Queendalin, the schoolgirl who died from punishment allegedly ordered by soldiers, hated coming late to school A brilliant child, she wanted to be a lawyer or an engineer –Father
GEORGE ONYEJIUWA and STANLEY UZOARU, Owerri
Delight Aguocha, friend and schoolmate of Queendalin Ekezie, the 15-year-old pupil of Army Day Secondary School, Obinze, Owerri, Imo State, who died recently after going through rigorous frog-jump punishment allegedly ordered for her and Delight, by two soldiers manning security in the school, has revealed ironically that the late school pupil, while alive, hated coming late to school.
“Queendalin did not like missing classes or going to school late because she always wanted to participate in the morning assembly,” Aguocha told Saturday Sun. “That we came late that day was because we couldn’t get okada (commercial motorcyclist) on time and it was her who suggested that we take a bus instead of getting late to school.”
An eyewitness’ account of what happened
The Chairman of the Ohaji/Egbema LGA (the local government from which Queendalin hailed), Ebenezer Amadi, who, in a news report, described how “deeply saddened” he was by news of the death because the victim was his uncle’s daughter, confirmed Aguocha’s statement when he said: “From what we heard, she was being punished for the first time when she slumped and died.”
“On that day, we had set out at 7am,” Aguocha revealed while giving some insight into what happened. “We waited for a motorcycle to take us to school till it was 8am. When we became frustrated, we decided to board a commercial bus. But the driver did not leave the motor park until the bus was filled with passengers.
“When we got to school at 9am, we met three sets of latecomers on ground. Two soldiers were asking each set to do frog-jump to a particular distance after which they picked their bags and entered their classes. When it was our turn, we were about reaching the finishing line when they said we were not doing it right and we should start again. After we repeated it, we went to pick our schoolbags, but one of the soldiers said he was still not satisfied.
“I completed the punishment the third time and I picked my bag and left. I suddenly discovered that my friend was not with me. When I returned to the place, I saw her crying. She started vomiting the food she ate that morning. She was saying, ‘my back, my chest.’ The soldiers were just staring at us.”
And, with that began the journey of no return that ended in a hospital. The victim who became exhausted after repeating the exercise several times, was said to have collapsed. She was reportedly rushed to an army hospital where she died. As you read this, her remains are at the Federal Medical Centre mortuary, Owerri, awaiting collection and burial.
The road from Umuoso to Obinze
Saturday Sun’s investigation shows that the schoolgirl who comes from a poor family of seven children, two girls and five boys, attends the school, not from Owerri town, as was originally supposed, but from Umuoso village in Mgbuisi community in Ohaji/Egbema council Area of Imo State. It is a distance of about six kilometres from Obinze, where her school, the Army Day Secondary School, is located.
Commercial motorcyclists, known locally as okada charge N150 to N200 to convey students from the village to the school while bus drivers collect N100 for the distance. Because students usually sit on each other’s laps, in order to cut cost, each student may end up spending N100, to and fro, instead of N200, whereas, if it were motorbike, each student is likely to spend about N300. But sometimes the commercialist collects between N200 from two pupils. But this kind of favour depends on the large-heartedness of the commercial motorcyclist concerned.
Because of the bad state of the road leading to the community, it would take a traveller approximately 25 minutes to get to the place, using a commercial motorcyclist. Most people going to the community from Obinze or from Obinze to the place, when in a hurry, patronise the commercial motorcyclists.
That is how the kids from the community, including late Queendalin, who school in Obinze or Owerri, transport themselves. In fact, owing to the undulating nature and roughness of the road, our correspondents had to employ the service of the okada operators on the day they visited the Ekezies at Umuoso village.
On getting there, they found the place a bit untidy in a way that bespeaks of poverty. This is not altogether strange for the peasant farmers. But getting the head of the family and the father of Queendalin to talk about his dead daughter was like squeezing water out of the rock.
Soldiers’ visit and father’s willingness to forgive
After the unfortunate incident, Saturday Sun learnt that the soldiers came to meet the family for a meeting, but the meeting could not hold because the girl’s father, Hygenius Ekezie, known to everybody in the community as “Adiche”, fainted out of shock and was rushed to hospital.
But on the day that these correspondents visited, they found him fully recovered and seated but still in mournful mood. He admitted that a delegation of the army has already visited his family to pay their condolences but refused, however, to be drawn into discussion on their deliberations and what is going to be their degree of involvement in the burial of his daughter.
“There is no point talking about this issue again,” he pleaded. As a matter of fact, he refused to allow his photograph to be captured on camera. “We have decided to allow peace to reign. We have forgiven anybody who might have been involved in the death of our daughter. God knows best. I sat with my kinsmen and they told me to forget all that happened.”
Saturday Sun learnt from close sources that members of the family are being cautious not to say anything to journalists that may end up jeopardizing their chances of getting some compensation from concerned authorities.
The school management, teachers and students too are said to have been instructed not to talk to the Press. Those who agreed to talk about the dead schoolgirl only did so after being assured that the discussion was not going to centre on the controversy surrounding her untimely death. Even at that, they spoke in monosyllables, in one or two sentences, while casting glances about as if someone would come and arrest them any moment soon for disobeying instruction.
Why I sent her to Army school, Obinze – Father
Queendalin has been described by her peers and indigenes of Umuoso as not only a good girl but also academically brilliant. In fact, Saturday Sun learnt that she was seriously reading and preparing to sit for the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) for Junior Secondary School 3 (JSS3) otherwise known as “Junior WAEC”, scheduled for April, before she met her untimely death.
While each state of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) conducts BECE for its candidates, NECO conducts the exam for Federal Unity colleges, Armed Forces secondary schools and other federal establishments operating secondary schools.
“She happened to be the most brilliant of all my children but it pains me that she can no longer be the “great woman” she had always wanted to be,” her father said with a sigh, while looking vacuously into the air as if he expects her to appear from it any moment soon (His wife, Appolonia, distraught, vehemently refused to say anything). “She was very obedient and very respectful and I am yet to come to terms that she just died in the way she did. And she was liked by everyone in this village because she was a very quiet person and did not make trouble or fight.”
He added: “I decided to send her to the Army Children Day School at Obinze as a first step towards helping her realize her dream of becoming a great woman. She said she wanted to become a lawyer or an engineer in the future. And, I know she would have been one because she was brilliant. But I regret that decision today because of what happened to her. I am sure that if she had gone to our community school here may be she would still be alive. I have left everything in the hands of God because he knows the best because I don’t want trouble with anyone.”
The Queendalin we know, by friends and admirers
“Queendalin is very brilliant because she was good in all the school subjects and you know that we are all preparing for the junior WAEC and she has been reading so that she can make very good result” Aguocha, her bosom friend, added by way of buttressing her father’s comments on the deceased’s brilliance.
“My late friend was very brilliant and well-behaved,” she re-iterated her point. “While alive, she did not like to make trouble with anyone because she always minded her business. She was usually quiet but friendly.”
But even though she spoke so glowingly about her friend, she refused to be drawn into further comments on the raging controversy surrounding her death. Neither was she willing to see her photograph in print.
Alice Opara, another of Queendalin’s classmate (they all insist that she had always written and spelt her name without the final “e” as it appeared in some news reports), disclosed that besides being academically brilliant, Queendalin was a very quiet and friendly person both in school and in the village.
“She was very intelligent, respectful and friendly and she likes reading,” she said. “We will all miss her because she was a good person and very generous with the things she had, too.”
Madam Agnes Orioha, a family friend who we met on the day of our visit (she was there to console the family) said she was shocked by the death of Queendalin. She added that most people in the village did not know that she was the daughter of Hygenius as she was markedly and remarkably different from her siblings.
“Her death was a big blow to her parents because she was well-mannered and respectful,” she informed. “It is quite unfortunate. I don’t know why bad things always happen to good people.’’
Akaego Uzoma, a classmate of the deceased said she would miss her because of her good nature, noting that while alive, she was always willing to assist her friends with their homework.
“Queendalin was one of the nice girls we have in this village because she was not only brilliant, she was also good, always willing to assist those of us who are not as brilliant as she was. She was respectful and obedient. She once told me about her ambition to become a lawyer or an engineer. She said she would like to work in an oil company and through that way become a great woman in the community.’’
Speaking in the same vein, Madam Joyce Alozie, one of the teachers who taught her at the community primary school in her village, during her primary education, said that the late Queendalin had always shown that streak of brilliance. “She has good memories and can remember things she learnt no matter how long,” she revealed.
She pointed out that she was a very obedient and disciplined girl. “It is indeed painful that such a brilliant girl just died like that. Until her death, I did not hear any ugly report about her whether in this village or elsewhere. I did not hear that she engaged in any delinquent behaviour like what we have been witnessing in most young girls of her age in this village. She was a good girl even though she came from a very poor family.’’
The 82 Division’s spokesman and Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, Col. Sagir Musa, was quoted as saying that it would be premature to comment on the incident. Instead, he directed all enquiries concerning the matter to the Imo State Ministry of Education who he said would issue a statement on it in due course.
But the State Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Gertrude Oduka, has come out to say that government not in a hurry to issue the much-expected statement without ‘thorough’ investigation into the incident.
“We have launched an investigation,” she said. “The matter is so sensitive that we would not like to be in a hurry to issue public statement on it. But we have dispatched our senior staff to find out exactly what happened, that I can assure you.”