Gyang Bere, Jos
The family of late Ngo Naomi Bot, 109-year-old grandma, from Danye, Turu community of Vwang District, Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State, witnessed their greatest shock recently when, contrary to everyone’s expectation, she was buried in a different village by strangers who neither knew her nor had anything to do with her while she was alive.
It was a story, which strange twists started when a mortuary attendant at Vom Christian Hospital (VCH), Jos, mistakenly swapped two corpses belonging to different families from two different communities in Plateau State. And, by the time the mistake was discovered the damage had already been done with the aged grandmother buried in a strange land where her spirit refused to be at rest. In order to give it a befitting burial, her grieving relatives for whom it is a taboo to bury any of their family members outside their ancestral home, had to go through the emotional ordeal of exhuming her decomposing body three days after it was buried.
How it happened
Trouble began when the corpse of the aged woman who died on Friday, July 26, 2019, after a prolonged illness associated with old age was deposited at VCH. But unknown to her family, the body of another aged woman, Mrs Kumbo Pam Badung, aged 103, from Rawuk village in the same Vwang District and who died on Wednesday, July 24, 2019, had two days earlier been deposited at the same VCH mortuary.
In fact, findings revealed that the two bodies were placed side by side in the same mortuary without proper identification tags. And that was how the embarrassing mistake that led to two families from neighbouring communities of Vwang District being given different bodies to bury was made.
On Saturday, August 3, 2019, when the family of late Badung fixed her burial they had gone very early, along with sympathizers, to pick what they supposed to be her corpse only to be given the wrong one, that of Mrs Bot, for burial. The attendant who did not properly separate the two aged corpses with the nametags provided for them was said to have hurriedly picked a different corpse, prepared it and put it into the coffin that the late woman’s family came with and relatives, without proper inspection, believing it is was their own left for home with it.
Afterward, a church funeral service was conducted for it at Church of Christ In Nigeria (COCIN), instead of Assemblies of God Church, Danye Turu, where the real owner of the body was a member before she died. However, anxiety started to mount in the early hours of Monday, August 5, when the family of the late Bot arrived the mortuary to pick their matriarch’s corpse.
One of the female family members was said to have rushed out of the mortuary and raised the alarm when another corpse was given to them. They insisted on the mortuary attendant producing the corpse. And, with that, all hell was let loose. “We didn’t see our corpse, the mortuary attendant must produce it. What has he used the corpse of the old woman to do?,” the woman was said to have queried. Confusion prevailed everywhere in the mortuary until the family was told that the corpse of an old woman of the same age bracket from Rawuk village was picked up from the mortuary and buried three days earlier.
Armed with the information, the Bot family traced the other family that conducted a burial that Saturday, and supposing them to be the one that must have been given their matriarch’s body, dragged them back to the mortuary to come and properly identify the corpse that was lying down there. It was when they arrived and the rattled attendant opened the compartments bearing the corpses, one after the other, for them to see that they sadly realized that they had buried the wrong corpse. News of the sudden discovery spread like wildfire within the two villages with the two families at daggers-drawn with each other.
Aftermath of the embarrassing mistake
There was initial suggestion for the Bot family to take the other corpse and go and bury since the one that was supposed to belong to them had already been buried but they insisted that they cannot bury the corpse of Badung because it is not their corpse. They added that it is a taboo for them to deliberately allow a corpse belonging to them to be buried elsewhere.
But a day before the discovery of the embarrassing mistake, leading to the bitter altercation between the two families, it was learnt that something strange had happened. The spirit of the late Mrs Bot was said to have visited a female family member called Esther Dalyop in a dream to ask why they should bury her in a strange place.
Initially, nobody thought much about the dream until the shocking discovery the following day. And, that was when the pieces of puzzle over the dream began to fall into place. Many of the sympathizers who came from far and near for the burial were already gathered in the church for the funeral service only to receive the saddening news about the corpse having been buried elsewhere in error.
While talks were still on to know what to do, the children of the late woman led by one Bitrus Bot was said to have recruited some community youths and together they took the coffin they had brought to take delivery of the woman’s corpse, marched down to her gravesite in Rawuk, opened it up and exhumed her already decomposing corpse.
But faced with the dilemma of transferring it to the casket they came with, the family was said to have begged and reached an understanding with the rival family to convey the corpse in the casket in which it was buried while leaving their own behind even though it was more expensive. Well, they had no choice than to acknowledge the fact that in this kind of argument, you win some and you lose some.
Having reached some compromise, the corpse was retrieved and given a proper burial at the Assemblies of God’s Church, Danye Turu, according to the family tradition. In a chat with Saturday Sun, Bitrus expressed satisfaction with the turn of event.
“We believe that the right thing was done,” he said. “We have no regret exhuming the corpse. If she had died somewhere else and we didn’t see her corpse that would have been a different thing. But we cannot allow a corpse belonging to us to be buried by someone else for us. It is a taboo. We have seen her corpse. It has been exhumed and we have reburied it and we are satisfied.”
Meanwhile, the children of late Badung had used the coffin brought from the mortuary by the Bots to bury their own dead. Many people who heard about the incident found it very strange as such a thing had never happened before in their area. In fact it took the intervention of community and religious leaders to make commonsense to prevail on the matter.
Retribution and reactions over the mistake
Following the ugly development, the management of Vom Christian Hospital has sacked the mortuary attendant who mistakenly swapped the corpses. The Chief Medical Superintendent, Dr. Fred Dachung, said the decision was taken after an emergency management meeting summoned over the incident. The hospital, he explained, has introduced clear nametags for proper identification of corpses to avert occurrence of such nature.
Expressing his disappointment over the development, he said this is the first time this kind of incident would happen in the hospital since it was established by the missionaries during the colonial era many years ago.
“We have sacked the mortuary attendant who made that mistake and we have introduced bold and clear name tags for proper identification,” he said. “The first family that carried away what they supposed to be the corpse of their dead did not properly identify it too. They just arrived in a rush and without proper identification carried it away. If they were as meticulous as the second family the mistake would not have happened.”
Many of the people interviewed also share in his opinion although for a different indicting reason. It was gathered that before the embarrassing discovery, a small girl was said to have expressed to her parents her doubts about the corpse belonging to them. She was said to have plaited her grandmother a few days before she died and observed that the hairstyle that the corpse from the mortuary was completely different from the one she had done for her grandmother before she passed away. But many of her people deceived by the aging and wrinkled skin of an old woman that looked exactly like their own were said to have dismissed her observation with a wave of hand.