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By Ozioruva Aliu,BENIN CITY

CONTROVERSY has continued to trail the discovery of a facility in Benin City, Edo State where twenty mummified bodies including those of two babies and three women were found last Wednesday.

The question has been whether it is a den for rituals as reported by the police or a mortuary as being claimed by those arrested in the facility and subsequent information available after the discovery in the private residence along Asoro slope, off Ekheuan road, Uzzebu quarters in Benin city.

The discovery caused panic as family members have been thronging two private mortuaries in the area to ascertain whether the bodies of  their  family members buried there are still there.

Various security outfits including local vigilantes have been deployed to the area and the facility sealed while the police said four people have so far been arrested.

The Edo State Police Command in a statement made available to newsmen late Wednesday claimed that its men busted a rituals den and discovered mummified bodies numbering about twenty (20).

In the statement released at about 10:26 P.M, August 17, the command’s Deputy Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Jennifer Iwegbu said “15 mummified male corpses, three mummified female corpses and two mummified children corpses were discovered at the scene,”  by men of the command who invaded the area after credible information.

   Iwegbu in the statement named suspects arrested at the shrine as: Chimaobi Okoewu and Oko Samuel ‘M’ both of Afikpo in Ebonyi and Gideon Sunday ‘M’ of Akwa-Ibom State, adding that others, while sighting the police escaped.

   The statement reads in part: “Following credible information at the Command’s disposal that some corpses were discovered in a building along Asoro slope off Ekheuan road, Uzebu quarters,Benin city. Operatives of the command immediately swung into action and mobilized to the scene.”

The issue has generated a lot of controversy as regards the motive of the owner of the place identified by the police as Chukwu Otu who is said to be on the run. Those who knew Otu claimed he is a certified mortician who also practices the African Traditional religion hence the presence of what looked like shrines in the compound and substances that looked like blood believed to be that of animals. 

Also addressing newsmen after a visit to the scene on Thursday, Edo State Police Public Relations Officer, SP Chidi Nwabuzor said the owner of the facility was on the run, adding that five shrines were found at the uncompleted building with stains of blood.

Nwabuzor said one of the suspects arrested for the crime claimed that Mr. Otu is a mortician with one of the private hospitals in Benin but argued that the place could not be a morgue as is being speculated in some quarters. When asked if the bodies discovered had identification tags, the PPRO admitted that the bodies were tagged as done in morgues but expressed his doubts on the motive of the owner of the building.

He said  “The place cannot be a mortuary because the building is a fresh building which is under construction. This is because when the police visited the scene, we saw people working there; people fixing POP and other works still ongoing, so it cannot be a morgue.

He continued: “Other items discovered at the scene are five shrines. There were blood stains possibly from  animals such as fowl, dogs in that place. Three persons who claimed to be working there were arrested. Just after the raid, a certain man came to the scene of the crime in the night and he was equally arrested.

  “The owner of the place as we speak is on the run. His name is Chukwu Otu. Investigation is ongoing.”

But speaking when Saturday Vanguard visited the place on Thursday, one of the casket-makers at the place who did not want his name mentioned, disagreed with the claim of  police  that the place was a den of ritualists. 

He said the uncompleted building is a new mortuary under construction, adding that the man is a mortician who relocated from First East Circular, Benin to the new site (Asoro Slope, Ekheuan Road, Benin City), just as he added that bodies police discovered were relocated from First East Circular to the place.

  The casket-maker said the man is known to be a traditionalist hence the shrines police claimed to have discovered from the place are what he used for his traditional worship.

He said, “That place is a mortuary, no doubt. He is a well known and a strong traditionalist, I am just surprised how he brought his shrine to his morgue. He has four morgues in this town. He just relocated from First East Circular to this place in Ekheuan Road. So, that place is a morgue,” he added.

Corroborating the claims of the casket maker,  a man who identified himself as Nappiar Osaro said he came to claim the corpse of his late mother only for him to discover the place had been labeled a rituals’ den.

According to him, his mother died in 2021 and the remains were deposited at the morgue. He added that the morgue was at then located at First East Circular before it was relocated to the present site.

He said he would have claimed his mother’s remains for burial but financial constraints made him delay the ceremony. “Now that I am ready, I went to the First East Circular to request for the remains of my late mother but I was told by people in the area that the morgue has been relocated to Asoro Slope, hence I traced the place two days back but the remains were not released to me because as at that time I was not with the identification card the management of the morgue issued to me when I deposited body of my late mother. He said this made him to go back home and booked an appointment for Thursday “but unfortunately the place has been in the public place for the another story entirely.

A group, Edo Civil Society Organisations (EDOCSO)  has also come to the defence of the owner of the facility.

The group in a press statement Friday said the police were in a hurry to declare the place a rituals den without thorough investigation.

 The statement signed by its Interim Public relations Officer, Leftist Aliyu Unweni said “The news became worrisome to us as Edo people have no history of ritualism or its likes.

More troublesome to us is the fact that it was the Police Public Relations Officer of Edo state command that led a media report on the same which would have suggested that proper investigation would have been carried out to arrive at what was reported in the media.

Immediately the news got to us, we quickly dispatched a team of investigators to unravel the true situation of the matter and report accordingly for a follow up. Below were the findings of the investigation team.

”The said building where the mummified corpses were found is not a ritualists’ den but a newly built morgue to house evacuated corpses from an old facility because the operator had been given a quit notice there.

”The operational name of the morgue is St. Gabriel Funeral Home with other offices at No. 24, 1st Federal Road, Benin City. It has branches in Anambra state, Ebonyi state, Murtala Mohammed way and 1st East Circular road where the corpses were moved from.

”The shrine discovered was said to be a traditional form of worship by the proprietor as a spiritual protection for himself and the business.

”The police didn’t conduct an investigation before addressing the media thereby raising an alarm of a ritualists’ shrine.

”As at the time of putting this report together, the police had not visited other branches of the morgue in different parts of the city.

”The videos of corpses in circulation revealed that some of the corpses had name tags and medical equipment were visible as well in the building. Further interview with one of the morgue personnel in another of their branch offices revealed that there is a register of all the corpses in the facility and that some of the owners have started to call to take away their deposited corpses.

”Our team of investigators were denied access to the morgue by members of the vigilance group that have been stationed there.

”Flowing from the above, it is now convenient to state that, the insinuation by the police that it is a ritualists’ den is hereby debunked and dismissed as false alarm and an attempt to paint the good people of Edo in bad light. This is not to state that, the morgue might not be an illegal one or does not have the requisite permits to operate a morgue which should be subjected to thorough investigation by the police.

”We want to reiterate again that Edo state is peaceful, loving and most accommodating in the whole of Nigeria. They are not known for human rituals historically. The state is open for visitation and business opportunities. Citizens can move anytime of the day without fear of the unknown.

We await the final outcome of the police investigation on subject matter and we believe it will be bold enough to put the record straight by stating the true position of the issues.

Going forward, the police authority should always carry out an investigation before engaging the media. Crimes are not fought with media propaganda.”

However, whether the morgue is a registered one is what could not be ascertained as at the time of this report.

Obaseki orders investigation, wants report in seven days

Governor Godwin Obaseki has given the police seven days to carry out a comprehensive investigation.

Obaseki stated this at a joint press conference with the police at the headquarters of the Edo State Police Command on Friday.

Represented by his Special Adviser on Media Projects, Crusoe Osagie, Obaseki said the public would continuously be briefed on the progress of the investigations.

He said: “We want to call for calm from the public, we don’t want to preempt the outcome of police investigation. There are a lot of speculations going around; some people suspect that the place is a quack morgue. Could it be for ritual purposes? We are leaving that for the police to fine out.

 On his part, the Deputy Commissioner of Police SCID, Olawore Oluwole who is handling the investigation assured that the police would do a thorough job. 

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