The call by Lagos state government in November 2020, inviting family members of EndSARS victims for a DNA test to claim their corpses may have come as a relief to the bereaved. More than two years after this call, Omolabake Fasogbon discovers that many corpses are still being wilfully detained by government after failing to take responsibility for the test it called for, leaving relatives to chase shadows for the corpse of their loved ones
The word of renowned psychiatrist, Colin Murray Parkes, “Grief is the price we pay for love”, aptly describes the plight of Bose and Tunde Onifade, the parent of late Pelumi Onifade, who was killed while covering the EndSARS protest In 2020.
The EndSARS movement is a public action against police brutality, and later extended into an uprising against bad governance in Nigeria.
Killed like a criminal, young and promising Pelumi was one of the monumental loss of the protest that literally torn Nigeria apart.
Pelumi, who should have been 23 this year, was on internship with a local media platform, Gboah TV. As part of the training on the job, he was assigned to cover a section of the protest in Lagos. Unfortunately, he lost his life.
A second-year history student at the Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED), Ogun State, Pelumi was shot at like an animal preyed upon by one of the policemen who tried to disperse hunger stricken crowd at a store in Oko Oba, Agege, Lagos, where COVID-19 palliatives were being hoarded.
By October 24, 2023, it will be three years that the young journalist departed from this world, yet hurtfully, Pelumi’s parents, among many others bereaved by the saga, are yet to take possession of the corpse of their loved ones hanging in the custody of Lagos State government.
This is inspite that the Lagos State government promised to release corpses to their owner, and even invited relatives for a DNA test to ensure that they do not claim the wrong corpse.
The deceased’s mother, Bose, said that her son’s corpse was last seen on Thursday, October 29, 2020 in Ikorodu morgue by concerned church members who visited. She said family members barred her from visiting the mortuary.
In this part of the world, although tradition forbids parents from beholding the corpse of their child, but it was certainly not against burying a dead child deservedly.
Visiting Bose in their one room apartment in Aboru, Iyana Ipaja, Lagos, she was in despair, yet resolute. Her words and mien exudes agony. Obviously, burying her child is the only soothing therapy.
She recalled how she had to hawk her petty items from morning till night to support her husband’s meagre income to sponsor Pelumi through school.
She is pained that the beautiful and rosy plans Pelumi had for her would never come to be.
Worse still, she is embittered that two years after Pelumi’s death, she has not been able to give a befitting burial to her first and only son, who according to her should have been the first graduate in her family. Therefore, for the petty trader, it is a tale of double woes.
As she wept uncontrollably with mucus dripping from her nose, “she said, ” we have done everything possible to retrieve his corpse to no avail. Only if I had known journalism is this risky, I wouldn’t have allowed my son to venture into it.”
Fruitless Search for Justice, Pelumi’s Corpse
Bose told this reporter that she and her husband, Tunde begun a seemingly endless search for their son’s corpse ever since government ordered a DNA test for all victims’ relatives.
It could be recalled that shortly after the EndSARS revolution, the Lagos State Chief Coroner, Mojisola Dada issued a public announcement requesting all family members whose loved ones were missing between October 19 to 27 to visit the Department of Pathology and Forensic Medicine, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) to identify their loved ones.
Pelumi met with his untimely death on October 24, October 2020 in the heat of the crisis, thus falls within specified government time frame above.
Bose said she was consoled by the coroner’s announcement which raised her hopes of giving her child a fitting burial.
She said she visited LASUTH alongside her husband to submit samples for the test with great expectations.
Findings revealed that apart from Bose and Tunde, 14 other bereaved families also submitted their samples for DNA test in LASUTH.
According to the judicial panel of inquiry set up by the state government to investigate incidences of police brutality, 99 persons died in the protest, many of whose bodies were picked on the street by strangers, officers of State Environmental Monitoring Unit, (SEMU) and the police and later deposited in government mortuary.
Bose lamented that they were yet to get the result of the DNA test since 2020 and have not stopped visiting LASUTH for it.
But according to pathology experts, a DNA test usually take a minimum of two days and maximum of eight weeks to get the result, depending on environmental factor and quality of samples.
Bose revealed, “After they collected our samples, one Dr Obafunwa promised to call us when the result comes out. We waited for the call which didn’t come, hence, we visited and they asked us to keep checking. Since then, we have not stopped checking.
“One of LASUTH employees who was familiar with our struggle told us not to waste our time on the matter. She said government did not release money to run the test and apparently, not ready to run the test.”
This reporter gathered that LASUTH as an institution does not conduct a DNA test, other than collection of samples which will then be sent to experts, mainly outside the country for analysis.
That Bose and her husband were outsmarted by the ENDSARS judicial panel also compounded their predicament.
For this family therefore, it is a tale of injustice and betrayal that hardens their memories of Pelumi.
Pelumi was betrayed in life and in death.
“We have exhausted all options in seeking justice for our son that never came. Now we may not be able to pay the last respect to our son in if government remains rigid”, Bose cried.
”I believe miracle can still happen”, she added.
Already, there had been unsuccessful move by the state to block the family from seeking justice over the unlawful death of Pelumi. Tunde averred that it was not surprising to him when the panel eventually sidelined his family from getting compensation.
In a phone call conversation, the electrician father of late Pelumi recounted their ordeal with the judicial panel, saying, “The panel had already given us a date to come for the final hearing and we were looking forward to the date. Sadly, they changed the date without our knowledge.
” They had already started hearing on this new date when our lawyer alerted us. By the time we got there, they had finished. There was no way we could meet up because we live on the mainland, while the panel met on the Island. That was how we lost. We heard government compensated some victims, nothing got to us.
“On many occasions, I borrowed money to transport my wife and I to the panel proceedings. It is so sad. I want to believe that we are being treated this way because we are not influential”.
A DNA Test that Never Happened
Conditioned to retrieving dead bodies by families was a mandatory DNA analysis that Lagos State government ordered.
Indeed, government initially showed commitment, thus raising the hopes of the concerned, some of who had already begun burial preparations for their own.
But the cry of Bose in January, 2023, begging government to release the corpse of her child that has been in government’s custody since 2020, aroused public suspicion and raised concerns.
A follow up investigation by this reporter however revealed that government never conducted a DNA test for all the samples collected, rather played on the feelings of the grieving families.
True to Bose’s claim earlier, a very close source in the Ministry of health, who chose to be anonymous, told this reporter that the refusal of government to fund the test had stalled it.
By implication, relatives of ENDSARs victims may never be able to retrieve their corpses, which is contingent upon DNA result.
If the EndSARS Judicial Panel of Inquiry report was anything to go by, only three out of 99 dead bodies of the protest have been claimed so far; and this is because the three bodies were identified when deposited.
When contacted, Chief Pathologist of LASUTH, Prof. John Obafunwa admitted to collecting samples from 15 relatives as revealed in the panel report, but maintained that neither he or his Department were in custody of any sample.
When bugged further on samples whereabouts, he retorted, “Go to the coroner or the Ministry of Justice to make enquiries. I have no comment”.
DNA Samples Rotting out in Lagos Agency
Checks from the judicial panel report showed that DNA samples were boxed idly in LASUTH for more than one year, leaving Pelumi’s relatives and many others affected in the dark.
The Ministry of Health source further revealed to this reporter that samples were transferred from LASUTH to Lagos State DNA & Forensic Center (LSD&FC), when government did not attend to them for a long time. He added that he was not sure that the centre worked on the samples thereafter.
Following the tip, this reporter, along with Bose paid an unscheduled visit to LSD&FC at Odunlami Street in Lagos Island.
The gigantic LSD&FC building razed during EndSARS has become a shadow of its former self as the memories of EndSARS speak all over the building.
Conspicuously glaring are the shattered glass wall, black soot and a mortuary like silence that leave a picture of the ruins of war zone.
By first impression, it was as though the centre was inoperable until the two guards on ground proved us wrong.
“We are here to submit samples for a DNA test”, this reporter had deceitfully told one of the guards who led us to a small office behind the building, manned by two workers.
This reporter later found out that the centre now functions with two workers, and a supervisor who rarely comes to office.
Presenting her identity and that of Late Pelumi, Bose now sounding bold, approached the staff members for update on ENDSARS related DNA samples purportedly sent from LASUTH, the workers denied having the samples and asked her to return to LASUTH.
While this reporter conversed with one of them who simply identify self as Shade, she claimed to be ignorant.
She said, “I’m not aware of any samples sent from LASUTH. In any case, I will try and find out. But if the samples were presented by LASUTH, then the result should be delivered to LASUTH and not any individual. I supposed they should have run the test since it is more than a year.”
Lagos Agencies Pass Buck, Toss Reporter around like Ball
Like one who is cock sure, this reporter approached the Managing Director of LSD&FC, Dr Richard Somiari requesting for an outcome of the DNA samples of relatives of ENDSARs victims brought from LASUTH.
He neither admitted nor denied. He, like Obafunwa asked reporter to relate with Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, given the confidential policy of the centre.
He wrote in a WhatsApp message, “Due to the sensitivity and confidentiality policy of the Lagos State DNA & Forensic Center, we are unable to discuss or disclose information. All enquiries regarding such may be routed through the office of the Hon. Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice and/or Solicitor General and Permanent Secretary at the Lagos State Ministry of Justice. With the best regards”.
Shockingly, when our reporter reached out to the PR officer of The Lagos State Ministry of Justice,(Lagos MOJ), Grace Alo as directed by Somiari, she in turn asked this reporter to talk to Somiari, even after this reporter told her that she was directed by Somiari to Lagos MOJ for enquires
She simply said in a WhatsApp note, “Pls speak with Dr Somiari” and never responded to further enquiries.
Pathology experts hold that a DNA test can be conducted on a corpse that is as old as a century, in so far it is well preserved.
On the lifespan of a DNA sample, a Consultant Anatomic Pathologist/ Forensic Physician, Prof. Victor Onyiaorah enlightened that a DNA sample can equally be preserved for more than 100 years as long as it is not contaminated
He said, “it is incumbent on the professional who collected a sample for DNA analysis to handle it in the most appropriate manner, as to prevent both contamination and losses of the DNA analyte”.
Although, it is not cleared whether samples collected in 2020 from the victims of EndSARs, both the dead and their relatives were well preserved or mishandled, experts say when such samples are well preserved, they can still be analysed to get needed result. But where the latter is the case, a new one can be collected to serve purpose.
She recalled how she had to hawk petty items from morning till night to support her husband’s meagre income to sponsor Pelumi through school… worse still, she is embittered that two years after Pelumi’s death, she has not been able to give a befitting burial to her first and only son, who according to her should have been the first graduate in her family
We have exhausted all options in seeking justice for our son that never came. Now we may not be able to pay the last respect to our son in if government remains rigid…but I believe miracle can still happen