25 February 2018

Nigeria: Biscuits or CSM? Uncertainty Over Cause of Abuja School Deaths

analysis

Two children died from suspected food poisoning in Kubwa, a suburb of Abuja, allegedly from a biscuit shared by one of the pupils who celebrated her birthday.

Yahaya Garba, 14, Na'imat Yahaya, 14, both pupils of primary four in the school died hours after they returned home ill last Tuesday.

The third pupil, identified as Moses Sunday, was in primary one. He was said to have been taken to the Kubwa General Hospital along with two other pupils namely, Aisha Isa and Hasiya Haruna on the day of the party, but died on Wednesday.

Moses was said to have died from complications after a fight in the school.

However, two other students from two separate schools also died on Thursday bringing the number of the death in the Abuja suburb to five. The students died after complaining of body pains while with their parents at home. Emmanuel Hassan, a primary two pupil of Local Education Authority (LEA) Model Primary School, Kubwa and another student simply identified as Habib of Government Secondary School, Kubwa returned to their respective houses around Gbazango extension area on Wednesday complaining about their health before they passed on.

While some people linked the deaths to food poisoning, the Federal Capital Territory Administration told the News Agency of Nigeria, (NAN), on Thursday that the death of the two pupils was due to suspected case of Cerebrospinal Meningitis (CMS). The Director of Public Health in Health and Human Service Secretariat, FCT, Dr Humphrey Okoroukwu, who spoke to NAN, however said, though no laboratory confirmation was done, from what the parents and guardians of the deceased pupils presented, showed signs and symptoms of CSM. He also said the pupils did not participate in any birthday celebration.

Meanwhile, one of the surviving pupils of the LEA Kubwa, Hasiya Haruna said one Salamatu of primary four distributed biscuits on Tuesday. Hasiya who spoke while receiving treatment at the Accident and Emergency Unit of the Kubwa General Hospital on Wednesday said Salamatu brought the biscuits to school and shared to some pupils in the class.

She confirmed that Salamatu equally ate from the biscuits, but could not say if she was affected by the suspected food poisoning.

Daily Trust on Sunday discovered that the Salamatu lives around Edo Line area in Kubwa but our reporters were unable to get to her.

Hasiya's mother, preferred to be addressed as Mrs Haruna, who was at the hospital with her daughter, said she took her child to the hospital immediately she confessed to have eaten the biscuit allegedly responsible for the death of two students.

"I went to pay a condolence visit to the family of one of the late pupils when a government official advised that all parents whose children attended the school should take their children to the hospital to be examined once they notice any discomfort in them.

"That was how I rushed back home and took her to the hospital," she said adding that her daughter's life was spared because of her immediate action as every issue was properly contained and taken care of before her condition could deteriorate.

Also a primary three pupil of the school, Nana Labaran was also receiving treatment at the Kubwa General Hospital on Thursday. Her father said the girl who earlier denied eating the biscuits confessed to "eating small" after being pressurised.

"She initially denied but later said she ate small," he said adding that he did not want to take any chance on her and had to bring her to the hospital immediately.

An uncle to one of the deceased girls, Idris Mohammed said his niece, Na'imat died after she complained of stomach upset on Wednesday morning. He said the girl who died at a private hospital in the area was buried at about 11a.m.

The guardian of the second victim, Ahmadu Garba Makeri said his brother returned from school at about 12:30p.m on Tuesday complaining of stomach ache. "He said his teacher permitted him to leave early because he was not feeling fine," he said.

Makeri said he took him to a pharmacist where he was given some drugs and he recovered before he slept on Tuesday.

He said he was at work on Wednesday when he received a call that his brother's health had deteriorated, "I saw Yahaya vomiting. He was weak, I rushed him to the general hospital but he died before we reached," he said.

Makeri could not link the death to the biscuits allegedly distributed in the school but said by the time he heard about the rumour, his brother could not speak anymore.

"I hear people talked about the biscuits, but he told me it was headache and body pains. When I hear the rumour, I asked him but he could not talk anymore. But he didn't tell me that he ate biscuits the afternoon I saw him," he said.

The Chief Medical Director of Kubwa General Hospital, Dr Lasisi Akinola, was not available for comments when our reporters were at the hospital but sources within the hospital said a pupil at the hospital was stable.

The Kubwa Divisional Police Officer, CSP Surajudeen Ayobami said they are still waiting for autopsy to know the cause of the deaths. He said investigation was ongoing adding that the teachers in LEA Primary School, Kubwa were invited for questioning.

"They were not detained. No arrest has been made. The people we ought to have invited were not in school. We are trying to see whether we can interrogate some few persons as to the allegations but we are just trying to get some clues as to what really happened," he said. He did not confirm if biscuits were distributed to the pupils.

As academic activities resume tomorrow at the school, some residents are still disturbed by the turn of events.

"The government will have to know the cause of the deaths. If it is not food poisoning then whatever led to the deaths of these children should be made public. Only then will the people not be afraid anymore," Abiba Deji, a resident said.

She said government needed do something about the living conditions of the residents especially people living in slums. "Some of the rooms are not well ventilated," she said.

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