Abiodun Nejo captures the grief of relatives who abandoned corpses of their loved ones at the morgue of a federal hospital in Ekiti State
Families who abandoned their dead at the morgue of the Federal Teaching Hospital, Ido Ekiti, Ekiti State, without bothering about them would have to quickly make decisions on their burial.
This is because the hospital in an advertorial dated July 15 said its mortuary was congested and appealed to the families of the corpses deposited there between 2014 and 2019 to claim them within 90 days failure of which it would be left with no choice but to conduct a mass burial.
A study of the list showed that unclaimed corpses were 42 across different ages from day-old, youths to the elderly. A breakdown showed that there were 19 corpses of babies from one-day-old to 11 months, three bodies of babies from one-year-old to four-year-old and three corpses of ages five to 17 years. Others were 18 years to 29 years (five corpses), 30 years to 80 years (seven bodies), those specified as adults without specific ages (three) and those whose ages were marked unstated (two).
Besides, the advert indicated that out of the 42 corpses, 15 bodies were without next-of-kin, 16 bodies are without phone numbers of those who stood as their next-of-kin, some of the 26 phone numbers given were non-existent, wrong or perhaps re-allocated by the telecoms operators, thus making tracing a tough task.
Our correspondent tried calling mobiles that were reachable among some of the next-of-kin of the unclaimed corpses. They, however, gave diverse reasons for abandoning their corpses at the facility.
Families bemoan plight
Mrs. Julianah Olusegun is a resident at Itaji Ekiti and the grandmother of the late 25-day-old Baby Isiaka, deposited in the morgue on October 10, 2019.
She said the circumstances surrounding the continued stay of the baby’s corpse in the hospital’s morgue were complex.
The grandmother said, “My daughter is the baby’s mother. She is now at Isan Ekiti. It was a case of premature delivery in the hospital. We went through a lot of stress and we spent a lot of money. Immediately the baby died, the hospital, realising our condition ought to release the baby to us. But they took the baby to the mortuary and then it became a debt for us.
“The baby’s father ran away leaving me and my husband to be responsible. My husband, who helped us then, is now dead. To raise money is now difficult. Even with the 90 days deadline that the hospital gave, money is still the problem.”
Olusegun said, “Another thing which is a source of fear to me is that the baby’s father is an Ebira man, like my daughter’s father. I don’t want to bury the baby without his consent. He will take offence with me or accuse me of using the child. I wanted to avoid this. I weep every time for the baby. I am not happy at all about the incident. It is a sad situation but I am afraid there is nothing I can do.
“If I have money and if there is help, if the hospital can be kind enough to release the baby, I will bury the baby. But the fact that we cannot locate the baby’s father is another crucial matter.’’
However, she noted that there was nothing bad if the hospital could bury the baby with others as proposed upon the expiration of the ultimatum. “If the hospital can bury the baby with others as proposed, there is nothing bad in it. It is better than remaining unburied,’’ Olusegun said.
Also, a police officer who served at Otun Ekiti in the Moba Local Government Area of Ekiti State, Sule Dogara, but now in Damaturu, Yobe State, expressed surprise when called by our correspondent that the body of 30-year-old Sunday Emmanuel, deposited at facility’s morgue on July 21, 2018, was still there even though there was no court case over it.
Dogara said, “The man was a timber operator. He died a sudden and unnatural death. He was together with the man whose name appeared as next-of-kin, John Ugo, when the incident happened. When he died, they brought the dead body to the police station and we kept the body. I helped them in company with the man and one Emeka, to take the dead body to the mortuary.
“After few days, we said they should call the Igbo community at Ilejemeje council area where the man was working including the Igbo community at Otun Ekiti where he worked until his death so that they would know how to move his corpse to his place in Enugu State. They said the man was from a town called Uduma in Enugu State.
“I went to the hospital and did the necessary things to hand over the corpse to Ugo based on the instruction of the Divisional Police Officer then. I am surprised that it is my number that was published and not that of the next-of-kin.
“The corpse is still there because the man did not do the necessary thing. I wonder how somebody would die three years ago and his people are aware yet refuse to claim his corpse. There is no court case over the death.’’
Burying babies is a double tragedy, say parents
For Mr. Oluwaseun Adeoye, father of Baby Adeoye who died 23 hours after delivery, it was sad to lose one of his set of twins soon after birth on November 5, 2019.
Speaking on why he abandoned the baby and whether he would use the opportunity offered by the hospital’s 90-day deadline to claim the baby for burial, he explained, “It is not a thing of joy. Whenever I think of it, I am not always happy. But there is nothing I can do again. Do you want me to claim the baby and start crying again? It is not a joyful thing. It is sorrowful. Whatever the hospital does is acceptable.’’
He added, “My wife was delivered of a set of twins. One of them did not survive. It was lack of money that prevented me from claiming the corpse for burial. I have no money. I can’t remember how much they asked me to pay. It’s quite a long time now. We left the hospital with the other one of the twins and the mother. I didn’t know the situation of the baby’s dead body whether it has been buried by the hospital or not.’’
But the father of Baby Titus, who was deposited on March 28, 2017, Ayomide Titus, said “I did not feel there was any need to take the bodies of the set of twins who did not survive at birth back home for burial since they were babies.
“I didn’t even know the dead bodies could still be there. I thought the hospital would have done something about it since. But nevertheless, as I said earlier, there is nothing we can do about it.
“I thought there was nothing I would do with the babies – day old! And again, the hospital never made it clear to us that we had to claim the babies. I thought that was the responsibility of the hospital to take care of them (corpses),” he said
Police, money, court cases delay burials
The body of a 24-year-old lady, Kehinde Olomola, deposited in the morgue on August 28, 2018, lies at the facility because of a court case over circumstances surrounding her death, according to the late Kehinde’s elder brother, Tosin Olomola.
Tosin said, “The matter is a murder case in court; she was killed at Igede Ekiti. The case is still in court. That is why her corpse has not been buried. If they ask us to come and pick the corpse for burial, we will go. I hope we will not pay any money because we were told in the course of the court case that the government would bear the cost incurred at the mortuary. It is our wish that she should have been buried long ago. She is a younger sister to me. It’s saddening that her corpse is being kept in the mortuary. It is the court issue that has kept the body there.’’
Also, a motorist, Mr. Kayode Ayodele, said one of the corpses, whose identity was not known, was a victim of an accident along Oye-Ekiti Road in 2017, noting he stood trial over the matter because he drove the vehicle that hit the victim.
Ayodele stated that immediately after the accident happened, he rushed the victim to the General Hospital, Oye Ekiti, from where they referred to FETHI and from there, he was referred to the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife, Osun State. He added that the victim died while they were preparing papers for treatment.
“It was an accident that killed the victim. I drove the vehicle involved in the accident at a bend. Nobody knew his name or where he came from. Maybe he was mentally challenged, nobody could say especially with the way he dressed.
“All efforts by the police to find out who he was or who knew him in the villages and communities in the area was abortive. The people said they didn’t know him. He didn’t have a phone and nothing was on him to identify him. Immediately they told me at the hospital that the man was dead, I went to a police station. From Ido Ekiti Police Station, I was taken to Oye Ekiti Police Station, where the case was charged to court,” the motorist said.
Ayodele, who said the court recently acquitted him from the case, however, said that on being informed of the FETHI advertorial, he would contact his lawyer, saying, “If the family of the victim was known, there would have been discussion on the next step, but we don’t know his family. We don’t know his identity.
He added, “There is no way I can forget the experience. I still live with it. I sold the vehicle involved in the accident in June this year at the police station where it had been since then.’’
Besides, a police officer, Mr. James Abegunde, said to have brought the corpse of one Matthew, registered as an adult, on January 11, 2014, said he served at Otun Ekiti in the Moba Local Government Area of the state at the time.
He said, “In 2014, I served at Otun Ekiti. I had since been posted out of Otun Ekiti. I handed over the case files with me when I was transferred out of Otun. The corpse should be among the corpses we deposited at the hospital then. I have since worked in about five states. I am not even aware of the hospital advertisement having my name.” He however mentioned one Serifatu Ajibade as the next-of-kin of the late Matthew but it was not listed in the advert.
Busuyi Bamidele, brother to Peter Bamidele, the father of the late seven-year-old Heritage Bamidele, said the date the boy’s corpse was taken to the mortuary could not be July 2, 2017, as advertised, adding that the incident occurred in 2019.
“What I know about it was that there was an issue about money then because the parents spent a lot in the hospital. They later came for the corpse but the hospital authorities did not release it because of the money they owed, ’’Busuyi said.
Though Busuyi could not remember the exact amount owed, he noted that it was not as if the family owed hospital bills, adding that the hospital asked for some money on the second day the corpse was taken to the morgue. According to him, the issue made the family tell the hospital to keep the corpse if it was unwilling to release it at the time.
He said, “Is the corpse still at the morgue? He was a seven-year-old boy. I was the one who drove them to the hospital then. They spent about two months in the hospital before the boy died. My brother is around Iyin Ekiti now.”
He promised to speak with his brother who is the late Heritage father to communicate with our correspondent but he had yet to do so as of the time of filing this report.
Mr. Wale Aderiye, a resident of Ilesa, Osun State, said his 34-year-old wife, Monisola Aderiye, died at FETHI following pregnancy/childbirth complications in 2017, adding that inability to raise funds then coupled with his illness caused the delay in claiming her corpse for burial.
Aderiye said, “I was not the one that took the corpse to FETHI. The person deposited the corpse in my name as the husband. I did not have the financial wherewithal then. She died in the third hospital she was rushed to.
“She lived in Ilesa. When she got ill, we took her to a general hospital and from the general hospital, she was moved to Wesley Hospital, but she left Wesley on her own for a herbal home (Ile alagbo). It was when the situation was getting beyond the herbal home that those there took her to FETHI. Her death was from pregnancy/childbirth complications.
“I looked for money to take her remains out of the hospital for a long time. I didn’t have the capacity. Then, I was sourcing for N110, 000 or so. But I do not know what it would be now because since then, I have been ill. Her matter was a worry to me. I could not eat to the extent that I slumped.
“That time, I had raised N90, 000 but when I fell sick, the money was used to cater to my health. As I speak with you, I am jobless. I live from hand to mouth, coupled with the harsh economic situation in the country. For the hospital to bury her is what I think the government should do for us.’’
We’re humane, says FETHI
The hospital said that efforts to ensure that families of those who abandoned corpses at the facility’s morgue claim them for burial had yet to yield results.
The Head of Department, Histopathology, FETHI, Dr. Goke Erinomo, said, “The capacity of the morgue is limited. We can’t afford to hold onto corpses for years without anyone claiming responsibility for their upkeep. At the level of the department, we have called some of them and reminded/entreated them to claim their corpses or fulfil their financial obligations to enable us to continue to keep the corpses with us. Many did not bother to show up in any way.’’
The hospital noted that as a reasonable and humane public facility, it was open to alleviate the plight of its clients, adding that the relatives of the dead should come forward to discuss with the management.
He also advised those with corpses at the mortuary over court matters and who the government had promised to pay the charges to approach the hospital management with such proof.
The medical expert said, “Unclaimed corpses constitute a huge problem in maintaining the morgue. It is a huge loss of revenue to us that the corpses deny us the use of the morgue in full capacity. Each corpse is at N500 per day. Each year a corpse left abandoned costs the hospital N182, 500.’’
Statistics showed that of the 42 unclaimed corpses, four were deposited in 2014; two bodies were deposited in 2015; 2016; five bodies; 2017 seven corpses; while 12 bodies each were left at the morgue in 2018 and 2019.
Erinomo added that the hospital had conducted mass burial in the past without any issue, saying, “We are making sure we follow due processes and procedures in the disposal of these corpses as such we will not be liable to anyone following the disposal of such bodies.’’
On the religious format for the proposed mass burial, Erinomo said, “We are not a religious organisation. Mass burials are conducted under humane and civil conditions and in line with public health safety rules and collaboration with all relevant authorities.’’
Sociologist, psychologists comment on the issue
A professor of Sociology at the Federal University, Oye Ekiti, Ekiti State, Olayiwola Fasoranti, said losing a loved one was always traumatic to the bereaved.
The sociologist said that corpses were generated in hospital mortuaries from various sources including “dead patients with outstanding bills that need to be settled by relations; fatal accident victims waiting to be identified and claimed by relations; and dead patients without relations to claim them, especially those of their own volition.’’
Other sources, he said, included “corpses on which there are controversies or litigation; corpses of the aged kept till all the children arrive for burial; victims of hit-and-run yet-to-be-identified and claimed; and an ante-natal patient who died during childbirth with the baby and the husband fled.’’
On why people abandon their dead in mortuaries, Fasoranti said the culture of wealth often displayed during burials, high medical bills, lack of financial means to convey young ones to hometowns for burial and poverty were usually some of the reasons.
He said, “Traditionally, when a pregnant woman dies with the pregnancy, or someone dies of smallpox or chickenpox, they are buried in the ‘forbidden forest.’ With the absence of such forests now, what happens to such corpses?
“Underage non-natives might need to be carried to their hometown for burial and when it is not feasible financially and there is no space to bury it where they currently are, they tend to abandon the corpses. Many unclaimed corpses of younger people may be those without identity or known relations.
“The concept of giving ‘befitting burial’ is strong among the Yoruba and often causes delay in retrieving the corpses of aged parents. Some corpses of aged people are left for long because people like to display affluence during burials and hence they leave the corpses to look for burial money.
“Others are those with medical bills they can’t settle. It needs to be emphasised that poverty plays a significant role in this ugly trend. Abandoning babies in the morgue, as ugly and unthinkable as it seems, may be a clever way of avoiding double loss, That is, losing a child and paying the huge hospital bills.’’
On his part, a professor of Psychology at the Ekiti State University, Olu Olatunji, said that when examining factors responsible for abandoning corpses in mortuaries, consideration should be given to – the age and status of the person– whether he is an accident victim or not; whether there were traceable contacts or not; and whether it’s an economic matter or not.
Others, he said included “whether it is a psychological matter or not –we have struggled to save your life, paid through our nose the medical bills and the person still dies, psychologically, we can’t take the corpse home and they simply leave it there and in a situation where there are no strong medical records, it will be difficult to invite them to carry such.’’
Olatunji also said the changing understanding of the concept of death could encourage the abandonment of corpses. He stated, “Before now, our understanding and the concept of death is that whoever dies has assumed a higher status than the living. That is why we don’t speak ill of the dead because it is believed that they are higher than us. When one has a dead relative, one will want to give a final honour – burial – to that person.’’
He added, “In our culture, in the olden days, when we accept the fact that a person is gone, we begin to plan for his or her final journey home by organising an elaborate burial. Under that circumstance, one will not want to abandon anybody anywhere. Then for babies, if you look at the context, you know that babies that are born and die are a point of serious sadness for the parents. Then the shame and emotional trauma of bringing a corpse home from the hospital. Nobody wants to go through the shame of bringing a dead baby home. They will rather drop the corpse and move on.’’
Olatunji added that there were medical implications of abandoning corpses for they could have pathogens and viruses which if not well handled could infect the living.
Also commenting on the issue, a psychologist at Great Scholars’ Academy, Ado Ekiti, Olamide Agboola, who said the effect of abandoning a corpse in the morgue could be far-reaching, identified the possibility of depression.
Agboola said, “For those who have a conscience, there will be the constant feeling of guilt. It can affect them emotionally, as they keep remembering that the corpse of their child, parent, or sibling is in a hospital unburied. Constant reminders of such over days, months and years can lead to depression.
“When you lose your loved one, the normal thing is to bury him or her. But if you abandon the corpse in a hospital, when you get home, your mind will always be there. Depression may be the end effect.
“The hospitals have a role in preventing such. There should be due diligence to determine that the person dropping a corpse is reliable enough to return to claim the corpse. The issue of traceability is by ensuring they give genuine contacts where they could be reached if the corpse is staying longer than necessary. Then for those who don’t have a place to bury their loved ones, the government should stand in the gap by ensuring places for them.’’
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