Vivian wanted to be celibate. Bithia scored A with ease. Praise aspired to be like her dad. The three girls who died at Queen’s College, Lagos, had their worlds well laid-out before them, but their dreams have gone to the grave with them. In the final part of the CRY FOR JUSTICE series, O’FEMI KOLAWOLE speaks to their families and friends on their lives, dreams and aspirations.
Vivian Osuinyi, the first student to die as a result of the Queen’s College epidemic, got admission to Queen’s College in September 2015. At the time of her death, Vivian was a JS 2 student of the school. She attended Honey Home Children’s School in Aguda, Surulere, Lagos, for her primary education. Her dream was to be a medical doctor with the overall ambition of becoming a consultant gynaecologist.
She was also a deeply religious girl. Her family are staunch Catholics who never miss mass. So passionate was Vivian about matters of faith and the things of God that she wanted to also be a reverend sister. At home, she would tell her parents and siblings how she would love to live a celibate life in the service of God and humanity.
About four days to her death, specifically on February 11, her mother had been called by one of the medical personnel in the school’s sick bay around 5:54pm and informed her daughter had “high temperature” and was being treated with anti-malarial drugs. They requested her to come over immediately.
Vivian had never been sick at school prior to that time, and her mum had no cause to fear or worry that anything was amiss. She believed her daughter would be all right. Occasional illnesses happen, she reasoned. But not wanting to take chances, she left their Orile-Coker home immediately for Queen’s College. She got to the school around 7pm that Saturday.
Vivian would later be released to her mum to take home for further care after the nurses on duty explained that the young girl only needed to complete her three-day anti-malarial treatment. Osuinyi didn’t know her daughter’s case was far more complicated than she imagined — or was being made to understand.
On getting home, the mother’s plan was to take Vivian to the hospital by Monday after she would have completed the treatment by Sunday. Before the middle of the following week, she believed her daughter would be back at school. Before 10am on February 13, mum and daughter arrived at the General Hospital, Randle, Surulere, where some tests were recommended.
By the next day, Vivian’s health had deteriorated. Her temperature had gone north.
Alarmed, her mother rushed her back to the hospital. But Vivian hardly spent 24 hours there when she died, on February 15. Her body system was already severely compromised. It was a black Wednesday the family still remember with great pain and sadness.
“I never saw it coming. It’s the greatest shock of my life,” Vivian’s mum told TheCable. She added that the family didn’t know the condition of the school was that bad yet the school authorities hid the truth from parents even at PTA meetings.
She also explained that Lami Amodu, the principal of the school at the time, never called to condole with the family on the loss of their daughter although some teachers and members of the PTA did.
“Had it been we were alerted on time on her condition and how bad the situation was, perhaps, we could have known what to do. We are in shock. We are in pains,” Osuinyi told TheCable.
Vivian was buried on February 16 at her hometown, Ukpo, Dunukofia local government area of Anambra state. She was 13.
BITHIA: ASTRONAUT, LAWYER, WRITER… IN HER DREAMS
Bithia Itulua was born on October 8, 2004 at Redemption Maternity, Ebute Metta, Lagos. She was the second daughter in a union that produced three girls. While her dad, Eric, was a business professional and is now a pastor, her mum, Sussana, is a school teacher.
The little girl attended the Nigerian Air Force School, Ikeja, for her daycare and primary education. At age five, she was enrolled at the University of Lagos Staff School, Akoka. This was after she had spent some time at Women’s Society School where her mum worked.
Bithia was a brilliant young girl who won scholarships and various prizes while there.
She got admission to Queen’s College for the 2013/2014 academic session. When she became aware that she had successfully made the admission list, she was over the moon and excited. Getting admission to the school was no mean feat.
And all through the years she spent there, she moved from JS 1T, to JS 2T and then JS 3T. She was an A student all through. The only subject she had a D was Yoruba language, which she was not a native speaker of. But not one to give up, she once assured her mum that she would still make a distinction in the subject. She was on her way to achieving this: she had a C in the last exam she wrote in the subject.
Sussana visited the school on February 5 to attend a PTA meeting where the discussion, at a point, had veered towards a report that some students of the school were vomiting and stooling.
“It was Lami Amodu, the school principal at the time, who stood up to answer the question. She said it was all rumours and parents should pay no attention to such as it was her enemies who were at work,” Sussana recalled in an interview with TheCable.
February 11, 2017 was supposed to be a visiting day at Queen’s College. But because the Lagos Marathon held that day, it was shifted to the following day which was a Sunday. So, Sussana was at the school that day to check on her daughter. However, she discovered Bithia was no longer her usual agile self. She complained of a headache.
Asked why she hadn’t visited the school’s sick bay, her reply, according to Sussana, was that “they would use stick to drive us away”. Sussana insisted her daughter needed to visit the bay and mandated her elder sister to take her there before returning to their home in Gbagada.
However, by Monday, Bithua’s condition had gone worse at the sickbay. By Monday night, the officials called her dad.
Sussana, who was already in bed, could no longer sleep when she overheard her husband telling the caller they would be there the following morning.
As early as 5am, Sussana was out of bed. She briefly reported to her office that morning to excuse herself from duty before heading straight to Queen’s College.
But the security men at the gate would not allow her in. They informed her they had a standing order from the school management not to allow parents visit their wards. They asked her to park her car outside the gate.
Despite Bithia’s mum’s entreaties and explanations that the school officials were even the ones who called to inform them of their daughter’s sickness and was in the school clinic, they remained adamant. They told her the only condition on which they would allow her in was if they first went to check at the sickbay and confirmed that her daughter was truly on admission there. One of the security officials would later return to say it was true and asked her to walk in.
Alarmed at their “insensitivity”, she shouted at the security men. Sussana wanted to know how she would carry her daughter from the sickbay to where she was forced to park her car outside the school gate if she was not allowed to drive in. They eventually let her drive her car inside.
But Bithua’s mum had to confront another hurdle on getting to the boarding house area. Usually, the hostel gate was the last point parents were allowed to reach anytime they came to drop their wards. Again, the security officers there wouldn’t allow her in to access the sickbay until another round of pleading and begging.
When Sussana was finally able to locate her daughter, her heart sank. Bithia was on a drip. She told her mum how her headache had gone worse. Meanwhile, her elder sister who stayed with her had left shortly before their mum’s arrival to prepare for her exams.
Bithia would eventually be released to her mum after different release papers were signed but not until after the girl — who was in pains — had been forced to step out of the car to sign out at the school’s main gate.
Bithia was taken to Unilag medical centre where she was examined and recommended for some tests which were conducted on February 15. They were asked to come back three days later for the results. But on getting there that Friday, Sussana was told her daughter would have to be admitted immediately because of the seriousness of her case.
She was at Unilag medical centre undergoing treatment until Sunday when Sussana was informed her girl would have to be transferred to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH).
Because she had heard much about the bureaucratic bottlenecks that patients seeking medical attention often confront at LUTH, Sussana begged that her daughter be transferred to General Hospital, Gbagada instead. The hospital was also nearer to their home. By the time they got there, however, they were told there was no bed space.
But a female consultant, who saw the condition of the young girl, went to create an emergency bed space for her while telling the younger doctors in charge of Bithia’s case to prepare her for surgery immediately as “the girl must not be allowed to shut down”.
By then, Bithia’s dad had arrived at the hospital. The chief medical director insisted that a paediatric surgeon should attend to Bithia, thus necessitating her transfer to General Hospital, Randle, Surulere. They got to Randle around 7pm and were informed that the surgeon who had left the hospital by then would not be able to return to work that night. He recommended that they take her to LUTH or LASUTH.
The nurse who was with Bithia and her mum in the ambulance said the one that was closer was the preferred option in the circumstance. Bithia was thus driven to LUTH, a place her mum had wanted to avoid at all costs.
They arrived there around 8pm on February 20. By that time, Eric and Sussana were no longer themselves as they battled to save the life of their second daughter. Bithia was stabilised for the surgery the next day after tests had revealed her intestines had been perforated as a result of typhoid occasioned mostly by the consumption of contaminated water and foods.
After the surgery on February 21 and Bithua was wheeled back from the theatre and returned to the ward, she was no longer speaking coherently when she regained consciousness. The infections had probably spread to parts of her faculty.
Bithia’s parents were required to go and buy different types of drugs. Sussana went to a lab the next day and to also buy some drugs when her husband asked her to rush down to the ward immediately.
By the time she arrived, she met the doctors battling to resuscitate her daughter. Bithia was already gone. She died at 9:10am on February 22, 2017, exactly a week after Vivian’s death.
“That was how my Ehinomie died. I never knew she was going to die. I didn’t know the situation at Queen’s College was so bad. She was 12 years, five months and two weeks old. She had so many plans, so many dreams, yet they killed all of it,” Sussana told TheCable, struggling in vain to hold back tears.
Bithia was buried the next day at Atan Cemetery, Yaba. The family made no noise about their daughter’s death. They bemoaned their loss privately while mourning her. But the news of Bithia’s death eventually got out.
“My sister had so many dreams. She once said she wanted to be the first person to go to the sun without burning up. She wanted to be the first person that builds a car with a sitting room and a dining table just like a massive house on a wheel,” Jemimah, Bithia’s kid sister told TheCable.
“She also wanted to be an astronaut and a lawyer and she wanted to attend Oxford University. She also wanted to build a place like Hollywood in Nigeria. She also had written a book which was yet to be published before she died.”
While Bithia’s dreams may be multifarious and ambitious, this fact is evident: she was a brilliant kid with sharp brains. But her death isn’t just a loss to her immediate family; the society is now deprived of whatever laudable contributions she could have made.
PRAISE: FASHION DESIGNER, WOULD-BE ACCOUNTANT
Before her death, 14-year-old Praise Sodipo lived with Lawrence Otun, her uncle, the younger brother of her mum. Her two parents were dead.
Her dad, Olugbenga, was a chartered accountant while her mum, Banke, operated a grocery store. The couple met several years ago while Olugbenga was undergoing his national youth service in Ogun state at the NNPC depot in Sagamu. Banke was working there as a secretary.
Praise’s parents got married in Ile Ife, Osun state, and made their home first in Ondo state where they worked at Ile Oluji Cocoa Products Company, and later in Lagos where they relocated to in search of a better life.
Olugbenga worked with the NCR on Broad Street when he died suddenly in 2009. He was only 42 years old. Banke was obviously too overwhelmed with the grief. She fell ill and never recovered. She died in 2011. Both husband and wife were buried in the modest house they built at Ikorodu. And so, by the time Praise was in Primary 3 and just eight years old, she was already an orphan.
Now living with her uncle, Praise attended Primrose Nursery and Primary School, Gbagada, the same school as Lawrence’s children. Her uncle got her transferred to Unilag Staff School. When Praise got to Primary 5, she was enrolled for the National Common Entrance Examination. She passed and got admission to Queen’s College.
Praise was the only candidate admitted on merit from Osun state, her state of origin. When she completed her JS 3 exams, Lawrence and his wife decided to enrol Praise at a fashion design outfit not too far away from their residence. They wanted her to also be skilled in something aside her education. And she grasped the learning process rather quickly.
“She learnt so fast, that within few weeks, she had started sewing clothes for my little girl,” Lawrence told TheCable.
Praise hardly talked much. When she attained the age of puberty, it took some time before she could tell her uncle’s wife, who had become her adopted mum.
She fell sick on February 18, 2017 while still at school. One of her friends assisted her to the sickbay. But no one in the school informed Lawrence or his wife that Praise was ill.
Lawrence’s wife, who had only gone there on mid-term break to pick her up, had to search frantically before she could locate Praise who thereafter explained she had been unwell. The woman took her to a private hospital at Akoka for medical examination.
By the time they got there, the laboratory had closed for the day while the doctor on duty recommended that malaria treatment should start immediately for three days. When the malaria persisted, the doctor recommended for a scan to be done.
However, he discovered some abscess around her stomach while conducting some checks. He said the girl’s case would have to be referred to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). But it was already too late in the day for that to be done. The woman returned her home with the decision that by the following day, they would take Praise there.
When Lawrence returned from his printing business and saw the condition of the girl as she writhed in pains, he decided the best option was to get her to a very good hospital as fast as possible as he could not keep her at home in the condition she was. Time was around 11:30pm.
At the private hospital where she was taken, a drip was administered to her till the following when they concluded they would have to take her for a scan test.
She was taken to Tejuosho Scan Centre and was given water to drink for the scan to be conducted. However, despite consuming almost five litres of water (five bottles of Eva water), Praise wasn’t pressed.
Her guardians waited in vain. By the time it was 4pm, several hours after they had been waiting, the laboratory management decided to use another advanced scan machine to conduct the test. It was after this was done that they discovered the young girl had “perforated intestines”.
Praise was taken to LASUTH where a surgery was performed on her. She spent about five weeks there while her uncle and the family spent colossal sums of money all in a bid to ensure she stayed alive.
The bill for her surgery was N150,000. At the intensive care unit (ICU) where she stayed, the hospital told the family they would pay another N150,000 for the first five days for her treatment and N35,000 subsequently on a daily basis for her treatment.
It wasn’t until the case got into the media that the hospital management, obviously acting on the instructions of the Lagos state authorities, decided to exempt her.
But the family spent money on expensive drugs and conducting series of tests that the doctors recommended. For instance, Praise was transfused with eight pints of blood which were bought at N18,000 each while another drug was bought for N75,000 aside a medical test which cost N35,000.
Had the hospital demanded that all the monies were paid, the amount ran into millions of naira. Support came from a relative living outside the country including close friends and members of the local parish of the church which the family attended.
“She didn’t tell us they had problems with the water they were drinking at school. It was later we learnt they were told never to divulge anything that was happening there to their parents or guardians at home or else they would be deboarded,” he said.
“She also told us they were being given a bag of pure water. Unfortunately, at the time she was telling us all that at the hospital, she had already fallen sick.”
Praise’s ambition was to become a chartered accountant just like her late father. That dream can never be fulfilled.
“This was a girl that lost her parents very early in life. She suffered much in the hospital. She fought so hard with all her strength to stay alive. She didn’t want to die. The infection had eaten too deep into her body system before we even got to know and take her to hospital,” her uncle further told TheCable as he struggled unsuccessfully to withhold his tears.
“When I remember all she went through before she died, I still cry.”
Those who know Praise well during her lifetime describe her as a very godly girl. One said she read her Bible daily. Another said she was a role model to other teenagers at the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) parish in Pedro, Somolu, where her family worshipped.
Her classmates describe her as a brilliant and easy-going friend. Others were unanimous in their conclusions: Praise was a young girl with a bright and promising future whose life was wickedly cut short. She died on Thursday, March 30. She was buried the next Thursday, April 6, 2017 at Atan Cemetery, Yaba.
Lawrence told TheCable that Amodu did not call them until late April, almost two months after Praise’s passing.
Amodu and her management team could not be bothered.
You can catch up with the first and second parts of the CRY FOR JUSTICE series.
This is a special investigative project by Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation (CNJF) in partnership with TheCable, supported by the MacArthur Foundation. Published materials are not the views of the MacArthur Foundation.
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