The death of 14-year-old Keren-Happuch Aondodoo Akpagher of Premier Academy has continued to raise dust, even as interested parties continue to trade blames. In response to THISDAY’s recent feature on the hullabaloo, the school’s acting principal Chris Akinsowon said Keren’s death could be linked to how her doctor managed ill health in this interview with Emameh Gabriel.
Are you aware of a medical report that explained what led to Keren’s death?
I am not aware of any medical report. The only medical report was the report from Queens Hospital, which we were confronted with when invited to the police command. In that report, certain areas were underlined, and they were saying they found a condom — decayed condom —and live spermatozoa. They said the doctor of the clinic refused to release the report. When we went for the autopsy, we were told that the chief pathologist was asking for the medical report from Queens clinic, at least for us to know what killed the girl. Left for me, I wanted that autopsy to be carried out that day. Because sometimes, they pick a corpse from the road, and they take the corpse for autopsy. You can still carry out an autopsy without a medical report. I think the pathologist that the police picked was the one who insisted that he could not do it without a medical report.
Did you take any step further to dig more about this report?
We made some moves. The first day the news of her death was announced, we went there. The school was shut down. We had an emergency assembly, and our flag was flying at half-mast. We were all there — about 18 of our staff. The next day we went there, and we dropped a letter of condolence.
But you’ve been accused of showing no empathy?
It is all lies. We dropped a letter of condolence with the two sons. We were told the mother was not at home, so we left. The next day again, we were there. But members of the school were turned back from the gate. I don’t know why. Even the school matron was there with them, and they said they didn’t want to see anybody. It was that same day a letter came from the police command inviting us to the command. The first day we couldn’t talk. The second day was when we were able to ask some questions. Can we meet with doctors? Can we conduct an autopsy? We don’t want the body buried. We want the case investigated. Every other avenue were blocked. Even the PTA, about five or six of them went there that same evening but were not allowed to go in.
Did you contact the police for any reason?
Who took us to the police? We know the police from nowhere. We went there for justice; her mother gave a statement against us. We explained our own side of the story, and we were asked to put it in writing. Then we wrote our statement. The truth will always be constant. It was after we had written the statement that the deputy commissioner now said the investigation would not be limited to Premier Academy. We will go to their house, the neighbourhood, everywhere and then take this thing up.
Why would the police attempt to halt a planned protest by a rights group?
I don’t know anything about that area. I will only talk about what I know. How can we, the suspects, now be telling the police to do this or that? It won’t be fair. We have nothing to hide. We are more interested in getting to the root of this matter. If the case is not investigated and we are not getting to its root, is it to our own advantage? No. Our children are at home now. Over 400 of them, and the next thing we heard was that these children were made to take an oath of secrecy. Who does that? Little children, for God’s sake.
Have you contacted Keren’s mother to help her pull through this grieving moment?
We are also mourning Keren. The mother is a very nice woman. I don’t have any problem with her. For the little time I have interacted with her before this incident, it is clear she is nice a woman. She has referred several parents to this school. We had no issue. So if this thing happened this way, I should also be asking her questions. What has led to this? Why are we at this point? Who is doing something in the background? Who is telling her something? I don’t know. In all of this, all I know is that she is grieving, and we are grieving too. We had expected that the mother joined hands with the school because we don’t know where this is coming from. We should have joined our heads together and get to the root rather than fighting each other. We are not fighting her, but she seems not to be comfortable with anything about Premier Academy now.
How many of her children were here before the incident?
Before now, they were three. One graduated. Two were here before now. The elder brother of the girl is in SS3. He is supposed to be writing WAEC now, but we have not seen him.
Did you know the boy is ing his SSCE examination?
I am not aware.
You have not contacted the examination body on why they allowed him to sit his examination outside the school?
No. We wrote a mail to the mother that we have not seen this boy and that she should please try and get back to us. Why are people like this? The examination body never told us. She (the mother) never told us. We were not informed. He was enrolled here. The examination body is supposed to get back to us if the mother is not the one doing that.
You have about 54 CCTC cameras installed on the school premises. Have you taken your time to go through them?
Have the police been allowed access to them?
What exactly did they find?
I can’t explain. Maybe when you go down after the interview, we will open it for you to watch.
Keren called her mother on a particular date that she was sick. You and the matron told her she was fine. Was she really sick before she left the school, and what happened after that call?
It was alleged that she was supported. But I saw her (CCTV evidence) going to the school, walking by herself and coming back. On the 19th, the day she left the school, she was also okay. She walked out of the school by herself. That was the day the mother came to pick her. Keren came here as a diabetic patient. She was twice daily on insulin injection. She was insulin-dependent. She had type 1 (diabetes). When she came, the mother told us that she used to take her injection herself, but we discovered that she was getting tired of the injection along the line. What we normally did was, because she played a prank on a nurse one day, we used to stand and watch her take it.
We don’t know of the condom. If we knew of a condom, we would have removed it. The girl left the school, and she was fine. She never complained of high temperature for the school to know that she had an infection. An infection will not just start today and kill her in less than 24 hours without any symptoms. All I know is that I still blame whatever happened on her diabetic condition and possibly her inability to take her insulin as scheduled.
She was at the clinic to report that she has started developing redness in one of her eyes. She used to have eye issues like that. If it was there before, I am sure she would have complained to the clinic when she took the test and her insulin injection. So, eyedrop was applied to her eyes. By the school’s policy, it is after 24 hours — if you are handling a child and when there is no sign of improvement that you will inform the parents. Because no matter the drugs you are using, it won’t work immediately. You have to give it time. The mother called on Friday morning and told the matron that her daughter called her to complain about her eyes, and she was told that was right. Keren was taken to an eye clinic by the school as approved by her mother. In the clinic, she identified her mother, and the school nurse handed her to her mother, and she took her to see an ophthalmologist. They gave her some eye drops. After that, the mother handed her back to the nurse, and they came back to school in a stable condition.
That same Saturday, when the matron was leaving the school, Keren ran to her and asked if her mother was still coming to pick her. She was asked why was she insisted on going and Keren said she just wanted to go home for the weekend. She was fine till she left school. I guessed when she ran back to the hostel, she called her mother. The mother later put a call across to the matron that she still wanted to come and pick Keren, stating that she had been disturbing her since she got back from the hospital. Immediately, an exeat was prepared for her. It was on Monday morning that she called the matron that Keren had became delirious. She told her the only reason that could make her delirious is that her sugar level was up.
Immediately, she started asking her questions as to what did she eat during the weekend because it had never happened to her in school. Then, she told the matron that her sugar level had shot up to 400. This is a child we had managed properly. Later on, she called the matron again, asking her to come with me to the hospital, saying that her child was traumatised in the school. I was out monitoring exams and directed one of the management staff to follow her to the hospital, Queen’s Clinic in Zone 6. When they got there, the girl was in a coma. They asked why the girl was in a coma. She said she was sedated because she was struggling. They could see she was struggling because her hands and legs were tied to the bed. My medical staff were not comfortable with that, and the matron asked her how well she knew the hospital.
She said she knew them very. They asked if she thought they should move her out of the hospital. She said no, that she was okay with the hospital. That was when she told the matron that they found a decayed condom in her. According to the doctor, the decayed condom cost infection in her blood that triggered her hyperglycemia and that when they took the urine sample, they equally saw dead spermatozoa in her. The matron was surprised and requested that she wanted to see that doctor because the condom is latex and can’t get decayed. If it was decayed, it could have taken months or years, and there would not have been any spermatozoa samples there again. So, she couldn’t marry the two. But they told her that the doctor had closed. She didn’t see the items, and she couldn’t see the doctor to ask questions. She wanted to see the doctor because, at this time, she said Keren was not breathing properly to the extent that she was looking for oxygen in the wall. But she could not raise her voice because it was not our facility. If she had remained here, if she never went home on that Saturday 19th, possibly she would have been alive by now.
What makes you think she would have been alive?
Because she was well-managed here, the matron and the nurses followed on her per minute, per second. Keren was a friend to the staff in the clinic. The doctors knew her very well. In the kitchen, they knew her very well. They monitored the food she ate. She didn’t take the ordinary biscuits. She had special biscuits. The house mother was aware of this. When they saw her taking what she was not supposed to take, they took it from her. We didn’t take the health of our students with levity. If you go to the clinic, we have everything there. We have oxygen. We have a doctor, and we have the national hospital as our referral clinic.
Are you alleging the clinic mismanaged her condition?
Of course. As the matron said, the mother said she was delirious. When she got to the hospital to see her, the girl was in a coma. She asked why was she in a coma, and Keren’s mother told her she was sedated because the girl was struggling. Medically, I wasn’t comfortable with that. Then secondly, she said they saw a decayed condom and samples of spermatozoa in her urine. I don’t think a medical doctor should use a decayed condom when we know latex cannot decay. I don’t know what he saw for him to have made that statement. A doctor who was nursing a teenager in a comatose state should be available to monitor the child’s progress. At that point, since she was a teenager, she should have been handled by a paediatric endocrinologist, of which I don’t think the doctor is. So that is why we feel she would have been moved to another facility. This was suggested to the mother right in the hospital, but she said it was fine because she had been using the place.
The allegation now is that Keren was raped on the school’s premises. Has anything like this happened in the school before?
This is the first time such an allegation was levelled against the school. No child has been raped here. No child has been molested here.
You never had any of your staff suspended on any issue related to this?
Yes, we suspended, and in some cases, later on, we dismissed. We don’t need to wait. We monitor; we monitor ourselves. As we are checking the students, we are also checking the adults. When we observe that there is certain communication that we consider unprofessional between a student and a teacher, we do the needful when a discussion is becoming not normal. It was just a talk, careless talk. When we took the decision, we were not under pressure. We were not under duress. It was in line with our school policy. Before we took the decision, the staff in question was asked to embark on indefinite suspension pending the time we would resolve the subject. He faced a disciplinary committee, and he was let go.
Has this incident in any way affected the school’s image?
No. Our students know the truth. They got home to tell their parents the truth. Even when the police came, we left them with the police after taking permission from their parents. They were free. They took their statements and did everything. They were the ones who told us that on the 10th of April there was a birthday party organised for her somewhere and on the 14th, she was picked by her uncle and didn’t return to school until the 25th. She died a month later. Our story here is that she was not raped in the school. If rape had occurred here, the brother, who is a senior student, would know. When the matron visited the mother after Keren died, she told her that when she came home that she was fine, but she was a little bit withdrawn. That she slept for a long time because she liked sleeping that was she didn’t bother to disturb her. She said nothing was wrong with her until 4:00 a.m. on Monday morning.