCable Lifestyle

An older brother to Bolu, who is only one class ahead of the deceased boy, told TheCable Lifestyle that he was in an English class when he was informed his brother had fainted. He said water was poured on his head to resuscitate him while a spoon was stuck into his mouth as in the case of a seizure to prevent a patient from biting their tongue. He said Bolu was transferred to the school’s sickbay, which he said had no one in it as of when he paid a visit.

“I was surprised because he wasn’t sick before then. When I saw him, his face had changed. They took him to the sickbay and, for five minutes, they did nothing. I suggested alongside the vendor woman that he is rushed to the hospital. But we were told a vehicle was coming. Bolu was breathing heavily. This prompted Mr. David, a teacher, to ask if he had asthma. I told him there was no such thing. The bus arrived. My brother was put in while three teachers joined in for the hospital. I asked to follow but Mr. Seun, my teacher said ‘no need’,” the boy (name withheld) narrated.

“I cried back to my class and lost interest in the English session. At this time, my brother’s class in SS1 had started leaking information to my class that Bolu only fainted after he was flogged and that he was initially being accused of pulling a fainting prank. I returned to SS1 and his classmates confirmed the story. I met my teacher during the long break to ask how my brother was doing. He’s said he had recovered but the bus with which they took him had yet to return. I was at the cafeteria when his mates kept saying he was flogged. I went to meet my teacher during the seventh period when I noticed the ambulance had returned to the school without my brother. He said all was well.

“I fetched his bag, trousers, shoes, and lunch box when the school closed because he left only with a shirt. His meal was untouched. I asked my teacher for money to go home because of the luggage I had. I noticed something was off. At home, I met my elder brother and my other younger brother. They were locked out. It was one of my friends in the neighbourhood that took me to the sidelines and broke the news of Boluwatife’s death. That was when I started explaining what happened at the school. My brother and I were both Art students. He was in SS1 and I’m in SS2.”

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On November 27, Ridwan Oyewunmi, Bolu’s eldest brother, who went public with the case, alleged the school and one Emmanuel Kayode, a teacher alleged to have flogged Bolu, were trying to cover up what caused the boy’s death.

‘We went to police but it won’t bring Bolu back’ — family backs down on suit, withdraws case

Ridwan: ‘They had time to save his life but left him in sickbay’

On the day TheCable Lifestyle visited the family, Ramon and his eldest son had left home for the High & Magistrate Courts, Ikorodu, to get an affidavit evidencing their resolve not to file a lawsuit against the school. Ramon said they had reported the case to Owutu Police Station in Ikorodu a day after the death. He added that Emmanuel was also asked to write a statement, which he did, but the family decided to withdraw the case after Margaret Okonkwo, the DPO, asked what they would like to do. According to him, he decided he couldn’t go through the rigour of court sittings while mourning the loss of a son.

Ridwan, who expressed doubts about the standard of the sickbay in Elihans College, claimed to TheCable Lifestyle that the school had enough time to have Bolu hospitalised after he was initially resuscitated but didn’t until he died. While corroborating his junior brother’s account, he alledged the school authorities had made up lies to preserve its image in a move that prompted him to go public. Ridwan also mentioned that the family isn’t filing any lawsuit.

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“Boluwaife is my younger brother, our second born from my mother’s side. I didn’t intend to raise the alarm. It was when they cooked up a story that my brother slumped without anyone touching him that it became clear I had to do something. One of my brothers narrated what happened when he returned from school but the school denied it, saying no such thing happened. I took to Twitter out of anger. Why would they lie just because they want to protect the school’s image? I was at home that day, on Thursday. Mum left because my dad told her to come,” he explained.

Owutu Police Station

“He talked about oxygen but didn’t tell her anything about my brother. He came back around 11 am; I was sleeping. But he later told me my brother died after the school said he slumped. I was like, ‘How’s that possible when nothing was wrong with this boy?’ It was until around 5 pm before we started hearing the teacher had actually flogged him.

“I was actually pissed because they had enough time to save his life, yet, transferred him to the sickbay instead of taking him to the hospital when he woke up. They had enough time but they abandoned him in the sickbay without any treatment —nothing. They just kept saying the bus was coming until the boy died. We’ve withdrawn the case. Let’s leave everything to God. There’s nothing we can do. If we do anything else, it won’t bring my brother back.”

‘We’re looking into it as directed by CP’ — Lagos police breaks silence as school shuns press

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On the case, TheCable Lifestyle visited the police station where Emmanuel is believed to have been held to speak with the DPO but she declined to comment. Muyiwa Adejobi, the Lagos police spokesperson, however, said the force was expecting the report from its investigation. “The matter was not reported to the police. Our attention was called to it in the news. However, the CP (commissioner of police) has directed the DPO to look into it and do the needful. We’re presently looking into the case as directed. We’re waiting for the interim report from the DPO,” he said.

Jolaoso Michael, a staff of the school identified as a vice-principal, was severally contacted but refused to comment. TheCable Lifestyle also reached out to a certain Oludashe, who was identified as a member of the school management, but he stated that he had been ordered to make no comment on the case. TheCable Lifestyle visited the school, which had been shut temporarily with the exclusion of final students, who are presently writing their exams, and was denied both entry and access to the school officials. State government officials deployed to examine the death case also refused to address the press.

Health expert suspects blood sugar drop, says autopsy could have revealed the cause of death

When contacted, Goke Akinrogunde, TheCable’s health analyst, who doubles as chairman of the committee on medical negligence for the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) in Lagos, deduced that the deceased boy could have suffered a case of hypoglycemia, a medical condition marked by a drop in blood sugar to abnormal levels. He said this could cause a variety of symptoms including loss of consciousness, seizures, or death if not well managed. He, however, noted that conducting an autopsy on the deceased before he was buried would have revealed the cause of his death assertively.

Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) deployed to examine the school

“Based on my deductions on the 14-year-old’s case from experience, if the young boy doesn’t have an acute case of any pre-existing illnesses, then he most likely must have missed his breakfast, although it can be added that an autopsy would have brought the cause of the death out assertively, the physical stress of that punishment he was given apparently led to a hypoglycemia crisis. This simply means that his blood sugar could have taken a drop and the body needed to maximally limit stress on the whole system. That’s why one would likely faint,” Goke explained.

“If that was not reversed by the simple mechanism of just taking a bottle of sugary drink, it affects the brain. Since the brain controls heartbeat and respiration, permanent damage can result or even sudden death. For that young child, it’s unfortunate. From the description that the child fainted; was later revived and kept in the sickbay; started gasping for breath, it’s possible it was a problem that started with just missing breakfast. The public health message that some of us have drummed is that there is no basis to have a physiological fast beyond 12 hours of the last meal.

“Before you leave your house, make sure you eat something. It could be two slices of bread. Other combinations can go but make sure that your body doesn’t have sudden blood sugar demands that can cause crisis under stress. Also in the public domain is the campaign that what is worth doing at all is worth doing well. When the government sets up a protocol for school registration, there is always the clause that there must be a sickbay. A sickbay isn’t about having the finest furniture there. There should be qualified personnel. Some require just one, starting from a nurse.

“Others could be as big as the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) schools that you have a doctor and a retinue of experts. This is something we should all emulate because there can be a critical situation like what happened in the Ikorodu school. The presence of a health practitioner would have ensured there was someone to raise alarm and apply first aid.  Sometimes, you just need glucose-containing intravenous infusion to save the person. In the absence of that, you have situations like this, which can be checked with a glucometer which should be available in health facilities. So aside from the need to end physical punishment in these schools, they must be equipped no matter how small.”

Lagos commissioner kicks against flogging students, says the school has been summoned

Folashade Adefisayo, the Lagos commissioner for education, reiterated the state ministry’s stance on corporal punishments for students among both public and private schools while speaking with TheCable Lifestyle on Thursday.

She said the ministry has had a policy statement pursuant to the Child Rights Act, which was introduced in Lagos back in 2007. Adefisayo noted that the Elihans College teacher involved has been detained. The commissioner also said that the ministry has initiated procedures to address the school as investigations continue.

A representative of DSVRT speaks with TheCable Lifestyle at Elihans College in Ikorodu

“We don’t allow flogging as a matter of principle. The Child Rights Act states that discipline shouldn’t be punitive but corrective. It is a law but, pursuant to that, we do have a policy statement about flogging. We don’t flog in any Lagos public schools. It’s not allowed. By extension, it applies to the whole school system in the state. So whatever that man did is not allowed. We’ve gone there. The man is under arrest. We spoke with the school principal. We will be having a meeting with her and the owner of the school tomorrow (December 4) in our office,” Adefisayo said.

“You’re not the one who told me about it. Immediately I was informed about two days ago, we went down to the school. So that teacher who flogged the boy denied it but he’s already in police custody. We have seen the parents of the child who was flogged. Quality Assurance (department of the ministry) has done a lot of things. It’s a police case. We won’t do anything in the ministry other than what we have done. As soon as the case is cleared and we’re sure of the directions, we will address the issue of the school. As for the teacher, he’s definitely under arrest.”

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