Illegal activities in mortuaries
By Adetokunbo Abiola
If two mortuary attendants at the Ondo State Specialist Hospital, Akure, knew, they wouldn’t have tampered with the corpse of a baby and its placenta at the hospital’s morgue.
According to news reports, a baby and its mother had died at the Police Hospital in Akure, and their corpses were deposited at the morgue of the specialist hospital.
When the relatives of the deceased came to the mortuary to pick the corpses for burial, that’s when the drama started.
After washing the corpse of his wife and putting her in the casket, the husband of the deceased, Femi Owonidahun, a policeman, now asked the mortuary attendant for the corpse of the baby and the placenta.
The attendants asked him he would only see corpse of the baby and its placenta if he wasn’t afraid of the ghost of the baby. Femi insisted on seeing remains of the baby so they could give it a decent burial like the mother.
When the casket was opened, Femi and other relatives couldn’t find the corpse of the baby or its placenta, and they raised alarm.
Today, the two mortuary attendants have been charged to court.
On the surface, this seems to be an isolated occurrence, but it isn’t. For a nation experiencing its worst economic decline in 30 years, it would seem that mortuary attendants have been caught up in the race for survival.
“There are fake clinics and mortuaries doubling as slaughter houses. In some parts of Nigeria, it is neither uncommon nor surprising for corpses to disappear from mortuaries, cemeteries, hospital beds and funeral homes,” says a critic Sabella Ogbobode Abidde.
What cultural tradition supports corpses disappearing from mortuary and attendants selling body parts kept in their care.
According to Sahara Reporters, indeed, there are people who believe that money and fame and good fortune can be acquired if certain parts of the human anatomy are consumed or sacrificed.
Legends abound about market women who use body parts as part of their trading strategy, and there are stories of popular pepper soup joints across the country where it is alleged that the owners use bits and pieces of human liver and human heart as spices.
Due to this tradition, some believe it is no mistake that it is becoming prevalent for hospital attendants to engage in the illicit business of selling body parts for gain.
It was traumatic for Oke Sunday and his wife on September 29, 2018 to discover that the corpse of their one- and-half-year-old daughter had been mutilated, with the eyes removed, when they wanted the body for burial. The mortuary attendants at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, where the drama of the absurd happened, claimed ignorance of the crime.
Barely two months later, a similar incident was reenacted in Lagos, where the Lagos State Police Command arrested mortuary attendants of St. Raphael Divine Mercy Specialist Hospital. When reporters visited St. Raphael Divine Mercy Specialist Hospital and spoke with the administrator, Reverend Sister Hyacinth Mary, she expressed shock at the news, but affirmed that they are still awaiting the outcome of police investigation.
“We are still in shock over the matter but police have made some arrests and investigation is ongoing. I can only tell you that the police arrested some of our staff who work at the morgue, she says.”
This reporter learned that some of the body parts may or may not end up in places like Jankara in Lagos. This reporter learned that there are genuine traders and honest businessmen and women at Jankara, but there are also dishonest and unscrupulous businessmen operating in the area.
According to an undercover reporter, the human parts trade is all about raw cash. A fresh human head has a street value of N250, 000. Fresh internal organs like heart, lung, kidney, and so on go for N500,000 a piece.
Other vital parts penis, vagina and breast cost N50,000 each. A fresh tongue is sold at N100,000.
This reporter learnt when a tongue is “ritualized and jujufied” it “works well” for traders and people who apply for visa to go abroad.
“When well prepared, no one can question you at the embassy and even your working place”, a dealer whose alias is Baba Ibeji revealed.
This reporter gathered that a toe or finger is good for travelers and business people.
“ The toe is for traveling without falling.The finger is to make money. Any thing you touch turns to money”, Baba Ibeji said.
Fresh toe or finger goes for N50,000 each.
Along with selling human parts, mortuaries are eyesores, filled with corruption.
Investigation reveals that inside the Adeoyo morgue in Ibadan for instance, bodies are positioned on wooden and cemented platforms that look more like makeshift than assured structures.
At UCH, Ibadan,depositing a corpse in the morgue costs N1200/day throughout the first week, N1,800/day in the second week, N3,600/day from the third week onwards, and a one-off N18,000 payment at the point of collection. However, attendants have a way of cutting the corners, so the money enters their pockets.
Although no one is saying the same thing happens at the Specialist Hospital Akure, but it is standard practice in many of the mortuaries in the country, with the bereaved extorted of their hard-earned money.
However, it’s difficult to get official response on the state of Nigerian mortuaries, because officials are reluctant to speak on the issue.
Not just officials of mortuaries, but hospital staff. All attempts to get the Medical Director of the Ondo State Specialist Hospital in Akure to speak proved abortive, as he said no comments when this reporter called to get his side of the story.
One official however said this reporter had to get a death certificate before he can comment on the issue.
One thing is clear, though, the issue of dilapidated and corruption-prone mortuaries will remain controversial in the foreseeable future.