Bodies should be home by month-end
The bodies of the 80 South Africans who died when the Synagogue Church of all Nations guesthouse collapsed in Lagos, Nigeria, last month, could be on their way home by the end of the month. This was according to Professor John Obafunwa, the forensic pathologist overseeing the identification process.
“We are looking at three weeks,” said Obafunwa, the chief medical examiner of Lagos State and vice-chancellor of the state university. “I would be surprised if we had to wait till November. But let us even be outrageous about projections – I expect all the bodies to be out by that time. Theinquestcoulddragonforweeks and months. But we’re not going to delay the release of bodies to family members because of that.”
Speaking from Lagos University Teaching Hospital, where some of the remains are being kept, Obafunwa said autopsies on the 116 who died were complete and samples were shipped out for DNA analysis this week.
A South African team worked with the Nigerians from September 22 to 24, handling the fingerprinting aspect of the task.
Obafunwa said the process of identification had been slow because Nigeria did not have facilities to analyse DNA.
The DNA analysis was believed to be undertaken in South Africa, though Obafunwa did not confirm this in order not to “put them under pressure”. He admitted the South African High Commissioner has offered to apply pressure to speed up the process.
He had a message for anxious South African families who cannot understand the delays: “We feel your pain.”
But he insisted things had to be done properlytoavoidinflictingmoresuffering on the grieving. “When it comes to disaster victim identification, certain protocols must be followed and that’s what we’re doing. We won’t rush into just giving out bodies.
“We don’t want a situation where a body is released to a family only for them todiscovertheydon’thavetherightbody. Thegriefresultingfromthatcouldbevery bad.”
Obafunwa dismissed as “balderdash” media claims that the bodies were decomposingbecauseofpoorconditions of morgues and insufficient capacity.
According to him, South African medicalteamswereimpressedbythefacilities.
Heinsistedhisteamtookunusualsteps to prevent further deterioration of the bodies recovered from the guesthouse.
Professor John Obafunwa