By Sola Ogundipe
TEN days after 153 passengers aboard Dana Flight 099 from Abuja perished along with an indeterminate number of people on the ground when the aircraft crashed into residential buildings in Iju, a suburb of Lagos, on the afternoon of Sunday June 3, 2012, the release of the remains of the victims to their relations by authorities of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, remains a contentious issue.
In the aftermath of the air disaster described as one of the worst in recent times, a total of 11 identifiable bodies had been cleared for release up till Monday June 11, 2012. Although not all of the released bodies which have undergone autopsy at the expense of theLagosStategovernment have been claimed to date, the hospital authorities are, however, insisting on conducting individual DNA tests on all the remaining bodies whether or not they are identifiable, pending approval of the release of any more bodies.
But this decision by the authorities is one that has not gone down well with the grieving relations of the victims who have made no pretence of their dislike for such rigmarole. They have openly expressed their reservations about the need for mandatory DNA test before they would be permitted to take away the remains of their loved ones who died in the unfortunate incident.
Over the last few days and in view of the foregoing, the state of events that have held sway at the premises of the Lekan Ogunsola Memorial Mortuary where the retrieved bodies are being kept within the LASUTH premises has not been particularly cordial as aggrieved relations protest the decision.
Precisely on Sunday June 10, 2012, at a “family” meeting held at the State House, Alausa, Ikeja, presumably in the effort to prevent the unintended wrongful release of bodies to the family members, in realisation of the intricacies emanating from the ongoing identification process, Governor Babatunde Fashola had given the victims’ relations two options.
The first option was to accept a mass burial of the victims, several of which were already decomposing and largely unidentifiable, while the second option was to agree to a compulsory DNA test that would require a wait of four to six weeks, but with the promise of ensuring that the right bodies were properly identified before being released to their family members.
At that meeting, the relations had voted unanimously in favour of the DNA test, so it came as a surprise when the very next day, a large group of the relations gathered at the Lekan Ogunsola Memorial Mortuary, still demanding release of bodies.
The agitation which built up from around mid-morning gradually erupted late afternoon in the form of a mild drama as the crowd of relations openly confronted the state’s Chief Coroner, Consultant Pathologist and Forensic Medicine expert, Professor John Obafunwa, and the Chief Medical Director, Professor Wale Oke.
It all began when Obafunwa and Oke were shouted down when they attempted to explain why approval was no longer going to be given for release of more bodies until DNA tests are carried out. The case of one of the victims, George Moses, was particularly instructive.
A police woman who claimed to be junior sister of the deceased, protested vehemently when she was told her brother’s body could not be released pending identification through DNA test.
As it was gathered, the late Moses’ daughter had earlier declined to identify as her father’s a particular body, listed as number 22 on the list of identifiable bodies released by the morgue. But the other members of the deceased’s family, 12 of them, later stormed the mortuary to verify that, indeed it was Moses’ body.
“Give us a second chance. We know him and will not make a mistake because we can recognise him. You do not need to do DNA to be so sure. Just bring the corpse out and let us see him. We did not know he was going to die, now he is dead, you are saying we cannot see his body. It is so unfair. He is number 22, so bring him out, let us see him,” they raged.
Speaking, Moses’ sister reasoned that even if the deceased daughter had made a mistake, she (sister) would not. “He is my brother. We came from the same womb. The daughter could have been confused not identify him properly. Let me see the body myself. Even in the darkness, I can identify my brother. They are now saying we should wait three weeks. What for? That is not acceptable.
“Why can’t we see and collect a body we have already identified? Suppose they come back to tell us that the test result is inconclusive and they still end up doing a mass burial?
They should release my brother so we can bury him and let his soul rest.”
But Obafunwa was unyielding. “I will not be stampeded into releasing bodies. I have nothing to gain by keeping the bodies unnecessarily. I would rather be cautious than give out the wrong body. The bodies released are the ones properly identified. DNA examination is the best option. I appesl to you to be more patient if you must get the right corpse. Until the DNA test is out, no more bodies would be approved for collection, he said with finality.”
The DNA blood test has emerged as the most infallible way of convincingly answering the question of family relationship. Often referred to as DNA blood testing, parentage testing or DNA fingerprinting, the DNA blood test is utilised to identify and evaluate the genetic information-called DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)-in a person’s cells.
It is called a “fingerprint” because it is very unlikely that any two people would have exactly the same DNA information, in the same way that it is very unlikely that any two people would have exactly the same physical fingerprint. The test is used to determine whether a family relationship exists between two people, to identify organisms causing a disease, and to solve crimes.