Monday, November 4, 2013

15-yr-old Nigerian student dies in Ghana

Austine Chukwuebuka Ogukwe RIP

15-yr-old Nigerian student dies in Ghana

…Authorities say he drowned, bereaved dad suspects foul-play


A 15-year-old Nigerian, Master Austine Chukwuebuka Ogukwe, has died in Ghana. Master Ogukwe was an SS3 student at Ideal College, Community 5 in the Ghanaian port city of Tema. Curiously, the deceased was enrolled at that institution only 12 days earlier.

Ideal College's signboard in Tema Community 12.
The late teenager was one of roughly 500 Nigerians among the 8,000 total student population of Ideal College, according to Mr. Joseph Essibu, Proprietor of this school, which has at least a branch in each of Ghana’s 10 federating units, called Regions.

The mortal remains of the deceased, who died on 15 October, 2013 are currently at The Police Morgue in the Ghanaian capital, Accra. From an autopsy carried out on 17 October, the authorities say the deceased died from drowning, but Mr. Obioma C. Ogukwe, father of the late lad, suspects foul-play.

Master Ogukwe was one of dozens of students taken out on a jogging expedition on that fateful day. Along the way, the 47 students, who were under the care of a solitary housemaster; detoured to a beach. At the end of their wash, it was discovered that Austine was missing. Hours later, his body was found, allegedly following a tip by some unnamed fisherman.

Although the police have launched an investigation into the tragedy, no arrest had been recorded eight days after the lad’s transition. During a brief meeting inside the Nigerian High Commission, Accra on Wednesday, 23 October, 2013; a consular officer confirmed that no arrest had, thus far, been made.

He revealed that about an hour before our arrival there, an official of the Nigerian Mission had contacted the director, Marine, Ports and Railways Unit of Ghana Police Service, Tema; in connection with this issue.

Faith shattered

It takes genuine faith in a nation for a dad to ship out all of his three children to study in some foreign land. Therefore, it must have been deep-rooted faith in Ghana that prompted Nigerian-born Mr. Ogukwe to enrol his three children in schools in Ghana.

Sadly, the alleged mystery surrounding the death of Austine, Mr. Ogukwe’s first son, has not merely shaken his faith in the former Gold Coast. With Ogukwe taking along his other two kids with him as he returned to Nigeria on Sunday, 20 October; it could be said that his belief in Ghana has been irredeemably shattered.

Swimming on Tuesday is taboo, here

Tema is part of Ghana’s Greater Accra Region and Ga is the name of the aborigines of these parts. Mr. Laud Nunoo is an ethnic Ga, and he told us during an encounter inside his office in the Tesano neighbourhood of Accra that it is taboo to venture into the sea on Tuesdays. This is the reason local fishermen do not work on Tuesdays.

Continuing, Mr. Nunoo, who works as an investigator with Corporate Protection Securities (CPS) added that, whereas entering the sea is not banned outright in Ga culture, anyone that ventured into a large body of water on that day, did so at their own risk.

Mr. Samuel Annan, a senior citizen of Ghana, who is half Ga; corroborated the information that the sea is a no-go area every Tuesday in these parts. In the same vein, Mr. Theo Alfred, a Ghanaian that lived in Lagos, Nigeria for several decades until he returned to resettle in Accra in 2004; confirmed that Tuesday is a special week-day here.

“It is true. We do not go fishing or swimming on Tuesdays”, said Mr. Alfred; who is also ethnic Ga and publisher of National Trust. Sadly, it was on a Tuesday that Ideal College’s Housemaster took 47 students to the Tema seashore.

How some schoolmates remembered Austine

Although Master Austine Ogukwe did not register for Fine Arts in the forthcoming WASCE, the deceased was gifted with drawing and painting skills, according to some classmates. The deceased was also described as “very friendly and lively” by many of his schoolmates.

Excerpts from the autopsy report

According to a police report’s history of the tragedy, “On 15 October, 2013, at about 7.50pm; one Doreen Essibu of Ideal College, Community 5, Tema; called at the station and reported that Austin Ogukwe went to keep fit with other students and their teachers. That after keep-fit, they went to the beach to swim and the deceased got drowned”.

That history is part of a report sequel to a post-mortem conducted by Dr. Alina Rodriguez Grinan, a pathologist at Ghana Police Hospital, Accra. The pathologist in her report identified “Drowning” as the “Basic cause” of death. The police report dated 17th October, 2013; further identified “Asphyxia by submersion” as the “Direct cause” of Austine Ogukwe’s death.

The post-mortem also listed three marks of (possible) violence: “Contusion on the face, Contusion on the head and Contusion all over the body” of the deceased. Interestingly, the post-mortem with reference number PH/PM-1220-13, which gave the age of the deceased as 17 years; further states: “The body was that of an adult male”. However, the late teenager was 15 years old.

The morbid anatomist’s examination of the Thoracic cavity revealed: “The lungs were increased in consistency and volume. On cutting, sections showed serohematic fluid within the parenchymal tissue and part of the airways”. Furthermore, the “Heart is congestive and normal” and “The rest of all the organs were congestive”, according to Dr. Grinan.

But, Mr. Ogukwe is not impressed. In his view, many incongruities abound hinting at foul-play. He observed that, from pictures of Austin’s body that were taken at the beach, his boy couldn’t have died from drowning. The late boy’s stomach was flat, he pointed out. The grieving dad further wondered how the deceased came about what the pathologist’s report described as “Contusion on the face, Contusion on the head and Contusion all over the body”.

Moreover, the post-mortem, he added, failed to explain signs that blood flowed out of the boy’s ear. The report, he further pointed out, was also silent on blood stains on the face of the boy’s body. “The pictures the police showed me revealed that my son was foaming in the mouth as he died”, the grieving man lamented.

As if to add salt to an injury, the House Master that took Master Ogukwe and 46 other students out jogging on that fateful day was nowhere to be seen almost 48 hours after the late boy’s father arrived in Ghana. As the late boy’s dad put it: “The house-master was the person that led them (47 students) out on road jogging. Along the way, he diverted them to visit Tema Seashore. He asked those who wanted to swim to do so. I gathered that my son told him that he does not swim and does not like sea environment; that, he would rather have a phone game to play. He asked my son to wait-by and went away. He reportedly returned to be looking for my son”.

Ogukwe said he further learnt that about 7pm, some fisherman reportedly told some people he saw a body somewhere on the seashore. Curiously, however, the remains of the deceased were found about 2km from where they landed at the seashore. Many questions, few answers…

This probably prompted Mr. Ogukwe to take the matter to Nigerian High Commission Accra. In his complaint, dated 17 October, 2013; and, titled “Report on the asserted drowning of my son – Master Austine Chukwuebuka Ogukwe – at Tema Seashore”, the bereaved dad begged of the High Commissioner: “Please Sir, we want this to be fully investigated as the police and school authorities appear to be shielding the House Master and suppressing evidence”.

When contacted through a phone call, Nigerian High Commissioner to Ghana, Ambassador Ademola Oluseyi Onafowokan, said he had been given a report by his mission’s staff that were assigned to look into the matter.

Nigerians based in Ghana, while lamenting Austine’s passage; commended the Amb Onafowokan-led Nigerian Mission for rising to the occasion. However, the perceived haste that attended the autopsy ruled out the opportunity of possible imputs from the local Nigerian Mission’s authorities.

Investigations ongoing

On their part, Ghana Police have launched an investigation. Plans by police to visit the school came to light during a meeting in the residence of guardian of the late boy on Saturday, 19 October; when the late lad’s dad said: “The police have arranged to visit the school tomorrow (Sunday, 20 October) to talk with some of the students” that were on that outing.

We gathered from an encounter with some staffers of Ideal College, including Head Mistress, Ms Doreen Essibu; Mr. Chartey Isaac, Chaplain-cum-Counsellor; and, Pastor Doe; as well the school’s attorney; that personnel of Ghana Police Service eventually visited the school on Sunday, 20 October; where they engaged students that took part in the ill-fated exercise, which took place on a Tuesday.

We got to the premises of Ideal College, Tema; a few hours after the police investigators departed and also met the above-named workers as well as scores of students, including Priscilla Owusu (19), Bisman Owusu (19), Clinton Atubi (17), Bernice Okine (15) and Raphael Ugochukwu; that same day.

Curiously, none of the almost 50 students remembered the last time they saw Austine after their arrival at the beach. Interestingly, whereas some students had reportedly earlier said that the housemaster diverted them to the beach, one or two sought to stress that going for swimming was their idea. “We had been jogging for a while and were sticky from sweat, so we suggested going to the beach for a wash in the sea” is how they sought to put it.

Some observers expressed suspicion that the students may have been coached regarding what to say, and were now trying to revise the story. Interestingly, Ms Essibu had initially put up strong resistance when we expressed desire to meet the students. Her explanation was that the students were frightened when called out to meet with the police and that calling them out again for another drill so soon would only compound their trauma.

This made sense, except that the late boy’s siblings and parents as well as his larger family and friends seemed to have been denied Ms Essibu’s empathy. There was also the need to unravel the mystery shrouding the boy’s death in order to avoid similar occurrence in the future. In deed, this was agreed during a meeting at the residence of Austine’s guardian; the previous night. If there was neglect, then remedies ought to be made. But, there was nothing anyone could do at this point to bring the deceased back to life; we had rued at several fora.

In the end, the school authorities gave way following robust intervention from Mr. Adewoye, a consular official at Nigerian High Commission Accra, who came down to gather information regarding what actually transpired culminating in Austine’s passage.

On his part, regarding possible clues, Ogukwe added: “I have been around town shooting pictures of the beach, school premises and hostel, where my son stayed”. He expressed sadness that a female school administrator (later identified as Ms Essibu) had the audacity to confront him while he was on the photography.

Ogukwe wondered why the woman was angry at him for recording possible clues to resolving the mystery surrounding his child’s death. Consider this: “If I could take pictures during the autopsy process, despite the distressing sights, then what was the big-deal in shooting pictures of the premises of the school, whose authorities’ negligence led to the death of my son”?   

Ogukwe went on to list some disconnect between the tale of the housemaster that took the students to the beach and what he had personally gathered. Hear the distraught father: “The housemaster went away after bringing the children to the beach. He was not on hand to supervise them, while they bathed in the sea. He later came back for roll-call and my boy was missing. This was on Tuesday, 15 October.

“He (the HM) did not contact the guardian (the day the body was found). Pictures of the body shows that foam was coming out of his mouth. The body was later taken to the morgue. Again, the guardian was not informed”, Ogukwe further pointed out.

How dad learnt of Austine’s death

“I was at work in my office in Lagos, when about 12.30pm on Wednesday, 16 October; I had a call from Ghana police telling me they were sorry my son was gone. I had to rush to Ghana and eventually made my way to Tema. I finally got to the morgue around 6pm and discovered that the school authorities were not there.

“I was now the one waiting for them, whereas they should have been the ones waiting for me. When they arrived, I finally saw the body. The wounds were frightening. I’m not convinced the death was caused by drowning. There were three major wounds that left me wondering, if such injuries could possibly have been sustained after contact with the seabed.

“Strangely, for someone that supposedly drowned, his stomach was flat and there were also blood stains on his face. Then I was told an autopsy was going to be conducted right-away. And, I wondered why the haste. This almighty autopsy, was it going to bring back by son? I did not really know what autopsy involves and had never witnessed one before. I thought an autopsy would reveal finger-prints, and so on; but, as the autopsy progressed, I wished I had not permitted it. The body was cut up and the tummy was empty. There was no water in the stomach”, the distraught father narrated.

The bereaved dad also expressed surprise that the housemaster that took the students on an outing deliberately avoided meeting him. Ogukwe again: “The housemaster did not show up until Friday (18 October), three days after the incident. Inside the office of a police officer in whose precint the tragedy occurred; the housemaster had said that he took the children out for jogging”.

Ogukwe said he could not understand how a roadwork ended up in a swimming exercise that allegedly claimed his boy’s life. Another mystery in Ogukwe’s view, is that the body was found some 2km from where the kids swam. In any case, how come the boy that drowned turned out to be the only one that refused to go into the water. Ogukwe said the housemaster could not confirm that his now deceased boy ever went into the sea, in the first place.

Ogukwe added that his findings revealed Austine and the 46 other kids were to have gone on the jogging exercise with two school masters. However, one of the duo opted out on grounds of health challenges. “The housemaster told the police that the other man had complained of stomach problems and did not show up for the outing”, Ogukwe said.

That was how the 47 children ended up with one supervisor for a roadwork that turned tragic following diversion to the sea. In Ogukwe’s view, the drowning theory sounded even more incredible, given the the housemaster’s declaration that he did not see anything that could have helped in unravelling the death of a lad that was under his care.

As regards the housemaster’s elusive disposition, when it came to meeting with the grieving father, Ideal College Proprietor, Mr. Essibu; reasoned: “The reason the housemaster did not show up is because you were very upset. The boy was your first son and the man was probably scared, not knowing what could possibly happen, if he met you”.

Proprietor promises school’s input to Austine’s funeral

On the issue of bringing Austine’s body home, Mr. Ogukwe said it behoved Ideal College authorities to bring their late student’s body to Nigeria. Since his family had enrolled a hale and hearty chap as student of Ideal College, it was the school’s responsibility to freight the late boy’s body to Nigeria; now that he had died while in their care.

However, Essibu said that might be difficult as none of Ideal College’s staffers ever visited Nigeria before. Moreover, he also voiced fears regarding the personal safety of any school staffer that might accompany the corpse to Nigeria, given the dad’s suspicion that there was more to Austine’s death than meets the eye.

Responding to this aspect, Mr. Ogukwe apparently sought to reassure Essibu; when he declared: “Since your hands are clean, you have nothing to fear. Painful as the death of a youngster could be, as you bring the body to Nigeria; I can assure you that your safety is guaranteed”.  

Eventually, at the Saturday, 19 October meeting in the residence of guardian of the late boy, Mr. Essibu had promised that, the school will participate in Austine’s funeral. Hear him: “We will come to pay our last respects. So, students and teachers will attend the funeral. If there’s anything you want us to contribute, please let us know”.

At this point, Mr. Ogukwe said he needed first, to report to late Austine’s immediate and larger family members. As things stood, everyone was in shock and were anxiously awaiting explanations from him. Therefore, it was after he had briefed them that he could then transmit information on funeral arrangements to the school. Ogukwe went on to add that, even before bringing the body to Nigeria certain arrangements needed to have been concluded.

He told Essibu and others that the death of any youngster was a monumental tragedy in Igbo culture, therefore; he wanted a situation where arrangements would have been firmed regarding interment because he believes the family would prefer to bury the remains same day as it arrived in Nigeria, instead putting it in a morgue further prolonging the deceased’s survivors’ torment.

Eze Igbo in Ghana condoles with family, commends Nigeria High Commission

When contacted, Eze ndi Igbo in Ghana, Eze Chukwudi Jude Ihenetu, said: “First of all, let me use this opportunity to express my condolences to the late boy’s parents and siblings. I want to say that my heart goes to them because as a parent, I can imagine their grief. May God grant them the fortitude to bear this loss”.

As to his own action on the matter, this is what he had to say: “I was in Nigeria, when the tragedy occurred. But, before my return from Nigeria, I learnt that the Nigerian High Commission was already on the issue. I want to seize this opportunity to commend the Nigerian High Commission in Ghana because they are doing very, very well”, Ohazurume 1 remarked.


Austine Chukwuebuka Ogukwe: Our beloved, lost in mysterious circumstances, May God bless your soul with peace-eternal …


Agony of a bereaved dad

The time was about 7.30pm on Saturday, 19 October, 2013; and, we were at the veranda of a bungalow in the Community 12 neighbourhood of Tema. The proprietor of Ideal College and the school’s headmistress, Dr. Joseph Essibu and Ms Doreen Essibu respectively, among others; had brought the belongings of the late Master Austine Ogukwe to the residence of the deceased student’s guardian.

The items, which included a huge cube crate, consisted of at least six boxes and bags. Meditatively, the late lad’s dad, Mr. Obioma Ogukwe, bent down and unzipped the side-bag of a large sturdy portmanteau among the lot. The side-bag he had opened contained at least two boxer-shorts and a top.

The father then lifted the top of the cube-shaped wooden box, and it revealed a collection of footwears piled atop other items we couldn’t see. And, we wondered if some of these were among clothings he wore on October 15, when tragedy struck.

Reflexively, a sigh escaped the mouth of the distraught father. And, he muttered; “Mmaun ana … (a spirit is gone)”. We were almost moved to tears. As Mr. Ogukwe stood over the late boy’s belongings with a distant gaze in his eyes, it probably took everything he could muster to avoid breaking down.

The man’s predicament once again brought to the fore, stark shortcomings on societies’ parts. In some climes of this same world, Ogukwe would have had immediate attention from a psychotherapist, following report of his son’s death. In Ghana, he should have undergone similar therapy as his suspicion mounted that the late boy did not die from drowning.

But then, we are citizens of member-nations of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). So, as he grapples with coming to terms with Austine’s denouement, Mr. Ogukwe is virtually on his own as regards succour through psychotherapy.

Thankfully, however, Mr. Ogukwe is not alone: God is with him and shall grant Austine’s family and friends the fortitude to weather this loss.


Unravelling Ideal College, where late Austine Ogukwe studied

If the signboard at the junction leading to the premises of Ideal College in Community 5, Tema is anything to go by, then the average parent ought to be wary of enrolling children here. Not only is the signboard in tatters, some sick destitute is immediate neighbour of Ideal College’s signpost.

Aside from the fact that a possibly psychically/psychologically-challenged person lives in the immediate environment of Ideal College’s signboard, the surroundings of the school’s environment leaves much to be desired. There is an uncompleted structure, apart from piles of sand and block-making facilities. In other words, we are at a construction site.

On the other hand, students groomed by Ideal College for public examinations usually pass in flying colours. This must explain why this group of schools has blossomed from one high school to 12 branches within 12 years. It is also possible that the school’s marketing hype has also lured many parents/guardians to enrol children here, despite this institution’s unalluring premises.

Yes, countless parents and their children may have been attracted to Ideal College because this institution’s advertisements on radio and TV must rank among the most effective. Interestingly, our findings later revealed many people were taken-aback, shocked by what was on ground after personal visits to the school’s complex.

During our encounter with scores of SS3 students of this school, we gathered that the fee per session here is 3,600 Ghcedis (roughly $1,600). However, when we met with Mr. Joseph Essibu, Proprietor/Director of Ideal College, the man said the school fee is 600cedis or 1,000cedis per session for each day or boarding student respectively.

When told that his students had actually quoted 3,600cedis as what their parents pay per session, Essibu explained the extras accrued from the cost of books, boarding charges et cetera. In any case, at a total fee of the equivalent of almost N300,000; you’d expect state-of-the-art facilities at Ideal College. However, we met a far from satisfactory situation on ground.

At Ideal College Tema, we saw an antique wooden blackboard, whereas digital monitors and computers serve such purposes in some high schools, where similarly exorbitant fees are charged. Moreover, the class in which we sat held poorly-finished wooden bench-like seats for roughly 100 students.

And, with no fence or perimetre wall, the school seemed loose. Based on what we saw, it came as no surprise, when the query; “What was going on here”, rankled in our mind. We later learnt that parents and guardians were falling over themselves to send children here because of the near-zero failure rate in any exams that Ideal College students sat.

When taken up on the apparently insecure environment of his school, Essibu admitted this was due to the fact that the institution was at a temporary site. “The land is not our own, therefore, we are constrained. In fact, our fence is ordinary wire because we could not put up a block or concrete fence”, he explained.

Ideal College evolved from a WASCE remedial tuition centre, which Essibu floated in 2002. Before then, Essibu was a private home-tutor. “We started by teaching from house to house”, he disclosed. With 12 secondary schools established within a decade across Ghana; Mr. Essibu sits atop possibly the fastest-growing school chain in West Africa.

A 1996 graduate, who took his first degree in Agric Sciences from University of Ghana, Legon; Essibu told us he also holds a second degree in chemistry. However, he would later reveal that; at some point: “I taught Scripture Union at Cape Coast, every long vacation”.

Essibu said he went into education full-time in 2002 setting up second-chance centres to assist students meet basic matriculation requirements. After a while, he started grooming students for TOEFL, GMAT et cetera, apart from WASCE. And, before long, in 2005 to be precise; Essibu added regular secondary school programmes to the kitty. Following uncommon success rate among students trained at Ideal College, the school’s popularity shot sky-high.

Interestingly, during one of our encounters with Mr. Essibu, it practically dropped out of his mouth that he has not been at Ideal School Tema this year. This happened, when we asked the man, if he knew anything about the death of Austine Ogukwe. “O, I have not even been at Ideal College Tema since the beginning of this year”, he replied.

We were shocked and shot back: “You mean you have not shown up at a school, where you are director for almost a year? Essibu attempted a make-good, when he said; “O, I have not been there for some months”. So, where had he been directing his school from?

Essibu revealed he once took his family and went to live in South Africa. “But, after setting up the kind of schools that I have, I just couldn’t abandon them. That is why I returned to Ghana. I have been travelling. I had to be in South Africa and some other countries. To tell you the truth, I am handing over the running of the high school to other people”, he remarked.

When asked why, Essibu had this to say: “We have secured approval/license for our university and before the end of this year, we are starting our university”. Evidently, Essibu is about to open a university as well. Nigerians, he posited need a university from him, he intoned. To that, we couldn’t help asking Essibu, if he was one of those praying that Nigeria’s socio-political lingered ad infinitum (eternally)? “No, I’m not. But, your country’s population is so high and your students need universities to educate them”, he retorted.

But, the man seemed at sixes and sevens, when we asked Essibu, if he knew what Nigeria’s population was: “O, O … I’m not sure”, he muttered. “Nigeria’s population is around 150 million”, offered Apostle Chartey Isaac, School Chaplain that accompanied Essibu to our meeting. Did Essibu hear what Chartey said? The man’s response was, “Yes”.

At 150 million, Nigeria’s population was only slightly more than 10 per cent of that of China. We now put another question to Essibu: “How many Chinese nationals are currently enrolled at Ideal College and was he planning to open a university for these Asians, too”? We ended our chat with Essibu on this score.

However, we left somewhat depressed: With undergrads across Nigeria on forced vacation for four months because of strike by academic staff over government’s failure to fulfill its part of an agreement reached since during the Yar’Adua Presidency, Mr. Essibu and others are likely to find more students washing their way.


From the past

Mysterious death of another Nigerian student

Interestingly, the case of Austine Ogukwe is not the first one regarding the death of a Nigerian under mysterious circumstances, while studying in Ghana. Many respondents easily recalled that similar fate had befallen Stanley Chinenye Okafor.

Until his transition, under alleged mysterious circumstances on 7 February, 2008; Mr. Okafor, who hailed from Agbogugu, Awgu LGA of Enugu State, was a final-year student of geology (now in the Department of Earth Sciences), University of Ghana, Legon.
The late Stanley Chinenye Okafor.

During a chat with mauricearchibongtravels in Accra, Nigerian-born author, Mr. Kelechukwu Ike aka KK, recalled that Stanley Okafor died somewhere at Tarkwa, while on a field expedition. According to KK, who was also rounding up his first degree programme at University of Ghana at the time; 21-year-old Stanley Okafor was said to have fallen from some heights and consequently died from serious wounds sustained after hitting the ground.

Okafor’s lifeless body was later found on the floor of the hostel picked by the school authorities for the field-students’ lodging. He was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital and his remains were subsequently transferred from a hospital in Tarkwa to Legon Hospital. 

Speaking further, KK added: “The corpse was later moved to Police Hospital at Cantonments in Accra for autopsy. After post-mortem, Okafor’s body was flown back to Nigeria for interment, which took place two weeks after he was confirmed dead”.

KK easily remembered this tragedy because he was one of those that accompanied the late Okafor’s corpse to Nigeria from Ghana. And, as time passed, the matter simply died. But, memory of the tragedy probably lingers on the minds of the deceased’s survivors.

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