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West Africa

COVID-19: Stir over smuggled corpses in Delta community

Security agents kick as locals make brisk business with detained corpses.

Residents of Alifekede in Ika South Local Government Area of Delta State have expressed fears of possible outbreak of an epidemic if corpses being conveyed to the eastern part of the country are not allowed speedy passage at the inter-state border community.

 

Following the inter-state restriction of movement by the Federal Government to curtail the spread of the dreaded COVID-19, there is a blockade at Alifekede being the border between Edo and Delta states where travellers are screened to ensure that only essential service providers are allowed to continue their journey to the East.

 

The border is being manned by joint task force, including security agencies, members of Delta State committee on COVID-19 and other relevant agencies and departments of government.

 

Investigations revealed that corpses from Lagos were held up at the border town for some days following the inability of the relatives of the deceased conveying such corpses to produce relevant documents such as autopsy to show the cause of death.

The upsurge in the corpses going to the East, it was learnt, stemmed from the relaxation of the embargo on burials by the Lagos State government, ostensibly to create spaces in private and public mortuaries across the state, which are said to have been filled to the brim due to the lockdown occasioned by COVID-19 outbreak.

The Lagos State government had opened a two-week window for relatives of dead bodies to evacuate the corpses for burial in any part of the country or they would be buried in a mass grave, making the state to also slow down on its ban on inter-state travels.

 

And because it is believed that it is sacrilegious for an Igbo man or woman to be buried outside their ancestral home, except on rare situations, the Igbo who had lodged dead relatives in morgues nearest to them, took advantage of the two-week window to evacuate such corpses home for burials.

 

But the journey back home, for some, ran into trouble waters at Alifekede as the decomposing corpses were said to have been detained, fueling fears among residents of another health hazards even as they are contending with the Coronavirus disease.

 

The situation is made worse for the relatives as there is already a standing order by the Delta State government that no mortuary, whether public and private, should accept any corpse coming from elsewhere.

When our correspondent visited Alifekede, although there were no ambulances conveying corpses, a resident in the area who simply identified himself as Obuseh said some corpses were detained for two to three days before the relatives found their way through.

According to Obuseh, there was crisis here the other day because of the ambulances. People are bringing their dead relatives home for burial but they were denied access into the state by those enforcing restriction of inter-state movement at the border.

“Our fear now is that the corpses have suddenly disappeared. We are scared that some desperate persons will go into our bushes and bury their deceased relatives in shallow graves, and this will pose grave danger to our health,” he said.

Rationalizing why the corpses were detained in the first place, a member of the Delta State COVID-19 committee who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the conveyors of the corpses failed to produce the necessary documents to continue the journey.

“Those people bringing dead bodies from Lagos know what to do. They can’t just come here and expect us to allow them into the state without producing evidence in terms of documents relating to the cause of death.

“We are all in a trying period. If you’re carrying a corpse from one part of the country to the other, there should be an autopsy so that those at the borders will ascertain the cause of death before opening the road.

“We are all aware that any COVID-19 corpse is the property of the Federal Government through the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). The late Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari was buried by NCDC.

“In this case, the people are producing documentation to show that the death did not result from COVID-19. If there is autopsy to show the cause of death and it is not COVID-19, the corpse will go, nobody will stop it,” the source stated.

Meanwhile, further investigation revealed that some of the conveyors of the corpses actually beat the border security to continue the journey home, particularly at night when the capacity to enforce the lockdown had become weak, amidst growing concerns about compromised security at the border post.

But Delta State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Hafiz Inuwa exonerated his men from any sharp practice at the border post, saying that if any of them is caught engaging in such allegations, the command would not hesitate to sanction such erring officer.

Inuwa stated that it was not only the police that was enforcing the restriction of inter-state movement, adding that accusing the police of being responsible for making the border porous was wrong.

The police commissioner who maintained that anyone bringing corpse will not be detained or disallowed from entering the state if he/she presents the necessary documents backing his or her movement, fingered the locals at the border town of helping strangers to beat border rules.

“You know the local people there know the roads within the interior, they know the area so well that they will not hesitate to take these people that are detained at the border to alternative routes to get to their destinations,” Inuwa stated.

Meanwhile, there was apprehension at the Asaba end of the River Niger Bridge over build up of ambulances suspected to be conveying corpses to the East.

Although, there is a check point at Toll Gate before the head bridge, the ambulances were said to have meandered through the deplorable road traversing Oko community and connecting the expressway at the bridge head.

But when Sunday Sun visited both the Toll Gate and the Head Bridge, there were no evidence of such ambulances on ground. The place was a beehive of activities as people were trekking enmasse over the bridge to enter Onitsha in Anambra State.

One of the persons manning the Toll Gate check point told our correspondent that they did not detain any ambulance bearing corpse, noting that it was expected that such corpse had been cleared earlier at Alifekede.

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