LAGOS – Nigerian authorities have denied South African media reports that the bodies of 115 people – who lost their lives when a six-storey guesthouse at the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed on September 12 – are decaying in Lagos mortuaries because of inadequate cooling systems.
The chief medical director of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Professor Adewale Oke, said on Wednesday in an interview that all mortuaries in the state had electricity 24 hours a day as the hospitals had back-up generators.
“It is false that Lagos mortuaries do not have electricity and that the air conditioners are not working. You have visited the hospital several times, how many times did you see electricity going off? Electricity is always there. If there is any outage it cannot be more than five minutes, and the same applies to all the other mortuaries.”
Most of the victims bodies are in Lagos University Teaching Hospital while some are in Isolo General Hospital mortuary and some in the Mainland mortuary.
The Lagos University Teaching Hospital chief medical director said that victims’ bodies took several days to be retrieved because rescue operations were allegedly initially hampered by the unco-operative attitude of the church when the building collapsed.
That was the reason the embalming of all the bodies was important so as to stop the decay, Oke said.
“Most of them (the bodies) were well embalmed but because they did not appear too well, too good when they were brought in, some were already decaying,’’ Oke said.
He said Lagos University Teaching Hospital did not have any problems doing the DNA and identification of victims of the Dana air crash in Lagos – 163 people died when a Dana Air plane crashed into a Lagos block of flats in June last year – when the fatalities were about three times the number of victims of the church building collapse.
“The problem really is that the bodies were decayed before they were brought into the Lagos state mortuary. Anybody who tells you that the bodies were not well kept or well prepared is telling lies,’’ he said.
Oke said the post mortems, conducted in Nigeria by Nigerian forensic experts, had been concluded.
“The post mortems for all the bodies were conducted here by Nigerian experts. The specimen for DNA is being taken here in Lagos and in South Africa because we do not want the 85 families to come to Nigeria. We trust the experts in South Africa to conduct the specimen and DNA. We are sending the specimen to South Africa because of convenience,” he said.
He was emphatic that the DNA had to be done in South Africa because of the number of South Africans involved in the collapse and for proximity to the relatives of the victims.
“When we had the Dana air crash we did not have a comprehensive laboratory, we had some labs in Nigeria that claimed they could do DNA, but we wanted to be sure, so we sent the tissues to a laboratory in the United Kingdom to be sure that we are doing the right thing.
“Now because we know that there are 85 South Africans involved, we decided this time that we would use a renowned South African lab considering that it will be difficult to bring 85 South Africans to Nigeria. Because when you are taking specimen, you have to take specimen from the relations of the bodies. If we have to do it outside South Africa, it will mean those relations will have to come to Nigeria for us to take tissues.
“Our experts are here taking specimen from Nigerian relations while the South African experts are taking specimen from the South African relatives,” Oke said.
Until the DNA and identification of the bodies had been concluded, the teams would not be able to say which of the bodies were South African Nigerian or even of other nationals, he said.