A journalist, Mr. Benedict Uwalaka of Leadership newspaper, was yesterday beaten to stupor by mortuary attendants at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) on the allegation that he had photographs of one of the corpses of Dana plane crash. Uwalaka, who claimed innocence of the allegation, said his attackers seized his camera and phone.
Presently on admission at the surgical emergency ward of LASUTH, Chief Medical Director, Prof. David Wale Oke, said the hospital would offer him free healthcare until he recovered. Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Lateef Ibirogba, who rushed to LASUTH to visit Uwalaka in company with LASUTH CMD and Chairman, Nigerian Union of Journalists,
Lagos State chapter, Mr. Deji Elumoye, promised that government would replace Uwalaka’s missing camera and phone. Uwalaka’s friend who was an eyewitnesses said he was unjustly manhandled because he never took any shot of the corpse. According to him, “when they came to meet me that I should not take any picture, I said for what?
They said, ‘If you make any attempt to do anything there, I will seize your camera’. “I said for what, why should you seize my camera and who are you? And they said, ‘It was not allowed, nobody should take any picture here’ and I said okay but we have been here for some time and did you see me taking any photograph? Instead of you to tell me to leave here, you just went ahead to say you want to seize my camera. “Having said that, I left the place immediately.
As I was going, I saw Benedict Uwalaka coming towards that direction and incidentally, that was when they were bringing out one of the bodies, and I told him that they said it is not allowed that we shouldn’t take any photograph. To be honest with you, he did not take any photograph. “Maybe, because I had just left the place and he was coming behind me, maybe they thought he was taking photograph. Suddenly, one Bayo rushed at him and started slapping him from behind and before Uwalaka could know what was going on, he hit him with big iron rod. “All of a sudden, about three people were all over him, pounding him mercilessly. We rushed to his rescue and separated them.
You needed to see blood all over his body. Some of Bayo’s men took him inside. “As Uwalaka was battling with his body, the blood and his torn clothes, one Idowu came and said, ‘You’ve been warned not to take any photograph here, why should you take it?” Uwalaka, who was already in pain angrily questioned why he should be addressing him in such a manner. Unable to control it, he held his leg and bit him on his leg. The said Idowu ran out and picked a bottle, which he smashed on Uwalaka’s head. Uwalaka later fell and lost consciousness.”
In his reaction, Commissioner for Information, Mr. Ibirogba said: “Journalists are important people in the society that must not be molested for any reason.” He described the incident as an unfortunate one, which should not be especially in this democratic dispensation. “Let me first of all take responsibility of whatever happened today. I want you to see it as if I am the one who offended you.
It is not wrong that you have come here to do this report, I am also aware that journalists do go extra mile to get information to be disseminated to the public and they always want to get the best. But because we are dealing with people who are not in our profession, right from the days of Babatunde Jose, they have always seen us as enemies. “When journalists write something beautiful, people praise them but on the other way round, they go after their lives.”
The commissioner, however, said confrontation was part of the hazards of the profession but maintained that it should not be at the expense of journalists’ lives. He, therefore, pleaded with the attacked journalist to forgive and forget, assuring him that government would take responsibility for the hospital bills, replacement of his lost camera and handset. Also, Ibirogba urged journalists to stay within the limits of ethics of the profession, explaining that that would further strengthen the credibility of the profession Speaking after he regained consciousness,
Uwalaka said: “I was about to take photograph when two men from the mortuary accosted me and asked me where is the picture you have taken? They collected my camera alongside two other cameras. They later returned the other cameras but said they didn’t have my own. “They started beating me. Others joined them and I started bleeding. Still, one Idowu brought bottle and smashed it on my head. They also brought electric shocker to electrocute me but God saved me.
My face was covered with blood, I could not see anything at a point as the bleeding was much. Fortunately, fellow journalists around intervened, reported the case to the police and took me to the hospital for first aid treatment,” he said. Meanwhile, despite efforts by the Lagos State Government to ensure speedy collection of identified corpses of the victims of the Dana plane crash, evacuation of corpses by relatives was a bit slow.
An undisclosed number of corpses were claimed yesterday at the Lekan Ogunsola Memorial mortuary of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) but it was a far cry from the designated 20 corpses that were supposed to be evacuated. A source at the mortuary said about three families claimed their corpses yesterday.
Prof. Oke said the hospital would not charge any family a dime for preserving their corpse until all corpses were evacuated, saying that some families were probably not ready to collect theirs yet. LASUTH CMD said: “Some of the relatives did not come on time and so we took their reference specimen late. The result got to us on the night of Saturday, August 4 and on Monday, the commissioner and the governor were informed while we immediately constituted a committee that was in-charge in breaking the code of the results because they came in codes.
“Earlier, we have coded the bodies, and when the results came we need to match them with the 132 bodies. Then on Wednesday we held a meeting with the relatives and it was decided in that meeting that 20 bodies will be released every day until all the bodies are exhausted except those that are yet to be identified.
“The reasons for that was that some relatives did not come, some bodies were badly burnt that we could not get the DNA materials needed for their identification processes, but our pathologists are on ground to see if they can use their experiences to further identify the remaining 16 bodies. “In order not to cause unnecessary chaos, we have decided to release the bodies alphabetically and the names were pasted on the wall for the relatives to access.
Then for the remaining 16 bodies, we will hold a meeting with the family members to see if we can take more specimens from the relatives. I believe this will be faster because we are only dealing with few cases and if at the end, anybody that cannot be identified, the family members will be contacted to decide the next line of action.
“I cannot say precisely how many bodies that have been released so far because some relatives were not ready and some others decided to keep the bodies in the morgue. Let me clarify this, as long as the corpses stay in the morgue, Lagos State Government is not charging any money from the relatives.” On why some of the names of the deceased already buried still appeared on the list, the CMD said: “To be on a safe side, we conducted DNA tests for all the victims, so that in case mistakes are made we would know how to make restitution but thank God there is no mistake so far.”
On how long it would take to release all the corpses, he said: “I assure you if all the families are ready today they will get the corpses of their relatives. We are hoping that in the next one week, we will be done with the process depending on the response of the relatives,” he said.