By Gabriel Emameh
The case of 14-year old Keren-Happuch Aondodoo Akpagher, a student of Premier Academy, Lugbe, Abuja, who was allegedly raped in her school – a situation that eventually led to her death, is one too many of cases whereby the girl-child has been sexually assaulted in recent times. Her case has continued to spark debates, just as investigation to unravel the culprit continues, writes Emameh Gabriel
Her story was a disturbing and heartbreaking one. Given the circumstances surrounding the death of her only daughter, the atmosphere at the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) secretariat was enveloped with emotions that left tears rolling down the cheeks of newsmen who could not control their emotions while she intermittently broke down in tears narrating the horrible circumstances that snatched life out of her 14 year old daughter.
The death of a child is a profound feeling of disquiet and painful experience for any parent. But for a parent to lose her only daughter, one that she was so attached to, could be more devastating to endure, such that may leave her in endless grief.
The story leading to the death of 14 year old Karen-Happuch Aondodoo Akpagher of Premier Academy is one that left everyone heartbroken when her mother, Mrs Vivien Akpagher, recently at the NUJ secretariat in Abuja narrated how her daughter was sexually assaulted and later died of complications as a result of a condom left in her private part.
It was the first time Mrs Akoegher came out in public since the death of her child to share the heartbreaking story of how Keren became one of the lastest victims of sexual abuse and how she slipped into depression when she came back home and eventually died few days later in the hospital.
Akpagher who had declined speaking with the media since the death of her daughter told newsmen in Abuja that there is “deliberate distortion of facts and publicity stunt by Premiere Academy, Lugbe in order to preserve their business interest without regards to the life of my daughter which they have cut short”.
She said the years of promise she had looked forward to with her daughter has been cut off by the school as she sobbed:
“I named my daughter Keren-Happuch, which means God has filled my cup, but Premiere Academy, Lugbe took the cup emptied the water and broke the cup. The cup I gave to Premiere Academy full, they returned to me empty and broken. This is too much to take. My heart is in turmoil”.
As a mother, she said she did everything within her power to save her daughter but it was too late because those (Premier Academy) she entrusted with the responsibility to look after her daughter did nothing to help her, rather they shielded a suspected pedophile and later embarked on a media stunt to safe their face.
“You would have noticed that since my daughter died, instead of the management of Premiere Academy, Lugbe, to allow my family to grieve and mourn her, Premiere Academy, Lugbe, Abuja has been preoccupied with wanting to look good to the public rather than work to bring out the rapist.
“Premiere Academy, Lugbe, Abuja has put the business interest of the school above the life of my 14 year old girl. They have even tried to tarnish her image with ugly stories.”
According to her explanation, management of the school had knowledge of her daughter’s condition (that she was raped in the school) and despite effort by Keren who had earlier made a distress call appealing to her to come and take her home, the school authority told her that there was no cause to worry that she was fine. But this was not so as it was an attempt to buy them time to manage the situation and sweep it under the carpet. But a concerned staff from the school had informed her of her daughter’s condition and had insisted that she come take her home.
She said: “On the 22nd day of June 2021, my 14 year old daughter, Keren-Happuch Aondodoo Akpagher died. Keren-Happuch whom I fondly call Didoo, was a boarding student of Premiere Academy, Lugbe, Abuja.
“On the 18th June 2021, my daughter had informed me that she had an eye infection and asked me to come and pick her by 5pm same day. But her teacher, whose phone was used, advised that I come pick her on Saturday, 18th of June 2021, being a call day to avoid landing her (teacher) in trouble since her phone was used.
“On the 19th day of June, being an official call-weekend, Keren-Happuch called me, begging that I come to pick her as she was ill with an eye infection. I called the school matron to secure an exeat on the 19th day of June for Keren, but was told Keren would be placed in isolation for seven days on her return from home. The matron suggested an alternative of the school driving her to the clinic and taking her back to avoid isolation.
“After her treatment, Keren was distraught when she learnt that she was going back to school and begged to go home with me. I promised her I will secure an exeat from the school and pick her. I called the principal, who agreed to give her one.
“Following that assurance from the principal, I got to Premiere Academy, Lugbe on the same day at about 1pm to pick my daughter, but wasn’t granted permission to pick her. The matron assured me that they were taking good care of her and that she was fine.
“Following assurances by the matron, I left without my daughter. However, while heading back home on the said 19th day of June, I received a call from a concerned staff of the school, telling me that my daughter was badly sick and seriously distressed in school on Wednesday, the 16th day of June 2021 with inability to walk without assistance of some of her friends, who helped her to class to write a continuous assessment test in tears.
“The caller told me to disregard claims made by the matron that my daughter was not sick, insisting that she was in dire straits and needed to be taken away from school immediately.
“The caller advised me to come to the gate and make a lot of noise to constitute a nuisance otherwise I would not be allowed to take my daughter away.
“Alarmed at this information, I returned to school around 2.30pm or thereabout, constituting a nuisance at the gate for the next three hours or thereabout as well as calling the phone numbers of the school’s principal and matron before I was finally allowed to take my daughter away for medicare.
“Three days after I took away my daughter, she died in a hospital in Abuja on the 22nd day of June 2021. But, before Keren’s death, the hospital discovered that she had been raped, condom left in her vagina, which had caused an infection that resulted to sepsis and trauma that led to her demise.”
Raped and broken, till her life was abruptly cut short in one of the most brutal and unimaginable manner, Keren Happuch was adjudged to be godly, intelligent and a reserved girl. Even management of her school attested to it.
Before her death, Keren had marked a portion in her Bible- a self-explanatory of the trauma and depression she might then be passing through in silence.
It reads: “For what I have dreaded has come upon me, And what I have feared has befallen me. “I have had no peace, no quiet, no rest, but trouble keeps coming”- quotes from Job 3 vs 25, 26:
Her dream of becoming a nurse to use her kindness and good nature to nurse people and bring them back to good health ended up in the hands of a rapist who snatched that dream away from her.
“The Keren I know, was a very good girl. Academically she was sound. She was always on her own. She has never appeared before any disciplinary committee for any reason. She was very reserved”, a school official and Enrollment and Marketing Officer, Mrs Lilian Agbodike, who spoke at the instance of the head of the school told THISDAY.
Allegations against Premier School
The mystery behind her death has continued to spark heated debates, rife with conflicting theories, attempted manipulation and false inventory of evidence by concerned parties, a situation that has been described as clearly a display of vested interests- interests that are disservice to the course of Justice.
Coalition of Gender Based Violence Responders, a body currently investigating the incident, has accused the school management and the police of an attempt to stampede justice. The group told THISDAY in an interview that certain people have been making attempt to keep information very quiet, just as they suspect that the delay in releasing information and making available the autopsy result at the right time could as well defeat the purpose of investigation into Karen’s death.
That the police has refused to release medical reports to the family of the deceased almost a month after her death, is enough proof to corroborate their claims that certain persons are bent at destroying available evidence that will lead to the root of the crime.
Nonetheless, the Centre for Gender Based Violence Responders has vowed to pursue the case to the latter, saying Keren’s death would not be one that would just be added to existing statistics of child rape, and so it is doing everything within its power to ensure that the culprit are brought to book.
The group has also said it was well equiped with damning evidence that will expose some of the dark activities going in Premier Academy.
Leader of the group, Mr Lemmy Ughegbe told THISDAY that the group has already petitioned Human Rights Commission to launch a full scale investigation into Premier Academy, Lugbe into the death of Karen and allegation of sundry sexual abuses in the school, where he alleged that, “even teachers are abused too by superior teachers”.
He said not only is there a oath if silence in the school where students have been coerced not to speak out but also disturbing is the continual shielding of perpetrators by management of the school.
Since her death, the investigation has become almost a white whale for armchair detectives and conspiracy theorists. While, CGBVR has insisted that Keren was allegedly raped in the school, and that the school authority are in the know and are investing resources to sweep the case under the carpet to save the school the embarrassment, management of the school has vehemently denied that the crime was committed by any of its staff. They have also denied record of such incident in the school in the past.
Investigation to unravel the actual cause of her death has turned into a game of interests by people in authority allegedly attempting to undermine ongoing findings, just as countless attempts to muzzle out human rights group through various means, including threats to life and that of their immediate families have continued to be part of a plot to silent voice of dissent.
“The Police itself has been a primary party in trying to muffle up information. Giving advantage to a prime suspect in the rape that led to the death of the 14 year old girl, the group had alleged, said Mr. Lemmy.
Keren was said to have fallen sick on 16th July when she drew the attention of the school authority to her condition and requested that she be allowed to go home to her mother but her request was not granted.
On the day in question (16th June), it was reported that she was unable to walk to class for her continous assessment test. Her classmate had to support her to class because she couldn’t walk on her own. She was said to have written the test that day in tears and in pains.
After the mother was able to get her child, based on the advice of the informant in the school, findings by this newspaper have revealed that it took the school three and half hours to get Keren to the mother after she had screamed continually at the gate for them to release her daughter.
An official of the school confirmed the delay when she told THISDAY that the delayed was caused due to official exit protocol in the school. But this was days after they had told her mother that Keren was in good shape and nothing was wrong with her.“Later that day, she requested to go home on weekend. Maybe she wanted to go home from the hospital but she was brought back because there was no exit (permission from the school) to allow her leave.
She said it was at this time that Keren called her uncle to tell her mother that she wanted to come home for the weekend and a permission was granted that same day.
When THISDAY visited Premier Academy Lugbe to confirm incident, the school denied allegations that it was conniving with the police to stampede ongoing investigation. An official of the school told this newspaper that the only time the school had contact with the police was on the two occasions they were invited by the police.
“The second time the school went there was when our male teachers were invited. The issue of statement of conniving with the police, I don’t think it is true”, she said.
But could the police have acted on its own without a complainant before going after protesters demanding for justice for an innocent teen who was raped and eventually died? Observers have said police action has yet again raised suspicious.
Was Keren Raped in School and by Who?
Even as preliminary findings have shown that late Keren was sexually assaulted given the time frame of the incident and the time she last left home, authorities of the school have vehemently denied the involvement of their staff. They have also denied record of such incident in the school in the past.
But findings by this newspaper have shown that no less than four staff of Premier Academy have been either sacked or suspended indefinitely on grounds of sexual related offences and abuse.
A document obtained by THISDAY revealed that the school had on 19th February this year, barely three months before Keren’s death, suspended a Physical and Health Education teacher on allegations of sexual related offence. The document which was signed by head of Academy, Mr Chris Akinsowon, had directed the teacher to hand over all the school property in his possession and proceed on indefinite suspension without pay.
While this could establish a ground for indictment against the school, an ex-student, Amina Tamina (not real name) had through an audio record obtained by THISDAY revealed that the school has become notorious for sexual abuse and molestation. She alleged that the school still harbours no less than three identified pedophiles.
She said she felt guilty for not coming out to report the school when she was still a student. Amina accused the school management of covering up for staff engaged in the act. She has also vowed to help expose the rest of these staff, just as she alleged that the current Head Teacher of the institution is aware of the activities of these staff.
“She didn’t have to die. I feel guilty. I don’t know why. Like I said I am an ex-student. When I was in Premiere, honestly there was problem of pedophiles. I can see that as of today, they still have three known pedophiles in the school. I think one of them is still head of house or so, I can’t really remember.
“Please if there is anything I can do to help please, I feel for some reasons very guilty for not reporting those staff”.
She said both staff, drivers and cleaners were involved in abusing minors in the school. “It was a whole bunch of pedophiles in the school that were taking care of kids. And the Vice Principal (Now Head Teacher) knew about this. The ED, that short woman knew about this. They all knew about this but everybody just kept it hush hush”
“I know of one Mr Alade and one Hausa teacher. Mr Alade was sacked. He asked one girl in my set to come to his office. Obviously you know what and she reported. She said even at that, there was delibrate attempt by fellow staff to sweep this particular case under the carpet and even accused the victim of seduction.
“Also the Hausa teacher was also sacked. I would say that Premier Academy is guilty of carelessness and negligence to their students when it comes to having pedophiles around.”
Also leader of Coalition of Gender Based Violence Respondents told THISDAY that they “know of a cook who was sacked”. I am emphasising the P.H.E teacher because before they could put their house in order, and begin to lock up everywhere and hide things, we were able to get this particular photocopy of this letter of sack”, he said.
There is the Possibility Keren was Raped in School- Official
Whether or not Karen was raped in her school, is still a subject of debate but preliminary examination from medical reports obtained so far has established that she was raped in her school. A school official who spoke with THISDAY and who had earlier denied knowledge of such incidents in school before she was confronted with credible information, was neither here nor there.
She said whenever the school suspects any move that goes against official ethics, it acts on it by deploying preventive measures.
“I have never heard about molestation. I have been here for a very long time. I have never heard of molestation from a staff, teaching or none teaching staff. But the only thing as a student, I come to you as a teacher after class for further explanation, the school frowns at it because anything can happen. The school is very proactive. So when they see situation that can lead to anything, they try to manage it. “
Asked if she was aware of staff being sacked or suspended on allegations of sexual harassment or molestation, she said: “You know anything I read on social media, I don’t take it seriously because people give unverified information. Ok now, the autopsy was done on Wednesday and they said the result would be out in two weeks time. We are still waiting for the result but the next morning we saw a result from them, I don’t know where they got that one from, so whatever they are saying, I don’t take it seriously. As far as I am concerned, they are not reliable. The test was carried out by a neutral person. “
On whether Keren was raped in the school, she said it was possible it happened in the school but not a staff of the school. “Even if it happened here in the school, it was not Premier Academy, it was somebody. I think if the result is out and it happened here, the culprit would be dealt with”, she told THISDAY.
Meanwhile findings by this newspaper and preliminary results from the autopsy that was carried corroborated the medical report on how Keren died. Our findings have shown that Keren was in Premiere Academy in Lugbe for at least six weeks before she fell so sick before it was discovered that was raped. There is a common ground that she was raped in Lugbe. There was common ground in the laboratory and medical report that condom was in her which led to her being infected.
Keren was at age 9 diagnosed a diabetic type 1. Which means she was vulnerable to candidiasis and toilet infection.
“By the calculation, five days after sexual assault of this nature, sepsis would set in. Now the fifth day was when she became terrible sick and she was rushed to the hospital. Sepsis is very fertile within two days of it settling in and it is deadly. Two days after this happened, she died”, her mother had narrated.
Verified medical reports have also proven that condom cannot stay in a woman private part for more than 7 days. The condom caused sepsis and available medical reports have also shown that Keren died as a result of these complications between this time frame.
Which means, if Keren was in the school for six weeks before the incident, there is no way she may have been raped outside the school.
Police Alleged Complicity and Threats to Life
Meanwhile Center for Gender Based Violence Respondents has also accused the police of an initial plot to compromise the results of autopsy. The group alleged that the action of the police has betrayed an hidden agenda among some officials of the FCT Command to temper with available evidence.
“The Police that on July 3rd, 2021, autopsy was scheduled, by the pathologist in collaboration with the Police. Unfortunately, the pathologist, Dr. Desmond Ike Okonkwo, who is of the Maitama General Hospital, Abuja, who was appointed by the police to carryout the autopsy, requested for a copy of the medical report, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, in the FCT Command, Fom Pam Joseph, said it was not necessary and refused to release it.
The group wonders how the police should take the place of the doctor.
“He wanted to direct how autopsy should be conducted. He is not a Doctor, he is not a Pathologist, he is just a Police Officer. Because of that, the autopsy scheduled for 3rd of July, 2021, was stalled, it was frustrated, it did not hold. Because the DCP Fom Pam Joseph, refused to do the needful.”
Leader of the group, Mr Lemmy said this became a cause of worry for the coalition and observed that this was clearly a display of vested interest. “Why would a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) frustrate an autopsy that builds on a medical report?, he asked.
“Take note again that the DCP has ensured that the mother of the child that is dead does not have a medical report of her daughter.
Those two facts are the reasons the Coalition is alarmed!
Is Fom Pam Joseph now the Public Relations Officer of Premier Academy? Image maker? Wanting to protect Premier Academy by disallowing the mother of this child to have a medical report? Whereas the mother of this child paid for all the medical treatment of this child!
What is his rationale? He doesn’t want her to have it so that she does not also share it with the press.
He frustrated the autopsy initially slated for July 3rd, 2021″
“So we have put everybody on their toes by talking about preliminary findings. If anything, you can only expand your autopsy report, you can expand the details to when you suspect that it would have happened. But you can not change basic findings. One basic findings that could not be argued by any of the sides, is the fact that she was raped. There is no argument about that.”
Mr Lemmy had also alleged threat to his life and that of members of his family. He said some security personnel suspected to be from the DSS have been trailing him and have gone as far as contacting his wife in her office. He said the men in question may have been on illegal duty because the DSS would not have acted that way if they were truly on official assignments.
“There is a high power play in this matter, in a bid to intimidate and just truly cover up a lot of shenanigans. When we reported to the DCP through the OC Gender, she said it was the DCP that wanted to see us, so she went to the DCP and came back to tell us that the DCP said he had a cold and therefore is not disposed to talking to us that, if and whenever they need us they would send for us so we left.
“I went to submit a petition to the Human Rights Commission, asking the Commission to do its work of launching a full scale investigation into Premier Academy, Lugbe, one, into the death of that child; two, a full scale investigation into allegation of sundry sexual abuses in the school, a Channels Television Crew decided to interview me, and I was talking with them when we saw two power bikes, with a Nissan DSS Patrol Van and four hefty men inside two persons each on the superbikes, then as we finished the interview, a DSS guy huge and masked blocked my way and said someone wants to see me.
“I protested, who wants to see me? Then a lady stepped forward and was asking if there was a problem. I then replied, does it seem to you there’s a problem here?
The lady was now asking me, what they are doing is it right? I replied, what you are doing is wrong. You are breaching our constitutional right guaranteed under Section 35 to Section 39 that gives us the right to hold an opinion, express ourselves, and to speak, he told THISDAY.
National Human Rights Commission Steps in
While all parties involved in the investigation are awaiting the full outcome of the autopsy, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has said that it would investigate Premiere Academy over allegation of rape in the school, with a condom left in her uterus by the rapist, which infected her with sepsis and resulted in her death on June 22.
The Executive Secretary of the Commission, Tony Ojukwu, made this disclosure after receiving a petition from the group led by its leader, Mr. Lemmy calling for a full-scale investigation of the rape of Keren-Happuch in order to identify the rapist and bring him to justice.
He said: “I wish to thank the coalition for not taking laws into its hands and I assure you that the commission would investigate the content of the petition lodged by the coalition. We have seen and read about this case on social media. But your petition has come in and you have itemised the concerns. We shall look into it thoroughly,’ Barrister Ojukwu said.
“You have done the right thing by not taking laws into your hands. We shall investigate your petition with a view to deciding whether or not to accede to the prayers contained therein,’ he added.
“The Commission takes matters like this very seriously and we must all continue to seek safe spaces for children as they go out in search of education in our schools”, he assured.