July 12, 2024
Health features

#EndSARS:Govt’s Burden of a Massacre and Mass Burial

By: Yinka Shokunbi

Lagos State government is still dealing with the burden of a massacre and mass burial of 103 victims of the 2021 #EndSARS protests after a memo leak, Healthstyleplus can reveal.

Healthstyleplus notes that events and emerging facts from the recent backlash after the government memo approving N61.2m for the mass burial of the #EndSARS victims have indeed become a burden on the state.

The memo dates July 19, 2023, with reference: LA/PPA/No Obj/vol22/213, is addressed to: The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, signed by the Director General of the Lagos State Public Procurement Agency, Mr. Onafowote Fatai Ìdòwú.

EndSARS: Leaked Lagos Memo on N61m for Mass Burial of 103 Victims Stirs Outcry…Govt Says Bodies Not from Lekki Toll Gate

Idowu concedes, ‘no objection’ to the ₦61, 285,0000 approvals by Governor Babajide Sanwoolu towards giving 103 victims a mass burial, three years after the deaths occurred.

Since the memo surfaced, public reactions to stop the Lagos State government from carrying out the “mass burial with such outrageous amount” is continuing, says Rinu Oduala a Youth activist.

“Government must ensure it carries out DNA tests to identify the bodies and release them to their families,”Rinu Oduala, who was also a participant during the Lagos #EndSARS protest intensely insists.

Rinu Oduala

An investigation by Healthstyleplus reveals, there are varying reasons for this agitation renewal; chiefly, the inability of many of the affected families to find closure three years after the tragic incident.

According to Olumide Fusika, (SAN), Lawyer to some of the #EndSARS protesters, “Three years after the killings at Lekki and other places, many families are yet to recover the bodies of their loved ones for a decent burial.

“Some of those arrested are still languishing in jail without trial; the government denies, “no one killed at Lekki”, Fusika laments.

Fusika who spoke on Channels Television narrates how many of the affected families are still in anguish over their missing loved ones “while unknown to them, Lagos State government has 103 bodies kept in the morgue for three years!”

The Human Rights Lawyer is pleading with the government to ease itself of the burden of a massacre and mass burial, by allowing families who lost their children, brothers, and loved ones to retrieve their remains for burial so they can move on foreclosing the disaster.

Dele Farotimi, Right Activist and Lawyer attributes the backlash to the insensitivity of the government.

According to Farotimi, “Families of the dead can easily retrieve the bodies of their loved ones if the government put proper processes in place rather than approve a whooping N61m for burial.

Farotimi describes the approval of N61,285,000 (₦595,000 per body) as “fraudulent and unnecessary” at such a time as the country is passing through.

“This act will continue to be a burden on this government for trying to shield a massacre for mass burial plans.

Said Farotimi, “It is critical that we should look at the document (i.e. memo) itself, you want to bury 103 ₦500,000” he questioned.

Olumide Fusika

Adding, “Even in burying your complicity, you have to inflate the cost of their burial, it means, the deaths really mean nothing”, Farotimi bemoans the Lagos government.

Farotimi speaking on Arise TV, Lagos faults the State’s attempt to give 103 victims of the #EndSARS killing a mass burial.

He asks the public not to allow the fraud to happen.

“These are some people’s children; these are some other people’s fathers. We do not even have the benefit to know who they are because the government suppressed evidence”, laments Farotimi.

According to him, Governor Babajide Sanwoolu’s approval to bury 103 victims of the #EndSARS killings in a mass grave, “is an attempt to cover up the true findings in the 2021 report of the 9-member Judicial Panel of Inquiry (JPI) led by Justice Doris Okuwobi” says Farotimi.

According to him, the panel of inquiry which the governor set ups affirms in its report that there was indeed a massacre at Lekki toll gate during the #ENDSARS protests.

“Now if the 103 victims were not the result of a massacre, why the mass burial”, Farotimi reasoned.

However, this is contrary to the claim by former Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotosho while speaking also on Arise TV saying, “No one died at Lekki toll gate”.

Omotosho insists, “The bodies taken to the morgue are not from Lekki but from other clashes and crises that occurred around Lagos”.

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According to Omotosho, “Government of Lagos State has maintained till tomorrow, nobody died in Lekki. If anyone has facts controverting that nobody died at Lekki bring it on…there was no massacre in Lekki”, he insists.

Both Fusika and Farotimi are unambiguous that Lagos State Coroners System Law 2007, faces ridicule, 16 years after its enactment.

Healthstyleplus can equally report that the Lagos State Coroners’ System Law, May 2007, regulates the process of Death investigation and connected matters.

Section 15 of the Coroners’ Law states: “The Coroner shall hold an inquest whenever he is informed that the death of a deceased person lying within his Coroner District was as a result of death: In a violent, unnatural or suspicious situation; In custody or shortly afterward, among other reasons.

According to Fusika, “The state needs to tell the world the truth about why it has refused to carry out DNA and cross-match samples of the dead and the living so as to give out the bodies of the victims to their families for the benefit of enjoying closure on the deaths of their loved ones as prescribed by the 2007 Coroner’s System Law of Lagos State”.

Fusika refers to the evidence of the chief pathologist, Professor Oladapo Obafunwa before the Judicial Panel of Inquiry that after the government publication, some families indeed came forward to put down their genetic samples for DNA test.

Farotimi

He notes that the press statement of the Lagos government contradicts Obafunwa’s evidence before the panel.

“This is contrary to what the government has in its press statement that “nobody responded to claim any of the bodies”, Fusika noted.

He demands that the Lagos State government owes explanations on “what happened thereafter to samples collected from families that showed up?”

Ms. Rinu Oduala on her Twitter handle re-echoes Fusika’s position that families who showed up for DNA were denied the benefit of the test.

According to Rinu, “Families of #EndSARS victims killed by police forces showed up between looking for the bodies of their loved ones, including Pelumi Onifade’s mother.

“They were asked to drop DNA samples (sic). They dropped (sic), Lagos State government never did any DNA test for the samples collected.

“They played on the feelings of the grieving families, abandoned the samples, and left them in the dark”, she tweets.

“Hence to date, the body of 24-year-old Pelumi Onifade who was a trainee Journalist with GboaTV and on assignment to cover the clashes at the Ogba area of Lagos when he was shot, was never recovered” Rinu laments in her Tweet.

Rinu fumes further, “They asked us where the bodies are? Yet, the bodies were with them all along”..

Healthstyleplus’ investigation shows the evidence of Professor Obafunwa before the investigating panel supports the claim by Rinu.

From the panel’s report, the chief pathologist said, he autopsied a total of 99 bodies.

Obafunwa’s evidence is on pages 83-108 of the 309-page JPI report.

The chief pathologist submits before the panel, that out of the 99 bodies, three (3) were reportedly, “picked up from around Lekki and Lekki toll gate”.

According to him, “The deaths of the three reportedly came from Lekki but identity unknown. The reason of the numbering- (YABA 2020/05; YABA 2020/062; YABA 2020/041) and not by names”.

The labeled bodies he notes were from Yaba, but brought to LASUTH for autopsy and returned to the Yaba mortuary.

“As a result, DNA samples had to be obtained from the corpses for identification purposes”, said Obafunwa.

The Chief Pathologist led evidence by Fusika also reveals that following the public announcement asking people to come to initiate the process of identification of bodies, “only about 15 families have come forward while only three (3) corpses have been claimed out of the 99 corpses”.

Obafunwa during cross-examination also affirms, “While only fifteen (15) families had come forward for sample collection, no shipment of the samples to a DNA laboratory has been done.

Disclosing “no DNA tests had been done because the appropriate authorities are yet to release the funds required to conduct the tests.

Noting, “Without an order to send the samples, they could not be done. The state government had always paid for the tests in the past,” he told the panel.

The witness (Obafunwa), refused to speculate as to the lifespan of the reference samples, noting he could only assume that they would still be viable as they were cell scrapings.

In his words, “Only the laboratory could (confirm) if they could retrieve DNA materials”.

His advice is that DNA tests be done quickly due to the fact that it has been almost a year since they were taken and stored in the freezer as well as the intermittent power failure.

Obafunwa warned that care be taken, as decomposition might affect the viability of the sample.

Noting that his department has not had light (power supply) for over a week.

He also informed the panel that while there was a risk of being unable to identify the corpses if the DNA tests were not performed timeously, “there however was a chance of succeeding at it”.

Obafunwa equally noted, “The fact that no family member has come to initiate the process of identification with a view to claiming the remaining corpses does not change the fact that they (families) exist”.

Rinu, Fusika, and Farotimi all believe that the government is deliberately concealing the truth and accepting the killings, a fact that is now a burden to the government.

They conclude that the burden of defending the massacre and mass burial policy will continue to be on the Lagos State government unless it acknowledges the truth that it is hiding.

Some of the hidden truth they reason include:

Revealing the identities of the prisoners shot and killed in the Ikoyi jailbreak.

What happened to the samples collected from those who showed up for the DNA test?

Why were there no further mass media broadcasts or announcements inviting families to claim their missing loved ones between 2021 and 2023 prior to the government’s final decision for a mass burial? What manner of dignifying burial rites are being planned with N595,000/per victim whose cause of deaths are not acknowledged or known?

Omotosho on TV confirms government is planning a mass burial of bodies whose families have not come to claim three years after the incident happened.

He describes mass burial as a global phenomenon in the event of disease outbreaks and calamities.

Omotosho assures that the 103 bodies would not be in one mass grave.

The practice of mass graves for victims of mass disasters has been a practice in Lagos State until the Coroners Law, 2007..

After the enactment of the Lagos State Coroners’ Law, deaths from mass disasters such as the Dana Air crash, the Associated Airline crash, Synagogue building collapse, and the Lekki Building collapse among others all were autopsied and DNA done.

Every family receives the bodies of the victims for burial.

The last time Lagos recorded a public mass burial was on January 28, 2002, a day after more than 1000 people perished as a result of the Ikeja military cantonment bomb explosion.

There was a mass burial at a site near the Oke-Afa canal, Isolo, with a cenotaph put in their honour.

In the words of Omotosho, “What the government intends to do is, give these people decent burial.

He describes the burial to include, each body having its own grave, coffin, and slab.

This he explains becomes necessary, in case “several years after, anyone wants to check his or her relation he can visit the grave”.

Omotosho defends the N61m contract to TOS Funerals Limited describing the funeral parlor as “the Julius Berger of funerals in Nigeria” and that “the home is not cheap”.

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