Medical student Enya Egbe was in an anatomy class at the University of Calabar, Nigeria, when he discovered to his horror that the corpse in front of him to dissect was that of a friend of his. He was deeply moved by the situation, to the point that he burst into tears and fled to the screams of the classroom.
This, strictly speaking, happened 7 years ago. But the story was now reconstructed by the Nigerian journalist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani for the BBC, in a context in which he seeks to delve into the cases that exist in that African country of the “unclaimed” bodies allegedly of criminals who are delivered to schools or medical schools.
Egbe, 20 at the time, was at the time of making his discovery around a table with other colleagues. There were 3 of these pieces of furniture in place, with 3 corpses to dissect. Unfortunately, the body in front of the young student was that of Divine, a friend of his for seven years, whom his family was looking for after he was detained by the police.
“We used to go dancing together. There were two bullet holes in the right side of his chest, ”the young student told Nwaubani.
“Most of the corpses we used at school had bullet marks. I felt very bad then when I realized that some of the people might not be real criminals ”, Oyifo Ana, one of Egbe’s fellow students who ran after him the moment he left the classroom, told the aforementioned media.
The young woman also narrated that she had seen a police van early in the morning at the medical school, with a body depot attached.
Egbe, meanwhile, immediately notified Divine’s family of what he had seen. They had been looking for his relative at the Calabar police stations after the young man was arrested, along with two other friends, by police officers when they were returning from a party.
Finally, the family was able to retrieve Divine’s body.
Egbe’s macabre discovery highlighted the fact of the lack of corpses in Nigeria for medical students, but above all, the fate that victims of police violence may have in that country.
In Nigeria, a law states that “unclaimed bodies” in government morgues must be turned over to medical schools or colleges. An investigation from 2011 revealed that, in that year, 90% of the bodies that arrived at these study centers corresponded to “criminals killed by gunfire.”
In reality, according to Nwaubani reports, the bodies were more like “suspects shot to death by security forces”. According to the research, the ages of the deceased ranged between 20 and 40 years, 95% were men and three out of four belonged to the lowest socioeconomic class.
“Nothing has changed ten years later,” said Emeka Anyanwu, professor of anatomy at the University of Nigeria, and co-author of the Ambulance Service study, on the topic of “unclaimed bodies.”
Last year, the Nigerian government established judicial investigation panels in different states to analyze various complaints of police brutality. This happened after the community carried out a series of protests after the video of a young man who was allegedly shot dead by the Special Anti-Theft Squad (Sars) went viral.
It was precisely in response to the acronym of this security organization that the protests were unified under the hashtag #EndSars. That squad was eventually disbanded by the Nigerian authorities.
In different panels, numerous people gave testimony of relatives arrested by the security forces who were missing.
The police, meanwhile, defended themselves saying that the disappeared were armed robbers who fell into shootings. Frank Mba, a spokesman for the Nigerian police, denied having knowledge that the police had dumped bodies into an anatomy laboratory or body dumps.
For its part, the Nigerian Association of Anatomists is now pushing for a change in the law to establish that every morgue can have complete historical records of bodies that are donated or delivered to medical school warehouses. That they also have the consent of their relatives. And campaigns will also be carried out so that people can donate their bodies to universities and thus alleviate the shortage that exists today.
As for the student who met his friend on the dissecting table, it remains to be said that He was then so traumatized that he did not return to medical school for weeks. He imagined that his friend Divine would wait for him standing at the door of the anatomy classroom every time he tried to enter there.
However, Egbe was able to overcome his traumas and ended up graduating a year after his classmates. Now he works in a laboratory at a Delta state hospital.
Divine’s family, meanwhile, was able to get some of the officers involved in the boy’s crime fired from the Force. Just a little justice, but much more than most Nigerians whose family members perished as a result of police violence.
Perhaps those young people that their relatives are looking for are still in the warehouses of some medical school in the country, the journalist Nwaubani finally reflects.
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