Mortuary, Cemetery Attendants Make Brisk Business

  • Monday, December 12, 2005 - From Chuks Okocha in Port Harcourt
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For mortuary and cemetery attendants in Port Harcourt, the grief that has enveloped the nation is nothing but a lucrative avenue to make money as relatives and families of victims of ill-fated Sosoliso Airline Flight 1145 that crashed Saturday paid through their noses yesterday to give their deceased loved ones a decent burial.

At hospital mortuaries and burial grounds in the Garden City capital of Rivers State where 107 souls perished between Saturday and Sunday, it was a business boom as attendants took advantage of the haste to bury the victims, most of who were children, charging high fees.

Grave diggers, for instance, hiked their fees from N5, 000 to about N10, 000 per grave while mortuary attendants raised their charges from N2, 000 to N4, 000. But the victimsí relatives were left with no other choice than to pay these high fees as they needed to bury the bodies that were fast decomposing.
At many mortuaries, particularly at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital and Braithwaite Memorial Hospital (BMH), yesterday, decomposed corpses littered their floors, forcing relatives to become more desperate about burying their dead.
When THISDAY visited the Port Harcourt City Central Cemetery, grave attendants had already dug several graves in anticipation that the victimsí families would bring their loved ones for burial.
Our reporter saw a victimís relative, haggling over the price of a fresh grave. ìPlease take N10,000 you know what some of us are passing through at the moment. If not for this Sosoliso plane that crashed, you will not see me here today. Please help us,î he said to a grave digger, who eventual accepted N8, 000 for the grave in which Miss Folake Badeu, a JSS 2 Student of Loyola Jesuit College, was buried.
As she was lowered into the grave at 12.40 pm, her father, Ayo Badeu, wept, describing her daughter as a gem. The officiating pastor at the brief graveside ceremony read a verse of faith from the book of Job, advising the bereaved father that no matter his sufferings he should believe that his redeemer lives. There was rendition of songs like ìRock of Ages, On the Last Day and God Be with You Till Meet Again.î
At the BMH, the cost of washing a fresh corpse before burial rose from between N2500 and N3000 to over N4000. There, Daniel Ibiam, the father of Ibiam Nnanna Ibiam, a JSS 2 student of Loyola Jesuit College, was seen making final preparations for the burial of his son, who he described as a ìfirst class brainî.

According to him in an interview with THISDAY, Nnanna wanted to be an electrical engineer. But the crash crashed that as he would be buried at his Afikpo hometown on December 14, his 12th birthday.

Relatives tried to unburden their sorrows yesterday by recalling fond memories of times shared with their loved ones. One of them, a cousin of Ibiso Okemini, that was buried yesterday in her hometown, Emahua, said the 12 year-old girl was a pleasant child that was to celebrate her birthday during the Christmas.

Also bereaved is an in-law to the Rivers State governor, Okey Nzenwa, who had to go to Mbaise to bury his daughter, Ada. A lawyer and politician, Nzenwa personally boarded his daughter Saturday and went on to participate in the Peoples Democratic Party national convention held same day in Abuja. It was at the venue of the convention that he heard the bad news of the crash.

His wife was already at the airport to receive Ada. But it was her corpse, she received. Family members said the girl had an ambition of becoming a medical daughter like Ada, the first daughter of the governor.

At the BMH, a mother whose three children that died in the ill fated airplane, Mrs. Ilabor, was seen weeping uncontrollably. ìAll my three children are gone, where do I start from. Allow me to die, let me kill myself. Donít hold me. Government should close down Sosoliso, they must not be allowed to go unpunished All my life possession is gone. Look at the children lying like roasted goat.î She was lamented in Igbo language.

Her husband also wept uncontrollably. He kept saying, ìMy father is alive, my mother is alive. My wife and I are alive, so my parents will have to join us to bury my kids.î

Another woman who lost three of her children was seen lamenting, weeping and asking a reverend father of the Catholic Church, ìWhere is God? Father, you said we should worship God, how? Father how? Like this, how can I worship God like this?î

Also at the BMH, the Deputy Provost of the Collage of Medicine in Abia State University, Professor Ike Mba, was seen lamenting the death of her two children, Chimaorake and Ijeoma Mba.

As the bereaved to wailed, Governor Odili continued his tour of their homes asking them to accept the incident as the will of God. He was at the family house of Mr. Roland Cookey Gam, whose wife, Aralochi, was a former Secretary to the Rivers State Government. She was being consoled by the General Manager of the Rivers State Television, Ms. Medlen Tador, and another lady, Doris Fisher, when the governor arrived and asked her to take heart.

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