The death of a nine-month-old boy pits the parents against the management of a crèche in Lagos, write Adeola Balogun.
When both Mr. Anthony and Dr. Jennifer Abuneme gave birth to their first child on Feb. 11, 2012, their joy knew no bounds. In their excitement, the couple decided to christen the new born baby, Osezua Emmanuel.
Among the Ishan of Edo State, the name Osezua means ‘good things come from God’. It was understandable. The Abunemes got married on May 14, 2011 and the same month, the wife got pregnant and later gave birth to a bouncing baby boy.
To the admiration of his parents, Osezua grew up very fast and was soon known as a vivacious boy. By September, he was registered at the crèche section of the Masters Ville Children School, Ajao Estate. He was doing well until tragedy struck two months later.
On Nov. 12, Osezua’s parents dropped him off at school at about 7 am and went to their different places of work. Unfortunately, it was the last time they would see him alive.
About three hours after the Abunemes had left, they were informed that their son, whom they had left in the care of a nanny, had been rushed to the Faith City Hospital, breathless.
In disbelief, the couple rushed to the hospital only to be shown the lifeless body of their son at the emergency ward, which is situated opposite the school. Whatever transpired behind the walls of Osezua’s school within the three-hour interval between the period he took ill and arrived at the hospital dead, in spite of its proximity to the school, is shrouded in mystery.
Abuneme told a source that when he arrived at the hospital, he instinctively took the lifeless body of his son and tried to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation but it was in vain.
Although they are grieved at losing their first and only child, who was hale and hearty a few hours after they dropped him at school, Osezua’s parents appear to have accepted their fate with stoic calmness.
As soon as it occurred to him that his son was dead, Mr. Abuneme contacted a church priest who came to bless the corpse and prepared it for immediate burial.
He said he had to bury the child and go back home to grieve, knowing that there was no point dissipating energy on legal action of any kind. He said, “I requested an explanation of what really happened. What they told me was that my son choked when they were feeding him. We handed him over to one of the nannies, one Ijere at about 7 am on that day and drove off to work.
“But I learnt that when the other nanny, Mrs. Dauda came, she asked Ijere why she had Osezua strapped on her back. The other woman said she had to carry him on her back because nobody was around when we brought him to the school and she wanted to do something.
“Dauda said she took my boy from her colleague and in her words, both she and Osezua slept off. When they woke up, Osezua started crying and she wanted to give him food. That morning, my wife had prepared a meal of beans and put it in his pack. The nanny said she fed him about four spoons of the meal and she was about to give him the fifth, when the boy choked. Then she raised the alarm.
“I was told that Mrs. Ijere (who was actually an auxiliary nurse) said she held the boy upside down in an attempt to resuscitate him, albeit in a crude way, instead of dashing across the road to the hospital, which was just within easy reach.”
Masters Ville Children School is very close to Faith City Hospital. Both institutions are numbered 11 and 16, respectively, on Asa-Afariogun Street in upscale Ajao Estate, in the Okota area of Lagos.
But on the second day, the boy’s mother discovered blood stains on his dress. The clothe had smelt of mentholatum ointment when it was returned. The discovery had ticked off an alarm and the Abunemes decided to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding their son’s sudden death.
“I made up my mind to get to the root of what happened to my boy. It was not that it would bring him back to life because I knew that he was gone forever. But I was worried about other children. The incident happened on Monday and I contacted the police on Friday. This tells you that my mission is to sensitise other parents and warn them about what may happen to their children at any time,” he said.
Abuneme complained that the attitude of the authorities of the Masters Ville School toward the tragic incident did not help matters. He said there was no representation from the school after he buried his child. He said, “In fact, when people started coming to commiserate with us at home, some of my friends and family became curious when they did not see anybody from the school. Some of them even threatened to storm the school and create a scene, but I pleaded with them not to do that.
“They insisted on going there, at least to let the school authorities realise that even if it was a chicken that died in their poultry, there should be a measure of compassion, let alone a child. They went and when they came back, they told me that the school management said they would have come, but they feared that they might be lynched.
“It was after this that representation from the school came. When I reported the case at the police station in the estate, it took the school some time before they could produce the pair of Ijere and Dauda who repeated the same story that I just narrated to you.
“I believe the school is hiding something from us. For instance, the bottled water in my son’s pack was still intact. Yet, he was fed. How can somebody feed a boy of nine months without giving him water to drink? Curiously, the hot water, which my wife put in his flask, was half-full when the pack was brought home.
“What did they do with the hot water? We fed the boy with cereal before taking him to school that morning? Nobody told us anything about blood, so how come there were blood stains on his dress? What about the mentholatum?
“When I asked why they didn’t take him to the hospital opposite the school almost immediately, I was told that they were trying to put him in a bus and were trying to open the gate. Someone could have held him and dashed across the road to the hospital in less than one minute.
“When I went back to the hospital, the doctor told me that he did not have any chance to help the boy because he was brought in dead. It was the same doctor that took his delivery. So he is more or less like a member of our family. I can imagine how he felt about the situation.”
The death certificate issued to Osezua’s parents, which was made available to our correspondent, showed that the boy was dead on arrival in the hospital. The document was signed by one Dr. Okpaleke Kingsley of Faith City Hospital.
The family wrote a petition to the Commissioner of Police in Lagos State through the Ajao Police Station, urging the law enforcement agency to find out why their son was left to die instead of being rushed to the nearby hospital. A few arrests were made, but the school authorities have been making different representations to plead with the Abunemes.
When the source visited the Master Ville Children School on Tuesday to find out what happened, the receptionist, who turned hostile as soon as she learnt of the mission of our correspondent, blocked all attempts to speak with the head teacher. She claimed that no incident occurred in the school on Nov. 12.