10 August 2012

Nigeria: DANA Confusion Mars Release of Bodies As Mortuary Attendants Attack Journalists

Photo: Vanguard
Bulldozers clear the rackege of the Dana plane

The grief of relations of the Dana plane crash victims was made a little heavier Thursday when the authorities at the Lekan Ogunsola Memorial Morgue of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) failed to release the bodies of their relations, contrary to the arrangement by the Lagos State Government.

The bodies were to be released in batches of 20 per day starting from Thursday. But it did not work out. Some of the relations who got to the mortuary to collect the remains of their relations were disappointed, as the attack on a journalist further thwarted the exercise.

The officials of the mortuary had told the early callers who got to the mortuary as early as 8am that the person who was to release the bodies was not around. The long wait for the official soon generated tension when officials of the mortuary attacked a photojournalist, Mr. Benedict Nwalaka of the Leadership Newspaper Abuja.

Trouble started when some of the journalists who arrived at the mortuary early to record the release of the bodies were accused of trying to photograph the bodies without the permission of the mortuary officials.

One of the photojournalists, Mr. Kola Olasupo of THISDAY Newspapers, who narrated his experience, said after they had waited for hours without any corpse being released to the relatives, he took a stroll around the mortuary. It was while strolling that he was accosted by one of the officials who warned him never to take a shot, else his camera would be seized.

He said immediately he kept his camera inside his bag, but Nwalaka who also took a stroll in the direction Olasupo went, was sighted by one of the female officials of the mortuary. She later rushed into the office and alerted her colleague simply called Bayo that a photojournalist was taken shots, which was not true.

Bayo, according to Olasupo, rushed out of the office and pounced on Nwalaka, leading to the exchange of fisticuffs between the duo. Two other mortuary officials simply identified as Ibrahim and Idowu teamed up with Bayo in beating Nwalaka. One of them smashed a bottle on Nwalaka's head and even stabbed him on the back of his neck.

Olasupo, who was also attacked by the mortuary attendants, had his camera smashed and injured.

In the fight, he said Nwalaka's camera was seized, as he also lost his phone and wallet.

The Chief Medical Director (CMD) of the hospital, Professor David Oke, who came later in the day, pleaded for calm and urged the journalists to understand that every profession has its ethics that should be respected by other professionals. He also pleaded that whatever damage and losses arising from the attack would be adequately taken care of.

He immediately ordered that Nwalaka should be placed on admission and that government will bear the cost of his treatment.

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, called THISDAY last night to condemn the attack on journalists, saying: "that is not acceptable and that is not our way of doing things. We must learn how to do things in a civilised manner."

He promised that the state government would investigate the attack and that justice would be done in a short time.

The state Commissioner for Information Mr. Lateef Ibirogba, who arrived at the scene much later, appealed to the journalists to remain calm, pledging that the lost camera and phone would be replaced by the appropriate authority.

The CMD, however, said many of the corpses had not been collected either because the relations of the victims were trying to get valid documents, or that they were not yet aware that the bodies were ready for collection.

"Some of the relatives did not come on time and so we took their reference specimen late. The result got to us on the night of Saturday, August 4. On Monday, the commissioner was informed, the governor was informed, we immediately constituted a committee that was in-charge of breaking the code of the results because they came in codes.

"Earlier on, we have coded the bodies, and when the result came, we needed to match them with the 132 bodies. Then on Wednesday, we held a meeting with the relatives and it was decided in that meeting that 20 bodies will be released every day until all the bodies are exhausted except those yet to be identified.

"The reason for that was some relatives did not come, some bodies were badly burnt that we could not get the DNA materials needed for their identification processes, but our pathologist are on ground to see if they can use their experiences to further identify the remaining 16 bodies.

"In order not to cause unnecessary chaos, we have decided to release the bodies alphabetically and the names were pasted on the wall for the relatives to access. Then for the remaining 16 bodies, we will hold a meeting with the family members to see if we can take more specimens from the relatives. I believe this will be faster because we are only dealing with few cases and if at the end, anybody that cannot be identified, the family members will be contacted to decide the next line of action," he said.

However, Oke could not say how many bodies had been released so far because some relatives were not ready and some others had decided to keep the bodies in the morgue.

"Let me clarify this, as long as the corpses stay in the morgue, the Lagos State Government is not charging any money from the relatives," he said.

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