“Anambra State government is already doing a forensic DNA on the victims of the Enugwu Ukwu Mortuary fire disaster…”
Geoffrey Anyanwu (Awka), David Onwuchekwa (Nnewi), Jeff Agbedo (Onitsha)
The agony of families who the remains of their beloved ones were burnt in the fire disaster that occurred at the Enugwu-Ukwu General Hospital Mortuary last week has now been doubled by the commencement of identification of the corpses through DNA testing.
Forensic DNA analysis of the corpses, most of which were burnt beyond recognition, is a precise, painstaking, slow process that would help match the corpses with the right families, to avoid mix-ups that could result in families receiving and burying wrong corpses, which could further lead to exhumation, with the attendant litigation and psychological pains.
In the aftermath of the heart-rending incident, Sunday Sun learnt from the Anambra State Commissioner for Information and Public enlightenment, Mr C. Don Adinuba, that the state government had already commenced forensic analysis of the burnt bodies.
His words: “Anambra State government is already doing a forensic DNA on the victims of the Enugwu Ukwu Mortuary fire disaster. We have brought in a team of pathologists led by a Professor of Pathology. We have also brought in highly skilled morticians, including some from the Catholic Church.
“Just three weeks ago we finished intensive training on modern techniques of working in the mortuary. Our current morticians were not properly trained, some are primary school dropouts, who just joined the trade.
“The state government is bearing the full cost of the exercise. It might interest you to know that not all of the dead bodies were completely burnt. Those ones have been properly identified by the bereaved families; those ones that cannot be physically identified because of the level of the burns, the DNA test will help us to identify them.”
Commenting on the other related issues, Adinuba said: “The state government is also working to identify the cause of the fire so that it cannot happen again. We want to learn from the experience and it is not only Anambra State that is learning, but also we are making other parts of the country and beyond to learn from the sad experience.”
Meanwhile, the bereaved families are still overwhelmed by the shock of the horrible incident.
For many of them, it is still too difficult to come to terms with the reality that the body of a wife, husband, mother, father, brother, sister, as the case may be, deposited for safe-keeping in the mortuary while preparing for burial was burnt beyond recognition, leaving them at the mercy of forensic analysis to determine which skeleton or charred remains belong to them.
Some of these families are filled with deep sense of shame and embarrassment. The psychological blow is so heavy that they do not want even the names of their families to be mentioned in print neither do they even want to talk about the incident. Some of them just get angry when approached to talk about the sad incident.
“Please leave us alone, we are not interested in any press talk and please don’t mention the name of our family in your paper. We are really in pain and want to see how to identify which body is that of our late father,” a bereaved family member angrily flung this remark at the reporter.
One of the families, which is in Abagana was said to be somehow lucky as the body of their very old mother was easily identified. The corpse was one of the few not burnt beyond recognition.
A source told Sunday Sun: “The family members identified her with the mark on her K-leg and they have already collected the body and buried her.”
There was also the story of a man in his 60s whose dead body was brought home from abroad for burial and was deposited at the mortuary and unfortunately fell among the bodies burnt beyond recognition.
A cousin of the dead man who pleaded anonymity said the entire family has been in great pain since the fire incident as they were preparing for the burial already fixed to hold on January 19 before the disaster happened.
“My cousin was involved in that mortuary fire incident. He died abroad and his body was brought down home and deposited at the mortuary. His body has not been identified; the body has not been recovered. My cousin is not too young, he should be in his 60s. We are waiting for the government to do the forensic test. It is very shocking and terrifying; you know if it did not affect you directly you will not understand the trauma and the impact of what has happened.
“It is easier to just bury your own and forget that thing, it is unfortunate how it happened and suddenly your person you put for safe-keeping will be buried in a mass grave. Mass grave, someone who is already in his family, this is even a lesson, people should start burying their dead immediately.
“Already a date, January 19, was fixed for his burial before this ugly incident happened and that is why we are saying government should be fast in carrying out the forensic test so that we can still go ahead with that date for his burial.”
On whether the law against burial in December should be abolished, our source said that though the law could have been responsible for the high number of the casualties, he noted that, “the law was made in good faith.”
Why we’re not involved in the DNA analysis – Igwegbe, NAUTH CMD
Sunday Sun gathered that the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, NAUTH, Nnewi, is not involved in the DNA forensic analysis commissioned by the Anambra State government.
The Chief Medical Director (CMD) of the teaching hospital, Prof Anthony Igwegbe, who spoke with Sunday Sun said that it was regrettable that NAUTH could not carry out forensic DNA analysis of the corpses burnt at Enugwu Ukwu General Hospital.
“Unfortunately, the NAUTH does not have the facilities and capability for DNA analysis of bodies. But we have a forensic pathologist who does autopsy properly. As for the incident that happened at that
general hospital mortuary, they should take the bodies and tissues to some other laboratories that can do the analysis. Such labs are in Lagos and Ibadan. Some labs take their samples to South Africa or some other countries that have the capacity to do necessary test,” Prof Igwegbe said.
He, however, noted that the state could not adopt the policy of doing DNA analysis when the need did not arise.
He said that such analyses would only become necessary when there is a dispute or controversy over identification.
He said that it could not be routinely adopted by health policy makers since it is only done when the need arises.
Igbo monarchs say the incident calls for great lessons
Following the mortuary fire incident, it has been speculated that ban on burial of dead relations in December in Anambra State may have accounted for the high number of corpses at the mortuary prior to the fire disaster.
When this tenuous issue was broached to the Chairman of Anambra Central Traditional Rulers Council and the traditional ruler of Ukwulu Kingdom in Dunukofia Local Government Area of the state, Igwe Peter Uyanwa (Ezedike), he roundly debunked the general belief that there was ban on burial in the state during December period.
He said that there was no fora where the traditional rulers gathered, discussed and banned burials during the festive period in the state and condemned the practice of keeping corpses in morgue for a long time.
His words: “There are two ways of keeping corpses in the mortuary, one is what we call ground-morgue and the other is called normal-morgue where corpses are kept for preservation. The ground-morgue is the best way, especially when the family of the deceased is not ready for the funeral. The corpse will be quietly buried immediately after the person died. Then the funeral would be held at a later date. If the person was a Christian, a reverend father or pastor would be invited to pray for the dead and his body would be interred and thereafter the funeral would be done. There is no need to keep a dead body so long because you can’t eat it.
“There is no time the traditional rulers banned burial during December period. There is no forum I attended where the traditional rulers took such decision not to bury dead person during December period in this state. It is an individual decision not to bury during the festive period and not a collective decision. Some people want to keep the corpse of their loved ones in the morgue to give him or her what they call a befitting burial and would take their time and save more money for the ceremony. We are not against that, but they should bury the dead immediately and later do the funeral in any way they want it to be done.
“It is not a must to keep a corpse in morgue before you give your loved ones a befitting burial or funeral. We heard what happened in Enugwu Ukwu. It was a tragic incident, which is not good to happen in our state. I want our people to emulate what the late Dr Dozie Ikediife did when he was alive. He told his children to bury him immediately he died and nobody should conduct any ceremony when he died and that was what happened. He was buried immediately without any ceremony.
“It is unfortunate thing in our state that when somebody dies, his corpse would be kept for months and even a year to raise money to bury him or her, but when the person was alive he was not looked after and the family had no money to give to him while alive. So, I suggest that if anybody dies, he should be buried immediately than to keep the corpse in a morgue. In my own community there is no ban on burial in December. An elder died in my community within this festive period, we had to keep him in ground morgue (that is bury him) and later fix for his funeral and other ceremony.”
The traditional ruler of Ogidi Kingdom, Igwe Alex Onyido, who also spoke on the matter, said that the incident has created the need to review the way burials are done in Igbo land.
“We don’t need to keep corpses too long because it doesn’t make sense. We came from ash and we are going back to ash. So, why should we keep a corpse for one month, two months; we need to review our belief regarding the dead. Like in my place, the highest period we give to bury the dead is two weeks. My advice is that we should review our way of mourning or burial. We should have in our mind that Christmas time is Holy Week for us, we should not disrupt the joy of Christmas by holding burials. So, I know that from December 15 to 31 we should not bury, we should keep it as a sacred period so that people who returned for the Christmas celebration will have time to rejoice for the birth of Jesus Christ.
“We work with two hands, one to amend our belief that keeping corpse for long time is not good for us, we bury the corpse of the dead person immediately the person dies, two, we should have in our mind that we are predominantly Christians, so we should preserve the Christmas period for the cerebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and keep the period holy and should not mourn within the period and immediately after New Year period then we should start burial,” Igwe Onyido stated.