Dana plane crash: Journalists attacked as victims’ families collect bodies
By Sola Ogundipe & Chioma Obinna
LATE arrival and non-compliance with laid down directives for collection of identified bodies by relatives of the Dana air crash victims, delayed the anticipated release of the first batch of bodies of yesterday at Lekan Ogunshola Memorial Mortuary, of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Ikeja, even as a scuffle between some of the mortuary attendants and a photo journalist detailed to cover the event, turned bloody.
This development, which occurred despite efforts of the Lagos state government to ensure speedy collection of the corpses of the victims of the plane crash, slowed the entire process such that only few of the 20 bodies scheduled for release could be evacuated.
“Some of the relatives did not come on time and so we took their reference specimen late,” the Chief Medical Director, LASUTH, Professor David Wale Oke who could not ascertain exactly how many bodies were evacuated, said: “I cannot say precisely how many bodies that have been released so far because some relatives were not ready and some others decided to keep the bodies in the morgue.
“Let me clarify this, as long as the corpses stay in the morgue, Lagos State Government is not charging any money from the relatives. I assure you if all the families are ready today they will get the corpses of their relatives accordingly. We are hoping that in the next one week we’ll be done depending on the relatives response.
“The DNA test result got to us on the night of Saturday August 4, on Monday the Commissioner was informed, the Governor was informed, we immediately constituted a committee that was in-charge in breaking the code of the results because they came in codes.
“Earlier on, we have coded the bodies, and when the result came we need to match them with the 132 bodies. Then on Wednesday we held a meeting with the relatives and it was decided in that meeting that 20 bodies will be released every day until all the bodies are exhausted except those yet to be identified.”
Further, he stated: “ The reasons for that was some relatives did not come, some bodies were badly burnt that we could not get the DNA materials needed for their identification processes, but our pathologist are on ground to see if they can use their experiences to further identify the remaining 16 bodies.
“ In order not to cause unnecessary chaos, decided to release the bodies alphabetically and the names were pasted on the wall for the relatives to access, then for the remaining 16 bodies we will hold a meeting with the family members to see if we can take more specimens from the relatives. I believe this will be faster because we are only dealing with few cases and if at the end, anybody that cannot be identified, the family members will be contacted to decide the next line of action.
“On why some of the names of the deceased already buried still appeared on the list, the CMD said in order to be on a safe side we conducted DNA tests for all the victims, so that in case mistakes are made we would know how to make restitution but thank God there is no mistake so far.
Meanwhile, eyewitnesses said the scuffle between the mortuary attendants and the photographer, which contributed to delay of the scheduled release of the bodies occurred when the photographer, Benedict Uwalaka, of the Leadership Newspapers, was allegedly attacked, severely beaten up and grievously injured by the mortuary attendants who accused him of attempting to take shots of the bodies inside the morgue.
But in response, Uwalaka, who was later admitted at the hospital where he obtained treatment for injuries sustained in the fracas, denied the allegation levied against him.
“What happened is that as a photo journalist, I needed to get a close up photograph of my objective, and when I noticed that a vehicle had been parked across the entrance of the mortuary, I moved closer to get a close-up shot of the vehicle. That was all.
“Before I knew what happened, someone seized my camera, another grabbed my phone as the others charged at me, raining blows all over my body. I was hit in the face by a bottle and ended up with cuts and bruises to my left eye, head and left leg. I was covered with my own blood.”
Uwalaka, who said the incident was reported to the Area “F” Police Command, GRA, Ikeja, where he obtained a promise of a full investigation of the incident. A letter was procured for him to obtain treatment at the Surgical Emergency ward of the LASUTH.
An eyewitness said Uwalaka was unjustly manhandled because he never took a shot of the corpses. Responding to the incident, Lagos State Commissioner for information, Mr Lateef Ibirogba who visited Uwalaka in company of the Chief Medical Director, LASUTH, Prof David Wale Oke and Chairman, Nigerian Union of Journalists ,Lagos state chapter, Mr Deji Elumoya , promised that Uwalaka’s missing camera and phone wouldl be replaced by government.
In his reaction, Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Latiff Ibirogba said, “Journalists are important people in the society that must not be molested for any reason. He described the incident as an unfortunate one which shouldn’t be especially in this democratic dispensation.
“Let me first of all take responsibility of whatever happened today. I want you to see it as if I am the one who offended you. It is not wrong that you have come here to do this report , I am also aware that journalists do go extra mile to get information to be disseminated to the public and they always want to get the best.
But because we are dealing with people who are not in our profession, right from the days of Babatunde Jose, they have always seen us as enemies. “When journalists write something beautiful, people praise them but on the other way round, they go after their lives.
The commissioner however said that confrontation is part of the hazards of the profession but maintained that it should not be at the expense of Journalists’ lives.
He therefore pleaded with the attacked Journalist to forgive and forget assuring him that they will take responsibility for the hospital bills, replacement of lost camera and handset.
Meanwhile, Ibirogba urged Journalists to stay within the limits of ethics of the profession, explaining that this will further strengthen the credibility of the profession.