Posted by By George Onah, Rotimi Ajayi, John Ighodaro & Jimitota Onoyume on
There was drama at the Braithwaite Memorial Hospital (BMH), Port Harcourt yesterday when a Part III student of Banking, Miss Zilla Ekama, raised an alarm over alleged disappearance of her friend, Toju Odeli’s corpse from the mortuary, insisting it was in her presence the late Toju was tagged the previous day.
*29 victims' corpses still unclaimed
*Presidency to probe Yuguda's tenure
PORT HARCOURT — There was drama at the Braithwaite Memorial Hospital (BMH), Port Harcourt yesterday when a Part III student of Banking, Miss Zilla Ekama, raised an alarm over alleged disappearance of her friend, Toju Odeli’s corpse from the mortuary, insisting it was in her presence the late Toju was tagged the previous day.
“Toju was one of the first seven people that came out of the plane alive,” she said, adding: “On the day of the incident, Toju called me and said: ‘I am dying, come to the airport.’ But when I got there I learnt she had been taken to the UPTH. I went in search of her. I finally found her at SOS Hospital. She was lying on the bed and they were treating her burns. Her body was covered in some transparent nylon material and we spoke at length. When she first saw me she was happy. At a point she asked me to hold her hand and I held her hand. I tried not to let her see that I was crying.
“I asked her if she could see me and she said yes. Because her eyes were red and I doubted if she could see, I then asked her what I was wearing and she said white dress and I felt very happy. She was burnt from head to toe. She told me not to inform her mum about what was happening to her. ‘Don’t cry, don’t tell my mum,’ she said. She was even encouraging me, giving me strength and she was breathing well.
“She also told me about Pastor Bimbo Odukoya. While lying there she asked me: ‘How is Pastor Bimbo? Have you seen her?’ and I said we have not heard any news about her at the time. I told her they were still searching for her and she said ‘Eyaa.’ She told me that Pastor Bimbo dressed beautifully in the plane, saying Pastor Bimbo was looking so fine.
“We discussed. She told me she didn’t want to die. I was with her for hours. The following morning I called the hospital and I asked: How is my friend? Is she getting better? And the voice on the other end urged me to come over. I insisted: Tell me, is she getting better and the voice kept saying, come over. I rushed over to the hospital and the doctors informed me that she passed on around 2.am. Her parents live in Warri. She was my closest friend in this world.”
On Sunday, according to Zilla, they took Toju’s body to the BMH mortuary and I told them we would come on Monday to bury her. I had informed her people. On Monday, I came over and it was in my presence she was given a tag. In fact, Toju and a much younger victim were the only two corpses from SOS. On Tuesday, we wanted to pick her body for burial and we were told we needed to pay N5,000.00 to get a death certificate. We had no problem with that. We were prepared to pay the money. We were in the process of doing that when we arrived today (Wednesday) to discover that her body was no longer here. We’ve been told that one Dr. Damian Ahuokpe signed out her body. And they are asking us to come to Aba to identify her body in Aba.
Also speaking to Vanguard, the late Toju’s uncle, Pastor Mike Oyemiren, said: “The family would not go to Aba. Zilla identified her corpse here. Toju had a deep cut on her eyebrow. We are not going to Aba. They must bring the corpse back from Aba. Why should I go to Aba? What for?”
Vanguard gathered that another family might have identified the late Toju as their own and taken the body away.
29 corpses of crash victims unclaimed
However, 29 corpses of victims of the Sosoliso Airline crash in Port Harcourt are now lying unclaimed at different mortuaries in Port Harcourt, with the Rivers State Government giving relatives of the victims up till tomorrow to claim them failing which the victims will be given a mass burial.
The Rivers State Health Commissioner, Dr. Solomon Eyinda, told Vanguard that the unclaimed corpses were badly burnt and could not be preserved any longer. Nine of the unclaimed bodies was students of Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja.
Chief Medical Director of the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, Dr Uriah Atawo, also told Vanguard that Dr Priscilia Aligba, one of the survivors, an NYSC member serving with the police in Rivers State suffered about 60 per cent burns and was among those taken to South Africa.
Dr Uriah said one of the survivors who suffered about 10 per cent burns was still in a hospital in Port Harcourt. His words: “I was at the airport that sad day and seven were rescued but one died before they could get to the hospital. Another died at the Braithwaite Memorial Hospital (BMH) at about 9 p.m. Only five were left but two later died from this number. The three left were distributed to three different hospitals in Port Harcourt.
“Well, Shell lifted one to South Africa first and Tuesday at about 4p.m Shell also lifted another one to South Africa. The one in Port Harcourt suffers just about only 10 per cent burns. Her case is not really severe.”
Presidency orders probe of Yuguda's tenure in Aviation
The Presidency has ordered a probe of the tenure of the immediate past Minister of Aviation, Alhaji Isa Yuguda, for alleged suppression of a letter written to him over a year ago by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Ufot Ekaette, complaining about the poor state Chanchangi and Sosoliso Airlines. The Presidency also ordered a probe of all Aviation Ministers from 1999 to date .
One source said the letter sent to the minister by the SGF could have been a stitch in time for the air transportation system in the country. According to him, the SGF had taken pains to detail his personal experience aboard the aircraft of the two airlines. “He wrote about his experience and urged the minister to do a memo which could have been discussed at the Federal Executive Council. However, the minister for whatever reason refused to pass the letter and neither did he do anything.”
The probe is to unravel corruption alleged by the President as the bane of the aviation sector.
Port Harcourt Airport re-opened
Meanwhile, the aviation authorities have reopened the Port Harcourt International Airport after its runway was cleared of debris from an air crash that killed 107 people last Saturday. “The airport was ordered re-opened last night (Wdnesday) after the tarmac had been cleared of the wreckage of the Sosoliso plane,” said Sam Adurogboye, spokesman for the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
Officials said construction firm, Julius Berger, and other rescue operators had assisted in clearing the debris of the ill-fated aircraft, which crashed upon landing on Saturday. The plane had burst into flames as it tore itself up on the soft grass alongside the tarmac, littering the runway with its parts.
“The tarmac is now free and available for normal flight operations,” an official at the airport said. The airport serves oil firms and workers operating in the oil rich city of Port Harcourt.
During a stakeholders’ meeting on problems in the aviation sector in Abuja on Tuesday, President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered the immediate grounding of Sosoliso and Chanchangi airlines. He said other airlines would be inspected within a week to ensure their airworthiness, and threatened to ground any carrier found to be “defective.” The decision followed a string of air incidents in recent months that have claimed hundreds of lives.
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