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As we kiss and hug family into the new year, spare a thought for Mrs Vivian Akpagher whose daughter was assaulted at her boarding house in June 2021 and lost to death as a result of complications from the assault. For the mother of Keren-Happuch Aondodoo Akpagher, this holiday was spent fighting for justice and nursing the inexplicable pain of losing a child – whose death raises many questions about the safety of children in schools in Nigeria.
In July 2021, Document Women reported details and timelines surrounding the death of Keren, a 14-year-old boarding student of Premier Academy, Lugbe, Abuja. According to lab tests and hospital reports, her death was a result of hyperglycemia triggered by sepsis. Hospital reports also showed that a broken condom was left inside Keren before she died. In addition, dead spermatozoa were also discovered in her urine. Both of these were believed to be responsible for the infection that later killed Keren. Mrs Akpagher insists the cause of her daughter’s death was continual sexual assault in the school. A gruelling six months of more questions than answers, Mrs Akpagher hasn’t stopped demanding and now she’s calling the attention of the general public to ensure that her daughter gets the needed justice.
In Nigeria, it is not uncommon to look to social media for justice, with less than a hundred rape convictions versus the reality that reported rape cases in 2020 alone rose to 11,200 cases at the peak of the lockdown, the governments can be said to pay lip service to the so-called war against gender-based violence. Schools have not proven to be a safe space for children – especially the girl child. Keren’s mother alongside other members of the family has had to rely on social media to get justice – including the reports that there are alleged plots made by Lugbe Academy to cover up the death of their daughter. The school however insisted in an official statement that there was no such thing and offered condolences to the Akpagher family. Premier Academy also promised to look into Keren’s death. More than six months following the release of the statement, there however is no concrete evidence pointing to Premier Academy being proactive in uncovering the culprit behind Keren’s death. Yet again, as in the case of Ini Umoren, it is Nigerians on social media that are inquisitive about seeking justice for her.
Sadly, Keren’s death and subsequent lack of attention by school authorities, follows a tradition of young girls and boys being raped, bullied and even killed whilst in schools in Nigeria with zero accountability. In early 2018, there was outrage on social media following reports that Mr Adegboyega Adenekan, a supervisor in Chrisland School raped a child who was less than three years old. Although a doctor confirmed that the child who was ostensibly named “Child X” to protect her identity, was raped, the authorities at Chrisland School released statements and subsequently took actions that protected the teacher first before the student. Even though Mr Adenekan was sentenced in 2019 to sixty years in prison, while recounting the story in an interview granted to Cable NG, the mother of “Child X” reported that in her words: “Chrisland teachers turned me to an enemy”.
Nigerian schools have a long and dark history of sexual abuse by teachers and school authorities. However, in secondary schools, student to student sexual assault is not uncommon. It is also not uncommon to hear horror stories of acts of bullying which ideally should seem inconceivable to students who are mostly under sixteen. Horrific stories like the death of Sylvester Oromoni, 12-year-old student of Dowen College, Lagos. According to accounts from the Oromoni family, five boys accosted Sylvester and gave him a chemical to drink which led to his untimely death. Dowen College – which has been closed indefinitely – disputed the statement, saying that Sylvester’s death was caused by injuries sustained while playing football.
An almost similar case happened to Don Davis, a student at Deeper Life High School. According to reports made by his mother in December 2020, he was raped and bullied by other boys and again, there was a concerted effort made by Deeper Life to silence both of them. Again, it had to take the outrage of Nigerians on social media to ensure sustained attention to the issue.
For those like Edwin Okolo who live long enough to tell the story of sexual abuse faced in secondary schools, healing from the damages caused often is a lifelong process that never stops. It calls for questioning that Nigeria, which claims to be a country that loves the birth of children, does not take active steps to protect the rights of children. For one, of all thirty-six states in the country, eleven are yet to pass and assent to the ratifications demanded in the Child Rights Act and Violence Against Person(Prohibition) Act. It is increasingly becoming commonplace for news of the death of children below fifteen to become flattened to hashtags with no hope of justice outside the unified voices of non-relatives on social media.
What institutions make concerted efforts to protect children? in schools, in places of worship or even at home? Seemingly none. Analysing the official UNICEF report on child abuse in Nigeria, one can conclude the home may be the most violent place, especially for a girl child. 1 in 4 girls according to it, stands the risk of encountering sexual violence in the home. If the smallest unit of society, the family, protects abusers at the expense of the protection of the children, how uncommon is it that that culture seeps through the cracks of the larger society? There is a direct link to be made between a society that is inherently violent to children in the home and a society whose educational, religious and government institutions make no provisions for the protection of children from the violence of adults.
Keren, Sylvester, Don Davis and “Child X” are more than just names. These children point to a dent in the emotional fabric of our nation. The indifference of the schools to their cases of assault and death will only continue if no institutional efforts are directed at perpetrators of the heinous crime of covering crimes and bullying parents into silence.