My editorial of last week, ‘Oromoni: Jumping the Gun’, elicited a great deal of response from you my Readers. Thank you. Due to space constraints, I have only reproduced a few of these comments below. Even though this particular topic is a sad one, it makes me glad that many are taking a keen interest in what is happening around us, and speaking out. This is one of the most peaceful ways, that we can effect positive change in our society – articulating our views and making constructive criticism. Hopefully, those in power will develop a culture of reading, reflecting, taking constructive criticism in good faith, correcting wrong actions and taking the right steps.
One of the phrases that was mentioned recently in relation to this unfortunate incident, was ‘Dying Declaration’. Some have argued that, the statement alleged to have been made by late Sylvester Oromoni before his death, mentioning the names of some of his school mates, and stating that they forced him to ingest an obnoxious substance because he refused to join their group, qualifies as his dying declaration which should be investigated thoroughly, because it is extremely relevant in ascertaining the truth in this matter. Indeed, if he made such statement, it is a dying declaration. But, such statement should be corroborated, that is, there must be ‘evidence which confirms or supports’ his statement, possibly like the Delta State autopsy report (see Section 209(3) of the Evidence Act 2011 (EA).
A dying declaration is: `“The statement of a mortally injured person who is aware that he/she is about to die, telling who caused the injury and possibly the circumstances (“Usman shot me”). Although hearsay since the dead person cannot testify in person, it is admissible on the theory that a dying person has no reason not to tell the truth….A dying declaration is a statement made by a person who may die from the injury received from a person whom the deceased person identified as the person who inflicted on him (the deceased), the injury that eventually caused his death…..It is one of the exceptions to the rule of direct evidence, to prove a fact in issue” – per Omaje JCA in Okoro v State 2007 2 N.W.L.R. Part 1019 Page 530 at 544-545. It is an exception to the rule of hearsay. What is considered to be relevant, is the statement made by the deceased while still alive, as to the cause of his/her death. By virtue of this definition, one can safely say that Sylvester Oromoni’s statement/allegation against his school mates, is a dying declaration (aka death bed declaration or ante mortem statement). Why did he single out these specific school mates? What would have been the reason for him not to tell the truth, when he was in such a bad condition? Also see Ekpo Isong v State 2009 1 N.W.L.R. Part 1122 Page 354 at 368; Ezeugo v State 9 N.W.L.R. Part 1360 Page 508 at 576 per Saulawa JCA (as he then was).
In the past, Section 33 of the old Evidence Act 1955, which provided for circumstances in which a dying declaration would be relevant provided thus: “Statements, written or verbal, or relevant facts made by a person who is dead, are themselves relevant facts….(a) when the statement is made as to the cause of his death, or as to any circumstances of the transaction which resulted in his death, in cases in which the cause of the person’s death comes into question…..”. Additionally, the person must have believed himself or herself to be in danger of death, even if he may have had hopes of recovering, and that there must have been a trial for murder or manslaughter of the deceased person, for such statement of a deceased person to be relevant.
However, though Section 40 of the EA regurgitates the old Section 33, 40(1) has jettisoned the proviso that there must be a trial for murder or manslaughter of the deceased person, for such ante mortem statement to be relevant. It seems absurd that a dying declaration which should be crucial to an investigation of the death of an individual, would be seen as relevant only in a proper trial when it should be the basis of the investigation into the death. Thankfully, the said Section 40(1) has made such statement admissible in any proceeding in which the cause of death comes into question. This obviously includes the Investigation/Coroner’s Inquest.
How thorough was the Police investigation, into all the matters arising in this case – especially with regard to allegations of bullying and all sorts of unacceptable behaviour said to have occurred in this case and in the College? Not only does the Police investigation seem shoddy and hurried, the Lagos State Police Commissioner seemed to have drawn most of his conclusions from the autopsy report. The Coroner’s Inquest in the matter of the death of Sylvester Oromoni commenced last Saturday. We shall await the outcome, and hope that whichever way it goes, justice is served for the sake of this little boy.