Why we smuggle corpses home, by families

  • We pay heavily to beat interstate lockdown



It is no longer news that many people are defying the restrictions on interstate movements imposed by the Federal Government to curtail the spread of the rampaging coronavirus. What is however shocking are the reasons behind the defiance.

Checks by Saturday Telegraph have revealed that, since the Federal Government imposed the lockdown on interstate travels, many relations of covid-19 victims had been illegally transporting their corpses for burials, against the guidelines of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

The situation has now led to palpable fears in many states across the country as our correspondents gathered that many residents of various communities currently live in panic, following the smuggling of dead patients of covid-19 across the interstate borders. However, further investigations by Saturday Telegraph has shown that this is done in connivance with security operatives and drivers of commercial vehicles, who are exploiting the situation at the detriment of the masses.

Transporters now make fortunes by ferrying people who disobey the interstate restrictions order, with the active connivance of security agents, who take advantage of those engaging in the illegal movements.

A chat with some security operatives and commercial vehicle operators who confided in our correspondents, confirm that the situation has become a money-spinner for some drivers and uniformed personnel, as it was gathered they now charge exorbitantly to convey and accompany corpses to and fro different destinations.

A top security source who claims to have reproached some of his subordinates over the matter told Saturday Telegraph that some of his colleagues are truly exploiting the situation to make money, while revealing that in the last three weeks, no fewer than three families had ferried dead relatives from Lagos to villages in Delta State for burials.

The source, who claimed to be an indigene of one of the villages, said two of such burials took place in two different villages while the third deceased was deposited in a private morgue in a hospital waiting for appropriate time to be buried. “I have witnessed three cases first hand, but that is just my own axis.

If they could have taken three bodies across that area in less than a month, do we know how many corpses being transported to other parts of the country? “The report is becoming very alarming; people are freely moving corpses daily, especially in the northern parts of the country.

We get these details on daily basis and I have had cause to even chastise some of our officers who are stationed at the border posts. “It is not that they are not monitoring the situation, they do. They are even very vigilant, they are aware of all the movements, but unfortunately, some of them have compromised. It is those that that are scared and afraid that the situation may get worse that are revealing the secrets.

“It is true; two were buried in villages close to mine. They brought them rapped with big black nylon bags. Their relatives had, before then, prepared their graves knowing when the bodies would arrive. “Unfortunately, proper care was not taken as the corpses were removed from the bags and put in caskets before burial in disregard of the COVID-19 protocols. They were buried at night immediately their bodies arrived, though without much fanfare. And the villages were not far apart from each other.

“The third however, was deposited in a private morgue in a nearby town. It was gathered that the relatives were thinking of an end to the lockdown soon so as to give him what they termed proper burial. “We also learnt there have been some other bodies deposited in that particular mortuary.

But unlike the normal situation, the mortuary now charges double for taking such ‘risk’. Its big money spinner for transporters too, who are in the business, as they have to bribe their way through many checkpoints on the road”, he said.

We pay heavily –Travellers

To confirm that many defiant individuals have continued to defy restriction orders by moving across states, one of our correspondents visited the Ojota Motor Park in Lagos, on Wednesday, where he learnt that some travellers, who arrived from the Eastern part of the country, paid handsomely to have their goods ferried. One of the travellers said: “It only takes money for one to freely move around the country at this time”, while noting that that commuters in that axis pay heavily to have their wares and goods taken across the borders. “Transporters now charge between N15, 000 and N20, 000 from Onitsha to Lagos, as they have to ‘settle’ on the way. You can move anywhere in Nigeria provided you have your money,” he boasted. When queried on the vigilance of security men, the other passenger quickly responded thus: This movement happens at night and settling police is not a problem at all. I’ll be returning to East in two days’ time (Friday) with my goods,” he said.

Enugu episode

The Enugu State Government had, on May 18, said that a woman, who lived in Lagos recently ‘smuggled’ her husband’s corpse to Enugu for burial, despite the lockdown and the national ban on interstate movement. Investigations however revealed that the widow and her family members were forced to transport the corpse home following a deadline given by Lagos State Government to those who have corpses in mortuaries to evacuate them or risk mass burial of such corpses. One of those close to the family and didn’t want to be named told our correspondent that the family members had to contribute money to transport the corpse since it was a taboo in Igbo culture to burry loved ones outside the homeland. He refused to go into details how the family members managed to smuggle the corpse home despite the nationwide lockdown and ban on interstate travels, but noted that it cost the family a fortune.

‘Government can’t lock the living and the dead’

In Delta State, ambulances from South-West geo-political zone of the country still carry corpses across the South- South and South-East zones. The ever-busy Benin- Asaba-Onitsha Expressway still witness heavy passage, especially as the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Asaba, has started rejecting corpses without a verifiable history from being put in its morgue for fear of coronavirus. Lamenting their ordeal on Isoko road in the state yesterday, a bereaved young man, who simply identified himself as Clement, said his mother died two weeks ago in Ondo town and the family had to convey the corpse, after being in the morgue for two weeks.

“We have kept her in the morgue for two weeks. We were told by the authority of the General Hospital in Ondo town to come and remove our corpses. That we have done. We are taking her to Emevor in Isoko North Local Government for burial.

Would government stop us again? We will observe social distancing and prevent mass gathering. “No man is the final arbiter. Death is an inevitable thing. The next thing is to go and bury her. Why should land border closure for coronavirus be a stumbling block? Will government lock the living and the dead?” He queried. An ambulance driver from Lagos, who identified himself as Mutiu said, the corpse he drove three weeks ago became an eyesore before they reached Enugu, owing to police road blocks, while arguing that it wasn’t smuggling because he paid close to N100,000 to pave the way though.

‘We pay N7, 000, N5, 000 to get to Ondo from Lagos’ Speaking with Saturday Telegraph on how she was able to make the journey from Lagos State to Akure, the Ondo State capital, Favour (not real name) said that she was able to make the journey via public transport. According to her, she paid the sum of N7,000 to the driver who took off from the Iyana-Ipaja as against the standard transport fare of N2,150. She stressed that the vehicle did not pick its passengers from the usual Iyana- Ipaja Park as the vehicle was parked in another location with those who she described as touts calling passengers discreetly. Narrating how she made the journey, Favour said: “I was caught up in Lagos during the total lockdown.

After the lockdown was relaxed, I thought about how I would make it to Akure before another lockdown will be imposed. “It was one of my cousins in Akure who called me that people are coming in from Lagos and that I should try the Iyaja-Ipaja Park that someone who stays beside her house boarded a vehicle from that location.

“I made further enquiry and it was confirmed. When I got there, I didn’t see any vehicle loading but a tout approached me and asked if I’m travelling to Ondo or Ekiti State and I answered him reluctantly. He pointed to someone to take me to a Sienna Bus parked behind the park.

“I was surprised when the driver said the fare will cost N7, 000 because I was actually targeting N5, 000 but I had no option. The fare on a normal day costs N2, 150. During the journey, the driver paid between N500 to N1000 at the checkpoints.

There were no issues at all, the journey was smooth”, she said. Also, another traveller who simply gave his name as Femi disclosed that he was able to make it to Akure from Lagos through a Hilux pick-up van accompanied by security personnel. According to him, one of his colleagues connected him with the driver of the pick-up van who was to deliver beverages to one of the popular supermarkets in Akure.

He disclosed that he paid N5, 000 for the three to four hours trip, adding that the driver did not give any of the security operatives money because of the ‘officer’ on board. But the Ondo State Commissioner of Police, Undie Adie, who reacted to the development, has vowed to deal with any police officer caught compromising the directives. He said: “Our personnel are compromising at our various interstate boundary points.

Because of that, persons who are not supposed to be crisscrossing the country are getting through. We will not condone any such act. Members of the public are the ones reporting because they are experiencing it and it must stop. “We must monitor and keep talking to the rank and file. They must be firm in the discharge of their duties. They must be firm in the implementation of ban on interstate movement,” the police boss stated.

Movements into Bayelsa

In Bayelsa State, the border seems to be porous as some movements still take place. Recently, a prominent man’s corpse was brought into the state from Port Harcourt and was buried without fanfare. A source close to the family maintained that the corpse was brought in through the tollgate without stress because the father of the deceased is a popular man in the state. He said: “They observed all the necessary measures. There was no celebration.

He was just buried and everybody went away. But the co-chairman of COVID-19 task force in the state, Dr. Inodu Apoku tried to justify the situation, saying that, “the one you are talking about was an exceptional case. He was a very popular man in town, yet people didn’t even know when he was buried.

“They complied with the protocols that we are trying to observe. If you are ready to comply, no problem, take your corpse. When reminded that the corpse was brought in from Port Harcourt, he said; “why don’t you go to the border and ask them. I don’t stay at the borders.

There are people who have been instructed to do that”. Also, a young man named Sule Ibrahim said he paid N14, 000 to get to Yenagoa. He said: “We came with bus. I didn’t take direct bus. The movement was a night movement, from state to state. I spent three days on the road. I slept at Patani and got to tollgate in the morning and I didn’t have problem passing through the tollgate. People were passing. I know people there. All those people are my people.

‘If you reach Mbiama now, you get a vehicle to Warri, from Warri to Benin, and from Benin to Auchi, then to Abuja. The drivers give the security men money before they pass. From Kaduna to Sokoto, there was where we encountered challenges. Governors there are coming out on patrol in those places but at night, they don’t come out”, he said. The state Police Public Relations Officer, Asinim Butswat, said: “We will put more pressure on those policemen there.

I’m not aware that they are compromising. You are informing me. There are some exceptional cases. You are aware that Governor Douye Diri has allowed people to bury corpses. You should direct your question to the state government. “The state government is giving people clearance.

The state government is the one that set up the task force. It is not the police. You should challenge them. We are not the ones that set up the task force. It is not only police men that are there. Members of the task force are there. Vigilante people are there. Don’t you see how other states are doing theirs?”

Ebonyi witnessing influx

In Ebonyi State, families of dead relatives have continued to smuggle corpses into the state despite the ban on movement of corpses into the area. In Ishiagu, Ivo local government area of the state a corpse was intercepted in a boundary linking Awgu, Enugu state. The copse was being taken into the Ishiagu community with an ambulance which was also carrying few members of the deceased family. The corpse was ferried from Aba, Abia state. The ambulance was intercepted by Ivo local government taskforce on anti-coronavirus with Chairman of the council, Hon. Ogbonnaya Chukwu Ude present. Ude told Saturday Telegraph that a total of 10 corpses entering Ivo area through various borders in the state have been turned back, while lamenting that foreigners have been entering the area through Uturu in Abia State, Enugu and other borders and urged people to remain where they are until the coronavirus pandemic period was over.

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