The relevant authorities should investigate the source of the mystery corpses
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recently raised alarm that it has discovered 53 bodies suspected to have been extra-judicially killed by the police. The bodies were dumped in the mortuary of the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Ituku- Ozzalla, in Enugu State. The bodies were discovered in the course of investigations into the alleged extra-judicial killing of one Chukwuma Ihezie by men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of Enugu State Police Command.
The NHRC reports that the bodies were discovered in the same mortuary where Ihezie’s corpse was deposited, and were all marked with red ink. The commission said it suspected that, like Ihezie, the 52 other bodies may have been those of persons killed extra-judicially by personnel of the state SARS.The commission has asked the State Chief Judge toorder a coroners inquest into the cause of Ihezies death, and to investigate the circumstances surrounding the dumping of the bodies.
Extra-judicial executions violate Section 33 of the Nigerian Constitution, Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and PeoplesRights, as well asArticle 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The NCHR Executive Secretary, Professor Ben Angwe has reportedly deployed officials of the commission to assist in the investigations.
The Enugu State Police Command has stoutly denied the allegations by NHRC. The Commands spokesman, Ebere Amaraizu, picked holes in the claim that the police dumped the corpses when, according to him, such information should be in the record books of the mortuary attendants. He advised the commission to be sure of their facts before jumping to conclusions. The police spokesman raised a valid poser: who brought the corpses to the mortuary?
This discovery of 53 corpses, all marked in red ink, is to say the least, very disturbing but this is not the first time such would occur. Three years ago, in neighbouring Anambra State,25 bloated corpses were discovered on the Ezu River, a few kilometres from Awka, the state capital. According to reports, autopsy reports on the bodies showed that they may have been extra-judicially executed. Till date, no person or persons have been held liable for the 25 corpses whose identities are still shrouded in mystery.
Allegations of extra-judicial killings have always swarmed around men and officers of Nigeria Police. The death in Kano of a leading professor of agriculture in Africa, Ahmed Falaki, allegedly by the police is still a matter of controversy. Several examples abound of suspects dying in police custody, and of police personnelkilling innocent persons at the slightest provocation.
That NHRC, like the police, is an agency of government underscores theweight of the recent allegations which question the value we place on human life in our country. More saddening is the fact that it coincided with a damning report by Amnesty International accusing Nigerian soldiers of extra-judicial killings. But this is a matter that can easily be resolved with the cooperation of the UNTH authorities.
Yet, it is disturbing that the hospital, which holds the key to unlocking this seeming mystery, has maintained an eerie silence. We believe that the teaching hospital of such a first generation university should have trained mortuary attendants who document bodies before taking them in for preservation. Rather than resort to blame games, the hospitals record books should be able to tell who brought the copses, and the cause of death. The hospital management should work with the police and NHRC to solve the riddle of the 53 corpses. The investigation should not be allowed to go the way of the others. The‘mystery’of the 53 corpses must be resolved.