Funeral ceremony cancelled as corpse goes missing at Ebonyi mortuary

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Ebonyi State
Ebonyi State

The remains of late Madam Grace Okoro of Igbara village, Umunnat Edda Community, Ebonyi State has been missing from the mortuary where it was kept in December.

Pastor Fred Okoro, the younger brother of the deceased and a cleric in this interview with EDWARD NNACHI, bares his mind on the issue, while calling on relevant authorities to intervene.

Who are you to the late Madam Grace Orji Okoro, who died July last year (2021) at age 80?

The late Madam Grace Ola Orji Okoro, the wife of the late Robert Orji Okoro, is my elder sister. She is the first child of our parents. I am the third child. She was older than me by about 10 years. She had five sons and two daughters. All the five sons are dead. The last death occurred in December 2016 in Austria. The two daughters are alive.

The family raised the alarm December last year that Madam Okoro’s corpse got missing at the mortuary. What actually happened?

The story is both pathetic and unbelievable! Her death occurred at around 5am on July 2, 2021 at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State. The corpse was deposited on the same day at the mortuary of the General Hospital, Owutu Edda in the Afikpo South Local Governmenr Area. The funeral was scheduled to hold on December 27 and 28 2021, a request granted by the elders, town union, and youths of Igbara town. Normally, funerals are not allowed in my home town during the festive periods of December and January. The request was granted as an honour to my sister, because of her kindness to people, corporation and pursuit of peace in the land, which was not hidden from the eyes of people of the town.

Women of the town cancelled their August meeting of the year in honour of her. They said the meeting must not hold, while her body was in the mortuary.

The wake lasted from the evening of Monday, December 27, 2021 to around 5am the following day, Tuesday, December 28, being the burial day. From around 9am, relations, in-laws, friends well-wishers, youths and elders of the town had started gathering at the venue of the burial ceremony.

The ceremony was to start at 10am, but at 12 noon, both the ambulance bringing the corpse from the mortuary and relations and friends that went to the mortuary had not been sighted. There was apprehension everywhere when a relation drove in from the mortuary and asked me to come with him to the mortuary. On our way, he told me that I was needed to identify the corpse. That information put me off and I began to feel uneasy, wondering why even her first daughter who was living with her till the hour she died could not identify the corpse of her mother. As I got to the mortuary, I didn’t find it difficult to notice that the corpse that was cleverly packaged was not that of my sister due to one distinguishing feature of my late sister. She was about six feet tall. But the corpse presented to us was that of a short woman of about five feet tall. According to her first daughter, who was with her till she passed away, Madam Grace had plaited hair, whereas the corpse presented to us was with a low cut grey hair. My sister didn’t attend any church, yet the corpse was wearing a chaplet (the beads Catholics pray with).

As the mortician, Mr Joe Nweke, noticed that we had discovered his tricks, he lied that his colleague, who was not on duty due to ill health, was the person that received the corpse and did the documentations on the day it was deposited. A call was placed to his colleague, who, when he arrived, demanded the receipt to track the corpse. Unknown to us, Mr Nweke had quickly hid the receipt that we presented, but he lied that he had given it to one of us. It took up to one hour’s search for the receipt in their office, before my niece forced her hand into the man’s side pocket, and pulled out the receipt wrapped inside a currency note, to the shock of all that were present.

The mortician’s intention was to deny that we deposited a corpse at the mortuary. It was at this point that the first daughter of the deceased narrated to us how each time she visited the mortuary to check on the corpse, the mortician would not grant her request, with an excuse that he had just fumigated the place with a very strong chemical. The same was the experience of other relations who went there on December 26 to deliver the casket, and the clothes to dress up the corpse. The mortician didn’t deny these reports.

It took the presence of armed soldiers to prevent youths from my town from lynching the morticians and possibly razing down the mortuary. I thank God for that, as it would have degenerated into a case of “taking the law into your own hands.” We went to the police, who then arrested the mortician, and the clerk of the mortuary.

Was the corpse eventually found?

No! All the efforts put in by the police yielded no positive result. The suspects took us and the police to various villages and families who had true evidences that the corpses they buried were theirs.

Do you mean the corpse has still not been found since December?

No, it hasn’t. The corpse is still missing as we speak. My sister has not been buried and this is very unsettling for the entire family. How can we bury someone, a mother and sister, whose corpse went missing in the mortuary?

Where is the mortician now?

After two weeks of fruitless investigation by the police, the state police commissioner ordered the suspects and the managing director of the morgue to be charged before the magistrate’s court. They were arraigned on January 14. The suspects pleaded not guilty to all the charges. The court gave them N500,000 bail each, with a surety in the same sum for each suspect.

How do you and other family members feel about the whole incident?

We feel very bad and embarrassed about the entire thing. Not just family members, the entire town is totally disappointed. Remember I said the community gave a waiver for the funeral to hold during the December festive period because of the respect they have for my sister as a good person, who had lost all her five male children to death. Think of the huge amount of money spent in preparation for the burial, the time wasted, and the food that was left uneaten! It’s a big embarrassment to the family, and to my home town, Igbara.

How much did your family spend on the funeral arrangement, from printing fliers, to getting souvenirs, food, drinks, venue etc?

We spent a little less than N2m on the funeral arrangements. There was no refund of money for the things and services hired. The funeral programme booklets were not used. Benefits from age-grade of sons and daughters, in-laws and village to help cover the cost of the burial were not given to us. There was no time for that, as everyone went home disappointed.

What happened to the foods and drinks that were already prepared?

Some people managed to eat. The larger portion of the foods were thrown away as there is no adequate food preservation system.

Do you suspect that the disappearance of your sister’s corpse might be linked to the disturbing trend of ritualists’ activities in society today?

From what I know, it is clear that the disappearance of the corpse is not a case of mistaken identity, but a clear case of deliberate act of wickedness perpetrated by the mortician and his co-evil people who he had a deal with. Love for money, and its resultant betrayal of trust is the sum total of the whole scenario. The mortician is just being economical with the truth. But one thing I know is that, according to the Bible, “Though hand joins with hands, the wicked shall never go unpunished.”

Do you still hope that the corpse will be found and will you be seeking compensation?

We are not interested in compensation, but in having the corpse of our sister to enable us to accord her a burial that is befitting. This will go a long way in healing the wounds the family has been inflicted with, and in banishing evil people from the land, as the perpetrators will be exposed thereof. Talking from a pastor’s point of view, as a village where Christianity is just picking up in recent time, through divine revelations and deliverances that are known by the town, Ama-Oko, where this happened will have their faith encouraged, when the evil people are exposed.

I appeal to the elders of my town Igbara Edda, the chiefs of Owutu Edda community where the mortuary is located, the Afikpo-South LGA Chairman, and the governor of Ebonyi State, not to allow this matter to be swept under the carpet. They should sit up over this case. Let them get to the root of the matter through more investigations, though the matter is in the court already. My main objective in this fight is to have evil people exposed to their shame, and be justly punished. This will make my hometown safer than before to live in.

I also appeal to the Ebonyi State House of Assembly to come up with a stronger criminal law against the stealing of corpses.

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