Every second on Valentine’s Day in Nigeria is busy, filled with celebrations and flowers and gift giving. It was no different for Silas Okoduwa, 10, who died on Valentine’s Day last year at the toll gate at Lekki in Lagos. As Okoduwa’s family frantically looked for answers after the heartbreaking death of a child they barely knew, they prayed that something positive would soon come from his time on earth. Little did they know that God, when he had the wisdom to do so, would instead use them as an example of the grace of God’s mercy.
On Feb. 14, two months after Silas’ death, his mother, Babatunde, was on a public transportation drive to a family funeral when a brother of hers received a phone call that her son had just died. Just hours later, a family friend showed up at the family’s home. Her friend was a mediator in the controversy that had engulfed the family since Silas’ death. The mediator said that what actually happened that night was that a contractor with the Lagos state government had lied to the family saying that Silas had jumped off from the back of the truck that was in motion at the toll gate.
The mediator said that both Magda, Silas’ mother, and Iyabo, Silas’ sister, immediately changed their minds and took Magda’s boss on a visit to the toll gate. The family rejected the story which had put Magda in the role of a liar, and said they needed to verify the truth as they stood by their man. For good measure, the family gave the mediator instructions to stop hearing about the “sacrifice” by the contractor who had claimed that Silas had been killed by jumping off the truck and gave instructions that the family would get back to them as soon as they could find out the truth about Silas’s death.
All through this period, the family had hoped to do something good with what was left of their lives, but they knew that something else awaited them. Silas had suffered from an incurable congenital heart problem. He had been listed in hospital and survived two brain surgeries and had once been ready to undergo a third, but the strain of the Lekki scandal had taken its toll and more surgeries were necessary.
On June 8, the family took Silas to the Lagos Island General Hospital to undergo a third heart surgery. It was then that he died.
The family told him about the wedding planned in Africa in May and he said he was excited about it, laughing and saying it would be very nice to go to the wedding but as the days ticked by it would not be. He died a few hours after his admission into the hospital.
One thing the family was very clear about in the aftermath of Silas’ death was that his death had to be made public. They had made decisions that they knew were correct, that there was a right way to end a life in a civilized society, and that they were not willing to be silenced for a moment more as they tried to come to terms with the terrible truth. Silas’ death was a tragedy, but it was a wake-up call, as well as an act of faith.
“It was clear to me that I wasn’t getting anywhere without the support of the public,” said Iyabo Okoduwa. “I was determined that the public should know that there is a right way for these accidents and suicides to end.”
That is still how they feel. This year, they created the Silas Okoduwa Foundation for a school in the village of Okaduno, northeast of Epe, where they hope one day to open up a school that will educate poor kids. They have named it the Silas Okoduwa Foundation for a reason — to take the name of the child who died in a hospital that does not take donations, and to empower other Nigerians in the country to learn from what they have gone through in the last 12 months, and to be more afraid of fraudulent people than those who would take advantage of them.