By Osiberoha Osibe
Awka — To many of the general public that heard the news of some bodies burnt beyond recognition at a morgue in Anambra State late last year, they were left with just a sigh of pity and the words: ‘Double wahala for dead body and the owner of the dead body,’; but for the families of those who suffered such calamity, it is a pain too difficult to erase from their memories for many years to come.
Amid claims by authorities at the Enugwu-ukwu General Hospital Mortuary in Anambra that a mysterious fire gutted only 50 bodies on December 29, 2018, a figure eyewitnesses have put at over 150, the hospital management is keeping mum over the incident, giving the excuse that any disclosure on the total number of victims might jeopardise ongoing investigations.
It was gathered that the number of bodies deposited at the mortuary at the close of the year tends to be on the high side as most communities defer burial ceremonies, which fall in the month of November and December to January and February of the coming year in order not to interfere with the joyous yuletide celebrations.
Investigation by The Guardian revealed that apart from a few disputed/unclaimed bodies, many of the bodies mutilated by the fire were the ones kept in the mortuary to allow for the Christmas and New Year celebrations to pass. The number of bodies deposited that got burnt could not be ascertained as the mortician-in-charge of the Enugwu-ukwu General Hospital was still in detention two weeks after the incident.
Sources close to the Amaka General Hospital now Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu University Teaching Hospital (COOUTH) indicate that baring the “condemned” bodies (dismembered pieces of bodies), over 120 corpses were transferred from Enugwu-ukwu mortuary to COOUTH morgue on January 5, 2019, when the last charred bodies were brought to the hospital.
The transfer was at the instance of the governor, Willie Obiano, who visited the gory scene of the burnt mortuary to ascertain the extent of damage. Obiano also assured that a probe panel would be set up to determine immediate and remote causes of the incident to avert future occurrences.
Accompanied by the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Josephat Akabuike, Obiano sympathised with relatives of the victims describing it double tragedy. He appealed to them to give the hospital officials and morticians time to conclude work on recovery of the burnt bodies for easy identification.
The Commissioner echoed the governor’s appeal for patience, even as he assured that forensic experts had been invited from Lagos to undertake autopsies of the burnt bodies for easy identification and collection by their relatives.
In line with the directive, the bodies were transferred from Enugwu-ukwu Mortuary to COOUTH for custody and placement in coffins before eventual retrieval by relatives for interment. It was discovered that among the bodies transferred included some headless and dismembered parts of the deceased persons.
The unfortunate incident has created a panicky and emotional disturbance among family members, who have since the new year thronged the mortuary to identify the bodies of their loved ones.
To enable family members resolve the quagmire arising from their inability to identify the charred bodies of their dead relatives, a compulsory DNA test was introduced at the Histopathology Department of the COOUTH Awka where a relative preferably male child of the deceased is tested to see if his DNA matched the sample obtained from collected samples of the deceased’s remains.
Dr. Chidi Okani, who directed proceedings at the Histopathology Department for the test, had a hectic time trying to contain the pressure mounted on him by those who were anxious to identify the bodies of their dead relatives.
After crisscrossing between Enugwu-ukwu General Hospital Mortuary and COOUTH Morgue to identify the body of his 38-year-old wife, Adaku Cynthia Nwaghanata (nee Ugoeke), the husband, Nwaghanata from Enugwu-ukwu town in Njikoka Local Government Area of the state had simply resigned to fate.
However, mother luck smiled on him when the beautician who handled his late wife’s pedicure on hearing of the missing bodies informed him that his wife fixed an artificial green nails on her two feet.
Narrating his ordeal, Nwaghanata told The Guardian that his wife from Mbaise in Imo State was taken to Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital (NAUTH) Nnewi where she was diagnosed of Hepatitis B. “After running several tests on her, the doctors and other health personnel gave her adequate treatment until she was given a clean bill of health and discharged on Sunday.
“My wife was eventually discharged from the hospital and while at home she started nursing the idea of our going back to Lagos, our operational base. Then the unexpected happened. Few days after, she started to complain of uneasiness and said she wanted to ease herself. She went to the toilet and came back to the bed, only for her condition to change for the worse. She eventually died on Saturday, December 8, 2018 one week after her discharge and she was brought to the Enugwu-ukwu General Hospital.
“My family and her family had concluded arrangements for her burial on January 25, this year before we got the shocking news of the fire that gutted the hospital and burnt the bodies including hers”, Nwaghanata said.
He had frequented both mortuaries to no avail and remained resolute. He was determined to continue searching for her wife’s charred body based on the tip from his wife’s beautician who informed him that her wife fixed green-coloured nails on her feet.
Added to the information from the beautician, Nwaghanata added that his wife’s mother informed him that her daughter appeared to her in her dream to reveal to her that one of her legs was burnt beyond recognition while the other one was partially burnt and bore the artificial nails on the feet. He checked with the mortician and for him, it was eureka when he saw a body as described by his mother-in-law! For a moment, he had to shed tears of mixed feelings like someone recovering a prized possession. He is now looking forward to the January 25 date for her formal burial with some relief.
Similarly, Mr. Nweme from Umuokpu, whose 64-year-old wife died of complications arising from diabetes, had frequented Enugwu-ukwu General Hospital in search of the charred body of his wife to no avail. According to Nweme: “I have visited the Enugwu-ukwu General Hospital Mortuary since the fire incident that burned the place. They refused that I should until they finish separating the bodies as some glued together.
“Later, they said I should go to Amaku General Hospital (COOUTH) Mortuary to check for the body of my wife. I have for many days searched for her body without success, even after I had brought my son along in the event of any need to run the DNA test”.
He said he would wait until the last bodies are dissected by the morticians and if her body was not identified, he would go to the location where the dead bodies were thoroughly burnt to ashes to perform “njulu” or “ijutaomu”, a form of symbolic burial after collecting palm fronds and making incantation and asking the unseen body to come along for final home burial in her compound.
As at Friday last weekend, Nweme had visited the site for the 23rd time. Same for Engineer Chima Eze and Sunday Obiora both of who narrated how they came to see their respective brothers but could not be given access at Enugwu-ukwu General Hospital Mortuary two weeks before the incident but were asked to come back on Saturday before Christmas, only for them to receive the sad news of the fire incident.
It was a mixed feeling for Onyenwe Ezue from Umuazu village, Nise in Awka South LGA when he eventually found the burnt body of his 44-year-old sister, Eucharia Okoye (nee Dunu). He had printed a poster of the sister and was making arrangements to take away the recovered burnt body for burial when he bared his mind to The Guardian.
According to him, the reality of life as pure vanity has forever being ingrained in his psyche after the incident. He said it was not only the way the morticians, apparently hardened by acclimatization to the routine duty of dealing with dead bodies without feelings, but the anguish and sorrow of relatives and well-wishers mourning the departure of the dead in charred headless and dismembered bodies.