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Karen Akpagher and Premiere Academy: The “Truth” They Are Trying to Bury

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Karen Akpagher

By Noah Christopher

Nearly six months ago, Premiere Academy entered the media spotlight when news broke that one of its students, Karen Happuch Akpagher, had died in a hospital in Abuja.

The news of the death of the 14-year old diabetics’ patient which occurred on 22nd June 2021 soon became a hot issue as several media stories authoritatively claimed she was raped to death, sodomized and forced into an oath of secrecy to booth.

Expectedly, the Nigeria Police Force, first through the FCT Police Command and, later, the Office of the Inspector General of Police, promptly commenced investigations into the matter same June, leading to an autopsy conducted in July.

Several other government agencies such as the Ministry of Education, the Directorate of Quality Assurance, the National Human Rights Commission and a few other external bodies also waded into the case by conducting probes and investigations on diverse scales and to cover different angles.

The Premiere Academy PTA and Board also conducted internal investigations. However, despite all the probes, the answer to the key question of Who/What killed Karen has not been found. Interestingly, none of these probes has indicted the school or led to halting its operation.

Perhaps, tired of waiting for official police reports on the autopsy and investigation and seeking to prevent the issue from being swept into silence, Lemmy Ughegbe, an Abuja based journalist, human rights activist and school proprietor instantly activated his NGO, Coalition of Gender-Based Violence Responders, to promote the cause of championing justice for Karen Akpagher.

With Karen’s mother by his side, Lemmy Ughegbe and GBV Responders have launched coordinated multi-pronged advocacy spanning media and political institutions, with the aim of getting the death of Karen hanged on Premiere Academy.

The evidence, according to the media interventions by the group, is a report allegedly issued to the Akpagher family by Queen’s Hospital, Abuja that said decomposed condom particles were found in the late teenager’s genital, in addition to dead spermatozoa.

No audio or video recording of the victim accusing the school or any staff of raping or sexually molesting her; no notation on rape or sexual molestation in the victim’s diary (from which a few media stories have lifted entries); no conclusive report from the autopsy witnessed by all parties and supervised by the police; no report from the police or any private investigator has surfaced to back the claim of rape to date.

Perverting Cause of Justice…

In what appears like frustration by a failure of the coordinated campaign to nudge the relevant state and non-state institutions into a mob-styled condemnation of the school, the GBV Responders has further accused the school of blocking the Akpagher family from getting justice.

The coordinated social media campaign to push this viewpoint claimed because the owner of the school is a highly connected Nigerian, he was using his connection to obstruct justice for Karen.

However, to accuse a school that has opened its doors to and provided its officials for not less than 16 investigations, invitations, probes and interviews on this Karen matter by several interested bodies from June 25th to December 9th of persecuting the cause of justice seems unfair.

Curiously, a check at the school revealed that the GBV Responders that has been championing this claim was one of the NGOs that visited the school on July 3rd to conduct an investigation.

Others that have also visited the school, apart from the Police, include the Federal Competition & Consumer Protection Council (2nd July), Directorate of Quality Assurance, FCT Headquarters (2nd July), NAPPS, FCT Chapter (9th July), Abuja Municipal Area Council (9th July), Federal Ministry of Education (8th October), Association of Nigerian Female Students, FCT Chapter (22nd July), NANS, FCT Chapter (22nd July) and FCIID (Severally between 9th November and 9th December).

None of the visitors has accused the school of non-cooperation or obstructing investigation. This may be what has prompted the school to continue to declare that it has nothing to hide and would always welcome every noble effort made to get to the bottom of this sad event.

In trying to prove its innocence and disprove the charge of perverting the cause of justice, the school said it has written three letters to the police pleading for the public release of the autopsy report and report of investigation in the case.

From copies sighted, the first letter dated 27th August, 2021 was addressed to the FCT Police Command while two other letters dated 1st December, 2021 and 6th December, 2021 respectively were addressed to the Inspector General of Police. While the police acknowledged receipt of the three letters, it has not responded to any of them or granted the school’s prayer. It is doubtful if the school’s action fits the charge of obstructing the cause of justice

Twisting The Story To Fit A Purpose…

It appears in order to get the school hanged for the allegation of rape, efforts had to be made to show that Karen left the school premises on the 19th June in “serious pains and barely able to walk” (to quote a respected columnist and social commentator who has weighed in on the matter) when she went home, never to return to the school.

Facts are sacred. So, here are a few incontrovertible facts our investigation turned up on how Karen left the school campus on the fateful day.

First, she was picked from school by her mother in person (together with an uncle of hers who had always been coming to pick and drop her on the mother’s instruction). She walked out of the school gate unaided, carrying her luggage to meet her mother. Her mother received her; they rode in the same vehicle and was taken home by her mother.

It is doubtful that if she was in pain and unable to walk or manifesting any sign of unwellness, the mother would not make immediate contact with the school and/or take her straight to the hospital. But, the mother drove with her from the school without any complaint and they went home together.

Moreover, she was at home with the mother from 19th to 21st when the mother said she developed a health crisis that made her to be taken to the hospital IMMEDIATELY on the 21st.

School’s CCTV clips on YouTube (https://youtu.be/hqOa2jg_Ym8) shows Karen in school from 17th June to the moment she exited school on the 19th. Before leaving school, she went to see an ophthalmologist outside the school, on the mother’s instruction, same 19th June. School’s academic record also shows she wrote CA tests on Friday, 18th June.

Could a 14-year old have been so superhuman to hide her pains effortlessly and appear bubbly while undertaking all the multiple tasks that filled her day in the manner the late Karen did?

The late Karen, it should be recalled, was a Diabetics’ patient constantly under strict health watch. She had been diagnosed to be diabetic since age nine years.

DNA as a Way Pointer…

The House of Representatives has directed that a DNA test be conducted on all male staff of Premiere Academy, to fish out the alleged rape culprit. While the directive is commendable, our investigation shows that there is a need to even cast the net wider in view of certain peculiarities uncovered about the Akpagher family environment.

For instance, it was discovered that Karen has two elder brothers who were also students of the same Premiere Academy with her. While one graduated in 2020, the other was still a student in the school until after the unfortunate event.

She also has a custodian uncle who, it was discovered, was always going to pick and drop her in school. Unconfirmed report said this uncle organised a birthday party for Karen and some of her friends in a restaurant in town on April 10th to mark her 14th birthday. The uncle, it was further learnt, took her to the party.

It was also learnt that the same uncle picked only Karen from school during the id-el-Fitri break on 12th May while leaving his brother behind to observe the break in school. This, from the investigation, was found to be a departure from the regular practice of picking and dropping both students together.

Upon further probe, it was discovered that while the said Salah break was meant to end on 16th May, Karen was only returned to the school by her uncle on 23rd May, clear 7 days after the resumption.

She was to die one month later; allegedly from a rape incident whose features, according to her mother and GBV Responders, left decayed condom particles in her genitals.

With the late Karen surrounded by two brothers who have their other male friends visiting the Akpagher home as well as an uncle who was found to have been mostly responsible for picking and dropping her in school, it is only fair and commonsensical to look way beyond the school in order to unravel the question of who could have raped the teenager, if indeed she was raped.

Justice Begins With Disclosures…

For justice to be done and seen to be done in the case of Karen Akpagher, the police need to release the autopsy and investigations reports. So many questions begging for answers may remain unresolved until the police reports are released.

According to a cross-section of analysts’ opinion, all parties in the case – the Akpagher family, GBV Responders and Premiere Academy – should jointly and individually put pressure on the police to do the needful rather than continue to throw mud around and promote wild, unfounded accusations, unless the mud throwing is designed to achieve an end that the larger public does not yet know.

Karen Akpagher and Premiere Academy: The “Truth” They Are Trying to Bury Karen Akpagher and Premiere Academy: The “Truth” They Are Trying to Bury Karen Akpagher and Premiere Academy: The “Truth” They Are Trying to Bury Karen Akpagher and Premiere Academy: The “Truth” They Are Trying to Bury

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Making Trade Easier for Africa’s Youthful Population

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SMEs

By Adedayo Oluwafemi

The youth are spearheading a lot of change initiatives not only in Nigeria but also across Africa.

The world’s population is estimated to hit 10 billion people by 2055. It’s projected that Africa will account for 57% of the growth at about 1.4 billion people. With Africa’s youthful population growing there is a growing need to ensure that the youth are well resourced.

If harnessed, the creativity and innovation of the huge youthful population can play a key role in Africa’s economic transformation.

Across the continent, the informal sector has provided a major source of employment for many youths. The majority of them are in the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) space. This resort to informality is due to the need to explore available opportunities and earn a living. SMEs in Africa have proven to be key drivers of growth, innovation development and job creation.

A vibrant SME segment provides a strong foundation for development, increased standards of living and poverty reduction.

Sadly, the challenges with facilitating trade, especially among SMEs are well known. They include fragmentation, market access, operational and administrative inefficiencies and in some cases, bureaucratic delays.

Limited access to financing or capital, inadequate capacity to keep proper inventory, limited storage options, inequitable distribution channels and other infrastructural gaps have also bedevilled SMEs. The question then arises, how do we leapfrog and make trade easier for young Africans?

The digital economy has positively influenced the SME space. For many Africans, technology has radically transformed the core of how we live, move and experience life.

Imagine being able to move goods from one point to the other at the touch of a button whereas in the past, you’d probably be waiting on a messenger at work to help you deliver them or physically walk many miles to the nearest post office or delivery service provider to send them. Today, the digital economy has offered young Africans an opportunity to trade easier locally or internationally through opening up opportunities.

Combining the power of tech and the ease of doing business that platforms like Sendy, a tech company that is building a fulfilment infrastructure for e-commerce and consumer brands, provides, SMEs are set to thrive.

Sendy makes it easier for trade to happen – enabling sellers and retailers to sell more and grow. When trade is enhanced and the impediments around financing, warehousing, managing inventory and logistics management have been removed, productivity goes up, more jobs are created, customers and happy and young business owners can trade efficiently and grow their businesses

If we are seriously looking to drive larger participation for young people in trade and commercial activities, we must encourage uptake in the use of digital assets that technology avails us. Africa’s future looks bright and promising, we now need to fully embrace digitization in the SME space in order to spur growth and development.

Adedayo Oluwafemi is a Lagos-based SME consultant and growth hacker

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Widows’ World and the Catalysts for a New Order

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delta state widows

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

That their surnames (Okowa and Okonta) sound similar and familiar could be enough incentive for one to hastily allege the existence of a biological family line. But in the actual sense of it, this particular occurrence was but a sheer coincidence or betters still, a natural order of things.

As we know, Governor Ifeanyi Ekumeme of Delta State hails from Owa Alero, Ika North East Local Government Area of Delta State. He is the first Anioma son to lead the state. Anioma, designated Delta North Senatorial district, means the ‘good land’ with 9 local government areas. The area is Igbo speaking and blessed with a population of about 2 million, excluding her diasporic communities.

Also, going by information in the public domain, Dr Isioma Okonta, on his part, is the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the Governor on Social Investment Programmes and State Coordinator Widows Welfare Scheme. He is from Abavo, Ika South Local Government Area of the state.

Despite this distinctiveness, there exist also big similarities. Aside from the fact that they typify the proverbial saying like minds that think alike, particularly in the areas of human capital development, and belong to the same political family with Okowa occupying the political father figure and Okonta, the son, they are social investors. In them, passion met efficiency and commitment.

Historically also, they are both Ika indigenes.

Quoting Emeka Esogbue, scholar, Anioma Historian and author of over four books on Anioma contemporary history/conversations, the name Ika was widely used to describe the whole of the area that we know as ‘Anioma’ and was made to appear in the compound word of ‘Ika Ibo”. Nevertheless, within time, the name Ika became narrowed down and limited to the present people of the Ika that it describes today.

Further demonstrating their resemblance is the new awareness that both have an unalloyed passion for improving the life chances of the poor and the vulnerable in the state. It was in fact, this ceaseless effort to bring succour to the widows and valuable people in the state that explains why the Governor created the Office for Social Investment Programmes/Widows Welfare Scheme. And to achieve this objective, he, in his wisdom, appointed Dr Isioma Okonta, as the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Social Investment Programmes and State Coordinator Widows Welfare.

Today, following the success of this office, stakeholders in the state are not only in agreement that the state government has performed the traditional but universal responsibility of provision of economic and infrastructural succour to the citizenry which the instrumentality of participatory democracy and election of leaders confers on them, as well as gone extra miles to touch the untouchable.

The passionate praise, by participants at a recent one-day conference in the state, showered on the state government and plea for government-private sector collaboration for sustainable development of this programme underscores this assertion.

Essentially, they were unanimous that the widows’ project in the state remains a right step taken in the right direction and calls for sustainable partnership and collaboration among all development-focused organisations/institutions. It was clearly stated that the scale and ambition of this agenda call for smart partnerships, collaborations, co-creation and alignment of various intervention efforts by the public and private sectors and civil society. The conference was jointly organised by the state government as part of programmes lined up to celebrate International Widows Day 2022 in the state.

Different speakers present at the event brought to the fore the urgent need for all to appreciate as well as support the state government’s efforts in this direction. They called for creative and innovative thinking by all strata of the society-public and private sector and civil society to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth and social development of the poor and the vulnerable in the state and beyond.

They concluded that the state under Governor Okowa’s administration has dropped Delta State from a point where the roads are not pliable to a point where there is a massive construction of roads everywhere. He has touched the youths in Delta State through several programmes. ‘He has made sure that programmes for the girl child have emanated in Delta State where the girl child is no longer dependent on her parents. Business opportunities have been provided for them. Okowa has made sure that there is peace in all those areas. He has done well’.

Making this development a reality to celebrate, they stated, is the fact that this is happening in the state, even when widows across the world going to the United Nations, are invisible in society. They are scattered across the globe, owing to their condition and the enormous challenges, reproach and shame the majority of them are undergoing. For widows to secure expectations by keeping their hopes alive by way of feeding, providing accommodation and qualitative education for their children, they must assume the position of their dead husband who happened to be the breadwinner.

Indeed, looking at the content of the welcome address by Elder Okonta, during the Seminar organized by his office in conjunction with the state government to mark this year, 2022, international world widows day, it is obvious that the United Nation and of course relevant stakeholders in the state may not be wrong in their opinion about the Governor’s performance in this direction.

In that speech, Okonta said; The Governor of Delta State has taken important measures at taking care of the most vulnerable in our society. The most notable of these measures is the widows’ welfare scheme. The Delta State Governor created the widows’ welfare scheme in the year 2018 aimed at alleviating the suffering of the very poor and vulnerable widows in the state. The governor has established an enduring structure that administers the payment of stipends monthly to these widows.

As from having the state coordinator, Okonta stressed that the structure set up by the Governor, also has 3 Senatorial Supervisors, 6 Assistant Senatorial Supervisors, monitors\ aides for the Federal Constituencies and 2 coordinators in each of the 25 Local Government Areas as members of his team. These coordinators are saddled with the responsibilities of administering the affairs of the enrolled widows at the L.G.A. levels. It is pertinent to note that Delta State is the only state out of the 36 states in the Federal Republic of Nigeria running this unique programme.

The widows’ welfare scheme, he explained is non-political and it cuts across religious divides. Although the names of the widows enrolled in this programme were derived from a list collated and verified by the community leaders, religious leaders, civic leaders and traditional rulers and institutions, however, today there is an electronic database of widows that were registered and enumerated by the Consultant, Mr Clive Amuta, MD of Verschoesk Consult and Integrated Services Ltd. This database has over 50,000 widows and is currently part of the state social register.

Only the verified poor and vulnerable widows residing in Delta State are enrolled in the scheme.

A widow who is a civil servant or financially stable is not eligible. Currently, there are 5607 widows enrolled in the delta state widow’s welfare scheme. These windows have been benefitting from the scheme since 2018. The widows enrolled are predominantly aged, illiterate and have difficulties with financial independence. They are drawn from the 25 local government areas of the state and the 270 wards across the communities. The widows receive N5,000 as stipends and free health care services carried out by the Delta State Contributory Health Commission.

The widows, he observed, can access health care benefits through accredited hospitals and primary health care centres in their localities. These poor and vulnerable widows can also undergo surgical operations at accredited health facilities, free of charge.

Because the Governor has the economic interest of these indigent widows at heart, the state government through the office of the widow’s welfare scheme has distributed 900 melon shelling machines and generating sets to some widows in the three senatorial districts of the state to empower these vulnerable widows to be financially independent. While showing appreciation to the Governor, Okonta finally announced to the gathering that the governor has graciously approved the purchase of Stater packs for about 500 widows in the 25 L.G.As of Delta State.

Today, the state is witnessing a new frontier in Social Investment Programmes. His Excellency the Governor has also approved that 5500 Widows that have been enumerated and data captured as part of the Widows welfare database should be enrolled in the widows’ welfare scheme for the monthly payment of stipends and access to free health care. This will bring the total number of widows enrolled in the scheme for payment to 11107.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), the Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA). He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com or 08032725374

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VP Slot: SMBLF, Okowa’s Decision and Our Nation

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SMBLF

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

One of the major booby traps placed on Nigeria’s political route to a hyper-modern nation that will require masterly innovative/creative strategies to waltz through is the fact that each time electioneering season approaches in the country, the issue of where the presidential candidate and his running mate come from takes the centre stage instead of the capacity of the candidates to perform. More often than not, it is usually between the North and the South.

Take, for instance, on Tuesday, July 16, 2013, Ango Abdullahi, a professor and secretary of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), addressed a press conference where he, among other things, stated that it was time for the North to take back the presidency.

He said: “I want to make it absolutely clear to you that the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and all these other groups that have emerged in the recent past are committed to the interest that underlines Northern interest.”

Before the dust raised by such comments about 9 years ago could settle, another that qualifies more as something new and different recently came up. This time around, it was generated by the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF) via a statement jointly signed by Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, leader of SMBLF/PANDEF; Ayo Adebanjo, leader of Afenifere; Pogu Bitrus, President-General of Middle Belt Forum; and Prof George Obiozor, President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide.

The group in that statement berated the Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, for accepting his nomination as the vice-presidential candidate to Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the forthcoming 2023 general elections.

The statement said in part, “It is unspeakable and quite disappointing that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, who is currently Chairman of the South-South Governors’ Forum, and a native of Owa-Alero in Ika North-East Local Government Area (one of the Igbo-speaking areas) of Delta State, would exhibit such barefaced unreliability. It bears recalling that the 17 Governors of the Southern States of Nigeria, both of the PDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC), under the chairmanship of the Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, met in Asaba, the capital of Delta State on May 11, 2021, and took far-reaching decisions, including that, based on the principles of fairness, equity and justice, the presidency should rotate to the south at the end of the statutory eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure. And this very Governor Okowa was the host of that historic meeting.”

Taken peripherally, no sane Nigerian will listen to this concern expressed by these fine groups/elders, without throwing his/her weight behind them particularly, as their analysis in the present circumstance appears as an objective concern.

However, there are also, in the opinion of this piece, reasons for concern this time around that what we are experiencing may no longer be the first half of a recurring circle but rather, the beginning of something new and dangerous. For one thing, if this ideology which openly qualifies as a war against our nation-building quest is not arrested, I predict that it will last for the rest of our lives.

To support the above assertion, this piece will highlight the errors as well as spread out the particulars that render an assault on reason, the latest declaration by SMBLF.

First, as rightly observed by the group, the meeting and decisions reached in Asaba by the Southern governors were applauded by all, given its significant representation and the gravity of the outcome. That fact notwithstanding, one point the association failed to remember is that we live in a country where the supremacy of political parties is in full operation.

Viewed from this prism, an important distinction to make is that decisions by political parties on issues such as this (zoning/power shift) stand superior to that of the umbrella association called the Southern Governors Forum.

Political parties as we know are not just another platform that can be controlled at will. Rather, it is a platform for pursuing policy objectives and decentralized creation and distribution of ideas. Just the same way the government is a decentralized body for the promotion and protection of the people’s life chances, even so, is political parties a platform, for the formulation of policies that every member/politician must not vilify but partner with- PDP not an exception.

From the above flows another vital point that Nigerians, of course, SMBLF, need to understand and appreciate. It was the party (PDP) and not Governor Okowa or any other Governor that jettisoned the power rotation arrangement.

Following the party’s decision, a presidential primary was a while ago conducted in Abuja, where Atiku Abubakar emerged as the party’s presidential standard-bearer and as part of the nation’s political requirements and in the spirit of justice, equity and fairness must pick a candidate of southern extraction as his running mate.

Going by the above, it can no longer hold water the argument that Okowa betrayed the trust reposed on him by his colleagues; the southern governors, the entire good people of southern Nigeria and all well-meaning Nigerians, and has made himself persona non grata, not only, with SMBLF but all citizens who treasure our oneness and hopes of a more united and peaceful Nigeria.

This piece also views as draconian the group’s declaration that they cautioned political stakeholders from the South, including serving and former governors, ministers, senators, etcetera, not to, on any account, allow themselves to be appointed or nominated as running mate to any presidential candidate, if the presidency is not zoned to the south and that we will work against such person or persons.

If the above directive was allowed to fly, it will further elicit the following questions; what becomes the fate of citizens’ freedom of expression and expression enshrined in the nation’s 1999 constitution as amended? How come it took these elders this long a time to come up with this asymmetrical position even when it was obvious that the party’s standard-bearer indicated his intention to pick a southern over a week ago? Why didn’t they raise an objection at a time when the names of three southern governors were pencilled down for the position? Could they have been ignorant of such developments? Why is it that such a vanguard/threat is coming at a time when Governor Okowa was finally picked as the preferred candidate?

Why is the group coming up with such an argument laced in sentiment and coming at a time when the country has never been as divided as we are today or witnessed such magnitude of mistrust of ourselves and of our nation? Why must we promote such a position in a season when no nation-best typifies a country in dire need of peace and social cohesion among her various socio-political groups than Nigeria as myriads of socio-political contradictions have conspired directly and indirectly to give the unenviable tag of a country in constant search of social harmony, justice, equity, equality, and peace?  Why must we continue to think along these deformed political, ethnic and religious divides against considerations such as merit and leadership competencies?

Must we continue to live in a disunited Nigeria as well as fail the future generation by leaving them a nation more diminished when compared with what we inherited from our forbearers? As Okowa rightly argued, could we have expected that Atiku would be the candidate from the North and also have a vice-presidential candidate from the North? Will that not have led to further division?

While answers to the above are being expected, this is what this piece proposes; ethnicity, religion and all the other primordial sentiments which our elders have whipped up in the past to sway the choices of the people during election times must be hurriedly discarded as we prepare for the 2023 general election so that credible and competent leaders may rule the nation and advance our democracy.

Utomi is the Program Coordinator (Media and Politics) for Advocacy for Social and Economic Justice (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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