Column Opinion

Keren And Sylvester: So Similar, Yet So Different

By Zainab Suleiman Okino

As bad as abuse of minors is, the Nigerian factor which makes it almost impossible to bring offenders to account, leaves families of victims distraught and unable to find closure.  Such is the tragedy of the family of Keren Happuch Akpagher, a 14-year-old student of Premier Academy, Lugbe Abuja, who died on 22nd June 2021, after an alleged abuse that complicated her health (she was diabetic), and subsequently led to her death. Six months after the controversial death, no one has been arrested.

Before the young lad died, her mother (Mrs Vivienne Akpagher), picked her from school, after she was alerted by a teacher about her daughter’s deteriorating health, and took her to hospital. The diagnosis and series of tests conducted by the hospital revealed a decayed condom and dead spermatozoa in her virginal, an indication of abuse and complication that precipitated her death. Since then, there has been back and forth between Keren’s mother who felt the school was complicit and the school authority. The school is in denial of any wrongdoing, but at the same time has not given a convincing account of what went wrong with the teenager whose parents entrusted in their care. 

While the parties involved in the Keren case is still dilly-dallying over who did what, elsewhere in Lagos, a near similar case happened, and genuine efforts are ongoing to unravel the facts of the case. Sylvester Oromoni, a 12-year-old boarding student of Dowen College, Lekki, Lagos died at a hospital in Lagos on November 28. Although the school authority said Sylvester got injured while playing football, a video of the boy in pain, and twitter posts with pictures, by one Perrie, who identified himself as @perrisonoromoni, Sylvester’s cousin spilled the beans further. Perrie wrote:

 “This is my 12-year-old cousin that was beaten to death at a school that cost over 1 million naira. They called my uncle that he got injured playing football, but it was confirmed that he was being bullied and beaten up, causing internal damages. They tried to put him in a cult, he refused, and they killed him. They literally beat him to death. The 12-year-old was battered on Friday but died on Tuesday, after a series of tests and x-rays indicated that that he sustained internal injuries…the deceased had previously complained about pressures to join a cult group, but the young Oromoni only told his parents while in the hospital. Before his death, he reportedly said the school’s cult members threatened to kill him if he reported them”. 

In a nutshell, the two students’ controversial and suspicious deaths are basically the same. They suffered abuses within the school where they were boarders, although Keren’s case needs further investigation to ascertain where the abuse(s) took place. They were both underaged boarding students. They were both taken from their schools sick and died two and three days apart. In this case, their schools are culpable directly or indirectly, and have questions to answer, such that only a thorough investigations can reveal the facts of the matter, especially as it appeared that they (the school authorities) abdicated their responsibilities to protect the children under their care. The two schools expectedly were in denial. Dowen College said Sylvester was injured while playing football, but Premier Academy is shifting the blame. 

While Sylvester was able to speak up before his demise, Keren was probably too disoriented to make useful statements in the final hours before her death, but the test results speak volume. It therefore stands to reason that Keren’s school should, even without prompting, call for a full investigation including subjecting all their staff to scrutiny. It is in the interest of Premier Academy to ensure full disclosures and cooperate with security outfits to unravel the truth, and avoid hedging, in the absence of which the full wrath of the law should be brought to bear on the whole gamut of the case. 

Is it not because of the possibility of denial or human errors, that government exists for the people—rich or poor; ordinary or influential; high/mighty or wretched of the earth? Within a few days of the reported death of Sylvester, Lagos state government mobilised into action—the government closed the school, the people stood together in condemnation, law enforcement agencies moved into the “crime scene” to cordon off the school premises, while investigation  commenced in earnest. Already the accused have been brought to court and granted bail. We didn’t see any of these in the case of Keren in Abuja, the nation’s capital. Nothing should have stopped the FCTA from closing the Premier Academy to avoid tampering with the evidence. That is what being proactive is all about, and not in saying so.

Within one week of the news of Sylvester’s death, civil society activists, parents, media people all beamed the searchlight on Dowen College from different angles. That is how it should be. No one has been declared guilty, until the legal actions are exhausted.

In the absence of any coordinated approach led by the government, the poor parents of Keren, especially her mother, is left alone to not only mourn the passing of her only daughter, but to fight alone in order to know the cause of her daughter’s death, until a member of the House of Representatives, Mark Ghillah from Benue state mentioned the case in the Chambers, and the House directed a DNA tests of all those who came in contact with Keren. It came a little late, but a DNA test will set the record straight and the poor woman will have some form of closure to sooth her pain a bit.

Despite all odds, and in the face of pot shots thrown at her here and there, Keren’s mum has been speaking out.  I dare say it is within her legitimate right to do so, as one who had the last contact with her daughter.  I salute her courage for not crying in silence alone. In one of such interviews with ICIR, an investigative journalism medium, the red flags are conspicuous, as  Vivienne explained the doctor’s findings thus:
 “The discharge kept coming so the doctor (Amugo) removed it and told them to test it, so the doctor called me and said ‘madam, we have tested her urine, it is not discharge, it is a condom and her urine has dead spermatozoa’. At t

hat point, Keren had become partly unconscious and was still struggling.”Continuing, she said“… also, before Keren’s death, her mother said she talked about a ‘nurse’ in her school who asked her ‘if it was her first’. The nurse was eventually identified as Lois Bong. Bong was one of the last persons that gave insulin injection to Keren while she was in school. The ICIR found out that a few weeks after Keren’s death, Bong resigned from Premier Academy” 

As part of the ICIR interview, Vivienne also said Keren insisted on going home with her even as she added “someone in the school told me to disregard whatever the school management said and come and pick my daughter, because Keren could not even walk to the school on Wednesday, the 16th.”

All these are not by all means saying anyone is guilty yet. However, they give investigators head starts in their search for answers to the poor girl’s suspicious death. On Sylvester’s death, the case is already in court, while the school remains closed. That’s how it should be; this also explains the fact that the two cases might be alike because Sylvester and Keren are vulnerable minors, but the location of Lagos as the bedrock of citizens’ consciousness, activism, and government’s responsiveness to things like this make all the difference. No matter how long it takes, let justice be done.

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