The Ondo state director of the Legal Aid Council, Barrister Kuku Ikpidungise and the convener of the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COHRD), Barrister Inibehe Effiong, on Thursday, 28 July, 2016 took the police in the state and a traditional ruler to task over the death of a pregnant woman whose name was given as Justina Joshua.
The family of the deceased with officials of the two organisations that waded into the issue
The deceased was killed by a tree that was being felled by an indigene of Idanre, a town in the state where she lived.
The corpse of the 28-year-old woman was allegedly held hostage by the traditional ruler and other chiefs who insisted that she must be buried close to the tress which killed her adding that this was the tradition.
Reliving how the corpse was finally released after a long battle with the community and the police, Effiong said the following took place:
The remains of the 28th year old pregnant woman departed Idanre general hospital this morning to the Ondo state general hospital in Akure accompanied by the relatives of the deceased, the Olu of Onipan who represented the Owa of Idanre (Oba Dr Frederick Aroloye), and the representatives of the killer logger and the farm owner. It was escorted by a team of armed police officers led by the O/C Homicide, Ondo state CID.
Upon our arrival at the mortuary of state general hospital in Akure, we discovered that the corpse has not only decomposed, but may have been tampered with.
Thus, we have rejected the corpse.
During a joint meeting with the deputy commissioner of police in charge of the state CID, we made the following demands as pre-conditions for us to accept the corpse and proceed with further discussions:
(a) That an investigation be carried-out immediately to unravel the circumstances surrounding the terrible condition of the corpse.
(b) That the corpse should be re-embalmed immediately by the other parties to prevent it from decomposing further.
(c) That an autopsy be carried out on the corpse to determine the cause of death (at least for the records).
The three demands were unreservedly accepted.
The corpse being taken for proper care
Accordingly, an investigation has commenced to unravel why the corpse is in such a terrible state. Our suspicion is that some parts of the legs may have been mutilated (cut-out) for rituals. There was however a suggestion that rats may have eaten the affected and troubling parts due to poor care. The investigation will unravel what actually happened and why the corpse was not embalmed properly. Already, a team of investigators led by the O/C Homicide has returned to the Idanre general hospital as part of the investigations.
Also, the corpse will be re-embalmed today and the autopsy will take place on Monday as agreed.
Meanwhile, on our request, the two suspects Shehu Oke (the killer logger) and Awote Aye (the farm owner) were brought before us from the cell for us to see them face to face.
Discussions on the burial arrangements will commence on Monday 1st August. The other parties have continued to beg for leniency. In their words, they want us to “tamper justice with mercy and forgive their wrongdoings.”
While we are not adverse to their pleas, our position is that they must do all that is necessary to give the deceased a decent burial in her home town in Ukwok, Ini local government area, Akwa Ibom state.
This is not just about the late Justina, it is more about upholding the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the dead.
It is very annoying that the deceased was abandoned in the bush by the logger after the tree he felled hit her leading to her death. If she was rescued timely, she would have possibly survived. As if that was not enough, her corpse was detained from the 8th of June when the incident took place and abandoned at the mortuary without proper care because the Owa of Idanre wanted to sacrifice the corpse to the tree in accordance with their “tradition”.
Those who thought that they are powerful and that Justina was powerless, poor and helpless have now realised that there are people that will always stand up to defend the oppressed, no matter the risk or cost.