Ms Abimbola Adelakun’s July 27, 2023 article was predictable. Right from its morbid headline, you knew it was going to be a scurrilous attack on Lagos and its leadership. Unfortunately, that has been the tradition of this fine writer.
This time, the memo on the planned mass burial of 103 unclaimed bodies sparked her anger. She did not disappoint her readers in excoriating the government for the plan. But, is Ms Abimbola right? No. Like many other writers, she mixed up all the facts and arrived at a conclusion that left so much to be desired. She said the government, in its statement on the mass burial, was “more concerned with responding to those they consider mischief-makers than reflecting on the moral import of 103 people (and likely more) dying on a single day in a single city.” Did 103 people die in Lagos on a single day? No.
Like many others, the writer has forgotten – or chose to ignore – the fact that the chief pathologist, Prof. John Obafunwa, was at the Justice Okwuobi Panel to say that 99 bodies were picked up from various places, including the Ikoyi Prison. She also failed to acknowledge the fact that DNA tests were conducted on these bodies. Besides, her newspaper “The Punch” reported on October 7, 2022 that 20 inmates died while trying to escape during the attack on the Ikoyi Prison in the heat of the #EndSARS violence.
The Correctional Centre said it informed the next of kins of the dead about their fatal fate. So, is there any need for all the questions the columnist was asking when her own newspaper answered all the questions in a report? Who tells her that prison inmates do not have records? How many people will love to collect the body of a convict who tried to escape and got shot in a society where ex-convicts are discriminated against?
Like many other commentators, Ms Abimbola Adelakun mixed up the difference between “mass grave” and “mass burial”. In the former, a big hole is dug and all the bodies are dumped in it. Not so for the latter. Every body has its own coffin, put in a grave that is clearly marked out, paved with concrete and covered with a slab that can be opened. Should anybody come in future to see the body, the slab can easily be removed. Is N61m, including the cost of the burial ground, too much as being alleged? No. Why the morbid comments? Nobody cared to check with the funeral home.
Those who want the world to agree – sans scientific facts and figures – that a massacre happened at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020 are claiming that the bodies were from the incident of that controversial evening when soldiers came to the toll gate. They have simply forgotten or cleverly ignored the fact that before that day, there had been clashes – the #EndSARS protests provided a platform that sparked the conflagration – in many parts of Lagos. Policemen were being lynched; cultists were fighting for control in Ikorodu, Ajah and Surulere. Akala boys were engaging Fadeyi boys on Ikorodu Road. In Fagba, communal clashes claimed many lives. Law and order had collapsed. There was anarchy. Yet, people like this writer would scream that the bodies were picked up in one day – all in a desperate but futile attempt to project the government in a bad light.
If the government had wanted to cover up the burial, there would have been no memo written for anybody to leak. No thought of a decent burial would have been made and TOS Funerals – a giant in the trade – would not have been hired to handle it.
The question to ask is whether the government followed the due process – strict medical and legal measures – required for this step. “Of course, they claimed that they sponsored several newspaper advertisements announcing that families missing a loved one should come forward and take a DNA test… Whether the people … buy a daily newspaper every single day to get information and respond accordingly is a question only Lagos State can answer”. It was not a mere claim. The advert in question was run in “The Punch” on November 18 and “Thisday” on November 19. Three years after, are the bodies expected to be kept on the shelf as trophies? Is there any measure that the government ought to have taken, but did not take?
“The fate of these poor Lagosians – to be dumped in a mass grave at a cost higher than an annual minimum wage – says so much about the operations of life and death in the Nigerian necropolis… People who do not give dignity to the dead will hardly be concerned about life either.” This is where the problem lies; not enough understanding of this subject. It is the plan to give the dead a dignified burial – at N61m – that has sparked the accusation of fraud in the first place.
Lagos is one of the few states that respect the Public Procurement Act. That was why the memo passed through four levels of approval, including the Governor’s. This could not have been the case if the intention was to steal.
I think it is all about the suspicion between the government and the governed. People do not trust the government, but then there should be some measure of credibility – no matter how little – to be ascribed to the government, if the society must function well.
Many discerning Lagosians are of the opinion that the #EndSARS blackmail continues because nobody got punished for the orgy of violence that the protests provided a springboard for. Many government and private facilities were burnt. The iconic Lagos High Court, the DNA Centre, the first of its kind in West Africa, City Hall, established 1900, the secretariat of the oldest local government in Nigeria and NPA building, among many others. Shopping malls, banks, media houses and others were burnt down by arsonists. So were about 200 brand new high-capacity luxury BRT buses.
In the United States, former President Donald Trump has just been charged with offences relating to the January 10, 2020 invasion of The Capitol by thugs who tore through its windows and doors – in an unprecedented desecration of the symbol of American democracy. Many are in jail for their roles in the incident.
I blame it all on the failure of reporting, the soul of journalism that has been sacrificed on the altar of commentaries. Everybody is a commentator; none is a reporter anymore. Could these have happened in the days of ace Crime Reporter Ben Akparanta (God bless his soul)? Or the late Dr Onukaba Adinoyi – Ojo, he of the 53 suitcases exclusive? Or Jullyette Ukabiala, the former Defence Correspondent of “The Guardian” whose reports kept the military on their toes? She is now Senior Adviser, Political Affairs in the Office of the President of the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly? Or Seun Ogunseitan, who investigated the Koko dump story? Oh… reporting has seen better days!
Nobody cares for the truth anymore. It is all about emotions and sentiments. No room for facts and figures. No room for scientific proof. No thought for balance and the principle of audi alteram partem, a cardinal pillar of journalism. It is all about who shouts the loudest. Stories picked up on the social media – it is anything but social- become major subjects of television commentators and newspaper columnists, who do not question the veracity of such materials.
Many of today’s commentators are wonderful; they sit in the comfort of their homes where they churn out verdicts on public issues as projected on the social media, displaying as much ignorance as their sources. The public – ever so impatient and superficial – lap it up hook, line and sinker. No reference to science. Nor common sense. Nor logic. Nor fairness. It is the truth so long as it suits our preconceived prejudices and political inclination. Besides, the more salacious the better.
The voice of deceit is often the loudest. It is vociferous and boisterous. It is truculent and coercive. Bullish. Not so the voice of truth. It is low, calm and normal, but it is profound and firm. At the end of it all, it carries the day.
Facts are sacred, comment is free – and fact-based comment most precious of all.” This is my message to all our commentators, including Ms Adelakun.