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Lagos and its streets of unclaimed corpses

Posted by By Idowu Addison on 2007/02/23 | Views: 2561 |

Lagos and its streets of unclaimed corpses

IT has always been less than fun driving through the crammed streets of Lagos, what with the huge traffic and pothole-riddled roads.

IT has always been less than fun driving through the crammed streets of Lagos, what with the huge traffic and pothole-riddled roads. Sometimes, too, the rubbish from a nearby refuse dump spill out onto the road, and everywhere gets all smelly and messy. But, even more annoying than traffic jams, potholes and overflowing dirt is the sight of a decomposing corpse, a human being, lying dead out on the roadside.

Sadly, this recurring scene plays out everyday, much the same as if it were a flower garden or a piece of artwork put there to beautify the road. A regular road user, Mr. John Isiekwe, once found himself caught in a slow moving traffic beside a body and even months after, he still grimaces as he narrates his experience. "I was so angry and irritated...I mean, I had to sit right there in my car because I just couldnít get out and walk away. The corpse was beside my door and I was in the middle of a hold-up..." he said.

According to Mrs. Uche Johnson, another respondent who feels burdened by the incidence of corpses on the streets, no one should be left to decompose on the road, even the so-called armed robbers. Her words: "I just canít imagine it. I know that we all shall one day leave this world, but if someone dies on the road, it is good for him to be buried by his family or even the government. Even if they put him in the ground without a coffin, it is still better than for the body to just stay on the road, in rain and sun, and just be decomposing there! How can a humanbeing be left to decompose like a common fowl?" Speaking further, Mrs. Johnson expresses dismay at people who leave their homes without telling their loved ones where they are going or without a form of identification.

"Anything can happen; we donít pray for evil, but this is life. If for instance, you have an accident, people can trace your family and say, Ďcome oh, something has happened oh...í But when youíre like a nobody; no name, no address, how can people help out? These are some of the victims who remain on the street for days, I tell you."

Corroborating this opinion, a health worker with the Lagos State Government who gave his name as Tunde Esan, says that his department is often compelled to carry out mass burial of unidentified and unclaimed bodies who have stayed in the morgues for days. "Only two days ago, I and some of my colleagues went to remove a body that had been along Sanya bus stop for three days. The people around said the man was killed by a hit-and-run driver. No document whatsoever was found on him. Can you imagine?" Indeed, around the city of Lagos and other cities of this country, we find corpses on the streets almost on daily basis. It has reached an alarming proportion, I daresay, for we are not in a war situation. Surely, accidents happen every now and then, even in the so-called first world countries.

It is also possible that someone who perhaps had been terminally ill, or hypertensive, whichever, could just slump dead on the street. And then again, there are those suspected criminals who get lynched or roasted alive on the streets. But after a person, for whatever reason dies on the road, what happens? When a dead body remains on the ground for a full day, or several days, what does that say about us as a people? That we have gone back to the stone age, or that we have no regard for the sanctity of man, breathing or dead? What about the council officials and health workers whose job it is to evacuate corpses from the roads?

This seems to be a sore spot and Mr. Esan is quick to exonerate himself and his colleagues from any blame, whilst pointing accusing fingers at the general public. "Do you think we (the council) like it when a corpse is on the road for days? But we canít be everywhere at the same time. The ones (bodies) we see, we evacuate them quickly. But I challenge you (the public); if you find a corpse on your street or on the major road, what do you do? Tie handkerchief on your nose and turn your face, abi? What stops you from coming together, residents of the affected area, to remove the corpse?"

The reason as to why people rarely want to get involved in such matters is not farfetched, as Mr. Festus Iheanyi, a boutique owner at the Alaba Market, Ojo road, explains. "Sometime last year, a car killed one man on this road, so we all (traders) gathered ourselves and went to call the Police. They (the Police) advised us to go to the council. When we went there, the council officials told us to bring N10,000. We asked them, Ďwhat for?í Were we responsible for the man's death?" In the same vein, Mr. Stephen Atuche, a resident of Okokomaiko, a suburb of Lagos, says that doing Ďthat kindí of community service could land you in trouble, like it did him. "Iím not sure I want to try it again (helping to evacuate a corpse)," he said, recounting how he and a few of his neighbours ended in the police detention cell for almost 24 hours, and then bailing themselves with N2,000 each, because they tried to remove a corpse that was found near their street.

However, Mr. Esan would not shift ground as to his position on the need to have the general public participate in clearing out the streets when necessary. He gives a word of advice on how to go about it. "Common sense should tell you that to remove a corpse, you first of all have to go to the Police and get a report. The people who go (to the Police) should look responsible and decent because appearance tells a lot. They should go with a work identity card to show that they are not layabouts or criminals. After all, the corpse cannot talk to say who or what killed him. Iím sure that the police are not animals. They will listen and give the necessary support."

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