Chief Odiari Princewill
As the new normal, COVID-19 continues to spread its wings in the country, mortuaries are overflowing with dead bodies as relatives continue to wait for an end to the pandemic and the accompanying bans and lockdowns.
Mortuary operators and some state governments are calling on relatives with bodies in the morgue to claim and bury them to free the morgues as new deaths are not finding spaces anymore. Not all have complied and as a result, fresh bodies are no longer being accommodated due to lack of space.
A survey of mortuaries in Port Harcourt revealed that even the Ashes to Ashes Morgue, run as a private unit in the Rivers State owned State University Teaching Hospital (BMSH) has shut its doors against accepting corpses since the pandemic broke out over two months now while other private morgues only accept dead bodies if bearers have death certificate duly signed by the Rivers State ministry of Health clearly stating the cause of death. They have become careful and selective in view of the pandemic.
In addition, mortuary bills have shot up slightly as cost of chemicals are said to have been hiked by the non-state movement ban and general impact of the lockdown.
National Point further investigations revealed that in Bonny for instance, following the wave of deaths arising from a yet to be identified cause, which, has officially claimed over 12 lives, there is serious scarcity of space in the morgues for fresh corpses in the island as relatives of earlier deposited corpses are waiting for a more auspicious time to conduct burial for their departed brethren.
“There is no space anymore in the mortuaries. Some who can afford are smuggling their dead into Port Harcourt. Anybody who dies now is taken straight for burial”, a senior Bonny Island resident told National Point.
Even in Port Harcourt, many of the dead who would have been buried are still lying in the morgues including society influential. The deceased wife of a top retired oil worker who died late February, is among the dead waiting for the ban on burials and interstate movements to be lifted.
The retired headmistress of a well know primary school in Rivers State and respected women leader would be sent home once the coast is clear according to the family.
“We cannot do anything yet because of the Coronavirus. I am just waiting for the ban on burials and interstate movement to be lifted so we can fix a date to lay her to rest,” the aged husband, a chief in his 80s told National Point.
Families are also grieving seriously over lost opportunities to give their relatives who succumbed to death through COVID-19 in the UK and US, the deserved respect.
“We couldn’t even see the corpse to pay our last respects as tradition demands. They buried our sister just like that”, a bereaved family member lamented.
The coronavirus pandemic may not have killed the high number of persons in Nigeria as predicted by the Bill Gates and the World Health Organization but it has taken away some top ranking Nigerians in the Diaspora who are also financial pillars in their Nigerian households and community. Sad enough, there was no room for their families to bid them farewell as they were buried under strict COVID-19 burial stipulations.
Not even royalty was spared by the pandemic. For Degema people, the death of one of their princes in the UK is just too painful. Though he did not die of Coronavirus related illness, bringing him home for a royal burial was not possible nor was there room for relatives to travel overseas to join in laying him to rest over there.
The London based prince was reportedly hurriedly buried defying required customary burial procedures for a prince. This has ignited rumours in several quarters that his body was cremated or buried amidst a mass burial, leaving the family in deep pain and a state of helplessness.
The ban on burials and weddings have been partially lifted with government pegging number of persons to be seen at any such gathering at 20 or 50 at the most, including family members and officiating personnel. That peg is causing many to still hang on, used as they are, to more elaborate ceremonies.
For cash strapped relatives however, this has become a relief as some are cashing in on the new COVID-19 measure to quickly lay their dead to rest at very limited cost. The new regulation is that there must be no reception after any burial or wedding.
However, the more influential and financially strong will rather wait for further relaxation of the COVID-19 rules by the string there is that nobody knows for sure, how soon the coast will be clear as the National Center for Disease Control, NCDC managing COVID-19 affairs in Nigeria, even as federal and state governments announced continuous partial relaxation of the lockdown measures put in place to stem the virus, has warned consistently, that Nigerians may have to live with the pandemic for a long time yet. The NCDC stressed that the best war against the pandemic is to obey the wearing of face mask, the safe distancing and hand washing rules.
Nigeria is currently on the threshold of 10,000 COVID-19 infection record, with about 3000 discharged cases and over 280 deaths.