‘Losing Keren hasn’t been easy for me and the students’
There have been allegations and counter-allegations over the death of Keren Akpagher, a student of Premiere Academy, Lugbe, Abuja, Keren Akpagher. Since the sad incident that occurred in June, neither the mother of the 14-year old girl nor the management of the school had come to terms with the reality of her demise. The controversies generated by her death have no doubt, aggravated the emotional and psychological trauma inflicted by her loss.
As much as the school struggle to exonerate itself from allegation of rape hanging on its neck, the grieving mother the young student, Vivien Akpagher, has called on relevant authorities to help her get justice. In a recent press conference in Abuja, Keren’s mother alleged raped, which she said led to the complications that claimed the life of her daughter. Meanwhile, an Abuja-based medical doctor, who treated late Keren before her death, had alleged that he discovered decayed condom and dead semen inside her private part. In this interview with Bridget Chiedu Onochie and Ernest Nzor, the Matron of the school Grace Salami, spoke on the relationship between the school and circumstances surrounding the death of her ex-student, who was type 1 Diabetes Mellitus patient.
AS the matron of Premiere Academy, how well do you know your male staff? Can you vouch for them?
Yes, I have been working in the school for about eight years. This is a private school and why most parents tend to choose private school over the public schools is because of the level of decency. Staffers have rules to follow, because in a private school, you don’t misbehave; if you do, you are shown the way out immediately. So, for the male staff of the school, of course, they are humans, but I can vouch for them that there is no one among them that can go to the extent of molesting a girl-child sexually.
Since this is a boarding facility, are there rules in the school that ensures male teachers are kept away from female hostels, especially at odd hours?
We do not have male staff that is resident in the school; we all live outside the school compound. The hostels are divided into four; we have girls’ hostels and the boys’ hostels. The girls’ hostel is further divided into two – the junior girls comprising of JSS 1 to 3 just and women are managing them. So, men are not allowed into the female hostel at any time.
Even after prep when they go back into the hostel, it is the female staff on duty that does that. Male staffers do not stay around the female hostel and female staffers don’t live around the boys’ hostel. We don’t have any staff living in the school.
But the doctor, who treated Miss Keren Akpagher alleged that he discovered decayed condom and semen inside her private part, though there was no one there to verify the claim. As the matron of the school, what’s your take on this?
I was actually there to verify, but I didn’t see anything. I didn’t see the doctor either; he was nowhere to be found. I was there at the Queens Clinic, Wuse Zone 6, for over two hours when I heard of it, but he was nowhere to be found. The girl’s mother called me, but I don’t want to believe that a doctor would want to conspire with the parent to destroy the school.
I don’t even think the doctor knows the school in the first place and I don’t think the woman has any reason to want to destroy the school. But I know something must have gone wrong somewhere, because when I got to the place, what they told me was that the doctor saw a decayed condom in the girl and that her urine contained dead spermatozoa. That statesman alone is contradictory because first, condom is not meant to decay. If you are a doctor and you are telling me you saw a decayed condom, there is something wrong. So, I couldn’t just take it.
I wanted to see the decayed condom. A condom can only change texture if it has been in a place for a very long time, but if it changes texture, it must have been there for may be, months or so. And at that point, I am not expecting to see spermatozoa in there again; either dead or alive. So, the story didn’t add up to me and that was the reason I asked to see the doctor, but I was told he has closed for the day.
Are you implying you have not been able to see the doctor till date for a clarification on his claim?
I have not been able to reach him. I promised to return the visit next morning, but the girl died early morning of that next day. Medically, I cannot meet the doctor, because anything medical is confidential. I needed an approval from the mother possibly to speak with the doctor that I was coming to check those things out, but when we visited her after we lost our dear girl, her mother was still mourning. So, there was no need discussing such with her.
We went back to her the next day and I wanted to ask her to give me the doctor’s contact, but we did not meet her at home. We repeated the visit on the third day, but we were turned back from her gate; they couldn’t let us in the moment they heard we were from the school. Since then, it has not been easy for me to meet her.
What’s the sleeping arrangement in the school, are there common sleeping area or there are private rooms?
Not at all, the hostel is opened because it is a dormitory style. It is not like one or two students in a room; we have up to four or more in a room.
Since the incident, have you, as the school Matron, confided in your female student to find out if there had been cases of molestation in the past?
Of course, I have done that, because I went to the hospital that day and left at about 7pm. I got to the school at about 8pm and did not go home immediately; I started asking questions. Although, I was almost 100 per cent sure that such a thing did not happen here, I still did my internal investigations.
The students are free with me; they tell me lot of things, especially the particular girl, because she has a condition that brought her to the clinic twice a day. So, there was nothing too much for her to tell me. I have had some of them coming to discuss issues they wouldn’t even tell their mothers at home because of the way I usually manage such issues. So, when it happened, I called some of her friends and other students randomly and they said nothing of such ever happened in the school.
She has an elder brother in the school that comes to me almost every day; they are both close to me. So, if something had happened to her in the school, she would have been free to tell her brother or her friend that ‘this person did this to me,” but there was nothing of such.
Did you consider instances where perpetrators of such evil tend to threaten their victims with severe punishment if they disclose their actions to anybody?
I know they can put fear in the children in other not to speak up, but in a school like this, even when they have bullying cases, they speak up. We have a committee for the girl-child of which I am a member. So, we always encourage them to speak out and I know there is nothing of such gravity that will happen to them and they will not speak up. At least, she would have confided in one person.
When the police came here on investigation, there were things her friends told them that shocked me. That showed that she had somebody she confided in and I know this wouldn’t have been an exception if it actually took place here.
Are there security measures in place to checkmate students’ movements after school hours?
That’s why I say that most people choose private schools, because we know that most government schools are weak in terms of monitoring students. But here, we have over 10 staff on duty daily. After dinner, they move to the classroom for prep under strict supervisions and from there, they are brought back to the hotels.
The female staffers are responsible for taking the students to the entrance of their hostels; we have parents who receive them into the hostels. So, at that point, there is no way a child would be missing that it will not be noticed.
Do you have CCTV cameras installed in the school?
Yes, we have 54 monitoring cameras; the students and staff are being checkmate.
So, can you give us summary of what transpired between the school and the late Keren before she left the premises?
Yes, Keren came to the school in April 2019 into JSS 2. In a medical form usually given to parents to fill, it was stated that she had a type 1 diabetes mellitus, which was diagnosed when she was nine years old. Since then, she was on insulin injection twice daily.
We tried to manage her medically to best our ability. Even though she could inject herself, we gave her required supervision. I told my nurse that as a child, we had to encourage and supervises her and that was what we did throughout her stay, because sometimes, she could just be tired and would not want to take it.
She also came in with glucometer. So, we monitored her blood sugar level and her diet. If her blood sugar fluctuated, we switched her diet. We managed her efficiently until that June 17, when she came to the clinic to complain of redness of the eye. I saw it and treated her. I gave her eye drop, because it was a frequent occurrence.
The school policy is that if a child is sick, he or she comes to the clinic. If it is something we cannot handle, we refer immediately or we call the parents, but if it is something that can be managed, we run basic lab investigations and commence treatment, because we equally have a visiting doctor. So, we placed her on eye drop.
Part of the policy is that if there is no improvement after 24 hours, we call the parents, but her mother called on Saturday and asked that we take her to the hospital to see an ophthalmologist. That Saturday, a nurse went with her to the hospital and handed her over to her mother because I asked her to wait for us there because of the redness of the eye. After seeing the ophthalmologist, they gave her eye drops and the mother handed the girl over to the nurse to be brought back to school.
Apart from the eyes, she was very stable when they returned to the school. Her blood sugar on June 17 was 114; this is her record book and her handwriting. When she returned to the school that day, the nurse reported that she wanted to go home with her mother from the hospital, but she insisted she return to school. As I was leaving the school, the girl came to me, asking if her mother could come pick her. She said she just wanted to go for the weekend, but I told her could not grant her request since it was outside my jurisdiction.
That weekend was ‘phone call weekend’ when we allow them speak with their parents; we do that every two weeks. She went into the hostel to call her mother. Afterwards, her mother called to tell me that she would want to come and pick the girl, who had insisted that she come and pick her for the weekend. She also promised to return her the next day. So, an exit was issued and she came in and picked the girl on that Saturday, stable.
Monday morning, she called to tell me that her daughter became delirious that morning. For her to become delirious means her blood sugar must have gone up. I ask her what she ate over the weekend and she said she did not know. When she called back around 1p.m, her voice changed. She asked me to rush to the hospital that her daughter was traumatised in my school. But I reminded her that she said some hours ago that their daughter’s blood sugar shot up.
She was deeply in comma when I got to the hospital and the mother told me that she was struggling and the doctors restrained her. I had no problem with that because medically, when a patient is struggling, you can actually restrain the patience. But I was uncomfortable to hear that she was sedated. I ask her how well she knew the hospital and she said she knows them very well. I suggested we need to move from there, but she said she was satisfied with the place.
It was then she told me that the doctor saw decayed condom in her private part and dead spermatozoa in her urine. I wanted to see the doctor and see the items and for the doctor to explain what happened, but when she was seeing me out of the wards, she saw somebody outside that told her that doctor had closed for the day and I was wondering why the doctor handing such case should close on that girl’s condition. I stayed there till about 7pm without seeing the doctor or the things said to have been removed from her body.
The next morning when we heard about her death, we went to her house; she said she didn’t come out of comma. I asked her what happened when she came back home with the daughter that Saturday and she answered that she noticed that she took fruit before going to bed and that she woke up healthy on Sunday, that she even cooked for her younger brother that day. It was not until Monday morning around 4a.m that she asked for water to drink and when she finished drinking the water, she was still having her hand held up and she discovered that she was not responding coherently. It was at that point that she started monitoring what was happening and decided to take her to the hospital at about 5a.m. By the time they got to the hospital, her sugar level had gone to over 430.
That was what she told me the day we lost the girl before we were barred from visiting her and subsequently, we received a letter from the police command that she has petitioned the school. So, there was no way we could talk again. She knows how well we managed this girl in the past and if something went wrong, I felt that all of us should have joined hands to see the end of it.
Did she at any time say her daughter told her anything about assault?
I had asked her from that Monday I visited her in the hospital but she said ‘nothing,’ but that that she was only praying that she came out of comma so she could tell her whoever had assaulted her. I repeated the question when we go to her house on Tuesday and she said the girl never said anything to her.
With her health challenge, how was the school able to manage her?
We don’t have any challenge managing her; we never had any reason to call her mother. The only time I called her mother was when she refused taking her injection. She told me that we were just suffering her by making her take the injection, because her problem was rather spiritual.
I had to call her mother to help talk to her any time she was at home to disabuse her mind from whatever other impression she was having. We give students snacks once every week; we ensured her mother brought sugar-free biscuits because sugar free snacks are good for her health.
Since her mother doesn’t want to talk with you or any other staff of the school, what would you want to tell her through this medium?
All I have to tell her is, we are all mourning. Her death affected me more because, this is a girl I saw always and was so sure I was going to nurse her till she graduates from this school. I was thinking of encouraging her to even pick a medical course in the university so that she could take care of herself properly in future.
She was so close to me. Losing her was not easy for me in particular and for the students of the school. Some students collapsed; I had lots of patients in the clinic that day. I know she is going through a lot now, but what I want to tell her is that she should calm down; let every hand be on deck to get to the root of this. If she was raped, nobody will want to cover that up in this school. Of course, if she was actually raped outside the school, rapists are people that are most times, close to their victims.
So, she should look around the environment to know who was in girl’s life to be able to get to the root of this so that we don’t start pointing accusing finger at the wrong place when the right person is walking freely on the street. If she was raped, then there is one rapist out there that we need to bring to book. So, we all should work together. We all lost the girl, but we have to work together. She should please take it easy so that together, we can fight this battle to the end.
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