Sola Ogundipe & Chioma Obinna
08 June 2012, Sweetcrude, Lagos – EMOTIONS ran high yesterday at the Lekan Ogunsola Memorial Mortuary of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Ikeja, Lagos as the relations of the Dana air crash victims openly displayed anger over what they described as undue hardship caused by the rigorous process of identification of bodies and delay in releasing those already identified.
This scenario dominated the scene at the crisis centre set up for the crash victims even as a total of four identifiable bodies were slated for release between yesterday and today. The four corpses whom their relations have indicated their interest to collect include; Temitope Ariyibi, Obiola Ikpoki, Prof. C. O Onwuliri, and a Chinese, Kang Yi.
Also, ore names of identifiable victims have been released. They include; Onyeka Chukwu Collins, Abraham Adijolola,Famata Mohammed, Maimuna Anyene, Onyeka Anyene, Naoh Anyene, (Baby) Sunday Enuma, Ogechi Njoku, Kemisiyop Chukwu Anyen, Oluchi Onyeyiri, Amaka Ojugbara, Christopher Ojugbara, Dr. Elizabeth Omuluzua Akwaezde, Ruth Wasa, Fortune David Kolawole, Josephine Omara Okechukwu, Ngozi Okechukwu, David Kolawole an d Enyimju Oluwa and three yet to be identified adults.
The strong display of emotions was not unconnected with the arrival of the Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, who was in Lagos to inspect and monitor the state of the mortuaries and also access the progress of ongoing DNA autopsy sample collection.
Not even the confirmation by the hospital authorities that collection of bodies could commence without further delay could placate the aggrieved family members who engaged hospital staff and other government officials in a shouting match as they demanded the immediate release the identifiable bodies that have actually being identified so that they could give them a befitting burial.
The agitation which gradually degenerated into an uproar, defied efforts to be nipped in the bud by the Health Minister and other Lagos State officials which included the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris; the Chief Medical Director of LASUTH, Prof. Wale Oke, and the Chief Medical Examiner of the hospital, Prof. John Obafunwa.
In their anger, several of the relations confronted the Health Minister and demanded explanation why he (Minister of Health) should be coming six days after the unfortunate incident occurred.
“Why is he (Minister) just coming now? We do not need all these explanations now; all we want is for them to release the bodies. You people are just politicising the issue,” they remarked.
Further, the relations queried the functionality of the counselling centre and also complained about the non-functional help lines.
A victim’s relations, Mr. Ogbonna Nta Uwaeme who lost nine people in the ill-fated aircraft crash, demanded the need for government to ensure sincerity in the various processes.
“We want sincerity and counselling to further reduce the trauma we are passing through,” he argued.
Another of the victim’s relations, Mr. Uche Oha, also pointed out the need to make the process less cumbersome by grouping people in batches and giving appointment dates through the telephone numbers they have dropped.
Attempts by the Health Minister to explain the delay behind release of the bodies were however, greeted by another uproar from the angry relations.
Chukwu who despite the uproar, addressed the crowd, appealed for patience while assuring that government would ensure that all their complaints would be duly addressed. He added that, to quicken the exercise, more pathologists from Ibadan, Abuja and other states are being drafted to join those in Lagos.
Corroborating his views, the Chief Medical Examiner, Prof. John Obafunwa who explained that about 40 families have been through the processed DNA analysis, added that 44 autopsies have been carried out on the charred bodies.
“In the past, it had always been mass burial for similar incidents but this time around, we want to do things properly. That is why we need to do proper identification. Besides after this exercise relatives of some victims will be talking compensation”.
Obafunwa stated that the government was trying to be careful in order not to release wrong bodies to the relatives. “If they later realise that the bodies they carry were not their own it will further worsen their trauma”, he added.
Lending his voice, the State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris however acknowledged their pains and appealed for calm as the government is determined to do the needful.
But, further explanation by Chukwu and other state officials fell on deaf ears and apparently to avert further altercation, the Minister and other officials hurriedly left the scene.
Briefing journalists after the tour of the crash sites and the two mortuaries where the bodies were deposited, the Minister of Health noted that the crash site and dumpsite where the debris of the plane was deposited had been properly fumigated in order to prevent infectious diseases.
Reaction to the earlier emotional display by the relations of the victims, he said: “I understand that emotions are very high it natural and understandable. The way we respond to stress varies. What is important is to offer counselling to those relatives. There is also the need to provide physical spiritual need. Where Lagos cannot meet up all their needs, the Federal Government will come in to support. We are working together.”
Commending the Lagos State Government on the mortuary facilities, he said the corpses were well preserved and intact. Further, he disclosed that a total of 147 bodies are in the custody of the Lagos State government. “Out of which 50 identifiable bodies at LASUTH mortuary, 97 charred bodies and six body parts are at the Main land Hospital mortuary”.