Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s led government of Lagos State has been enmeshed again in controversies surrounding the aftermath of the nationwide #EndSARS protest that birthed the reported massacre at the Lekki Tollgate in October 2020.
After three years, reports revealed how the state government kept away the body of a journalist, Pelumi Onifade, who was killed on October 25, 2020, allegedly by a police task force team led by one Yinka Egbeyemi.
It was gathered that Onifade, who was an intern journalist at the time, was interviewing a crowd of people assembled at a place where COVID-19 palliative was being looted in Oko Oba, Agege, Lagos, but never lived to tell the story as he first went missing, then found dead.
Naija News recalls that the internet went agog on Sunday morning after a letter from the Lagos State Public Procurement Agency (LSPPA), addressed to the state’s Ministry of Health, confirmed the government’s intention to hold a mass burial for 103 fatal victims of the #EndSARS protest.
According to the letter, the state government awarded a ₦61,285,000 contract to TOS Funerals Limited to bury the bodies, a sum that equates to ₦595,000 per body.
The development generated a barrage of reactions as Nigerians mocked the Lagos State government for at least beginning to admit that there were killings at Lekki Tollgate on October 20, 2020.
The government countered the narrative, saying none of the bodies was recovered from the tollgate, but from other parts of the state.
Again, the state’s health ministry asserted that after the protest, the chief coroner invited families of victims to claim their bodies, but “nobody responded to claim any of the bodies”.
“In the aftermath of the #EndSARS violence, the office of the Chief Coroner invited members of the public Throughout public adverts and announcements who had lost loved ones or whose relatives had been declared missing between 19th and 27th October 2020 from various clashes as mentioned above, to contact the department of Pathology and Forensic Medicine of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) to help with identification of these casualties deposited in State-owned morgues. Relatives were to undergo DNA tests for identification purposes. It is important to state categorically that nobody responded to claim any of the bodies.
“However, after almost three years, the bodies remain unclaimed, adding to the congestion of the morgues. This spurred the need to decongest the morgues – a procedure that follows very careful medical and legal guidelines in the event that a relative may still turn up to claim a lost relative years after the incident. – Excerpt from Lagos State Ministry of Health statement dated July 23, 2023 reads.
We Were Denied Access To Pelumi’s Body
In a recent interview with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), the mother of Onifade, the young journalist who a police officer reportedly killed, revealed what her family was made to go through in an attempt to recover their son’s body to give him a befitting burial.
While lamenting that her son would have been a 23-year-old graduate if the unfortunate incident had not happened, Onifade’s mother said at the time of the incident, her family and friends searched frantically for their son’s body for five days but to no avail.
Distraught by the news of her son’s death, Abosede Onifade, told FIJ that she was unable to join Olatunde, her husband, and other family members who went to a mortuary in Ikorodu on October 30, 2020, and found Pelumi’s lifeless body.
In a telephone interview on Friday, July 28, 2023, Abosede told journalists that she saw the Lagos State government’s recent statement and was disappointed.
She said, “They lied, the government lied, they are liars.”
Reliving the horror of the past three years, she told FIJ that contrary to the government’s claim that nobody showed up to claim the bodies, her husband was denied access to Pelumi’s body in 2020, and when they went back for it, the mortuary staff told them the body was no longer there.
The body would later be transferred to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), where the family was asked to do a DNA test to confirm if the deceased was their child.
Sanwo-Olu Denied Us Access To The DNA Test We Did At LASUTH
In her further claims, Mrs Abosede told journalists that in 2021 while still yearning to give their son a befitting burial, the family headed to LASUTH, hoping they could get Onifade’s body.
She, however, said that it was harder than they imagined as they were asked to do a Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) test.
She said: “When we went to LASUTH, a doctor asked for our son’s name and we told him. He further informed us that autopsies had been carried on the bodies brought to the facility. He then advised us to take a DNA test and we did, but we never got the result.”
On Friday, Abosede told FIJ that she and her husband submitted full-size pictures of themselves and gave samples for the test but were never invited for the results.
She said when they both pressed for answers, the doctor revealed to them that Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the State Governor, had taken responsibility for the tests, and the hospital could not give results to the families until the state governor paid for them.
According to her, she counted more than ten families present on the day she went to give her own DNA sample.
“I could not stay and wait for everybody who came,” she told journalists, adding that while she was there, she saw people that came before her and those who came after.
“They were more than ten families that day alone,” Abosede noted.
Her claims contradict the Lagos state government’s claim that nobody came to volunteer DNA samples and claim the bodies.
Meanwhile, while the Onifade family and other deceased’s families were in search of their children’s bodies, Pelumi Onifade’s body was in a morgue reportedly owned by TOS Funerals on the LASUTH premises.
FIJ noted that the morgue belonged to one Taiwo Ogunsola, a friend of Governor Sanwo-Olu.
This same company now reportedly awarded ₦595,000 to bury Pelumi and others at the same price.
Another DNA Test As Sanwo-Olu Plans Mass Burial
According to Abosede, her family, on Monday, received a message asking them to go to the Lagos State DNA centre in CMS for another test.
She said: “I went there on Thursday. It is on 48 Broad Street, opposite Bookshop. While there, I saw the files from the DNA I did in 2021, but they collected another sample.
“They said they were inviting people again to come and give samples and check for their relatives, but they did not offer any explanation for why they did not use the samples we gave LASUTH.
“We asked them to tell us when to come back for updates, but they told us they would get back to us.”
Abosede said she did not want her son to be part of a mass burial but wanted to take custody of his body so the family could give him a befitting burial.
However, the chief press secretary, Gboyega Akosile, did not responded to the Onifade family’s claims when the report was made.