•School says he got drowned but physical examination of body reveals wounds on the chin, head, leg, rib region.
From MAURICE ARCHIBONG
Twelve days after a 15-year-old Nigerian, Master Austine Chukwuebuka Ogukwe, was enrolled as an SS3 student of Ideal College, Community 5, in the Ghanaian port city of Tema, he has died in controversial circumstances. And questions are being asked, as to what really happened.
The late teenager was one of roughly 500 Nigerians, among 8,000 total student population of Ideal College, Ghana.
Daily Sun gathered that Austine was one of dozens of students taken out on a jogging expedition on October 15, 2013. Along the way, 47 students, who were under the care of a solitary housemaster, ended at the beach, in Tema. At the end of their wash, it was discovered that Austine was missing. Hours later, his body was found, allegedly following a tip-off by some unnamed fisherman.
The remains of the deceased are currently at the Police Morgue, in the Ghanaian capital, Accra. From an autopsy carried out on October 17, the authorities say the deceased died from drowning but Mr. Obioma C. Ogukwe, father of the late lad, suspects foul-play.
Austine’s father, Ogukwe, who rushed to Ghana immediately he got a call about the tragedy told Daily Sun that he gathered that when his son and others got to the beach, the deceased told the housemaster and other students that he did not know how to swim. He revealed that he gathered that his son was told to go sit on the beach, which he did.
The puzzle now is how the lad ended in the sea. Also, when his body was found, there were visible wounds on his chin, head, leg and rib region.
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, October 23, 2013, a consular officer confirmed that no arrest had, so far, been made. He revealed that about an hour before Daily Sun arrived the embassy, 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.
Daily Sun gathered that on the day Austine and other students of Ideal College were taken to the beach, indigenes of the community do not go swimming. Indeed, Tema is part of Ghana’s Greater Accra Region and Ga is the name of the aborigines of these parts. Mr. Laud Nunoo, an ethnic Ga, he revealed during an encounter inside his office in the Tesano neighbourhood of Accra, that it was taboo to venture into the sea on Tuesdays. This is the reason local fishermen do not work on Tuesdays.
According to Nunoo, who works as an investigator with Corporate Protection Securities (CPS), 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 his own risk.
Mr. Samuel Annan, a senior citizen of Ghana, who is half Ga, corroborated the information that the sea was 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 was a special weekday in Tema.
“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, in Ghana.
Sadly, it was on a Tuesday that Ideal College’s housemaster took 47 students to the Tema seashore.
Excerpts from the autopsy report
A police report’s history of the tragedy stated: “On 15 October, 2013, at about 7.50pm, one Doreen Essibu of Ideal College, Community 5, Tema, called at the station and reported that Austine 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 October 17, 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, by Dr. Grinan, 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.”
Ogukwe senior, father of the deceased, is not impressed. In his view, many incongruities abound, hinting at foul-play. He observed that, from pictures of Austine’s body that were taken at the beach, his boy couldn’t have died from drowning. According to him, the late boy’s stomach was flat.
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.
The housemaster 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 housemaster 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 did not swim and did 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.
Dissatisfied with what the authorities told him, Ogukwe took the matter to Nigerian High Commission, Accra. In his complaint, dated October 17, 2013, and entitled, “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 housemaster 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 input from the local Nigerian mission’s authorities.
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, October 19, when the late lad’s dad said: “The police have arranged to visit the school tomorrow (Sunday, October 20) 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, October 20, where they engaged students that took part in the ill-fated exercise, which took place on a Tuesday.
Daily Sun 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 the housemaster diverted them to the beach, one or two students stated 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,” was how some students put it.
Some observers expressed suspicion that the students might 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 our correspondent expressed desire to meet with 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.
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 with 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, October 15.”
“He (the HM) did not contact the guardian (the day the body was found). Pictures of the body show that foam was coming out of his mouth. The body was later taken to the morgue. Again, the guardian was not informed.”
How dad learnt of Austine’s death
“I was at work in my office in Lagos, when, about 12.30pm on Wednesday, October 16, I got 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 about 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 drowning caused the death. 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 involved 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 bereaved dad also expressed surprise that the housemaster that took the students on an outing deliberately avoided meeting with him. Ogukwe again: “The housemaster did not show up until Friday (October 18), three days after the incident. Inside the office of a police officer in whose precinct the tragedy occurred, the housemaster had said 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 2kilometres 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. He added that his findings revealed that Austine and the 46 other kids were to have gone on the jogging exercise with two schoolmasters. 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.
In Ogukwe’s view, the drowning theory sounded even more incredible, given 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 was 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 with 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, October 19 meeting in the residence of guardian of the late boy, Mr. Essibu had promised that the school would participate in Austine’s funeral. He said: “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, Ogukwe said he needed first, to report to the late Austine’s immediate and larger family members. As things stood, everyone was in shock and 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 believed the family would prefer to bury the remains same day as it arrives in Nigeria, instead putting it in a morgue, further prolonging the deceased’s survivors’ torment.
Eze Igbo in Ghana condoles with family, commends Nigerian 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 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, Eze Ihenetu said: “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.”
Agony of a bereaved dad
The time was about 7.30pm on Saturday, October 19, 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 Austine 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, 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 footwear piled atop other items. And, we wondered if some of these were among clothing he wore on October 15, when tragedy struck.
Reflexively, a sigh escaped the mouth of the distraught father. And, he muttered; “Muo ana …” (a spirit is gone). We were almost moved to tears. As 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, Ogukwe is virtually on his own, as regards succour through psychotherapy.
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.
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, he said the school fee was 600 cedis or 1,000 cedis per session for each day or boarding student respectively.
When told that his students had actually quoted 3, 600 cedis, as what their parents paid per session, Essibu explained the extras accrued from the cost of books, boarding charges et cetera.
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. He 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 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. “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?
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/licence 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.
Another Nigerian student had died in Ghana in mysterious circumstance some years ago
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 death, under alleged mysterious circumstances on February 7, 2008, Stanley, who hailed from Agbogugu, Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State, was a final-year student of Geology (now in the Department of Earth Sciences), University of Ghana, Legon.
During a chat with Daily Sun in Accra, Nigerian-born author, Mr. Kelechukwu Ike, aka KK, recalled that Stanley died somewhere at Tarkwa while on a field expedition.
According to KK, who was also rounding off his first degree programme at University of Ghana at the time, 21-year-old Stanley was said to have fallen from some heights and consequently died from serious wounds sustained after hitting the ground.
Stanley’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, Stanley’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 Stanley’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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