Family members looking for their loved ones, who went missing during the recent #EndSARS protest have besieged the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Ikeja and the Mainland Hospital, formerly known as Infectious Disease Hospital, IDH, Yaba.
The family members visited the facilities in response to the announcement made by the Lagos State Chief Coroner, Hon. Justice M. A Dada, on Wednesday, calling for the identification of missing persons between October 19 and 27, 2020 – a period that witnessed protests against police brutality and disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad.
In the public announcement, Dada gave next-of-kin of the missing persons two weeks to provide means of identification of themselves and their missing loved ones so as to assist the identification exercise.
According to the chief coroner, it is only after a definitive scientific identification that the bodies of the deceased shall be released for burial.
It was mixed feelings for the family members, who were kept at the Lecture Theatre/Demo Room of the department of pathology and forensic medicine, as some of them saw their missing loved ones while others were not so lucky.
Seventy-three-year-old Adijatu Ogunfowora shed tears uncontrollably while narrating how her only son, 38-year-old Sunday Adeyemi Ogunfowora, was killed during the protest at Ifako Gbagada on October 15.
“My only son killed by a stray bullet”
The elderly woman, who is a widow and had lost a daughter as well, said she is from Ijebu in Ogun State but gave birth to her seven children in Lagos. She was in the company of her daughter, Mosunmola, and son in-law, Nicole Olatokunbo.
“He was killed by a stray bullet during the protest. He lives on the street where the protest was held. After he was shot, we ran to Ifako Police Station but they didn’t release his body to us.
“At first, they denied having his body in their custody, until much later when they said they have taken all those killed to IDH. We found his body at IDH on October 19. The attendant told us that he was brought naked around 1 am on the day he was shot. Imagine, someone that was shot around 10am,” Olatokunbo said while fighting back tears.
The relatives of the deceased said they have been visiting the hospital since October 19, but the management refused to release the body, claiming that it was awaiting approval from the state government.
“Luckily for us, we got a call on Monday that the government has asked them to release corpses related to the #EndSARS protest but we would need to come to LASUTH to process it. We have been asked to provide his photo, our national ID cards and his. We have been here for four hours now but we are yet to get his body,” Olatokunbo added.
The mother, who described her deceased son as easy-going and said she has accepted her fate and not interested in any court case or judicial panel, pleaded with the government to release the body so she can bury her son.
“I have accepted my fate. I don’t care about what the government is going to do to the perpetrators. They killed him when he should be feeding me. The government should release his corpse, without burying him, I can’t rest. I have accepted my fate but I should not be punished like this. Imagine, coming from Gbadaga and Bariga every week because I want to claim the body of my son at this my age. I can’t sleep, I am always weeping,” she said as other relatives consoled her.
The elder sister, Mosunmola, said her brother’s dreams and aspirations were cut short in his prime as the family was planning for the first year remembrance of their father who died last year.
“He is a good, easy-going person. He does not fight. People always mock him that he is too fearful because he will always run away from trouble or anything that can cause intervention of police. It is not up to a year we lost our father. We were planning the first year remembrance before his life was cut short. Our mother is a known APC stalwart in Gbagada. Four of us are also in the party but look at what has befallen us,” she wailed.
A distraught Ngozi Ojukwu was not lucky as she is still looking for her nephew, Chinedu Agbasielo, who went missing more than a month ago.
Twenty-eight-year-old Agbasielo, a phone repairer at Ikotun, went missing on October 20 after policemen allegedly opened fire on protesters.
“He was not at the protest ground. His colleagues confirmed that he was at the shop. They said they heard gunshots and everybody ran helter-skelter but since then we have been looking for him. We don’t know if he was shot, arrested or dead. We have visited many police stations to gather information and morgues but to no avail. We couldn’t find him here so they have asked me to go to mortuaries at Lagos Island and Ikorodu,” she said.
We don’t have bodies at LASUTH
The management of LASUTH has clarified that it does not have any of the bodies in its facility, stressing that only the administrative aspect of the identification exercise would be carried out at the Pathology Department of the hospital.
The Chief Medical Director (CMD) of LASUTH, Prof. Adetokunbo Fabanwo, said the hospital does not have any direct dealing with the case.
“LASUTH as an organisation does not have anything to do with this incident. It only happens that the private mortuary that is serving us is located in LASUTH; it is a private venture. And the chief medical examiner for the state, who is working in conjunction with the ministry of Justice about this case, is one of our pathologists here. So, as the Chief Medical Director, I don’t have any direct dealing over the case, so I don’t know how many bodies but I know they are not here,” he said.
‘Autopsy will be carried out’
It was gathered that the Ministry of Justice has directed the Chief Medical Examiner in the state, Prof. John Obafunwa to carry out autopsy on the bodies “purportedly belonging to #EndSARS protesters.”
When contacted, Prof. Obafunwa declined to comment on the matter, noting that he is not the appropriate authority to contact but pledged that no falsified information will come from him.
Meanwhile, it was gathered that bodies were not released on Friday as the family members of missing persons were directed to return to LASUTH on Monday.
Olatokunbo, who confirmed this to Daily Trust lamented that after waiting for over five hours, the family members were asked to return for documentation on Monday while the corpse would be released on Tuesday.
Another young man who had also identified the corpse of his relative confirmed the development to our reporter.
Hearing stalled as SARS officers shun panel
Meanwhile, proceedings at the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry for Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and Other Matters was stalled on Friday over the inability of the lawyers for the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to provide the alleged erring officers of the NPF.
The police had requested for an adjournment of the proceedings of the hearing of the two petitions slated to be heard on Friday as the affected officers were not at the sitting.
The two petitions are – Mr Ndukwe Ekekwe vs SARS and Mr Olajide Fowotade vs FSARS.
In the Ekekwe matter, the petitioner, a 34-year-old trader was allegedly paralysed when he was pushed from a two-storey building by men of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The police counsel, Mr. Emmanuel Eze, who had been cross-examining Ekekwe had asked for an adjournment because the legal team of the police was unable to get in touch with officers of the disbanded police unit.
Ekekwe had provided the photograph and phone number of Haruna Hamza, the SARS officer who was a member of the team that allegedly pushed him from the building.
“We will apply for a very short adjournment. The reasons are because of the disbandment of SARS and other tactical teams; we have difficulty getting in touch with them.
“We are in the process of getting there and the phone number that the petitioner provided here did not go through.
“I apply that the panel tries the number, it did not go through, in the overall interest of justice we apply for this adjournment,” Eze said.
In the Fowotade matter, the petitioner in his testimony on October 31, had told the panel that a policeman called ‘Ayo’ of the Ketu Police Station had brutalised him during a traffic dispute.
The petitioner said he lost his front teeth due to the police brutality.
During Friday’s proceedings, the police legal team said they were unable to contact the police officer.
“The petitioner did not mention the surname of Ayo, we could not trace the name to Zone 2 where he claimed to have reported the incident. We could not make a headway.
“We need to get the case file of Ayo and his contact. We are constrained to ask for an adjournment because we are without the Ayo or the case file,” Eze said.
Reacting, Fowotade who appeared distressed challenged the submission of the police counsel.
“There was the DPO Mr. Akpan who took me to the hospital and there is Madam Dolapo Badmus who took me to Kayode Aderanti, the AIG’s office.
“How come you do not know the Ayo, don’t you know the station, don’t you know the DPO. How come you don’t know Ayo, is it not the Nigeria Police Force?
“Madam Dolapo Badmus knows everything, how come you do not know Ayo, is he a ghost?” Fowotade said.
Reacting, the Chairman of the panel, Justice Doris Okuwobi (Rtd) said that police were not making enough effort defending the allegations despite three police officers mentioned by the petitioner.
Responding, Eze told the panel that the legal team is encountering challenges tracing the officers.
“Akpan the DPO is retired, Mr. Aderanti is retired and he did not mention Ayo’s surname.
“Dolapo Badmus has handled so many matters and it will be difficult to get in touch with the retired officers,” the police counsel said.
Justice Okuwobi noted that it will not augur well for the respondents (police) not to contact the police officers mentioned by the petitioners.
The retired judge said that the panel will no longer entertain adjournments made at the instance of the police.
She adjourned both cases to Dec. 1 for hearing.