Abuse of Minors: When the Dance Went Wrong

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Jerry was formally introduced to Daniel Owoseni, the founder of the Leap of Dance Academy three years ago. Their meeting marked the beginning of a relationship that would become an obsession. Vanessa Obioha uncovers the heart-rending story of a minor abused by his teacher

For a moment, Jerry (a pseudonym), a 12-year-old young man, was lost in the performance of the dance group in front of him. He was at the Tabernacle of Fire Church where a group of boys and girls were teaching some young members of the church how to dance. The way they leapt, spun on their toes, stretched, and glided in total submission to the sounds of music piqued his interest. As a dance lover, he was familiar with the popular dance styles in Nigeria’s entertainment landscape, be it the Ghanaian-inspired Azonto, the Nigerian music star Davido’s ‘Skelewu’, or the legwork inspired by the ‘Zanku’ crooner, Zlatan Ibile.

But the dancers in front of him were doing something different. The way they pirouetted enthralled him so much that by the end of the day, he was convinced that he wanted to be a ballerino — an Italian name for a male ballet dancer.

“I never knew what ballet was but seeing their flexibility inspired me to join them,” said the now 15-year-old Jerry on a recent sunny morning.

Jerry was formally introduced to Daniel Owoseni, the founder of the Leap of Dance Academy three years ago. Their meeting marked the beginning of a relationship that would become an obsession.

Leap of Dance Academy

Owoseni, a young man in his thirties, is known for his dance talents. He established the Leap of Dance Academy four years ago after his dream of studying abroad was quashed. Owoseni discovered his love for ballet dance after watching the popular Hollywood teen dance movie ‘Save the Last Dance’. He was 13 at the time. In various interviews, he has said the movie captivated him so much that he jumped on YouTube videos and consumed every piece of information about ballet with gusto.

The self-taught ballet teacher is based in the Ajangbadi area of Lagos State, and set up his academy to help young boys and girls who have a passion for dance like him. Due to the unavailability of a facility suitable for the dancers, the dancers held classes at Robis Children School within the community. At other times they practised at Owoseni’s house.

Owoseni and Olamide Olawale, a female ballet dancer, handled most of the teaching, while the latter’s mother, famously known as Mummy Angel, serves as the chaperone of the children. Often, the children gather at Olawale’s house. On an undercover visit by this reporter, young boys, mostly eight-year-olds, were seen arriving at Olawale’s home.

Classes at Leap Dance Academy are usually held during the weekends. Those who live nearby start their lessons on Friday afternoons, while those afar resume classes on Saturday mornings. Olawale revealed that a particular male student who lives in the Abule-Oshun area of Lagos usually spends his weekends at Owoseni’s house.

“His parents are aware,” she said assuredly. “He comes on Fridays and leaves on Sundays.”

Until recently, the academy was free to students who met their requirements. Usually, students are admitted into the Beginner’s class, where their skills are tested. They write exams, and if they show diligence and consistency are given full admission into the academy. These days, Olawale revealed that they charge N10,000 on each student. If the student doesn’t show seriousness, the fee will be refunded. This begs the question why an academy that was set up as a non-profit organisation requires money for admission. Quite unlawful many would opine.

Beyond dancing, the students are encouraged to excel in their academics. Oftentimes, they are instructed to bring their lesson notes to the academy for review. Other times, their skills are tested through Bible quizzes.

Olawale, who has been dancing for the academy for three years, spoke with pride as she talked about the academy’s reputation. According to her, the academy is known for its victories in competitions within and outside the country.

“We are always winning.”

Olawale has won scholarships. She has been to Ghana, and recently received a scholarship to attend school in Canada, but had to study online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Owoseni on the other hand has a familial relationship with many of his students. He is their big brother, teacher, and idol all at once. Most of the students he trains come from poor households, so there is a financial component to his relationship with his students and their parents as well: there can be monetary rewards for the competitions he enters the academy into.

“He paid N200,000 to my account as money my son got from a competition they won. He told me this was just the tip of the iceberg, that more was on the way. It was the first time such an amount of money was entering my account. I was overjoyed,” said Jerry’s mother.

With such monies, it was easier for parents to entrust their children in his care. His students visit him at his home, play in his bedroom.

“I was very uncomfortable with the fact that he has students staying in his home, sleeping in his bed, sleeping in the same rooms all together. It was not a good situation, not one that I felt was appropriate when you run a business with small children,” said Mary H., an American who owns a dance studio and helped Owoseni in setting up the academy.

Jerry’s Withdrawal

Almost a year after Jerry joined the academy, he unexpectedly withdrew. His neighbourhood friends bullied him for dancing ballet, which they believed was meant for girls and not boys. They thought he should be playing football instead. However, in late 2019 he returned to the academy. But things were not the same.

“I wasn’t concentrating. During practices, I felt out of place. So I stopped going.” His mother was not happy about his withdrawal, particularly after the huge sum she received from Owoseni.

“I insisted he must go back to the academy. How could he stop when these monies were coming in. His older brother threatened to beat him if he didn’t return to the academy.”

A Joke or a Confession?

Last year, Carly Jones, an English woman married to a Nigerian, reached out to Owoseni. In the UK, where she lives with her family, she works as a Designated Safeguarding Lead and Child Protection Officer.

“I was just really touched by what he was doing for the children so I reached out to Daniel. Just said to him this is who I am, this is what I do, I’d really like to support you and the dance school. And it just went from there,” she said on the phone.

Owoseni would later appoint her the Head of Learning and Development at the Academy. Although they communicated virtually, their relationship was friendly and professional; at first.

On Friday, April 9, 2021, Owoseni posted a suggestive picture of him and Jerry on social media with a quote suggesting he was in love. Jones stumbled on it, and asked him if he was implying that he was in love with the minor. Owoseni responded in the affirmative, and told him that they had kissed and cuddled together.

Screenshots obtained from Jones showed that Owoseni confessed to having a relationship with Jerry. He told her that it happened sometime in February, but that no penetration occurred.

Jones admonished him, and told him that he should never have gotten involved with a student, particularly a minor. Owoseni initially expressed remorse and told her he had made a mistake, but as the discussion progressed changed his story and said everything he had told her was just a joke.

Enraged by the confession, Jones reached out to Mary H., forwarding screenshots of the conversation with Owoseni to her.

Mary H. recounted the conversation the two had. “I was in Nigeria in December last year. Daniel has relationships with all of his students, just in the normal way. They’re very friendly, like a family, but I noticed some suspicious things about him spending more time with Jerry, putting his arm around him. I confronted him about this and he just said ‘Oh Jerry is just a special student of mine, and we all love each other like a family. I’m like a dad to him,’ and he kind of blew it off. But when Mrs. Temi (Temi is the adopted Nigerian name of Jones) sent me those messages and all the screenshots, it made a lot more sense that it was not just a friendship, it was something much more.”

A video call was made the following day between Mary H., Owoseni, and Jones, where Owoseni again insisted that it was all a prank.

“When we confronted him he denied it and literally just started laughing like a crazy person, saying ‘you believe me? Like, I can’t believe you believed it. All those messages were a joke,’ and we’re like, I’m a dance teacher myself, I work with kids, so does Mrs. Temi and you don’t joke about those types of things,” said Mary H.

What Really Happened?

This reporter spoke to Jerry and learned his story. When Jerry returned to the academy in 2019, Owoseni started paying attention to him. He made his first move on him sometime around May 2020.

“We had gone on an outing and ended up at his father’s place. He discharged other students, and told them that I would stay behind and return the following day. At night, he came up to me and started touching me. I tried to push him aside, I even went to another room but he followed me, insisted that I touch and play with him.”

After the encounter, Owoseni told Jerry not to ever mention anything that happened between them to anyone. Soon after, when Jerry reported to his mother that Owoseni had sent him away from practice for what he saw as no reason, Owoseni went livid and punished Jerry by not allowing him to take part in a dance shoot. He warned him not to tell anyone about what had happened.

There were several other encounters, but Jerry, gripped with fear, couldn’t tell anyone what was happening, particularly considering how close Owoseni was to his family and how he had helped them financially. It was Owoseni who helped his family to organise a naming ceremony for his sister’s newborn. Sometimes, he gave his mother money when she visited the academy. During the Christmas period, he showered the family with gifts. Jerry felt trapped.

Jerry’s mother is yet to recover from the shock of it all. She didn’t know anything about what had been going on until Olawale’s mother invited her to meet with Owoseni.

At the meeting, Owoseni told her that some news had been flying around about him having a sexual relationship with her son. Jerry’s mother didn’t grasp it at first. He told her not to believe any of it, that it was all an attempt to tarnish his image, being spread by people who owed him money but refused to pay, and were looking for ways to soil his name. The poor widow, whose husband died 10 years ago and left her with six children, found Owoseni’s story hard to believe. When she got home she went on her knees and begged her son to tell her if Owoseni had made any sexual advances on him.

For the first time, Jerry, seeing the agony on his mother’s face, courageously told her what happened. She was shattered.

“All this while he kept it away from me. He should have told me even from the first day he touched him. I would have confronted him. He told me he kept quiet because Daniel has been good to the family. I remembered when he gave us that N200,000. After that, I told Jerry to go back because the academy may be God blessing us. He told me he didn’t want to go back. I asked him if he was being punished unfairly, he said no, that he just didn’t want to go back to the academy.”

Jerry’s mother revealed she had at times been curious about Owoseni’s relationship with her son.

“He would call me to release Jerry to spend two or three days with him, even when he stopped dancing with the academy. His sister had begun working, and Jerry was the one assisting me at home. But Owoseni would insist. Because of our relationship with him, I would release Jerry. When he returned and I asked him why Daniel needed him, he would say Owoseni wanted him to help with house chores. Because of the way he was good to us, I never suspected anything like this could even happen.”

Threats and Denials

After Jones and Mary H. confronted Owoseni, on April 10, Owoseni informed Mary that he didn’t want Jones involved with the academy. Jones for her part immediately distanced herself, not wanting to associate herself with Owoseni.

On April 14, Owoseni announced that he was taking the children, including Jerry, to Ghana by bus. Mary and Jones were not comfortable with it. He also planned on taking Sarah (not her real name), a 12-year-old, to Italy alone, and instructed Mary not to tell others about the trip. Mary did not comply. On April 20, Temi received information from a dance teacher in Ghana that Owoseni had withdrawn $4000 from his bank account, and booked flight tickets to take half of the children at the academy to Ghana from April 24 to May 7.

Owoseni continued to publicly and privately refute Jerry’s story, maintaining that he is innocent. Meanwhile, the case was reported to Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT). Lola Adeniyi, who spearheads the agency, said that Owoseni was arraigned on August 19.

“The matter was heard by Mr. Ogundare KO. The charge sheet, which contained a two-count charge against the defendant, was read to him; to which the defendant pleaded not guilty to both charges. The defendant was granted bail of N200,000 and two workers of reputable companies as surety with proof of their residential addresses. The matter was adjourned by the court to September 16, 2021. In the meantime, the DPP has requested for the duplicate case file.”

However, the case was adjourned again.

Owoseni’s mother was told about her son’s sexual abuse of a minor, and she seemed to understand the gravity of the charges. She would later visit Jerry’s mother begging her to forgive her son, and to plead with Jerry to change his story. Jerry’s mother refused. Owoseni’s mother admitted that her son had an issue, and that she had been praying to God to deliver him.

Olawale’s mother tried too, arguing that if Owoseni should be convicted that the academy would no longer function, and that the dreams of the children would be truncated. Owoseni tried apologising to Jones but the latter ignored him. When it seemed that all was against him, Owoseni resorted to telling stories that Mary and Jones were trying to rip him off.

“I volunteered two years of my time and my dedication to help them raise the academy without taking anything from them, supporting them in so many ways, going to visit them in December where I taught for over eight hours a day. I love those kids. I love the Leap of Dance family, and it’s just so sad to see that all of this has happened, and for him to come and accuse me of something like that.

“Daniel and his brother sent me threatening emails saying that I was an evil person, that I should be cursed in the bed I sleep on and that I stole all of their money,” said Mary H.

“The accusation that Miss Mary has stolen money from him,” added Jones, “I’m afraid to say it’s just a counteracting. He is trying to deflect from the fact that he has been caught, that he was grooming a child sexually. He is trying everything to deflect that away from him. He said the same about me, that I’m an evil White woman who is jealous of him. That I want to destroy his business, that I don’t like him. I have my own life. My concern was always just to help the children. That’s why I got involved, because I thought it was such a beautiful thing. And then when this came up, I said there’s no way that I am letting this go over my dead body. Even if I have to get on a plane myself to Nigeria, I will. Because he’s not getting away with this.”

On August 8, shortly before Owoseni was arraigned, he accosted Jerry on the way home, threatening to “deal with him” when the latter refused to accept his request to be with him alone for a chat.

The threats continue to this day, as friends and family members of Owoseni have made repeated attempts to intimidate Jerry and his family into silence. His latest threat was through a phone call to Jerry’s mother. On Monday, September 13, a spiritualist called her, threatening to deal with her diabolically if she attends the court hearing scheduled for September 16. The poor widow, frightened, nearly gave in to his threats.

Still Free

It’s been more than three months since Owoseni’s sexual abuse of a minor came to light, yet he is still in contact with children on a daily basis. Other than Jerry’s mother, parents of other children attending the academy have yet to be notified of his sexual advances to minors; Owoseni has kept his arraignment and impending court date quiet. To this day, Jerry is not aware if Owoseni has approached any other male students in the academy. Who knows, maybe like Jerry, they are afraid to speak up.