Nigeria: #EndSARS - Victim Didn't Die of Drug Abuse As Police Alleged, Pathologist Tells Panel

26 February 2021

The pathologist said the deceased tested negative for all 11 commonly abused substances and cocaine.

A pathologist, Ahmed Abimiku, has debunked claims by the police that a woman, Ifeoma Abugu, who died in custody on September 11, 2020, lost her life to drug abuse.

Mr Abimiku, who is the Chief Consultant Pathologist of University of Abuja Teaching Hospital (UATH), Abuja, appeared before the Independent Investigative Panel probing cases of police brutality in Abuja on Wednesday, when he gave a summary of the result of the preliminary autopsy examination he conducted on the deceased.

PREMIUM TIMES got the details of the proceedings on Friday.

The panel, headed by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Suleiman Galadima, was set up by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in the wake of last year's #EndSARS protests against police brutality and bad governance.

Suffocation suspected

Contrary to the claim of the police, the pathologist, in his analysis of the outcome of the preliminary autopsy examination, said Ms Abugu died of anoxia, a medical condition caused by a decreased or lack of oxygen supply to the lungs.

"And this can come about as a result of strangulation, choking or suffocation," the pathologist added.

He said during the autopsy examination, it was observed that the deceased's fingernails, lips, and tongue were bluish, indicating that she had respiratory issues before she died.

The pathologist said there were also bruises on her knees.

He added that a cursory look at her organs revealed that there was an accumulation of fluid in her lungs, causing pulmonary congestion.

According to the pathologist, the examination of her kidney also revealed "noncancerous cyst, multiple fibroids in her uterus and virginal swab shows dead sperms deposited in her body."

Toxicology test

He said he carried out a toxicology test to ascertain the police allegation that she died from drug ingestion.

The pathologist said he carried out the test by testing her body fluids for all the 11 drugs commonly abused, like Rohypnol diazepam barbiturate, marijuana, narcotics, cannabis, tranquillizers, amphetamines, and all the results turned out negative.

He added that to rule out doubts, he also tested the deceased for cocaine and the result was negative.

Summoned to clarify

The pathologist was summoned by the panel following contradictory claims by the police and Ms Abugu's fiancé, Afam Ugwunwa, on the cause of the deceased's death.

The police had claimed that they went to the home of Mr Ugwunwa, whom they suspected to be a drug dealer, to arrest him on September 10, 2020, and on getting there, they met Ms Abubu, whom they also claimed was into the sale and consumption of drugs.

They arrested Ms Abugu that day, and she died in custody the next day, September 11, 2020.

The police claimed she died of a drug overdose.

With family intervention, the police took her body to UATH for an autopsy on September 25, 2020, to establish her cause of death.

The police continued holding on to the corpse of the after the autopsy.

Ms Abugu's fiancé, Mr Ugwunwa, citing the report of the autopsy, told the panel earlier in the month that the deceased died of anoxia, but the police insisted that the victim died of substance abuse.

The panel then summoned the pathologist to clarify the issue.

Police query autopsy's integrity

While cross-examining the pathologist during the proceedings, the lawyer to the police, James Idachaba, alleged that the autopsy report lacked integrity.

He said the police had disputed the result and had requested a second opinion.

Responding, Mr Abimiku said, "Autopsy result does not favour anybody, it is meant to establish the cause of death."

The panel members asked the witness if the outcome of the autopsy could have been altered by the length of time it took to carry out the examination after the death of the victim.

He answered in the negative but quickly added that a longer period could only make dissection difficult.

The pathologist also said if the virginal swab test had been done early enough, it would have been possible to identify the DNA of the sperm found on her body.

He said it was however impossible because sperm could only survive a woman's body for 72 hours.

The panel adjourned further proceedings in the case till March 24 for the police to open their defence.

But before announcing the postponement, the panel ordered the police to immediately release the corpse of the deceased to the family for burial.

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