The case of Sylvester Oromoni is an eye opener for Nigeria’s justice system as it raises questions about prosecutor’s accountability for likely professional misconduct.
Nigeria’s justice system is grappling with how to move forward professionally and humanly but officials like Ms. Adetutu Oshinusi seems to make the road a little difficult.
Oshinusi, caused national outrage, when as the Lagos State Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), cleared five pupils and five employees of Dowen College, Ikoyi, Lagos, who were accused of complicity in the death of 12-year-old Sylvester Oromoni.
Oshinusi’s legal advice was addressed to the Lagos State Police and the attending Magistrate, Olatunbosun Adeola, stating that autopsy report did not support any torture and toxic substance in the body of Sylvester as claimed by his family.
Oshinusi also cleared the minors of belonging to a cult group due to insufficient facts to establish the claim. I wonder if her office and the court ordered for a psychological evaluation on the accused children to gain better comprehension of their inner experiences, developmental personality traits and group styles?
It should be recalled that Dowen College management had dismissed the claim, saying that Sylvester sustained injuries while playing football with his classmates at school. Did Oshinusi find them deceitful given her entirely different medical evidence?
At the time Oshinusi cleared the student juveniles who were granted bail at a magistrate court by Chief magistrate Olatunbosun Adeola, they faced accusations of conspiracy and murder.
The family of Sylvester through their lawyer, Femi Falana, had requested an inquest from the Lagos State Chief Coroner, which commenced on December 16, 2021, and has been adjourned to January 15, 2022, for further hearing. Was Oshinusi not aware of this, especially as it relates to a legal inquiry revolving a dead child, why the utter urgency on her part?
I make no attempt to explain anything here from the point of law as I am not a lawyer but on ethical and moral grounds, Oshinusi appeared to have insensitively wronged the family in their role as grieving victims, and embarrassed the Nigerian legal establishment, the Lagos state ministry of justice especially.
From the angle of human psychology, Oshinusi failed the test of prosecutor-victim sensitivity, and here is why.
She knew Sylvester died on November 30th, 2021, she is aware that his body is yet to be buried, as his father said it publicly. She is aware that the Chief Coroner’s hearing is set for January 15, 2022. Yet, Oshinusi issued her acquittal document on January 4th, 2022. Why the rush?
Sylvester’s parents appallingly and painfully only found out about the exoneration letter which was circulating in the social media. Madam Oshinusi, as a public lawyer and steward of the people, should know about ethical sensitivity.
The current national outrage over Oshinusi’s hasty and perceived insensitive actions, could be viewed as awful behavior, as inconsiderate and dishonorable, and there are times when such misconducts can result to administrative or legal penalties.
Prosecutor Oshinusi and the Dowen College matter, call to mind, a recent American matter that caused national outcry in America. Jacquelyn Lee Johnson was accused of violation of oath of a public officer when in her position as a Georgia prosecutor, showed preference to a father and son accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was pursued and gunned down as he jogged through a neighborhood in Georgia.
The now former prosecutor who prevented two police officers from arresting one of the accused murderers, is currently on bail and facing charges of obstruction and violation of oath by a public officer. Both father and son are now convicts and in prison.
Oshinusi’s conduct is not as severe as that of Johnson's, but ethically and professionally, one can argue that Oshinusi, failed to treat Sylvester’s family fairly and with dignity.
While we know that business interest, matters to the Management of the Dowen College, and wants the school reopened, we may never know if Oshinusi’s hurried and unusual approach to this juvenile investigative matter, was caused by compromise, temptations, pressure, or favor and affection towards the college proprietors? But what appeared clear is that her entire approach towards the victims' rights was marked with apparent poor judgment.
Even if Oshinusi was to free the accusers, in a highly sensitive matter like this involving a dead child, she could have treated his family with sensitivity, and respect; by inviting them to tell them about her conclusions. Instead, they heard her decision in the media. Where is the humanity and decency?
During the invitation, she will have the opportunity to obligingly tell them about other available remedies such as in civil courts.
Maybe she was waiting for the Lagos State government to totally incorporate crime victims’ rights with social welfare services into law. But she had the full judicial discretion to educate victims.
As a rule, Oshinusi as a person of the law, is aware that Juveniles are not indicted with crimes, but rather with delinquencies; since juvenile matters involve families and children and carries greater confidentiality. Therefore, she could have reported her findings to the magistrate hearing the delinquency case confidentially. And during a private hearing, with her office and the police present, as well as the respective families, possibly including the bailed children, the magistrate will inform the attendees the prosecutor’s decisions. The court can even offer them referral for family counseling if they wish.
Along the ethical and sensitive worries that revolve around Oshinusi’s approach to this type of sensitive juvenile delinquency case, we saw how at various press conferences the Lagos police Commissioner Hakeem Odumosu, who was recently promoted to the rank of Assistant Inspector General of Police, talked about the juvenile delinquency case openly. Good God!
Odumosu as police officer ought to know that safeguarding the confidentiality of children in the justice system is a solemn duty. For every public comment he made on Sylvester’s matter, he is not only re-traumatizing the family, but also undermining the confidentiality of juvenile court proceedings. He is now publicly warning concerned and peaceful protesters not to demonstrate in public over Oshinusi’s decision.
Apparently, Odumosu is still missing the historic #EndSARS lessons regarding the right to engage in peaceful protest. Just some days ago, Odumosu, the outgoing police officer reportedly ordered the arrest of security guards for their “refusal to allow” him into Brooks Estate in Lagos. Odumosu, Oga, Sir, just go away!
As to Oshinusi, her employer, the Lagos Ministry of Justice realizing her apparent misconducts reportedly moved her to the Directorate of Citizens Rights, which to me is a very good posting regarding understanding more about the reality of victims’ rights.
Professionally, I do not know how this case of murder and Dowen College troubles will end, and I do not see Oshinusi being treated like the American ex-prosecutor Johnson, now charged for violating her oath of office and obstructing police, but Oshinusi has been strongly criticized over the way she handled the Dowen college case.
For her apparent professional misconduct and seemingly abusing her prosecutorial discretion, she could have already exposed herself and the Lagos Ministry of Justice to possible civil suits from Sylvester’s surviving family members for emotional distress.
Lagos, a known progressive State, except for these unusual Oshinusi approaches, have always been ahead in social system developments, so I hope it takes into consideration many of the points raised here, and fully develop a juvenile justice system that meet the needs of children, families, and the State, which Nigeria can use as a model.
John Egbeazien Oshodi who was born in Uromi, Edo State in Nigeria, is an American based Police/Prison Scientist and Forensic/Clinical/Legal Psychologist. A government Consultant on matters of forensic-clinical adult/child psychological services in the USA; Chief Educator and Clinician at the Transatlantic Enrichment and Refresher Institute, an Online Lifelong Center for Personal, Professional and Career Development. A former Interim Associate Dean/Assistant Professor at the Broward College, Florida. The Founder of the Dr. John Egbeazien Oshodi Foundation, Center for Psychological Health and Behavioral Change in African settings. In 2011, he introduced the State-of-the-Art Forensic Psychology into Nigeria through N.U.C and the Nasarawa State University where he served in the Department of Psychology as an Associate Professor. A Virtual behavioral Leadership Professor at the ISCOM University, Republic of Benin. Founder of the Proposed Transatlantic Egbeazien University (TEU) of Values and Ethics, a digital project of Truth, Ethics, Openness. Author of over 40 academic publications/creations, at least 200 public opinion writeups on African issues, and various books. He specializes in psycho-prescriptive writings regarding African institutional and governance issues.
Prof Oshodi wrote in via [email protected]