© Privi Test Dedicated to Victims of Police Brutality
It was hard for me to see your body for the first time. An amorphous idea of you had been woven into my prayers for nights leading up to that August morning, and even now I was not sure that I was ready to put a form to the abstract person I had imagined. While our lecturers were giving us instructions, I was distracted, my thoughts anchored to the truth that this body of yours was a precious gift that I am not sure I would have the grace to offer to students like myself. How could I complete the inevitable cutting, cracking, and tearing little black text of my dissection manual would demand when I felt unworthy and inept to perform the task?
These words though the thoughts of Samantha are common among medical students in Nigeria. Dissection Laboratories make it a point of duty to remind students of how lucky they are to be taught by the person to be dissected lying lifeless on the bench. It was a dream come through to understand, treat, and take care of life through the teachings of the Dead.
Entering the dissection room, the smell of formaldehyde fills the air and one is perplexed that these beautiful dead humans were once bubbling with life as we are currently. Darkly coloured, lying supine with a characteristic stiffness. The beauty of life. Some with a grin which to some people translates to Peace while living and also in the after-life while others the sadness justifying how unfair the world was to them.
Every year, a new set of cadavers adorn our dissection room with curiosity taking the better of us, we wanted to know where the bodies were gotten from?
They are mostly criminals who had a shoot-out with the police and some unclaimed bodies, we were told. The reverence we gave to our dead teachers teaching us how to preserve life had no option but to reduce.
“They are just criminals” justifying the new increased rough-handedness meted out to cadavers that we are practicing on as we become more accustomed to dissection. Opening their skulls with glee while maneuvering the saw not to destroy the content of the cranium not because we cared but because the cranial contents are too important in our study.
The stigma of being a criminal while alive attached to our dead teachers (cadavers), what if we were just told that they really wanted the advancement of science and medicine while alive.
Reverence will be offered, not asked of.
Have we ever paused to wonder; these dead bodies that are always available to medical students year after year, where do they actually come from?
What if a significant number of them were due to police brutality?
What if they were not criminals as alleged?
At the University of Nigeria Enugu Campus, we were told of a medical student who saw her missing father among the cadavers to be dissected. Of course, they had to remove him from the dissection room and brought a new cadaver.
According to the story, her father went to his office and never got back. He has been looked for all over the country but was never found only for her to find him lifeless on a dissection bench with a bullet hole.
Imagine how devastating that will be on her and her family.
Nigeria does not have a database of missing people and security forces have been notorious in carrying out extrajudicial killings in Nigeria.
In 2015, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) promised to ensure that the government maintains data of every Nigerian as well as account for every citizen missing.
But in 2020, Human Rights Watch (hrw) reported that Fatima Hassan, a 55-year-old woman from Gwange, Maiduguri, had not been seen or heard from her two sons, Ibrahim, 35, and Musa, 30, since soldiers took them for “questioning” during a neighborhood raid in September 2012. “I have been to all the detention centers I know to look for them,” she said. “But nobody provides information. I don’t know if they are dead or alive.”
Where is the data that the National Human Rights Commission in 2015 promised us while the year is 2020?
There are so many cases of missing persons that a search on Twitter produces so many results.
In fact, Feyi Fawehinmi who goes by the name DoubleEph on Twitter wrote on Guardian that his friend was abducted by men of the police force. Fortunately, his phone was charging by the wall so someone was able to go into the living room after they had been taken away to look through the young man’s phone for someone to contact on his behalf.
Where Do These Bodies Used As Cadaver Come From?
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the sources of cadavers for medical schools in Nigeria are exclusively from executed individuals and unclaimed bodies.
An analysis of a 3yr data of the sources of cadavers used for dissection at the University of Ibadan medical school, 78.6% were suspected criminals who died during gun duels with law enforcement agents while 21.4% were accident victims and unclaimed bodies.
In all these, alleged gun duel is the biggest source of cadaver for medical school training.
What if substantial numbers of these alleged criminals that were killed were as a result of police brutality and not because they were engaging in gun duels with the law enforcement agency?
In Argentina, between 1976 to 1983 about 30,000 People Were ‘Disappeared’ in Argentina’s Dirty War. This was carried out by the security agencies in support of the government and in Nigeria, people go missing only to be seen locked up by the security agencies.
Just recently, a Daily Trust columnist, Gimba Kakanda was arrested by the police for participating in the #EndSars protest and according to him, an ASP with the tag MB Shehu was very hostile and was direct in his threats. He was told that they were lucky it was daytime that had it been it was at night they would have killed them.
” I’ll waste you right now and nobody can do anything to me ” these words were said to him and a lot of Nigerians are pretty familiar with these words from our security agencies.
Even when the former Education Minister, Dr. Ezekwesili arrived at the Force HQ to demand the whereabouts of Kakanda and Usman. “The officers outside told her we were not in their custody”
It is a fact that about a 70percent of cadavers used in medical school in Nigeria is due to the label “Armed Robbers”, ” Criminals” but on so many occasions, many people who were labeled armed robbers by members of the Police Force were actually innocent citizens who were going about their daily activities and got killed extrajudicially.
And the label, ” Armed Robber” was tied on them and who knows the next place these innocent citizens will find themselves?
Our Dissection Table of course.
Bonaventure Chokwebundu Mokwe who was accused of beheading two human heads and owning two rusted and unserviceable AK47 guns. It was clearly a case of setup with the involvement of SARS Awkuzu which was orchestrated in his hotel. He also narrated his experience in his 2nd/3rd day at SARS Awkuzu where he met a young man of about 19 to 22 years and a second-year engineering student of the Federal University of Technology Owerri.
There is this small boy between the age of 19 and 22, a second-year Engineering student of FUTO. He calls me uncle. He told me that he is an only son of the mother and that his supremely rich uncle, based in Lagos wanted to annex his own father’s portion of family land and that his father is late. His resistance against the uncle landed him at Sars as a kidnapper and armed robber.
”Names were being called one after the other; 17 names in all including the small boy and they were ordered out and the door closed back. “It did not take more than 15 minutes, gunshots filled the air, ‘nne moh nne moh’ (my mother, my mother) is all I could hear. The 17 young men were slaughtered in cold blood including the “small boy”, the FUTO student.
Remember that he was already branded an armed robber and a kidnapper and his body might have been sent to any medical school close to the axis of the orchestrated death as a cadaver, as a criminal, an innocent young boy.
What about the brother to Bosun Jenni who was arrested on trumped-up charges. “My brother was a barber He was arrested because SARS said armed robbers cut their hair in his shop so he’s definitely part of them. It’s been more than 10 years since we can’t find him. We didn’t get his corpse. We don’t talk about him in the house. We all act like he never existed.”
Her brother may be alive, dead or lying as a cadaver in one of the dissection tables and tagged, an armed robber.
Jide Kola also said he was tagged a murderer while travelling for his wedding. This he posted on twitter the microblogging site
“While planning my wedding, I had in my car a list of my groomsmen and crossed out those who had paid for their suits. SARS folks stopped me and said that was my murder list and I had killed the ones I crossed out. They threatened to “waste” me if I didn’t pay them off.”
What about Oluwaseyi Adesuyi who was arrested as an alleged kidnapper and completely disappeared from the police. He was publicly paraded as a suspect on 5th July 2013 and that was the last time he was seen. There is no evidence he was charged to court neither is there any evidence he escaped from police custody. His family has searched every possible police formation and they all feigned ignorance.
What do you really think happened to Oluwaseyi?
And the Apo 6 killings that the Judge sentenced two policemen to death after they shot 6 people at close range and accused them of being members of an armed robbery gang that had opened fire on the police officers when accosted at the checkpoint when it was clearly a lie and the police had scores to settle with them.
At least, Justice was served in that case.
In all these, examples abound about innocent Nigerians wrongly accused by the security agencies and summarily executed extrajudicially.
But as medical personnel, dissection is important in medical training but since most of the cadavers on our dissecting tables are “alleged” criminals with a significant number of them innocent, it is safe to say that “A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF CADAVERS DISSECTED IN MEDICAL SCHOOLS AND TAGGED AS CRIMINALS ARE ACTUALLY INNOCENT OF THE CRIME AND DESERVE JUSTICE“
International Federation of Associations of Anatomists recommended body donations to be the gold standard in cadaver acquisition as far back as 2012 but the question still remains, Why has it not been adopted in Nigeria?
Why is it executed individuals which is ethically disturbing that is used as the major source of cadaver?
The problems surrounding body donations for usage as cadavers in Nigeria are due to four major factors according to Emue Bernard EwonuBari et al;
- Religion: We may not say religion explicitly forbids body donations in Islam and Christianity since they are the two major religions in Nigeria. Elamrani et al argue that Islam does not forbid body donation and also in Christian majority countries, body donations seem rather heterogeneous. In Nigeria, religion together with cultural factor plays a role in the not so favourable disposition to body donations.
- Culture: In most African cultures, death is not the end of life and there are rites that are conducted to make sure the dead are either in a better place or to be able to reincarnate in the future. Any interference with the body of the dead might hamper the loved one from reaching the place of destination.
- Ignorance: So many Nigerians do believe that if a dead person is donated, the body may be used for rituals or the body parts sold off in the organ market.
- Love even after death: You don’t speak ill of the dead, this is a common saying in Nigeria. When utterances are guarded no matter how vile the person was while living, and you think it will be easy giving out the body to be cut open and used for practicals, I do not think so.
What Are The Steps That May Improve Body Donations in Nigeria
- Education: Nigerians should be made aware that even in death, they can contribute and help improve the health-care of future generations. They should be made aware that body donation may help prevent future diseases or provide effective treatment in the future. Donation is a sign of generosity which gives this good feeling. Medical personnel should set the pace by donating their bodies upon death.
- Provision of Donation Centres and Ambulance services: If Nigerians are willing to donate, medical training institutions should be willing to provide ambulance services and donation centres across the country. These measures are to limit what the family of the deceased has to go through bringing the bodies to the promised academic institution
- Establishment of Bequest Programmes: A lot of factors impede body donation in Nigeria but with a focused media campaign to educate the populace, revised anatomy curricula to lead to a connection between potential donors together with their families to medical students. The students will meet the potential donor in life as a friend and in death as a teacher and come to appreciate and give their best to sustain life after their training. In return, medical institutions should offer health support to the family in appreciation as done in China. Oluwole Busayo Akinola advocates for bequest programmes in Nigeria as obtainable in other civilized climes.
- Legislative Support: The legislators should enact laws that will favour bequest programs and also provide a clear and specific time frame beyond which unclaimed cadavers should be released to the authorities for onward transfer to medical training facilities. This would help shield medical training facilities from potential lawsuits from relatives of hitherto unclaimed bodies.
What are the alternatives to Cadaver Dissection?
The use of Audio-Visual aids and models of body parts can be said to be good alternatives to the use of cadaver but they cannot be said to be a perfect replacement. In fact, they are more useful as an adjunct to cadaver dissection.
It is a belief that when there is an adequate cadaver to student ratio, there will be marked improvement in training for doctors and health care professionals.
So how can we combat police extrajudicial killings in Nigeria?
We are advocating for a three-step framework to combatting extrajudicial killings in Nigeria by men of the police and other security agencies in Nigeria.
These may not be all-encompassing but we believe when properly implemented, the rate of extrajudicially killings in Nigeria will drastically reduce
- Changing Police Culture: Police and other uniform men in Nigeria have a culture of impunity right from their training. They see civilians as people to be conquered and bullied and not people to be protected. The police right from the time of creation during the colonial rule was to protect the rulers and quell any civil disobedience among the ruled. The culture of them to be used as a tool by any government in power against the citizens have made them to brazenly infringe on people’s right. This infringement of rights was further boldened during the military regime where the constitution was suspended. We are in a democracy currently but the long years of impunity have made our forces abusers of human rights instead of protectors. Police culture can be changed by radical education of their mindset of what their job entails. They should be patriotic to the country and her people and not to the government in power.
- Track the problem: Nigeria and comprehensive data cannot be said to be in the same sentence. We need to have a comprehensive database about missing people and also on police killings. The Nigeria Police Force needs to keep data on every extrajudicially killing carried out. This can only be possible when there is a joint partnership with civil society organizations to make sure that the police also police themselves.
- Community Policing: The creation of the police during the colonial era was as a tool for suppression and the colonial leaders found out that the police force dealt harshly with the citizens if they are not posted in their locality but are peace-loving when they serve in their community of origin. If Nigeria should implement state/community policing, it may not totally stop the killings done extrajudicially but it will reduce it to the barest minimum.
While we are not directly saying that all the cadavers that are used in medical training facilities and branded criminals are really innocent of their crime, we strongly believe a significant number of them are actually innocent. Our police culture of impunity where you can be killed and a crime dropped on your corpse or while still alive, you are tortured to confess to a crime you know nothing about and later killed has to end.
We believe a better police, will go a long way to correcting many ills in the society.
The medical training community should properly bury the remains of dissection as Africans believe so that the spirit will rest properly.
Medical students and allied health students should dissect with love and care. Those cadavers were once like us body, spirit, and soul. One day, we will be like them, the dust of the earth.
This body graciously given to us in that is a precious gift, are we willing to offer ourselves to others in death, teaching them about their health both in life and death?
Do we have the grace to offer students like us in the future our frail and beautiful body in death?
Are we willing to advance the body of knowledge and clinical acumen of students and make Nigeria a dream come through in the areas of body bequest which invariably reduces bodies gotten from law enforcement agencies while improving the education of future doctors?
We believe in the new generation of Nigerians.
We have seen them work marvelously even with limited resources which was magnified in the management and the way the peaceful #endsars protest was carried.
We believe in Nigeria.
Nigeria must work in our lifetime.
Do you think we have innocent people killed by the police and other security agencies and branded as criminals lying on the dissection table?
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