By Sola Ogundipe & Chioma Obinna
LAGOS — Further release of bodies of victims of last Sunday’s Dana air crash may have been put on hold at the Lekan Ogunsola Memorial Mortuary of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, pending the completion of the DNA test on the unidentifiable corpses.
This development emerged, yesterday, even as relatives of the victims besieged the morgue demanding release of their loved ones for burial.
Information from the hospital authorities confirmed that six identifiable bodies had so far been released, while seven other bodies ready for collection since the weekend were yet to be claimed as the hospital was waiting for the families to show up just as four more bodies were cleared for collection yesterday.
Confusion over number tag
A hospital source confirmed to Vanguard that several of the victims’ families mistook the serial numbers on the published list of identifiable bodies as the tag number of the corpses. The ensuing confusion from this development, the source noted, further complicated the issue.
In an address to the victims’ relatives, Lagos State Chief Medical Examiner, who is a Consultant Pathologist and Forensic Medicine expert, Prof John Obafunwa explained that the corpses had no tag numbers.
He said the confusion slowed down his work because he had to explain several times over to victims’ families what he and his team were doing:“At the end,we could only get four bodies ready for collection today.”
Why identified bodies can’t be released
Defending his stand on why previously identified bodies cannot be released until after DNA test has been concluded, Obafunwa said: “I understand how you feel about the whole process, and I have also heard several rumours that we released some bodies because of their social status, but I am not going to be intimidated by those allegations. I am more concerned with getting things done right so that even if we made a mistake, let it be said that we made a very honest mistake.
“The bodies we released are the ones that were properly identified. There are cases where some families have identified some bodies as theirs, and when asked to describe some of the features of the person, they give wrong descriptions. There was a case where a man identified a body as his wife but when asked to provide some evidence, he provided a dental record and at the end of the exercise, the record did not match the body, and several other cases.
“I have nothing to gain here by keeping the bodies, but I want you to understand that whatever we do here have some legal implications and when anything goes wrong, I will be the one to be held responsible. So to really get things right, DNA examination is just the best option. I appeal to you to be more patient if you must get your right corpse.”
Relatives fault govt, LASUTH
A mild drama ensued when the relations of the crash victims faulted the argument and blamed the government and LASUTH authorities for the delay, saying the present challenge of decaying bodies could have been avoided if the bodies had been released to them as soon as they were identified last week.
One of the relations recounted: ”We identified our sister’s body the first time, they did not release it to us, and we came back a second time to identify her, yet we could not collect her body. Today, we were asked to identify her again, it is difficult because the bodies they brought are decaying and difficult to recognize,”
The man who was visibly upset, questioned: ”Why did they not put a tag on her the two times we identified her? They are playing games with us.”
..allege preferential treatment
In the confusion,some of the relations questioned the secrecy behind the identification of the six bodies released so far by the LASUTH authorities, insinuating that the action was not in good faith.
Another angry relation volunteered:”They are giving preferential treatment to some families involved in this matter. All the VIP bodies involved in this crash have been released and taken away. That’s why they don’t want to release the names. We understand the society we live in and how people connected in high places get what they want with their influence.”
LASUTH appeals for calm
However, the Chief Medical Director, LASUTH, Professor Wale Oke, appealed for calm, pledging that things will eventually be sorted out on the long run.
Explaining the need to wait for four to six weeks before they can claim the bodies, Oke said: “I got a report that some people were presented with bodies that do not belong to them and they said they were theirs.”
Yesterday, the governor (Sunday) emphasized that he wanted you to get bodies that actually belong to you because burying the wrong body will be traumatic and Professor Obafunwa has been working day and night to make sure that this purpose is achieved.
“Two days ago, two families were quarrelling over one body, that is the more reason we should be very careful. Think about it, he does not have anything to gain from keeping your bodies. If he exposes the whole body, most people will look at the body and begin to quote the features they see. What they are trying to do now is to take the dental records to make sure that the bodies you get are yours.”